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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Bent Trailing Elbow Drill, Part 4

No, this isn't the second drill I promised you in Part 3 of this series -- that post is still to be "sometime later this week." This post (and probably the next one in the series as well) is a preparatory one, to help you perform that drill better.

And I suspect a large number of you need this post. While some of you probably did the pitch-length drill and went, "WOW! That's amazing!" I suspect there were a lot more of you who found the drill to be awkward and unnatural. You understood the basic principles but just couldn't get used to the feel of it.

HaNa Jang entering the impact zone

I've tried to structure this series of posts to teach you much more than one possible way to swing a golf club. I want you to learn some things that instructors often do when they teach but they don't explain. They assume you'll make the connections between those things on your own because these things seem self-evident when you work with them all the time. But of course, they AREN'T self-evident to everyone else. (That happens in all walks of life, not just golf, so don't feel bad.)

One of those things, which I've said a few times in this blog, is that the way you THINK about your swing determines how it FEELS, and the way it feels creates your MECHANICS. That's why instructors often give their students drills with movements that don't actually occur during their swings; they're trying to teach them a feel that will create new mechanics more easily.

In today's post we're going to take the first of the two versions of the drill you learned in Part 1 and Part 3, and we're going to change the way that drill feels by changing the way you think about it. We'll focus on the original drill from Part 1 since that's the simplest version. We're going to change how that drill feels to you by changing your understanding of what's happening. 

I've talked a great deal about wrist cock during this series so far. The above photo of HaNa Jang appeared in the first couple of posts and I mentioned that while we were aiming to have the shaft parallel to the ground at this point, Jang shows that it doesn't hurt much if the shaft gets a little lower. I also mentioned in the last post that bending your trailing elbow while your lead arm stays straight automatically cocks your wrists.

Most of you followed this easily because when you think about wrist cock, you think about what I'll call sidecock. That is, you think of wrist cock as if you were delivering a karate chop with the side of your hand. This is the most obvious aspect of wrist cock and it's what most instructors focus on (or at least, what they talk the most about).

But maybe that's not what we should focus on when we swing. Because if you look at the Jang photo and try to duplicate that position as we did in the first post, you'll realize that your trailing wrist also has what I'll call backcock -- the back of your hand hinges toward your forearm.

If you take the position Jang has in the photo -- which is the position we used as the base for the original drill in the first post -- you'll realize that her trailing wrist has at least as much backcock in this position as her lead wrist has sidecock! The angle between her lead forearm and the club shaft, which shows us the sidecock, is nowhere near the 90° angle most of us try to achieve at this point. But she has very close to 90° of backcock. If you were to reposition the camera so it was above her head looking down at the ground, you'd see the shaft is nearly parallel to her aim line.

Now, from this position -- and this is very important, so make sure you think about this until you can see it at work (take a club and duplicate the motions to help you) -- sidecock simply drops the club straight down to the ground because you don't hit the ball with the side of your hand. Remember me mentioning that in the explanation from Part 2? If not, here's the quote:
UP is also a key concept. Your wrists don't cock away from the target; they cock upward. It's because many players don't understand this that they insist on using such strong lead hand grips.
So why do players use strong lead hand grips? Because they're trying to hit the ball with sidecock... but sidecock isn't what hits the ball. Sidecock lets the clubhead drop down to the ground so it can reach the ball, but it's a mostly vertical movement.

Believe it or not, you hit the ball mostly with backcock. If the ball wasn't sitting on the ground -- if it was on a tee high enough to be level with your hands in this drill -- you would simply make the 'swing' I described in that drill in one plane and hit the ball. You would roll your lead shoulder, straighten your trailing elbow, and end up making a nice weight transfer to your lead foot and leg. And you'd make a level-to-the-ground swing that popped that ball right off the tee.

You're skeptical, I know. So don't take my word for it. Here, from a post I did about getting distance way back in 2010, is a segment from one of GC's old Playing Lessons with the Pros shows featuring J.B. Holmes. I included this in that post because, starting at the :31 mark, Stephanie Sparks notes that Holmes doesn't cock his wrists at the top of the swing:

Now of course, Holmes HAS to cock his wrists in order to create clubhead speed. What she means is that she doesn't see any sidecock. (Holmes does create some sidecock on the way down. By the end of this post series, you will too.) But he DOES create backcock, at the very top of his backswing. HE HAS TO because if he doesn't, he can't bend his trailing elbow and he can't create a tilted swing plane.

So as the first part of our 'rethinking' of this drill, I want you to go back to the original version in Part 1 and make two changes to reflect this new way of thinking:
  • First, I want you to do the 'backswing' that gets your trailing forearm and club shaft parallel to the ground, just the way the post says... but then I want you to swing to the finish while keeping that 'parallel to the ground' position. I think you'll find this feels much more natural.
  • Then, once you feel comfortable with that, I want you to make that same horizontal swing BUT don't try to keep the shaft parallel to the ground. Just let the clubhead drop to the ground as you swing forward. Do you understand what I'm asking? Focus your effort on swinging toward the target, not toward the ground. The movement to the ground JUST HAPPENS, DUE TO GRAVITY. It may take you a few times to get that straight in your mind but once you do, this drill may feel almost effortless... AND SPEEDY. Just don't do this where you might take a chunk out of the carpet; it creates more speed than you expect!
In the next post in the series we'll look at the complete drill from third post. It may be a couple of days before I do that one, because I want you to spend some time doing this 'new version' of the original drill. You need to understand how much different a swing can feel just by changing the way you think about it.



  2. Martin Hall mentioned spine extension and closed face in the follow through; Deb Vangellow mentioned finishing on lead side of target