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Friday, March 28, 2014

Up and Down and Around, Part 3

In the second post in this series I looked at how a connected modern swing built on a knowledge of how your body works eliminates the need to twist your forearms in the modern golf swing. (As a quick summary, the rotation of your lead shoulder while connected takes care of all the motion necessary to get your club face on plane, and does it pretty much automatically.) But it creates an even simpler motion in a classic-style swing, and that's what we're looking at today.

I say a 'classic-style swing' instead of just a classic swing because there are a number of swing variations being taught these days, both classic-style and modern-style. Some of these variations are starting to blur the differences between the two and, in my opinion, are better than either of the originals. Many of the old swing thoughts that clearly belonged to one original swing type or the other are not so clear anymore.

Let's look at the originals and then how they've evolved.

The original classic swing developed during the age of hickory, back when shafts couldn't take much stress before they flexed out of control. I think that's why two-plane swings originally developed -- the looping action at the top minimized the stress during the change of direction. Too much leg action created even more stress, so the focus was on the arm action -- the legs were often described as just "moving beneath" the player, as supports rather than power sources. Because of this, players often turned their hips a lot on the backswing.

The club was swung back and up, then looped down and around to create a path from the inside. (Typical swing thought: Pull down and ring the bell.) In order to make room for this inside path, the hips needed to move toward the target. (Typical swing thought: Slide your hips forward.) To facilitate a free-swinging arm action, the arms remained unconnected and players often didn't think much about proper leg action -- which often resulted in an over-the-top swing.

The classic swing evolved a bit when steel shafts took over, eliminating much of the looping at the top. Colin Montgomerie is a good example of that classic swing. There's not a lot of worry about bracing his trailing knee, and all of his hip action and arm swing look very loose and relaxed compared to the modern swing. The classic swing is typically an upright swing, with the hands carried very high.

In contrast, the original modern swing -- also a two-plane swing -- developed after steel shafts took over. Hogan's new connection technique was the real revolution here and, since the legs became the main power source and the arms were clearly the weakest link in the chain (hence connection, to help brace them), it lent itself to making a flatter swing.

At the top of the backswing, the legs drove hard toward the target and loaded the shaft. This motion dropped the hands to a lower inside plane but, since now the legs had to start the turn as well as get the hips out of the way of the inside path, the swing required a more complex lower body movement. (Typical swing thought: Bump and turn.) The trailing leg had to be braced in order to start the downswing with a forceful move, and the hands went around rather than up and down. Ben Hogan is the original, of course.

For a long time instructors said you couldn't combine techniques from these two swings. But once people believe that something can't be done, it generally doesn't take long before someone figures out how to do it. Various versions of what we now call the one-plane swing were born.

And connection was the key. You see, with the upper arms connected to the chest during the downswing, the hips no longer got in the way. Now the hips only needed to move enough to create a good weight shift. And because of that, instructors found lots of new ways to blend the two swing methods. For just a couple of examples:
  • Teachers like Jimmy Ballard continued to focus on the leg action but added enough arm power to keep the back straighter. This not only created a more natural throwing motion (remember my own swing thoughts about throwing Frisbees™ and hitting tennis backhands) but relieved some of the back stress caused by all that hip sliding and twisting. Like the original modern swing, this one is flatter and much more around.
  • Likewise, teachers like Pete Cowen continued to focus on the arm action but added more leg drive to create more club head speed. Like the original classic swing, this one is much more upright and therefore more up and down. This is the one I want to focus on.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if many of you are using some combination of the two already without being aware of it. If you're having a lot of trouble with your swing, that could be the reason -- a bad combination of classic and modern swing techniques. The fact is, most instructors don't tell you which method they're using -- some of them may not even know themselves, they just know their swing method works. Unless you've taken lessons from a single teacher, you could have patched together some bits and pieces that weren't meant to be patched. (The method I use in Stop Coming Over-the-Top and in any of my posts that don't say differently is similar to what Jimmy Ballard does -- primarily leg driven, but with a straighter back. I think I've mentioned that before.)

As a side note, it seems to me that the classic style is more common among the European and Asian players while the modern style is more common among American and Australian players. There are certainly exceptions -- for example, Stacy Lewis appears to have more of a classic swing while Graeme McDowell is more modern -- but overall that seems to be the case.

Anyway, for the rest of this post we're going to focus on the connected classic swing. All swings have an 'up and down' component and an 'around' component. For the time being we're going to ignore the 'around' part of the connected classic swing and focus on the 'up and down' part.

In yesterday's post I included a video of Steven Bann demonstrating that you don't have to twist your forearms to get your hands 'on plane' at the top of your backswing. I summed up the connected move this way:
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.
So on the way up your hands travel at an angle from in front of your belly button to above and outside your trailing shoulder. (Of course, in an actual swing you'd be turning your shoulders around at the same time. Your hands would reach the top of your backswing when you finished coiling your shoulders.) Your trailing arm disconnects briefly at the top so you can get more height.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just pull our hands straight back down to our address position in order to hit the ball? In this new connected classic swing, WE CAN!

Why couldn't we do it in the modern swing? It's because all the leg drive forces us to focus on the 'around' part of the swing. The swing is flatter so the hands don't move downward as much... and even then they're pulled down by the leg action.

In contrast, a classic swing is focused on the 'up and down' motion in the swing. Therefore, we can do more than just let our hands drop. Instead, we can actively straighten our arms to get them back down to the address position! As our connected lead arm rolls back down the side of our chest on the downswing, we just pull our trailing arm down so it reconnects... and then we straighten the elbow of our now-connected trailing arm. As our shoulders return to our address position, our hands also return to their address position almost automatically.

