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Friday, April 30, 2010

Fixing Path Problems, Part 2

Part of the Route 67 series

So now we understand why we need to fix our path problems first. The question remains... just how do we do that?

There are two path problems you can have: You swing inside-to-outside (a push), or you swing outside-to-inside (a pull). Here are the most common ways they turn up in a swing.

I started this series with a post about getting stuck on the downswing. Let's look a bit more closely at how it messes up your swing path; it's really pretty simple. Here's the deadly chain of events:

Your legs move faster than upper body. As your hips turn toward the target, your weight moves off your back foot onto your front foot... but your upper body stays back, more over your back foot. This makes you lean backward, away from the target; your spine leans and your shoulders tilt. And when your tilted shoulders rotate around your tilted spine, your arms swing from inside-to-outside. (In addition, if you lean back far enough, you "reverse pivot" -- you fall back on your back foot when you swing, because your upper body never "caught up" with your lower body.)

Even if you don't twist your forearms, the clubface will be open when it hits the ball, so your push will likely become a push-slice (aka "banana ball").

This one's a bit tricky, because pulls sometimes cause you to "step through" your swing -- a move often recommended by Gary Player. I don't want you to confuse the two; when Gary steps through, he doesn't make the move I've about to describe. Gary doesn't pull the ball.

Here's the flawed move: The upper body moves faster than the upper body, but it can still be caused by the legs. At the top of the backswing, everything generally looks pretty good. Now it's certainly possible that you can jerk your shoulders around while your lower body doesn't move; if this happens, you will almost certainly pull your shot.

BUT there's usually an extra move with this problem -- namely, the back knee straightens as the shoulders start around. This forces the upper body to tilt forward, causing the spine to lean and the shoulders to tilt... it's the same story as the push, but the spine leans toward the target rather than away, so your arms swing from outside-to-inside.

I don't know if it's generally true, but I've heard that runners often have stiff lower bodies, which contributes to this problem. I do know that I've been a runner since high school (it's my preferred exercise) and I've had a lot of trouble with this problem, so it has been true for me. It's something to consider. (I haven't stopped running because of it; it's just something I know to check if I start pulling shots.) I've hit some incredibly long pull-hooks because of it... most of them lost out-of-bounds.

A Simple Fix Worth Trying
Obviously, these problems can be a major hassle to fix. I'm going to suggest a single simple fix that can help both of these problems. For some of you, this may cut into your distance; but with all the technology available at golf stores, it should be a simple matter to test it on an "electronic range" that reads clubhead speed. In my case, it doesn't seem to hurt... plus, it helps my balance. If nothing else, you'll find it's a good way to get control of things in the midst of a round going bad.

Here's the fix: Try to feel as if you're starting your arms and legs together. You've probably had it drummed into your head that your legs have to start the downswing, and this is entirely true. However -- and this isn't stressed very often -- unless you do something that absolutely feels as weird as it looks, it's physiologically impossible NOT to start your downswing with your legs. It's all about friction between your feet and the ground (that's why golf shoes have cleats), inertia, and Newton's Third Law of Motion ("For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction"). Trust me: If the feet don't start it, you won't move. Some people just try too hard to consciously start the legs first, and they get screwed up.

"Starting everything together" is not a violent jerky move; it should feel pretty smooth. In fact, it may actually slow your swing down slightly. When I do it, I can still feel my lower body moving just slightly ahead of my upper body; what I don't feel is my hips pushing forward or my upper body leaning forward. I feel like my hips and upper body stay in a vertical line above each other all the way through the swing.

What this move does is keep the legs from getting too far ahead of or too far behind the arms. You can't lean backwards and turn your shoulders at the same time, so you're less likely to push; and it's hard to straighten that back leg when you have to turn your hips in time with your shoulders, so you're less likely to pull. Basically, it eliminates the extremes in your timing.

Now you've got some knowledge to help you troubleshoot your swing. Look at your shot patterns (from yesterday's post) and use today's explanations to help you get your clubhead path under control. And remember that it doesn't have to be perfect, just consistent and predictable.

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