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Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting Stuck

Part of the Route 67 series

Ok, let's take a look at the phenomenon frequently called "getting stuck." This should help you understand why players have traditionally used one or the other of the two power sources, but not both at once. Please understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using both power sources; if you get it together, you can hit the ball an amazing distance. However, you're gonna have to spend a lot of hours practicing to keep it working, and even then it might desert you under pressure. Focusing on a single power source will give you a simpler swing that requires less practice and is less likely to "leave you" unexpectedly.

And, oh yes, you'll still hit it a long way.

First, we need to define the term "getting stuck." It's actually a description of the feel rather than the physical problem. If you've ever seen a ballerina or a figure skater spin, you know that she starts slowly, with her arms extended straight out; then, as she folds her arms closer to her body, she picks up speed until she looks like more like a spinning spike, with her arms extended straight up over her head. The basic principle is that the closer her weight is to her center of gravity, the faster she spins.

Move this to the golf swing. Your hands and arms are farther from your center of gravity (just think of your spine) while your feet are right under it. As a result, your legs move faster than your hands in the downswing; your legs get to that "hit the ball" position before your hands can, and your hands can't catch up -- hence, they "get stuck" behind you. Rather than swinging down the line of your shot, they have to swing around your lower body, which generally results in a push shot... and the ball's not going to end up where you intended. Consequently, many players will flip their wrists (remember, that's bad if you expect to be accurate!) and hit a big hook to the other side of the course.

Needless to say, "getting stuck" is a timing issue that has less effect on a single power source swing. If you focus on your upper body for power, your lower body moves slower and the only way you're going to get stuck is if you lean away from the target. Likewise, if you focus on your lower body for power, your legs are going to pull your hands and arms around at the same time... or at least, they should. If you're following the logic of this, you may wonder why the upper body power source doesn't just "throw" the hands out in what we call an "over-the-top" move, or why the lower body power source doesn't get stuck just like the attempts to use both power sources at once.

It's time to talk about planes again. If you remember yesterday's post, you'll recall that I said that upper body swingers tend to have upright planes and lower body swingers tend to have flat planes. Pay attention; I'm about to explain some of the conflicting teachings you may have heard.

Let's start with the upright swing. When the hands are above the plane, the body can turn a bit without the arms moving much at all. If you've ever heard a teacher suggest a motion like "tolling a bell" to start the downswing, this is an upper body power source/upright swing thought. Obviously, if your hands go up higher, they have to come down more steeply; both of these moves cause the hands to move down more than out -- toward the ground rather than toward the ball. It's also the source of the older "two-plane loop" swing; your hands go back to the high position, then they move down more than out as you change direction, before resuming their approach directly at the ball.

With the flat swing, the hands are below the shoulder plane... which means the arms will (at worst) end up flat against the chest. Unless you are ridiculously flexible in your waist, your shoulders won't be too far behind your hips, which also means your arms (against your chest) will come right along for the ride. They can't get stuck because you've removed the extra movement of the arms and shoulder joints allowed by the upright plane. In addition, the lower plane puts the forearm into a stronger position to resist the leg motion than it would be in the upright position. If the teacher says you should "slide your hips forward a bit, then turn" when you start down, this is a general two-plane move (it causes the loop) that is sometimes used with the upright swing but is almost always used with the flat swing.

One guy determined to beat this limitation was Ben Hogan. His swing is a two-plane, two-power source swing that takes a lot of practice to master. If you are having a problem with slices, you probably shouldn't use it unless you enjoy frustration. Why? Because -- and this is part of Hogan's genius -- he designed a swing that cannot go left (or if you're a lefty, it won't go right) unless you hit it perfect. Hogan had a horrible problem with hooks, so he designed a swing that, if you don't do it perfectly, you'll get stuck and push the ball. He guaranteed this by using an extremely weak grip (that is, his hands were turned on the grip so that his thumbs were turned toward the target); this way, he couldn't flip the club enough to hit a big hook. The only way Hogan could make the ball go left was if he made the swing perfectly; in that case, he could hit a slight draw.

Hogan's swing uses a neutral swing plane. This allowed him to get some of the power benefits of an upright swing (which can better use the back muscles for strength) while still keeping the arms just low enough that the shoulders could help prevent the hands from getting stuck (the shoulders can still provide some extra bracing for the arms, and the forearm is still turned in a slightly stronger position to resist the leg drive).

All-in-all, Hogan's swing has been the best attempt thus far to use both power sources in a swing, which is why it's so popular with the pros. But unless you have lots of practice time, you aren't going to make rapid progress using his swing. (Even with a lot of practice, you may not make rapid progress. You need only to look at the pros and their struggles to confirm this.) The best bet for a weekend player is to focus on one power source or the other; it's simpler and more natural for most players.

I think that's enough for you to think about this week. Next week we'll start looking at the two single power source swings available to the weekend golfer -- probably the upright swing first, since it tends to get short-schrift these days.


  1. Thanks Mike, for the first time in a while I feel like I have something to work with! There was a time last year when I really felt like I "had it" and that lasted several months. Then, for a reason I've never been able to understand, I "lost it". Lost the consistency. I've worked with instructors, worked at the range and I'm still trying to get it back.. You've helped me visualize some things I wasn't seeing... I'm hopeful. :o)

  2. I'm glad, Patricia. I think we've all "lost it" at one time or another, so I understand. (Personally, I lost it 3 or 4 times before I finally felt like I understood why.)

    You know, the problem isn't that we have bad teachers or anything; it's just that there are so many different ways to hit the ball, and tips that work with some of those ways don't work with others. That's why I wanted to do this "Route 67" series; it's also why I recommend using one single teacher as a "filter" for any advice you get. If you find a teacher whose teaching helps you (like I did with Carl Rabito), you should test any other tips you get against his or her advice. If the teaching doesn't fit in with that one teacher told you, ignoring it is probably a good move.

    I worked with Carl back in 1990. He gave me a few basics that I still use as checkpoints 20 years later, and it's because I had those checkpoints that I started to understand how all the approaches other teachers use differ. So I'll say it again: If you've had one teacher who has helped you more than others, you may have more success sorting things out if you start with that teacher's "givens." And this series may help you understand what approach a given teacher is taking, so you can avoid some of the wrong turns.