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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Up and Down and Around, Part 2

In yesterday's post I focused on how the design of your shoulder joint and the connection between the upper part of your lead arm and your chest create all the club rotation you need -- that is, you don't need to twist your forearms during your swing. Today we'll look at how it works in the modern golf swing.

First we need to clear up some common misconceptions about the differences between the modern golf swing and the classic golf swing. A couple of definitions are in order:
  • A modern golf swing is a swing where the legs are the primary power source for creating club head speed.
  • A classic golf swing is a swing where the arms are the primary power source for creating club head speed.
Misconception #1 is that the modern swing is all legs and the classic swing is all arms. Both swings are whole body swings; the arms provide some of the modern swing's power and the legs provide some of the classic swing's power.

Misconception #2 is that the legs start the downswing in the modern swing and the arms start the downswing in the classic swing. WRONG! The legs ALWAYS start your downswing, no matter whether you have a modern or classic swing. (And just to clarify another misconception, you start your downswing with your legs even in an over-the-top swing; the problem there is that your legs push in the wrong direction.) Here's how it actually works in each type of swing (some instructors call this "sequencing"):
  • In the modern swing, the legs push hard to begin the swing. The arms don't do anything but hold the club at first; they are pulled down to around armpit height by the leg's movement, then they add their effort to the swing.
  • In the classic swing, the legs push more easily to start the swing. The arms begin pulling the club down just after the legs start pushing. Then, when the arms get down around armpit height, the legs start pushing harder.
As a result, the modern swing has more lateral movement (toward the target) while the classic swing is more rotary (hip turn). The classic swing isn't quite as hard on the back because the spine stays more vertical than in a modern swing.

Finally, I've used the following video from K.J. Choi's teacher Steven Bann several times before because he gives such a good demonstration of how vertical your arm movement during your backswing really is. Take another look at it to be sure you understand what he's saying -- that you don't have to twist your forearms as you take the club back -- and then we'll get into today's post.

Bann doesn't use a connected position to get up to the top here, but it's easy to imagine what it looks like, isn't it? From your address position, with your hands basically in front of your belly button, your straight lead arm rotates at your shoulder and rolls up the side of your chest where your lead tricep touches it. At the same time, your trailing elbow bends and guides your lead arm so your lead hand finishes just outside and above your trailing shoulder.

If you try this and keep both upper arms connected -- a drill Hogan used in Five Lessons, although he said you'd never actually keep both arms connected all the way through your swing -- if you try it, you'll find that your lead arm has rotated so much that the back of your lead hand is pointing up to the sky. That's how much your shoulder and arm can rotate... but you didn't have to twist your forearms to do it. I want to make sure you understand that.

From this position, you can return your hands to your address position -- and yes, they'll be just as square as they were when you originally set up -- just by letting your arms straighten and drop back down. That's because your connected lead arm rotates at your shoulder and AUTOMATICALLY returns to your address position as it rolls back down the side of your chest. That's what we want; that's what will increase our accuracy without any extra effort on our part.

Now, how does this work in the modern swing?

Once we get to the top of our backswing -- we use a one-piece takeaway because that's how you make a connected backswing -- we start down by driving our legs and letting them pull our arms down. In fact, it feels as if we're just letting our arms drop by themselves... and they drop straight down. That gets our hands (and the club) down to around armpit height. Just look at the first two positions in this partial sequence of Sam Snead I included in a post I did about 3 weeks ago. See how the arms have just dropped down as his legs pushed forward?

3 Sam Snead positions during downswing

From that point I have often described the rest of the downswing motion as "throwing a Frisbee™" or "hitting a tennis backhand." As you can see in the second position of the sequence, the back of Sam's lead hand seems to be in the same position as in those two motions. It's an easy way to help you simplify the move back to the ball.

But actually, his hands are still moving straight down because that connected lead arm is rolling down the edge of his chest while his wrists uncock. Try it yourself. Grab a club and make a small practice swing back to waist high and then through to a waist high finish. Do it twice:
  • The first time, try to feel as if you're hitting a backhand while your wrists uncock.
  • The second time, try to feel as if you're simply straightening out your lead arm as you turn your body through to the finish.
I bet those two swings feel pretty much the same. How we think about the motions determines a lot about how they feel to us. That's really all swing keys are, just different ways of thinking about the same motions. We're just searching for some new way to think about the movements so it will be easier for us to repeat them every time.

Some of you will find the "straighten your arms" swing thought to be a better swing key than the "backhand" swing thought. But either one will give you much more consistent results than the "twist your forearms" swing thought because that one doesn't use connection or your natural movements.

Tomorrow I'll look at how a classic swing can benefit from using connection instead of twisting your forearms. You're going to be shocked at just how easy a golf swing can be...

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