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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dexter's Coming Over the Top, Part 4

This is the last post in this series. If I can do a video version later on, I'll post that as well, but Dexter's success so far tells me that these posts aren't too difficult to follow.

Yes, if you've been following the comments on these posts, you know Dexter is already making progress. The new takeaway stopped his loopy swing almost immediately, as evidenced by his divots now going straight down his target line. But he has restricted himself to half-swings, which is the bright thing to do when you first start out. A one-piece takeaway isn't hard to do, but it does feel different... and that feel is what you need to get used to. You don't want to be thinking ten different things out on the golf course; ideally, you just want to think "I want the club to go THERE" and swing it to that point.

Today I'm going to assume you've reached that point with your new one-piece takeaway. Now we're gonna stretch that takeaway into a full-blown backswing.

There are essentially two ways to take the club the rest of the way to the top. Well, that's not exactly right -- it might be better to say there are two extremes within which you can take the club to the top. As long as you're somewhere in-between these extremes, your swing should work fine. And how, you may ask, will you know where your own personal "sweet spot" between them is located?

That's simple. When you swing your takeaway from setup to waist high, the momentum of the club will guide you the rest of the way. All you need to know is where those extremes are, so you can be confident that your swing is within them and therefore working properly.

I call these two extremes the "upright" swing and the "neutral" swing. Why not a "flat" swing? How kind of you to ask.

Just as you can define a one-piece takeaway by one primary characteristic (the shoulders turn early) that has several other effects (your arms stay relatively straight, the club stays in front of you, etc.), the rest of the backswing has one primary characteristic as well -- namely, your right elbow (left elbow if you're a lefty) never touches your side during the backswing. If it does, you get a "flat" backswing where your hands drop below your shoulders at the top of the backswing, which can cause other problems. To the best of my knowledge, the only player currently doing well with a flat backswing is Matt Kuchar... and he's 6'4", which makes his backswing "less flat" than yours would probably be!

Now, since your left arm (right arm for lefties) stays relatively straight during the swing, it follows that your right elbow (left for lefties) is the primary determiner of your swing plane. You might want to think about this in terms of how far behind you your hands go. In the "upright" swing your elbow bends less,so your hands go more up than back; and in the "neutral" swing it bends quite a bit, so your hands go more back than up. (This will become very obvious when you actually try the positions later in the post.) And it also means that most of the motion from waist high to the top of the backswing is simply the arms moving up at the shoulder joints. Therefore, we can describe the whole movement this way:

Once your takeaway reaches waist high, you simply:
  • Lift both arms so they pivot at the shoulder joints. This gives you the height of your backswing.
  • Simultaneously, your right elbow (left for lefties) bends to let this movement happen on the plane your takeaway already created.
(For those of you curious about such things, the combination of one arm straight and one arm bending, combined with the upward momentum of the club, is what causes your wrists to cock. That's why you want to keep your forearms relaxed during the swing -- so you won't interfere with this very natural process.)

Pretty simple, huh? Let's see how it works with a midway position.

Ben Hogan three-quarter positionSince both arms are pretty straight at waist high, your hands are still roughly centered between your shoulders, right? Hold your arms out in front of you the way you did in Step 2 of the takeaway drill from Sunday's post -- as if you were holding the club at waist level. Now raise your hands to shoulder level and bend your right (left) elbow so your hands move over in front of your right (left) shoulder or just outside of it, and then raise them a little higher until your hands are about level with your ears. This is what some teachers call a "three-quarter" position, and it's about where Ben Hogan would have stopped his backswing.

From this point, showing you the extremes is pretty easy.

Ai Miyazato upright positionFor the "upright" swing, just pivot your arms so your hands are up higher than your head but still just outside your shoulder. You'll notice that your right (left) elbow gets a bit closer to a 90-degree angle. Ai Miyazato or Bubba Watson are good examples. (In the picture, Ai has just started down. There was no slo-mo on her video, and I couldn't catch it exactly at the top.)

Justin Leonard neutral positionIf you move your hands back down to that three-quarter position at about ear height, then move your hands as far to the right (left) as you can while still keeping your hands at ear height, this is the "neutral" extreme. Justin Leonard is a good example; note how his hands are much lower than Ai's, although the basic position is the same. One difference that you may not notice at first is how much more angle there is in Justin's elbow; Justin's elbow forms an angle much less than 90 degrees, while Ai's elbow angle is a little over. But also notice that Justin's elbow is NOT touching his side; your elbow never touches your side during the backswing.

These are the two extremes. Your position may be a little different, but it should still fall within these three guidelines (three-quarter, upright, and neutral). I know this may seem like a strange way to think of your backswing, but remember that your shoulders will be coiling while you do this. I'm purposely describing just the arm motion minus the shoulder rotation because it's easier to understand. If you spend a little time watching some of the YouTube videos of these (and other) players, it won't take you long to understand how it works.

And of course, there is no substitute for trying it yourself. Let me repeat a few key points here:
  • Your takeaway will determine the plane of your swing. Tall people automatically swing more upright and short people automatically swing flatter. Likewise, people who "reach for the sky" like Jack Nicklaus automatically swing more upright and people who "reach behind them" like Ben Hogan automatically swing flatter. But since your one-piece takeaway gets your hands in a good position at waist high, you won't be coming over the top unless you try to... and why would you want to do that?
  • Your right elbow (left elbow if you're a lefty) never touches your side during the backswing. Your takeaway moves your elbow away from your side and your backswing keeps it there. What you do on the way down is your own business. ;-)
  • Basically, while you finish turning your shoulders, your arms just pivot up at the shoulder joints to give you the height of your backswing while your right elbow (left for lefties) bends to let this movement happen on the plane your takeaway already created. This isn't something that takes a lot of thought or effort. In fact, I think you'll find it simplifies your backswing a lot. As I said earlier, after a little practice you should be able to just think "I want to swing to THERE," where THERE is your hand position at the top of your backswing, and put them there time after time.
And once you can do that, golf becomes a much simpler game.

Like I said, this is the last post in this series. But despite the "what you do on the way down is your own business" comment, it has occurred to me that some of you may be wondering how this new backswing action affects your downswing. Tomorrow I'll take a quick look at that, just so you can see how much a good backswing simplifies things.


  1. I didn't get to practice today. Tomorrow I will hit some balls, but I was rehearsing the move all day. The proper swing makes so much more sense now that I understand what I was doing wrong.

    I will be back tomorrow with my progress report. And yes, I was wondering about the downswing. From my practice the other day, I did not think much about it. I just let gravity take over and I just dropped in the "slot", as I have heard it called. Again, I wasn't taking any full swings so maybe it will change. I don't know. But it seems that now that I am in a better position at the top, the downswing should come naturally.

  2. Once you read tomorrow's post, you'll realize that your instinct to "just let gravity take over and drop it into the slot" was correct.

    See, Dex? This isn't rocket science. Let me leave you with the last sentence from tomorrow's post: "The downswing is actually a pretty natural move that you would perform just fine if you didn't call it a 'golf swing'."