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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Historical Swoosh

Part of the Route 67 series

This article has been edited slightly because I realized my statement under the picture didn't make a lot of sense. Sorry.

One last post about the swoosh before we move on; this one is a quick look at how the swoosh shows up in modern teaching. After some debate, I've decided to focus on two player/teachers -- Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones -- because their references to the move are pretty typical. The page references are for Hogan's book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, and for Bobby Jones on Golf, a collection of writings by Jones himself.

But first I'd like to make a quick reference to another series of posts I did (listed on the Some Useful Posts Series page) about Jim McLean's "V-Gap" technique. In that series I pointed out that the V-gap is just a modern version of what used to be called a "late cock," where the club shaft is still basically parallel to the ground when the hands are at the waist-high position on the backswing. Hogan shows this same position on page 72 of his book. The Jones book includes a drawing of him in a similar "late cock" position on page 40.

McLean says that players using the V-gap hit the ball farther, and this is related to the swoosh move. By delaying the wrist cock, the clubhead develops more momentum at the change of direction, which makes it easier to delay that uncocking move until you're ready to swoosh.

That swooshing move is illustrated on pages 82-83, with the caption, "The training exercise is a half-swing back and forth. Back and forth, back and forth, the body swings the arms like the pendulum of a clock. The elbows remain tightly glued to the side." Hogan's exercise is a bit more mechanicial than mine, what with the elbows held tight against the side, but it has the advantage of forcing you to move your wrists properly for the swoosh. This isn't from the book, but it's a short sequence of Hogan doing the swoosh:

Hogan in swoosh position

Notice that his wrists are still cocked when his arms drop below the 9:00 position, and his wrists straighten as he approaches the ball position.

On page 93 Hogan makes a big deal about NOT starting the downswing with the hands. (Remember, I had you gradually lengthen the swoosh in order to try and avoid this.) After restating this in capital letters about how you shouldn't use any conscious hand action during the swing, he says:
What do the hands do? The answer is that they do nothing active until after the arms have moved on the downswing to a position just above the level of the hips.
A little later (on page 96) he writes:
AFTER YOU HAVE INITIATED THE DOWNSWING WITH THE HIPS, YOU WANT TO THINK OF ONLY ONE THING: HITTING THE BALL. On a full drive, I try to hit the ball hard, sometimes as hard as I can. (The caps are Hogan's.)
My favorite Hogan quote is on page 101, where he talks about his left wrist still being a bit arched and he says, "As far as applying power goes, I wish I had three right hands!" Your right hand (left hand for lefties) can apply as much power as you want, as long as your hands have reached the lower part of your swing (as he said a couple of quotes earlier).

Bobby Jones uses some interesting phrases to describe his own performance of the swoosh. After talking about hip turn and such, he says,
"But equally important is the effect of completing the cocking of the wrists.This is accomplished as the wrists give to the pull of the hips in one direction and of the club head moving in the other. As the downstroke begins, one should have the feeling of leaving the club head at the top" (page 46).
That "feeling of leaving the club head at the top" is a great way to describe what I have called "delaying the release" in my earlier posts. Later on the same page Jones talks about the importance of "An ample cocking of the wrists, and the retention of the greater part of this angle for use in the hitting area," which is the goal of swoosh. (I should point out that drawings of Jones will show his wrists with less wrist cock as he enters the swoosh area. This is because hickory shafts flex more than modern steel ones, so they can't handle as much power. We'll talk about this some in a later post, but for now you should be aware that softer graphite shafts require less wrist cock to develop power... but you also have to swing more slowly to keep your accuracy. Walter Hagen's notoriously wild drives were caused by a fairly modern swing that overpowered his hickory shafts.)

Regardless of how "hard" you try to swoosh, the principles of delaying the uncocking of the wrists until you're in the last part of the swing, close to the ball, is a longstanding teaching. It doesn't matter whether you look at older teachings from the time of hickory shafts or the most modern teachers; and it doesn't matter what swing method you use to hit the ball. Power comes from a swoosh at the bottom of the swing, and it's not so hard to learn. Take your favorite teaching book and look for some of the descriptions I've pointed out in both Jones and Hogan's books; I bet you'll find something very similar.


  1. If you straighten your hands in the hitting zone how does that effect the straightening of the arms? I thought the arms were not to reach full extension until after hitting the ball. I know you don't want to flip the hands through impact, so I assume you keep them straight through the mid follow through. Also I keep hearing people talk about rolling the forearms what is your take on that?

  2. My problem is not holding the wrist cock, I can hold it all the way through. My problem is when to release it. I have been releasing it at the ball. Maybe I'm holding it to long and releasing to late. Also do you swoosh say a 7 iron at the same place you would swoosh a driver? Or is it different for every club?

    1. Let me try to answer both questions at once, since they're related. If it still seems a little confusing after this, let me know and I'll do a completely new post to try and clear it up.

      I'm also going to assume you play righthanded in this explanation. If I'm wrong, let me know that as well.

