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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Swoosh at the Bottom, Part 1

Part of the Route 67 series

I originally intended to start talking about upright swings and the upper body power source today, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I should cover this first. This swoosh is what we're trying to do, regardless of which power source we focus on, so an understanding of this may make it easier to understand how the power sources themselves work.

Just what is the swoosh at the bottom of the swing? To put it simply, the swoosh is the primary cause of clubhead speed -- and therefore of distance. Learn to swoosh properly and you really can gain a huge amount of yardage with very little effort. In fact, if you drive the ball less than 200 yards, I don't think it's unreal to expect anywhere from 20-50 extra yards when you learn how to swoosh. (That goes for the women as well as the men. There's certainly an element of physical strength involved, but once you learn the technique you're 85% there.)

Teachers and pros are notorious for "teaching" the swoosh without really giving you anything useful to learn from. The most common method is to take hold of your driver by the head and swing the shaft, trying to make a swooshing noise when the grip is near your feet. "If you hear the swoosh higher in your backswing," they'll say, "you've uncocked your wrists too soon." They are precisely correct... yet the explanation rarely helps, does it? There are other things they sometimes say -- things connected to the swoosh -- but they don't make sure you connect them, and they describe them using language that is correct from one point of view but misleading from another.

Today we start learning about the swoosh -- not just what it is, but how it's done, how it feels, how you can know if you've done it correctly, and how to repeat it.

Defining the Swoosh
First, forget the backswing. The best way to learn the swoosh is to focus on the very bottom of your swing -- if your arms were the hands of a clock, we would be focusing on the 7:30-8:00 position. (That's the position of your left arm; your right arm if you're a lefty. The other arm will bend as you cock your wrists, so it may appear to be at some other angle.) That's the top of the swoosh; forget about the rest of the backswing for now, but allow yourself to swing all the way to your followthrough as you learn how to swoosh.

Take a driver or 3-wood and hold it properly -- by the grip, with the head down where you want it to be when you hit the ball. Put something on the ground (a tee works fine) and push it down where you won't hit it; you just want something to mark where the ball would normally be. We'll be using it later.

Putt-length swooshFirst, I want you to "putt" with your driver. Just swing the driver back until your arms are at that 7:30-8:00 position we talked about, then forward "through the ball." Nothing fancy, just let the driver shaft stay straight, in line with your arms, as if you were putting. It feels like your hands kind of glide to a stop, then glide forward, doesn't it? It's nice and smooth, the way a putting stroke should feel. For a few of you, this is pretty much the way your driver is moving when you hit the ball. It's no wonder the ball doesn't go very far, is it? There are uses for this kind of movement -- it's not very different from what I call a punch shot -- but getting distance isn't one of them. Make a few swings like this, just to get a sense of how it feels.

Pitch-length swooshNow, swing your driver and arms back to that 7:30-8:00 position again, but this time let your wrists cock so the driver shaft gets roughly parallel to the ground, then swing back "through the ball"; your wrists should uncock to their original position, so the club is pointing straight as it passes the "ball." This is the feel of a short pitch shot, and I think this is a really good move for an approach shot as well, where you want to control how far the ball travels. It doesn't take a lot of effort; that's why it's easy to control the distance.

The problem is, for the vast majority of us, it's also how our drive feels when we hit it. This is NOT the way to get distance! Make this swing a few times though, and mix it in with some of those "putting" strokes we did earlier. Can you feel a difference in how your wrists behave during this short swing? Telling the difference between these two is a lot of what the pros call "feel"; it's just a sense of where your wrists are (and consequently, where the club is) during the swing.

The full swooshNow it gets interesting. Let's make the same swing again, back to that 7:30-8:00 position again, but this time let your wrists cock as much as you comfortably can. Even with your arms down in the 7:30-8:00 position, the head of the driver will be as high as your head or higher! You'll feel pressure against your wrists -- it's momentum from the weight of the clubhead as it swings back. The second that pressure eases off (it takes less strength if you wait till you feel it ease), I want you to swing your hands and arms back "through the ball," straightening your wrists so the shaft of the club is pointing at the "ball" as the head passes it, just like you did with the pitch shot. It may take you several tries to do it properly; that's ok. Work with it until you find a rhythm where you can make that short swing, fully cocking your wrists, then getting the club back to your address position. It takes some effort to get the clubface back to square, and I'd be willing to bet you can't stop the club from going to a full followthrough when you do this.

I'd also be willing to bet that very few of you feel that sensation when you normally swing a club!

