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Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Bent Trailing Elbow Drill, Part 3

Armed with some practice of the simple drill in Thursday's post and the explanations from yesterday's post, you should be ready for the full version of what I have been calling the 'bent trailing elbow' drill. Let me remind you that this is the first of two drills -- this one focuses on how the arms and hands move through the impact zone. The second drill, which I'll post sometime next week, adds the upper part of the downswing.

Just to refresh your memory, here's a photo snagged from a video of Holly Clyburn -- currrently #2 in the LPGA Driving Distance stats, behind Lexi by a mere 4 yards -- showing the position that the drill is helping you learn to swing through. Two notes here: Holly has the shaft angled up higher than many of the pros on any tour, and I didn't use a pic of Lexi simply because her hands and shaft are generally a blur at this point! I can tell you that Lexi's shaft is angled lower, more like HaNa Jang's in the pics in the previous posts, so the exact shaft angle clearly isn't all that important.

Holly Clyburn entering impact zone

So while we're aiming for a shaft parallel to the ground in the drill, don't worry if yours is angled a bit higher or lower.

Many of you have heard instructors like Michael Breed talk about how you want to create the most speed as the clubhead reaches the ball and that, when you do it properly, you will hear a 'swoosh' just past the ball. Once you get the hang of this drill, you will be able to create that swoosh if you want -- even though you're only making a pitch-length swing. (Granted, you wouldn't normally try to make a pitch-length swing that fast. But you'll be able to if you try.) And if your shafts aren't overly stiff and you pay attention, you may even be able to FEEL the clubhead picking up speed.

One last thing before we start: It is important for you to stay as relaxed as you can while you make this swing. Relaxed muscles can move faster, and we're after clubhead speed here. So try to stay relaxed. I know it will be harder at first but you'll learn to relax as you get more comfortable with the feel.

So how are we changing the drill from the first post?

For one thing, we're going to add some shoulder turn. In the original version of the drill we kept our shoulders in our address position; now we're going to make an actual pitch-length swing. But you don't need to test your flexibility here; a 45° shoulder turn is plenty.

This means your hands will come up higher and you'll create some wrist cock.
  • How high should your hands come up? Your lead elbow will be in front of the bottom of your sternum (that's your breast bone), which will put your lead arm almost parallel to the ground.
  • How much wrist cock should you get? Because both elbows remain very close to your sides (see the first post again if you've forgotten), your wrists will cock automatically! If you feel as if you're cocking your wrists straight up -- that's automatic if you do what the first post says and don't twist your forearms -- the shaft will lean slightly toward the target and also lean backward on a slight upright plane. (The explanation for that was in the second post if you need to re-read it.)
In addition, the shoulder turn will automatically create a slight weight shift to your trailing foot and leg. It won't be huge and it certainly shouldn't be; if your stance is about shoulder width, your lead foot will roll slightly to the inside and your lead knee will break a little toward the ball. It's not a huge move -- I'm 5'10" and my lead knee moves maybe four inches, no more.

Your trailing knee and hip should move slightly backwards, not sideways. We want a pivot, not a slide.

That's your backswing.

Now, to start your downswing (and remember, this is a pitch-length swing, not a full swing), you want to FEEL as if you're rolling your lead shoulder AND returning your lead knee and foot to their address position AT THE SAME TIME. I know this goes against everything you've been told -- you've been told to start your downswing with a forward hip slide and turn, right? -- so let me give you a quick explanation why this creates the leg drive you want.
Physics 101: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Or, in golf terms, if your upper body tries to turn one way, your lower body tries to turn the other. That's why you hit behind the ball when your feet slip on wet grass. Your lower body can't resist this law of physics, so it tries to meet your upper body halfway in the downswing.

Most modern golf teaching wants your lower body to pull your upper body through impact. If your lower body moves forward and clockwise (that's a lefty swing), your upper body tries to react by moving backward and counterclockwise. If you don't do everything quite right, the result is called 'getting stuck'. Your upper body is trying to turn away from the ball. (If the movement is particularly bad, you can fall backward and make a 'reverse pivot'.)

What we're doing here is -- using the lefty swing example again -- trying to turn our UPPER body forward and clockwise. Now, when our lower body tries to go backward and counterclockwise, it ends up PUSHING our upper body forward. In other words, the two motions cooperate and we can turn through the ball more quickly.
And we try to feel as if we do them at the same time because... well, it's physically impossible to do them both at once, but the lag between the lower body drive and the upper body move in this pitch-length swing is really small. We're doing it so our bodies just do what comes naturally. After all, how often do you deliberately try to make your upper and lower body move separately?

I should also add that, while too much upper body movement away from the target in a swing is bad, we DO want a little bit. The head moves slightly backward at impact in a good swing -- but only slightly. By feeling as if we start the downswing with our whole body at the same time, that movement should happen naturally. If it doesn't, you'll know because you'll lose your balance and fall forward when you swing. That's a better fault than falling backward... but it's still a fault.

During your downswing and finish, your elbows stay close to your sides in this drill. (Yes, in the finish your trailing arm mirrors what your lead arm did during the backswing. Simple symmetry.) When you roll your lead shoulder, you'll use the big muscles to keep your arms and hands 'in front of you'. Your wrists will naturally uncock because, as your lead shoulder rolls, your trailing elbow will straighten and 'release the clubhead' at the correct time. The speed this creates late in the downswing will PULL you into your finish if you stay relaxed and just let your body go with it.

That's the whole drill. Do it slowly when you start because it's probably going to feel odd. That's because this is a very compact movement; we won't concern ourselves with 'width' until we get to the full swing. Gradually speed it up until you can do it fairly quick and still stay relaxed.

Again, remember that this is only a pitch-length swing. You shouldn't expect to swing as fast as you do in a full swing! But you'll be surprised at how much speed you can create this way if you try. That's the result of better hand and arm action, working in better sequence with your lower body.

But before I end this post, let's go back to the original drill for a moment. In the original drill I had you start with your trailing forearm basically parallel to the ground when your shoulders were in your address position. I still want your arm in basically that same position when you do this full drill -- it's part of the reason you'll have to do this slowly at first. Your trailing forearm stays in basically the same position from the top position of this full drill until your shoulders are square in the downswing.

In other words, your trailing forearm isn't really going to start 'hitting' until you've turned partway into your downswing!

Too many of you jerk your hands down from the top. If you learn to 'delay your hit' with this full drill, you'll start your hands and arms down more slowly and THEN speed up as you enter the impact zone. This is a major part of 'learning to feel the clubhead' and it will do wonders for your short game.

And when we turn this into a full swing sometime next week, it'll pay even more dividends. Have fun!