      From a practical standpoint -- and that's how I'm going to explain this -- each of your arms behaves differently during a golf swing. Although you don't want it to be stiff, your left arm is going to be pretty straight from at least waist high on the downswing (call it 9:00 on a clockface) until the clubhead has swung past the ball (we'll call that 4:30, although it doesn't have to be that exact). That keeps your body a consistent distance from the ball through impact. Remember, your left shoulder is moving up and back as your body rotates through the shot, so bending your left arm would cause you to hit the shot thin.

      By comparison, your right arm will be bent at least a little all the way to that 4:30 position. That's because your right shoulder is moving down and forward as your body rotates, and straightening that arm too soon would cause you to hit the ball fat.

      Are you with me so far? Now let's talk about the wrists and hands.

      Your left wrist and hand will straighten -- that is, put your arm, wrist and shaft in a fairly straight line -- a little bit before you actually hit the ball. (I'll say that's in the 8:00 to 7:00 range, although I don't think there's an exact moment you can identify. We aren't machines, after all, and things are happening pretty fast at this point in the swing.)

      However, your right wrist will still be a little cocked at this point. How much it's cocked varies from player to player, but it's for the same reason your right elbow stays bent -- if you uncocked your right wrist too soon, you'd hit the ball fat.

      Your right wrist actually straightens through impact because your right elbow is straightening. You may feel as if you're pushing the club shaft to straighten your right elbow or you may feel as if your right wrist is straightening in order to 'fling' the clubhead through impact. Regardless of how it feels to you, it's the same thing because elbow and wrist are working together. But everybody feels their swing a little differently, so think of it in whichever way works best for you.


    2. Rolling your forearms is wrong. People tend to think they roll their forearms because if you watch a video showing someone hitting the ball, they see the back of the hitter's left hand at waist high on the downswing facing the camera, then both hands pointing straight toward the camera at impact, ND then the back of the right hand at waist high in the followthrough. But it just looks that way because the hitter's body is rotating -- the hitter's chest faces away from the target during the downswing, toward the ball (and the camera) at impact, and toward the target in the followthrough.

      There is a very slight amount of rotation caused by one elbow being straight while the other bends. I've written about that in another post but I can't remember which one it is right now. Anyway, that's simple physics and you don't even need to think about it; it happens on its own.

      But if you consciously try to rotate your forearms, you won't be able to control where the ball goes. Don't try to rotate your forearms! If you think of the clubface as the 'face' of a tennis racket, you won't rotate your arms too much.

      As for swooshing the club, don't overthink things, Gman. If you think about having both arms straight just after impact, you'll swish the club just fine regardless of what club you're using.

      If you're still having problems after reading this, just let me know and I'll do a full post -- or more than one, if necessary -- until it's clear. That's how I've done things ever since I started this blog, so it won't be a bother for me to do it.

      Good luck and let me know how things go!

    3. Ok I'll work on it Mike. I have actually been hitting nerf balls in the back yard. I really feel and see the difference. I practice for a couple hours a day. The biggest thing I have noticed with the swoosh is I'm really loading up and posting the the left side on the follow through. That's why I had the follow through questions. I want to make sure I'm doing it right. I have always had a bad chicken wing on the follow through, but with the swoosh it has gone away. I have been practicing the swoosh from 9:00 to a full follow through. The hardest thing for me right now is during a full, going from the top of the back swing to the 9:00 8:00 position in the downswing and then performing the swoosh right now feels like 2 pieces of the same swing. I need to smooth it out. Ball flight is usually straight to a draw, mostly with a 7 iron. will try it on my driver after I better at it.
      Thanks Mike

    4. One thing you're going to learn is that almost all of your problems with your swing happen while your hands are above your shoulders. You can hit decent (but shorter) shots with almost any move below shoulder height, probably because that's what we do in most sports growing up. (Tennis, Frisbee, ping pong, swinging a baseball bat, etc.) Getting it all to feel like one smooth move is just a matter of practice, like anything else in life.

      And I'm glad your shots are going straight or slightly drawing. That's the most natural move -- after all, if you swing your hand around you to hit something in front of you, you usually use the flat of your palm (a straight shot) or the edge of your hand (a fade). Leading with your thumb (which would give you a draw) isn't as natural UNLESS you're getting that little bit of rotation I mentioned where your lead elbow bends on the way up on the followthrough. Remember, if one elbow stays straight and the other bends, you naturally get a slight rotation toward the bent elbow. You're doing things right!

    5. And just so you don't confuse 'chicken winging' with the bent elbow I mentioned above, let me explain the difference. In a chicken wing move, your lead (right) elbow bends OUT AWAY from your body. When you swing naturally, your lead elbow bends INTO your side.

      You've seen Jordan Spieth chicken wing it on purpose, right? That's because a chicken wing move forces your hands to create a fade swing. The fact that you're getting a straight-to-slight-draw ball flight means you're swinging properly and naturally. Don't change it! ;-)