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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Bent Trailing Elbow Drill, Part 7

In many ways, this is the most important of the posts in this series. If you can wrap your mind around this, you can apply it to almost any style of golf swing and create more clubhead speed.

HaNa Jang entering the impact zone

Most of the time we focus on what I have called sidecock, specifically the way your lead wrist bends sideways during your backswing. Perhaps we focus on it too much. It's important but it's primarily caused by gravity and momentum during the swing -- or at least it should be. As you can see from my much-used photo of HaNa Jang above, the sidecock in her lead wrist is pretty much expended by the time she reaches the impact zone... and the clubhead is still far behind the ball.

Today I'm talking about what I have called backcock, the way your trailing wrist bends back toward your trailing forearm at the top of your backswing. For HaNa -- or any golfer -- to get the clubhead to the ball, the hands and arms have to travel almost parallel to the ground for quite a distance once they reach the impact zone. 2014 Long Drive Champion Jeff Flagg likened it to a baseball player's sidearm throwing motion. Starting where HaNa is in the photo, her trailing hand will be dragging the clubhead into the back of the ball and flinging the clubhead past her hands at impact.

And that flinging action is made using backcock.

I think that much is pretty clear to most players if they just stop and think about it for a minute. (And maybe try the version of the first drill from Post #4 where you keep the club parallel to the ground!) Most of us naturally create backcock at the top of our backswings. It's the result of keeping our lead wrists flat -- or in Dustin Johnson's case, severely bowed -- at the top. Make a backswing of your own and check. You've probably got a noticeable amount of backcock in your trailing wrist already.

The real problem seems to be how to FEEL that we're using that backcock on the way down. Most of us, perhaps because of our focus on sidecock, don't feel the pressure in our hands in a way that we normally associate with the 'sidearm throwing motion' Flagg talks about. Instead, we feel as if we're dragging the club down sideways, with sidecock, and so we naturally try to use sidecock all the way through our downswings.

That's where the problem is, and that's where learning a new way to think about our downswings can help. What we need to realize is that the pressure of the shaft against our hands CHANGES as the clubhead travels from the top of our backswings down to the ball. And that's because our bodies don't turn at the same speed throughout our downswings. Our bodies start out turning slowly and speed up as we near impact.

Let me repeat those two things because they are extremely important for you to understand.
  • The pressure of the shaft against our hands CHANGES as the clubhead travels from the top of our backswings down to the ball.
  • Our bodies don't turn at the same speed throughout our downswings. Our bodies start out turning slowly and speed up as we near impact.
These two things work together. Let's examine them for a moment.

At the top of our backswings, when our swings change direction, the momentum of the club presses against the heel pad of our trailing thumbs or just a bit more into our palms than that. The exact feel depends on the plane of your swing (flatter or more upright), how much shoulder turn you get (more or less than 90°), and whether your trailing elbow 'flies' or not. (Jack Nicklaus had a flying elbow and it didn't hurt him a bit.)

When we start down, that pressure increases a bit. It's because our arms are coming down faster than our shoulders are unwinding BUT the unwinding of our lower bodies and shoulders causes the head of the club to drop behind us a bit. (Well, if you're Sergio Garcia, it's A LOT. But for most of us, it's just a little.) And regardless of whether you call that 'rerouting the club', 'getting in the slot', 'laying the club off', or some other term, it has the effect of moving that shaft pressure more into the palms of our trailing hands. It's a gradual shift caused by the sidecock gradually straightening our wrists as we turn back toward the ball.

Please note that our palms are ALWAYS facing in almost exactly the same direction relative to our upper bodies during this motion. It's just that we feel the club's pressure in a more vertical direction early in the downswing, and in a more horizontal direction from waist level on down.

By the time the shaft is parallel to the ground, our bodies are turning fast and we're well into the sidearm throwing motion Flagg mentioned. We can feel the shaft pressing into our trailing palms as our trailing elbows swing close to our sides and begin to straighten. That's how the backcock we've created is released, flinging the clubhead through the hitting area and smashing the ball into orbit.

Do you follow all that? If you don't, that's okay. The new drill I've been promising you should help you get a good understanding of what's happening.

I'm presenting the drill in three versions, each one building on the previous one. Work your way through them at whatever pace is necessary for you to get the feel. I think you'll have a good idea of what you're doing when you're done... and that understanding will help you when we put it all together into an actual swing in the final post.

Version 1: In this version the shaft stays parallel to the ground until you reach the finish. Don't worry about sidecock at all with this version; both your lead arm and the shaft will be parallel to the ground.

You're going to make a good shoulder turn -- as before, 75-80° is fine -- and let your lead heel come up off the ground. Your trailing elbow will be away from your side when you start this move, and your trailing wrist should have some backcock.

Then I want you to swing forward as if you were hitting a ball teed up at waist level, letting your lead shoulder roll as you fling the club past your body into your finish. You'll get a weight shift to your lead foot, and the club will move upward after you pass the ball position and swing into your finish. (That's the easiest way to slow the club down without hurting yourself, so it should happen naturally.)

