ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 2

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View any diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

Yesterday was kind of a “theory” post, looking more at how you think about the change of direction. Today we’ll look at Brian’s other questions, which are more about the actions themselves:
  • What should be the first action to trigger the downswing?
  • I've read much in the past about the "bump" of the hips forward. Does the sensation of the door jamb drill amount to the "bump" and if so, should that be the first movement from the top?
First, the “bump” and the door jamb drill are the same thing – namely, a movement where the hips move toward the target during the downswing. After that, it gets a little complicated.

See, here’s the problem: Both questions are about the same thing. How do I start my downswing? Believe it or not, the answer is the same for everybody; it’s just that everybody feels the downswing differently, so it seems like there are a hundred different answers.

A number of things happen in sequence during the downswing:
  1. If your right foot came off the ground at the top of the backswing, you replant that foot firmly on the ground, which starts your right knee moving. If your foot is still flat on the ground at the top, the knee move happens first.
  2. The right knee begins to swing around as your hips turn ever-so-slightly to the right, which creates a very slight “bump-and-slide” to the right.
  3. Your weight shifts from your left side to your replanted right foot. (It doesn’t really shift – that’s just how you perceive changes in muscle pressure – but this is an easy way for most people to understand it.)
  4. Your arms pivot downward a little at the shoulder joints. (These first four items feel almost simultaneous, but they happen in this order.)
Now, this sequence of events causes two other sequences to happen simultaneously:
  1. The right foot rolls onto its outside edge as the right knee continues to swing around and straighten slightly, which causes the right hip to move up and back. (This is the opening of the hip everybody talks about.) This, in turn, pulls the left hip around, which pulls the left leg up and around, and that makes the left foot roll and pivot up on the toe. (The left leg does actually push a little, and some players feel that push more than the pull on the right side.)
  2. The arms continue to move downward as the upper body turns back to face the ball. The arms straighten and square the club as the wrists uncock. The momentum of the upper body causes it to continue turning through contact to face the target, and the momentum of the arms causes them to swing up and finish over the shoulders.
Of course, these two sequences are feeding on each other, each helping power each other. The hips and legs are pulling the upper body around, but the arms and club are making it easier and easier for the lower body to turn. (In fact, near the end of it all, the lower body is actually acting as a brake, slowing down the rotation of the upper body.)

Obviously, the first link in the chain is the right foot/right knee move, so that’s the move that starts the downswing. However – and this is VERY important – because all four of those actions I mentioned happen so quickly that they’re almost simultaneous, a player might feel ANY ONE OF THEM as the way the downswing starts. One teacher says it’s a weight shift to the right, another says it’s a bump-and-slide to the right, a third focuses on the slide, a fourth says you need to drop your shoulder, and still others might focus on the elbows. In the late 80s, I think it was Golf Magazine that ran a cover story on Davis Love III and his “power move,” which (I’m paraphrasing here) they described as pushing the hands away from the body at the start of the downswing to increase wrist cock. That's how Davis felt the combination of actions that started his downswing; Jim McLean’s “V-Gap” is almost exactly the same thing, yet it’s described in entirely different terms… and different feels.

That’s why so many players are confused, and why there are so many teachers apparently saying different things. And it’s why I call it the “fuzzy” feeling at the top; it’s hard to give a definitive answer to how it feels, because everyone’s different.

If you try the first four moves I mentioned above in slow motion, you’ll see how each one causes the next so quickly that they’re almost simultaneous. And you’ll see that they ALL have to happen when the swing starts; it’s simple physics. But which of these moves you FEEL when you start down is different from player to player, and THAT FEEL is what most players are referring to when they talk about the first move of the downswing.

So Brian, the answer is… the right foot/right knee move is the move that starts the downswing, but you may feel that move in any of several different ways. The starting move is the same for everybody, but the feel of that starting move is what differs… and only you can determine how it feels to you. What I’m trying to do is teach you how the moves are done, so you can do them and find out how they feel to you; then you can use that feel when you make your swing. The goal is to learn the correct mechanics, then identify how they feel to you so you can forget about mechanics on the course and just play golf by feel.


  1. Lots to think about here - glad I have all winter! :)
    I googled trying to find that Davis Love piece to no avail but did come across an interesting article by Jim McLean in the "y" principle which apparently followed his book about the "x" swing. Who knew he was such a man of letters.

    Thanks for another insightful post Mike!

  2. That Davis Love article may be hard to find unless you can find some old "hardcopies" of the magazine; most sites aren't going to go back 20+ years when adding content. If your local library does have copies that old, at least you'll know it's the cover story, which may speed up the search.

    Other players are men of letters as well; Johnny Miller, for example, had a reverse-C swing. Perhaps that dyslexia is what ended his career so soon. (Well, that and a balky putter.)