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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Swoosh at the Bottom, Part 1.5

Part of the Route 67 series

Or, Why I Hate The Swish Drill

As you all probably noticed in yesterday's comments, Court and I have a difference of opinion over the usefulness of the swish drill. (BTW Court, I call mine the swoosh drill both to differentiate it from the swish drill and because I spent way too much time in comic books growing up -- when something comes through low and fast, it goes SWOOSH!) So I told him I'd devote a post to explaining why I feel this way.

For those of you unfamiliar with the swish drill: You either hold your driver by the head or get a shaft without a head, then you practice swinging it with one hand until you can hear a swishing noise. This is where you are achieving maximum speed in your swing, and the idea is to get that noise to sound to be loudest just after it passes the ball position.

If you watch any amount of golf, you probably see this drill demonstrated at least once every two or three weeks, with the explanation that it will help increase your clubhead speed. My first objection is very simple: If this drill helps you increase your clubhead speed, why are so many people struggling to get distance?

The reason is very simple: This drill, while very effective for showing that you can develop a lot of clubhead speed during a swing, does NOT teach you how to do so. In fact, it doesn't teach you the basics of how clubhead speed is developed at all, and it encourages bad habits that will adversely affect other aspects of your swing. And I will illustrate all of these in this post.

The most blatant example of why this drill fails to teach how to develop clubhead speed comes from Court himself, and I quote: "If you can't HEAR the swoosh - you don't know when it happens." I thought my first post was quite clear on this point, but apparently it wasn't; either that, or the swish drill is simply so misleading that it's hard to see the falsehood. Let me try to explain it again.

First, what causes the noise in the swish drill? I know you think it's because of the vast amount of speed you developed with that perfect swinging motion. Well... I just went out behind the house and picked up a thin stick about 15 inches long and made a short whipping motion with it; the end of the stick traveled between 18 and 24 inches. It made a very loud swishing noise! In fact, I made that motion a dozen times, stopping between each, and got a dozen noises -- and they all sounded just like the swish in the swish drill. Do you think this short motion will send a golf ball 200+ yards? Of course not!

The swish in the swish drill is caused by wind resistance (also called "drag") against a thin edge. The less drag you have, the easier it is to develop some speed... and, consequently, air noise. (This is basic aerodynamics, BTW.) That's why the twig can get a swish at a relatively low speed. And that's why the swish drill uses the thin edge; the grip is very thin compared to the clubface, and thus makes it easier to get a noise. But, as I pointed out in my comments, noise doesn't move the ball. The noise is no indication that you are getting enough speed to really launch that ball. If it does, the twig is as good as a shaft... and I know that motion was totally insufficient to launch a ball.

Now, let's introduce the clubhead back into the equation. It can't make that noise, can it? Sure it can -- but there's a lot more drag, so the noise is more muted... and harder to "place" after it passes the ball position. The pressure builds up against wide area of the face and pushes against it, rather than zipping around it and making a loud noise. But Court says, "If you can't HEAR the swoosh - you don't know when it happens." So we have no way of knowing if we got that swoosh we're after, do we?

Decades of teaching about "feeling the clubhead" would tend to indicate that the truth of the matter is somewhat different. Feeling the clubhead not only involves drag, but inertia and momentum as well, but let me try to explain, in simple words, how the swoosh feels from the top of the backswing until we reach the finish:
  • Top of backswing: Pressure against wrists. Wrists remain cocked.
  • Two-thirds down: Pressure has let off. Wrists remain cocked.
  • 8:30 to 7:30 position: Player begins to straighten wrists. Wrists begin to uncock!
  • Just past ball position: Club shaft in line with arms. Wrists have completely uncocked.
  • Up to finish: Clubhead speed literally pulls player into finish. Wrists and arms begin to fold as they slow the club down.
Now, I know I'm fishing here -- this question is bound to be sooo hard to answer -- but when did the swoosh begin? I'm gonna make a wild guess that it happened when the wrists began to uncock in the lower third of the downswing! Somewhere along the line I learned to tell the difference between "cocked" and "uncocked." Oh yeah, the fact that I had to start the uncocking myself was also a tipoff.

I'm not ridiculing Court, just trying to make this point memorable -- the swish drill is misleading. It breeds lazy thinking based on a faulty comparison; namely, that the noise in a swish drill is generated in a manner identical to the way we create clubhead speed at the bottom. The drill seems to indicate -- and the players and teachers do NOTHING to dispel the myth -- that only massive clubhead speed capable of sending a golf ball hundreds of yards can generate air noise, and that if you get the noise, you have generated that massive speed. But the twig didn't generate massive speed, and yet it made the noise. Either you can drive balls with that stick, or the swish drill is misleading; you can make the call.