Let me explain what you just did in "golf terms":
  • You loaded the shaft (that's what caused the pressure you felt in your hands and wrists)
  • You felt the change of direction (that's when the pressure in your hands and wrists eased off)
  • You swooshed the club (that's when the club returned from its fully-cocked position to the address position as it swung through the ball)
I bet it felt like that club was really flying when it reached the bottom of the swing, didn't it? That's because it was -- look how high the clubhead was when your wrists were fully-cocked, and how quickly it traveled from that height to the ground. Do you think you developed some clubhead speed with that little move? You betcha you did! That baby WAS flying... and you weren't really even trying! You were just focused on trying to straighten your wrists.

You may not realize it, but the vast majority of your clubhead speed comes from this short bottom part of the swing. Your hands traveled only one-third to one-quarter of your entire backswing length, yet the clubhead traveled farther than it would travel from the top of your backswing to its position at the start of the swoosh.

That's enough for today. Spend a little time working on your swoosh, and we'll take the next step tomorrow.


  1. Make it easier to hear - either flip the club over with the grip side down, or go to your local golf store and ask them if they have a broken shaft you can have.

    Without a clubhead, you'll be able to get a faster, louder "swoosh" so you'll know where you're making it.

    Davis Love and Fred Couples used to talk about this and they said they wanted to hear the fastest part of their "swoosh" just past where the ball was so they knew they were still accelerating through the ball.

  2. I'm not interested in making it easier to hear the swoosh, Court -- sound doesn't move the ball. They mic the players on Tour; when they hit the ball, do you hear a swoosh? No -- just the impact as the clubhead actually hits the ball.

    The point of these "swoosh" posts is to teach you how to actually hit the ball a long way; and when you do that, you feel (rather than hear) the swoosh. And it's more easily felt when the club is held the way you'll actually be using it.

    Also, the "sound" method doesn't teach you how much effort it takes to actually swoosh the clubhead strongly enough to hit the ball a long way. Clubheads weigh considerably more than grips or headless shaft tips.

    Remember, my goal on this site is maximum improvement with minimum practice. When you're a pro with hours and hours to try things, swishing shafts may have its place; but when you work for a living and just want to play golf better, I think those drills are just a waste of time. By the end of this week, I intend for anybody reading these posts to be able to walk out on the course and hit the ball farther than they ever have... and I'm taking the shortest route to that goal that I can find.

  3. If you can't HEAR the swoosh - you don't know when it happens. (swoosh is a sound and a corporate logo)

    Can't disagree with you more. At the range, it's easy to pull out a shaft or flip a club over and make a few swings to listen for the "swoosh". This isn't something that takes a lot of time - but it IS something important enough to put a couple of minutes of practice into.

  4. Tell you what -- I'll interrupt the planned post series and devote tomorrow's post to why I think the swish drill is basically useless. How's that?

    BTW, you don't need to hear the swoosh to know when it happens. If you couldn't feel the swoosh after following the instructions in today's post, you didn't do it right. (No offense intended, Court.)

  5. I'm headed up to read the next installment...but you know as well as I that in golf, you can't always be sure that you're doing something right...which is why you listen for the swoosh.

  6. Thanks for all the advise Mike. Question, when you cock your wrist, is it okay to bend the left wrist,or does it need to stay flat? When I look at pictures of the pros, most have a flat wrist at top of their backswing. I can only make my club head reach my head when my arms are in the 8:00 position if I really bend my left wrist.

  7. James, there are two possible reasons for this. One is simply that your wrists can't bend that much. There's nothing wrong with that; different people have differing amounts of flexibility. But I suspect there's something else at work here.

    Ben Hogan talked about a "long thumb" versus a "short thumb." It's on page 32 of my copy of Five Lessons.

    Basically, if you extend the thumb on your lead hand (your left thumb if you're a right-hander) well down the shaft, that's a long thumb. That puts the tip of your thumb about an inch-and-a-half farther down the shaft past your lead forefinger.

    A short thumb, on the other hand, looks more "cramped." The tip of your thumb is only about a half-inch or so past your forefinger. It also puts the club a bit more in the palm of your hand.

    Hogan used what he called a modified short thumb, which was somewhere in-between. He wrote that "The 'long thumb' let the club drop down too far at the top of the backswing," which means it increased his wrist cock more than he wanted.

    But more wrist cock is what you're after, so you want to use a long thumb.

    If you extend your lead thumb a bit more down the shaft when you grip the club, it puts the handle in your fingers a bit more. It also helps relax the muscles in your lead hand. The combination gives you a little more wrist cock without cupping your wrist.

    I'm guessing you're gripping the club using a short thumb. Try extending your thumb a bit farther down the shaft and see if that doesn't fix the problem.