And to get to our finish, we just let our lead elbow bend as our shoulders continue to turn toward the target. Our trailing arm, now straight, mirrors what our lead arm did on the backswing. Our hands finish above and just outside our lead shoulder.

In other words, our arms and hands -- when viewed without our shoulders turning -- basically move in a giant V shape in front of our torso. A very simple motion indeed, as shown in the following diagram. (For you lefties out there, the sequence is A-C-A-B where C becomes the top of the backswing and B becomes the top of the finish. Except for the labels, things didn't change enough to warrant two diagrams.)

V-shaped path of hands in connected classic swing

Yeah, I know -- this is a very different way of thinking about arm motion during your swing. And you have to understand that this description is specific to a connected classic swing -- it doesn't necessarily describe how the motion feels during a modern swing, for example, because of the dropping action that starts a modern swing's downswing.

I discovered this while changing my own modern swing to a more classic one, and it takes a little effort to get your mind around it. But it didn't take me long -- we're talking a matter of weeks here. And now my swing thought as I start down is simply to straighten my arms and hit the ball. You can really feel the lead arm rolling down into position!

When I first started experimenting with a classic swing, my biggest problem was finding the bottom of my swing because my trailing hand was uncocking too soon. (The classic swing is more upright, so the swing is longer.) This V-shape swing concept helped me get it straightened out.

If you want to experiment with it, I'd advise starting with slow half swings and move to slow full swings. Once you get there, the timing is extremely easy to get because the swing rhythm isn't complex -- just up and back, down and around.

But no matter whether you use a classic swing or a modern one -- an arm-powered one or a leg-powered swing -- you've got to stop twisting your forearms if you want to become more consistent in your game. Staying connected -- and letting that connection control the rotation at your lead shoulder -- is the path to more fairways and greens.


  1. Hi Mike, discovered your site today, it certainly makes really enjoyable reading.
    There is so much to read i've only scratched the surface.
    The backhand control seems to describe me, in fact i've always thought I was at fault when struggling with trying to swing two handed.
    What would you suggest would be the most suitable sequence of atricles to read for a backhander.

  2. Glad to have you aboard, Stephen!

    Let's make sure you understand that having one hand control the swing doesn't mean you're swinging one-handed. Both hands provide power during your swing -- that's always true, no matter what style of swing you have. But to get the most distance, you need to grip the club with as little tension as you can without losing control of the club.

    So the control hand grips the club just a little tighter than the other hand so things don't get too loose. If you tried to control the club with both hands, your wrists would stiffen up too much and you'd lose both distance and accuracy.

    Backhand control is the most natural for most of us because we grow up throwing Frisbees and hitting tennis balls and baseballs. The back of the hand at the end of the shaft (or racket or bat) is usually pointing at the target, just like the face of the club, so it's easier to aim that way. You're just doing what comes naturally.

    Since you didn't say exactly what kind of problems you're having with your swing, it's a little hard to say what posts would be the best to start with. But since (in my experience) most people have problems with their takeaway, I'd start with a post about one-piece takeaways. There's a button at the top labeled "Some Useful Post Series." Check out Part 3 of the series "Dexter's Coming Over-the-Top." That one will teach you how to start your swing with a good takeaway.

    Then try the series called "The Deadhanded Approach Shot." That will help you create a good swing motion similar to how Steve Stricker swings.

    Those two will probably be enough to keep you busy for a while since they cover a lot of fundamentals. And while you're learning those fundamentals, you can just explore the rest of the site and see what catches your eye.

  3. Thanks Mike, I have been guilty of an over the top move myself on more than one occasion, in fact my misses are pulls so I think that would indicate an outside to inside swing path, would it not?
    I purchased your E books from Amazon, i'm not ready to read them all yet(I still have 1800 posts in front of me) but it seemed like the right thing to do.
    I'm a middle of the road golfer who plays off 12 handicap, my game is reasonably accurate but it seems at the expense of distance. Drives go about 220 - 230 yds
    What i'd really like to fix would be my flip, I can't seem to time my release consistently.
    If you are looking for inspiration for a future post, here's something that puzzles me, in my last round I hit a pitch with my gap wedge, landed on the green pretty much where I wanted, but only rolled about about 2-3 feet, leaving me about 10- 12 feet short, later in the same round had a similar shot, same club, same swing, same trajectory, rolled about 10 feet past the flag, missed both putts and couldn't take the opportunity to convert 3 shots to 2 shots. I know green conditions play a part, but it happens too often to just be the rub of the green
    There is a variable in there somewhere that i'm not getting

  4. First off, thanks for buying my ebooks. I appreciate it!

    Yes, when your misses are pulls, that generally means you swing out-to-in. It could also be an over-the-top move, which is slightly different. (You can play good golf with an out-to-in move, but not with an over-the-top move. The difference in angle of attack on the ball is the reason.)

    Before you start on all the posts (insert BIG smile!) spend some time with the Stop Coming Over-the-Top ebook. That should help with the pull even if you don't have an over-the-top swing, and it may also help increase your distance. (The move that creates the pull may be costing you.) Although I directed the book at over-the-toppers because there are so many of them, the book simply teaches a fundamentally solid swing. If you have any questions when you're reading, just drop me an email.

    As for the flip... yeah, I might be able to help you. Maybe I can do a post later this week.