"Feeling the clubhead," by comparison, rarely gets mentioned anymore and, when it is, it's treated like some mystical experience that only a few monks who spent years at a practice range in the Himalayas can ever truly experience; yet this is a proven method for creating the clubhead speed we're after. My swoosh drill (of which you have only seen the first part) teaches you this simple technique. I spent years trying to figure out this whole "feeling the clubhead" thing with very little success until I learned how to swoosh, and suddenly the descriptions in the old books made sense.

Let me try again to explain "feeling the clubhead" in simple terms: Your wrists may feel more or less pressure from shaft loading on the way down, but otherwise they are doing nothing until you reach the "swoosh zone," where you consciously uncock them with the intent of squaring the clubface when it contacts the ball. This -- the conscious uncocking of your wrists -- is where the swoosh starts; and if you succeed, the speed you generated will quite literally pull you into the finish. Even though the first post only focused on that "swoosh zone," it still should have pulled you into the finish. If it pulls you into your finish, you swooshed. Period. No guesswork needed.

If you can't feel whether your wrists are cocked or not during your swing, you are either gripping too tightly, paying no attention to what you're doing, or completely numb. In any other case, you WILL know whether you swoosh or not, even if you're deaf because your iPod is blasting Godsmack directly into your brain, because it's a tactile feeling. Tactile means it's tangible, it can be felt. Forgive me for belaboring this point, but I don't have to hear my joints cracking to feel the conscious uncocking of my wrists.

Does the swish drill teach you this very concrete approach to feeling the clubhead? No. The swish drill teaches you to listen for a sound that you can generate without accomplishing the very thing the drill purports to teach. And if you did manage to create that sound and if it did manage to teach you this move, you would be unable to recreate it because the grip makes a very different sound than the clubhead does. That, to my way of thinking, is a useless drill.

And although it should go without saying, the swoosh is a power move. You don't always want to do it. Just as you can tell when you swoosh, you can tell when you don't. Again, it's a tactile feeling... and again, the swish drill can't help you learn it. With my swoosh drill, you know exactly what you are or are not doing before the clubface ever reaches the ball.

This post is already ridiculously long, but I'm going to quickly list some of the ways the swish drill teaches incorrect technique. SD stands for "swish drill."

The SD uses only one hand. You don't swing the club with only one hand, so this ought to send danger signals right away. Without the arms working as a unit, the arm doing the drill doesn't duplicate the actual hitting motion. Specifically:
  • Your arm can easily get in the wrong position as it swings through, because it's working all by itself. For example, I have a tendency to bend my elbow during the swish drill.
  • Your hand comes through too much on the lead side of your body because it's working independently of the other arm. This means it comes through the hitting zone sooner -- a timing problem -- and causes your upper arm to move away from your chest through the hitting zone, which can result in chicken-winging.
  • Your arm rotates much more than it would with both hands on the grip. This causes you to rotate your forearm too much during the swing, which will adversely affect both your accuracy and consistency of contact.
  • Your shoulders don't move as they normally would, which can change your spine angle on your downswing.
The SD doesn't use the weight of the clubhead either, which you will certainly be using when you hit the ball.
  • Without weight on the end of the shaft, you don't learn to feel the clubhead during the swing.
  • Without that weight, not only are the previously-mentioned problems magnified, but new ones pop up; for example, the effort of uncocking the wrists against the inertia of the clubhead actually helps you learn to hit down on the ball and not lift your shoulders. That benefit is lost with the SD, even if you use both hands.
And these are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head!

So Court, I'm asking you to give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. Try doing this my way while I'm posting the whole series on the swoosh (which includes a Part 2 and a Part 3, and then one more post on how different teachers have written about what I call "the swoosh") before you make a decision. I think you'll find that you can indeed identify a swoosh without any noise... and that it feels somewhat different than the swish drill has led you to expect. And once you learn to feel the clubhead, it should help the other parts of your game as well.

And since you pointed out that a swoosh is a corporate logo, Court, I'd have to agree that your observation also fits the swoosh at the bottom. When it comes to the swoosh, I want you to JUST DO IT!


  1. Ok - first of all, I'm glad you're not feeling "swishy". (lol)

    Second, I'm not disagreeing with anything you're saying in either post EXCEPT for these two points:

    (1) The first post is teaching an entire swing - not just a drill. Except for telling someone how to put their hands on the club, you were teaching an entire swing.

    and (2) - even if you try to do everything in the first post, MOST people will not be sure that they are doing it correctly - which is the idea behind using the flipped club or a headless shaft.