    But even if it doesn't and you can't get as much wrist cock as you'd like, it's better to keep your wrist flat during your swing. It will improve your accuracy. If you're 15 yards shorter but in the fairway, it probably won't hurt your score at all. ;-)

  8. Mike, thanks for the excellent, rapid feedback. I have played with thumb length before, but will try extending it a little more. I am having a hard time (and truthfully always have) with understanding EXACTLY how the wrists straighten. I get how that generates more power, but I don't understand how it happens. Am I trying to straighten my wrist or just let physics take over? I just don't get how the wrists are supposed to move, and I have golfed for many years.


  9. Sorry for the delayed reply, James -- I was away from my emails this weekend.

    I think I can help you with another post. Martin Hall -- the teacher who hosts School of Golf on GC -- did a standalone show sometime back where he explained wrist hinging. I found the show on YouTube (in 2 parts) and posted them in this post:

    Martin Hall and the Golf Machine

    This is the best explanation I've seen of how the wrists work. It's not very long -- only about 4 minutes of video -- and it's a very visual presentation using actual hinges!

    Let me know if you're still confused after watching it.

  10. Wow very good Mike. I will try to apply this knowledge this weekend. I think I have always sort of held the club too tight. Rather then let the club release the hands, I have tried to manipulate the hands to release the club. Hard to change, but I am determined. Seeing how the hands hinge helps me visualize what i am trying to do. Thanks again.

  11. No prob, James. And you're not the only player holding the club too tight. Part of the reason golf seems so hard is that we try to make everything happen when much of it happens as a result of certain other things you do when you swing.

    You might be interested to know that golf isn't unique in this. I took Tae Kwon Do for a couple of years, and learning to relax during critical parts of our moves was a key to developing speed and power in our strikes and kicks. We would often do practice sessions where we focused just on staying relaxed until the instant before contact.

    You should definitely make relaxing your grip a focus of your practice. That will allow things to happen on their own, and you won't have to think about as much when you swing.

  12. I came across your site recently, ordered your book on distance and have enjoyed reading your blog.

    I'm a senior golfer, score pretty well on a difficult Dye course in FL. I drive the ball very straight and with decent distance and have a very good short game. However, the distance on my irons is just horrible. Thank goodness for hybrids. Yes, I'm having to use hybrids for those 140 yard shots.

    I'm quite sure I've been a caster all my life and tried to change many times but never found the secret to do so. I'm doing your drills OK, added the loop, but when I swing with the ball, I just feel like I go right back to casting. I'm just not sure I can ever eradicate it. I'll keep trying, however. Thanks for the information.


  13. Dave, the book you ordered should help you with the casting problem. But let me add a very simple drill right here that should help you stop casting (I think it's in the book, but in case it isn't...):

    Just swing back to the top of your backswing and look at your arm positions. Your lead arm is pretty straight and your trailing elbow is bent. Now, try swinging down to waist high without changing either one. You cast because your trailing elbow straightens out too early in your downswing -- that is, your trailing elbow moves up and away from your side while your lead arm moves down. You want both of them to move down together. When your trailing elbow gets down near your side around waist high, that's when you want it to straighten.

    You don't have to hit balls or even go to the range to practice this. Just head for the backyard and do the drill slowly. Swing to the top of your backswing, pause, swing the club down to waist high so your trailing elbow is near your side, pause, then straighten out so the club head "hits the ball." Do it a few times each day and you'll find it easier to start doing it during your swing.

  14. Thanks Mike for the Drill. I'll work on it. It's one thing I'd like to "master" in my golf swing. I'll get back to you in a couple of weeks
    and report my progress. I appreciate you responding.


  15. No sweat, Dave. I have the blog set up to notify me if anybody makes a comment on any post, just for that very reason.

  16. Mike, Is there a video of you demonstrating this? I feel like it would clarify just how you are doing this. Thanks,

  17. I don't have a video but I found this one by PGA Pro Andy Proudman that teaches essentially the same move:

    Note how his trailing elbow moves during the downswing. His wrist cock is created when he bends his elbow at the change of direction. The swoosh is created when he straightens his elbow once the club is parallel to the ground.

    Do the swing slowly at first, starting with half swings and gradually moving to full swings. As you get used to the motion you'll find that the natural rhythm of the swing will let you make the move with a minimum of tension in your arms and body. (If you're like most people, it will feel a lot like a practice swing.) And as you relax, you'll be able to do it faster and create more club head speed.

  18. Nice blog and I especially like how you simplify things with those stick figures.

    1. Thanks, G. Although some folks have laughed at my stick men, I think they're the clearest way to get the point across. Stick men have no "physique" to complicate the message.