Friday, May 8, 2009

The Basics of the Ideal Golf Swing

The ideal golf swing takes full advantage of our athletic instincts to reduce our swing thoughts to simply "aim and fire". Through thousands of years of evolution, our bodies are well trained to take advantage of our senses and muscles to apply the clubhead the way we want to. However, setting yourself up to take advantage of these instincts is rather difficult to do, especially without understanding how they work.

Very simply, there are two basic ways in which the body will attempt to apply force to an object with a stick. One can be seen in a home-run swing- the swinging instinct. Because the player is trying to hit the ball upwards (a push in relation to the eye-line. The terminology can be confusing- the player is actually pulling with the left side to "push" (in golf terms) the ball to the right of the eye line with a right handed player.

The other method can be seen with someone chopping a log he is standing on. In relation to the eye-line, this is a pull since the axe is traveling out-to-in. This chopping motion generates power with the underside of the arms and back more evenly.

In golf, these two methods can be seen in amateurs (read: hackers) of all sorts. The over the top slice is an attempt to chop the ball, while the sliding tilting drop kick is an attempt to hit it like you're hitting a home run.

Combining these two actions offers the potential to reduce technical swing thoughts while creating a more technically sound, powerful, repeating golf swing.

The Value of the Setup

If these statements are assumed to be true, then the question becomes "how do we take advantage of these instincts?" The key is the setup. At address, we do a number of things- we establish our perspective (and therefore, our aim and visualization) of the shot, and we "aim" the appropriate muscles to move in the right directions to put the club into a good backswing position. Most players don't pay enough attention to the specifics of address. Simply by standing a little taller, or a little more tilted away from the target, or with a slightly strong grip pre-arms certain muscles to fire. If those muscles are the incorrect muscles for the golf swing, then we MUST perform compensations to attempt to bring the right muscles into play. This can be seen in the manipulations and tilting and sliding of the average amateur.

Building a swing- Backwards

I approach building a swing (and swing theory- both my own) the way I approach a golf hole. You start at the green, the end, the most important part. To me, the golf swing ends at impact. Anything else is window dressing- useful diagnostically but otherwise irrelevant.

In order to build a swing around impact, I studied the man who I believe had the least compensations coming into and out of the hitting area- Ben Hogan. It was actually the way he talked about his dreaded miss that helped me understand how he was such a powerful, efficient hitter. Mr. Hogan described it as "the terror of field-mice" and a hook so bad you could "hang your coat on it"- a sure description of a smothered PULL hook, rather than a slinging, overdrawn hook. In concert with his descriptions of his desire to harness the full power of his right hand, I realized that the late Mr. Hogan was almost trying to come over the top as hard as he possibly could. The powerful clearing of his left side and his lateral action along with his perfectly slotted backswing position allowed to him try to come over the top without ever actually being able to.

Essentially, I believe that Hogan harnessed the power of the longest, most solidly struck shot for the average hacker- the pull. It is this right handed action that he described a side arm throw. Try it- from a golf stance, you will inevitably throw it to the left of the target. However, also pay attention to the way your right wrist naturally rolls through impact, storing and releasing the power of your core without ANY conscious thought.

It is this attempt to come over plane that reveals the key to Hogan's swing- the ability to go from a cupped position at the top of the backswing to an arched left wrist through impact with minimal manipulation of the hands.

From this position, he can TRY to come over the top as hard as he wants, and all that will happen is he will swing faster and the club rotate squarely through impact without any manipulation, and the left side will respond by clearing harder to the left, causing a reactionary arching of the left wrist through impact.

By understanding and rehearsing this action through the hitting area, we start to instinctively understand how we can simply extend this action further back and through to create a full swing, as your weight transfer and extension and all the technical aspects fall into place in response to the longer swing.

Taking a step back, this picture shows Hogan right after he transitions into the down swing. His famed lateral shift has already occurred (a movement he was aware of but did not consciously perform, I believe), but once again, he in perfect position to simply "hit" as hard as he can. From here, any attempt to get back to the ball by coming over the top will require tremendous manipulation and a momentary lapse in our athletic instincts. Power applied through the right will be responded to by a pull of the left side (the baseball swing)in an attempt to hit the ball. As a side effect, the face will rotate aggressively but consistently early in the hitting area- the answer to the question many of his contemporaries had asked; "how does he avoid hitting a slice from there?", referring to his seemingly wide open clubface coming into impact.

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