For those of you who have played tennis before, this will feel a bit like a two-handed forehand shot. If you're more familiar with baseball, it will feel more like a level swing with a bat EXCEPT that you haven't cocked the bat upward to get speed the way a batter at the plate does. You should feel as if both hands are swinging the club, not just your trailing hand.

DON'T TWIST YOUR FOREARMS AS YOU 'HIT THE BALL'. You want to feel as if you're hitting the ball with the palm of your trailing hand. That's how you hit the ball straight, and it helps you build 'clubface awareness', the ability to know where the clubface is pointed by knowing where your trailing palm is pointed. That's a very important skill if you want to be able to shape shots.

And don't try to swing hard. The point here is to learn how the pressure feels in your hand when you make this sidearm swing. And it WILL feel like a sidearm motion, because that's basically what it is.

Version 2: This version of the drill is almost identical to the first one BUT with one primary difference. It's going to look like you've added some sidecock... but actually this is the 'no sidecock' position. If you made a fist and stuck your arm out like you were going to punch someone, and then you opened your fist and gripped a club with your wrist in the same position, it would look like you've got about a 60° wrist cock. But this is the position players like J.B. Holmes are in when they say their wrists are uncocked. Are you with me so far?

Now take the club back as you did in the first version of the drill -- same shoulder turn, etc. -- but raise your arms until the club shaft is pointed either straight up in the air or at a slight angle over your shoulders, like a three-quarter swing.

After that, this version is performed the exact same way as Version 1, flat swing and all. This should help you get used to the changing feel as the club moves from the top of your backswing down to waist level. It shouldn't feel very different from Version 1 because we haven't really changed your wrist cock -- the relationship of the shaft to your forearm -- much from what it was in Version 1. It's just a longer, more natural movement for a golf swing.

Again, this is going to feel like a sidearm swing.

Version 3: In this final version we're going to duplicate Version 2 EXCEPT we're going to let gravity pull our arms all the way down so we can 'hit' a ball teed at normal height. This will help you get used to how the sidearm swing feels in the more familiar motion of hitting a golf ball.

None of these versions of the drill use any sidecock. This is all about learning how to transfer the feel of a sidearm motion to a swing on an inclined plane, which is all a golf swing is. Do it as much as you need to, as often as you need to, until you understand how to do it easily.

We'll add the sidecock and other bits of the golf swing when we put it all together in the final post next week.





  4. So, is Jimmy Bruen's swing ( example of your swing? I keep trying for Inbee Park's top but keep getting Bruen's. It seems to work for me.

  5. Bruen's swing is different because he takes the club back sharply inside, rather than a one-piece takeaway like Inbee uses, and that's why you end up in a different position at the top. Technically, Bruen makes an over-the-top move -- but, like Bobby Jones, he still manages to keep his swing on or under the plane on his downswing. That's enough to give him a good position at impact.

    Is it a textbook way to swing? No. But I would ask you three questions:

    1. Can you get the results you want with this swing?
    2. Can you repeat this swing each time and get the same results?
    3. Can you make this swing over and over without hurting yourself?

    If you can answer 'yes' to all three questions, then I say it's a good swing and you should stick with it, no matter what anybody else says. Virtually all of the great players of the game took the fundamentals and 'made them their own.' That's because every player is a little different physically, so the fundamentals may look a bit different on every player. As long as you can answer 'yes' to all three of my questions, your swing is probably a pretty good one.

    Or, to put it another way: Great players don't copy the textbooks; textbooks copy the great players.

  6. I can get 1 and 3; 2 is always the issue. But here is the thing -- I do a fair one-piece takeaway, but as my trail arm begins to fold it also flies, bring the club up vertically. But the real thing is that when I throw a ball sidearm, I rotate my trailing forearm so that my index finger points to my head (not away from my head in the Korda picture in today's post. That is why, I think, my club ends up angled over my head, like Bruen. As I drop my arms down I swing my trail elbow in to my side and unwind my forearm so that I end up just like your picture of HaNa Jang. That's the way it seems to work when I sidearm rocks as well. Too many moving parts for a great swing, but if I hold what rock throwing feels like in my mind, this is what I get.

  7. Hmmm... A flying elbow isn't a problem. But if your swing won't repeat, that IS a problem. It's possible that practicing the move for a while would make it more consistent, but that's no guarantee. Let's try a different idea...

    Have you read any about David Leadbetter's new A Swing? It's what Lydia Ko has been working with, and it makes the club go more vertical and angle over her head. There's an article over at Golf Digest called The A Swing Starter Kit that covers the basics. Why don't you take a look at it, maybe try a few swings that way? Then let me know what kind of results you get with that.

    Maybe there's something in that swing that would simplify the move for you - I'm thinking particularly about what he calls 'the V plane'. It certainly sounds like it would work with your natural sidearm hand position.