    If you come over the top - you are "swooshing" before you get to the impact area. Most people who come over the top don't know that they are doing it.

    If you are following the swing instructions you gave in the first post with a full club in your hand, you will not hear a sound until you hit the ball - and you still will not know if you did the drill correctly.

    BUT - if you follow the swing instructions with a flipped club or shaft, you WILL hear the swoosh and will have feedback that the swoosh is in the correct place.

    I wasn't disagreeing with your drill - just adding a little feedback to the process.

    And yes - I do know that it works.

  2. Fair enough, Court. Let me clarify a couple of my points here in this comment... and also say I'm glad you didn't take this post personally. I didn't mean it as an attack, but you can't include "tone of voice" or "facial gestures" in a post and I was afraid it might come across that way. I'm glad you didn't.

    The first post isn't a full swing, only the "working part" of the swing. By the end of Part 3, however, we will have stretched it out into a full swing.

    Learning to feel the clubhead is a huge part of a proper swing. There's a huge difference in feel between a cocked wrist and an uncocked wrist. Perhaps -- perhaps -- there are people who do the swoosh drill who can't tell the difference between the two, perhaps because the uncocking happens at the change of direction when they do the swoosh as outlined in Part 1. By the time we stretch the swoosh into a full swing, however, there will be an obvious change point late in the swing when you uncock your wrists. Breaking it up this way makes it much easier to learn how the swoosh feels.

    I wrote the 3-part series last week, and I think I can truthfully say I anticipated most of your thoughts here. Part 2 deals with "over the top" moves and preventing them; Part 3 incorporates the swoosh into a full swing. When we get to the end of Part 3, you may have lost most of your objections.

    And I'm not so sure you'll still think the swish is such a great drill, Court. Once you get the hang of feeling the clubhead, I promise you that the swish shares very little feel with the swoosh. That's why I don't like it. I'll be interested to hear what you think after Part 3.

    BTW, if you think I missed anything in Parts 2 and 3, please make comments. I want to make this series as thorough as possible, and I think I actually described "feeling the clubhead" better in this response post that I did originally. Thanks!

  3. oh - tone and facial gestures were never a problem...but I did see the double middle finger gesture in my direction !! (lol)

    And I still have no problem with your drills - like I said before - all I was doing was suggesting an audible bit of feedback to make sure that the swoosh you're trying to get is actually where you're trying to get it.

  4. That's why it's so frustrating to me, Court -- it seems like I'm not adequately explaining why the swish and the swoosh are different. It's not the sound that I have a problem with, but the motion that makes the sound. The feel of the swish motion that makes the noise isn't the same as the feel of the swoosh motion that produces power. The muscle movements are different, and the "release of the club" happens at different points in the swing. The club "releases" later with the swish; if you try to use it instead of swooshing, you'll tend to flip your wrists and hit duck hooks -- a problem, I would point out, that a large number of pros (like Freddie, who recommends this drill) fight at times.

    I know I sound obsessed, and I'm sorry. It's just that a large part of a pro's practice time is dedicated to overcoming that wrist flip that the swish tends to encourage. (I think Tiger mentions in his book that he and the other amateurs learned this wrist flip in an effort to get more distance. Sound familiar?) Don't you think a weekend player will have more success quicker if they avoid drills that encourage bad habits?

  5. Well - first you'll have to find a drill that the weekend golfer can't get wrong. (lol) How many years of teaching does it take to figure out that a student can forget how something is done 5 minutes after you show him/her ?

    Here's the thing - if you do your drills correctly with a golf club - you will never feel or hear the swish OR the swoosh.

    You tried to prove that using the shaft was bad because you could take a twig and flip it around in a way that doesn't help the golf swing. Of COURSE you can. If you try hard enough, you can find an exception to just about anything.

  6. Remember: Part 1 is just the swoosh movement itself. Wait till after Part 3 and see if you don't feel the swoosh. (Why do I feel the sudden urge to raise my hands and yell, in my best televangelist accent, "Feel the power of the swoosh!") ;-)

  7. Oh, I forgot -- about your last point: According to the teachers and pros who recommend it, the swish noise proves that you developed the proper speed AND got it in the right place. All the twig was meant to prove is that sound proves nothing except that you can make sound. The wrong moves can make sound as easily as the right moves; the sound alone proves nothing. I'm just saying that the fact that a movement with the shaft creates a sound doesn't prove that the movement was correct.