Every golfer is unique, and this individuality has to do with biomechanics. It’s a well known fact that many scientists and biomechanists have understood for many years, however, it is something that many golf professionals have still not accepted.
There are many methods and styles of teaching in our business and the variations are endless: Stack and Tilt v. Jimmy Ballard, Sean Foley v. Hank Haney and on and on. I’m NOT saying for one second that any of these great instructors are wrong, because they have all been immensely successful and the beautiful thing is that they are all correct in their method. The problem is that certain methods are not right for everyone. The differences in each person’s biomechanics is what this article is about, more specifically how biomechanics relates to swing plane.
Everything I will refer to in this article has been proven by science and by golf biomechanists, and is taken directly from BioSwing Dynamics, which was developed by Mike Adams and E.A. Tischler. I am lucky enough to have these two as mentors during my BioSwing Dynamics certification, and I would like to thank them immensely for their help in my growth as an instructor and for their help in editing this article.
There are three different top of the backswing planes and three different downswing planes. At the top of the backswing, the golfer can achieve a position that aligns the lead arm either above the shoulder line (high-plane), through the shoulder line (mid-plane) or below the shoulder line (low-plane). This is shown explicitly in the picture above of Matt Kuchar, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk when they are at the top of their backswing. During the downswing the golfer will deliver the club along the hip plane (also known as the shaft plane), the torso plane or the shoulder plane.
The backswing plane and downswing plane may vary based upon the two tests you will be introduced to in this article. I will also refer to PGA Tour players as an example, which were tested by Mike Adams during the research portion of BioSwing Dynamics. Just like there are many different methods of teaching, there are many different “looks” of a golfer: David Toms, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Hunter Mahan, Ernie Els, etc. By understanding these simple principles, you will better understand how your biomechanics will affect your individual swing. So, let’s get started.
Needless to say, the backswing is an important part of the golf swing because it will help prepare the swing for proper use of leverage in the swing. It also positions you for a well-executed transition into the delivery slot during the downswing. In order to test what backswing plane fits your body, you need to perform the following test (you will need a partner):
- Stand up and hold your arms stretched out at shoulder height.
- Have someone measure your wingspan from finger tips on the right hand to finger tips on the left hand.
- Have your helper measure your height.
- If your wingspan and height are the same lengths, then you will have a top of the backswing position that aligns the lead arm through your trailing shoulder. This is much like what is taught in one-plane theories.
- As the wingspan becomes longer than the height, the lead arm will elevate more above the shoulder line into what has been described as a two-plane position at the top of the backswing.
- If the wingspan is shorter than the height, the lead arm will align below the shoulder line at the top of the backswing in what is commonly called a flat backswing.
Keep in mind that that there is a range in which the lead arm will be set at the top of the backswing. If the wingspan is, say, 4 inches shorter than the height, the lead arm will set very low across the chest and below the shoulder line. If the wingspan is, say, 4 inches longer than the height, then the lead arm will set well above the shoulder line into a high two-plane type of alignment.
Simply put, the alignment of the lead arm in relations to the shoulder line at the top of the backstroke needs to match the relationship between the length of the wingspan and the height of the golfer. Please refer to the pictures below as a reference to measuring wingspan and height.
Now, how the golfer swings to that top-set position will vary from golfer to golfer. For example, some golfers will swing inside and then elevate upward like Sam Snead, Bruce Lietzke and Matt Kuchar. Others will swing up along an outside path, like Fred Couples and Lee Trevino, and then loop the club into the top-set before transitioning into the slot. Then there will be golfers that seem to swing up the same path they will eventually slot along during the downswing. This is based upon how the arms fold in the backswing. There will be a follow up article explaining the different ways a person can fold the trail arm and how it relates to the backswing.
Examples of Hip-Planers in the takeaway are Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner. Examples of Torso-Planers in the takeaway are Hunter Mahan or Rory McIlroy. Examples of Shoulder-Planers in the takeaway are Charl Schwartzel and Martin Kaymer. Each of these players are excellent ball strikers, but they each have their own individual ways of swinging the golf club that is based upon their body.
How do you test to see what downswing plane fits your body’s mechanics? To figure that out, measure your forearm from the middle knuckle to the elbow and then measure the upper arm from the elbow to the shoulder socket. Please refer to the pictures above that show how this is measured. Based upon their relationship, you will swing on one of the three swing planes we discussed earlier. Here are your three options:
- Hip-Plane Downswing: The distance from the middle knuckle to forearm is SHORTER than the distance from the elbow to the shoulder socket.
- Torso-Plane Downswing: The distance from the middle knuckle to forearm is EQUAL TO the distance from the elbow to the shoulder socket.
- Shoulder-Plane Downswing: The distance from the middle knuckle to forearm is LONGER than the distance from the elbow to the shoulder socket.
The easiest way to think about this is that if the forearm is longer than the upper arm, the hands will ride higher and farther out, so they should come down on a steeper plane than if they were shorter. If the upper arm is longer and the forearm is shorter, then the hands will ride lower and closer to the body. That will produce a more shallow delivery plane. Here are some more examples of PGA Tour players and how they swing.
- Hip-Plane Downswing: Heath Slocum
- Torso-Plane Downswing: Ernie Els, Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott
- Shoulder-Plane Downswing: Martin Kaymer, Camilo Villegas, John Senden
Martin Kaymer is a perfect example of how getting out of your proper swing plane can affect your performance. In 2010, Martin was playing the best golf of his career. He had won the PGA Championship, and shortly after his runner-up finish in the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship he became the No. 1-ranked player in the Official World Golf Rankings. He lost the No. 1 spot 8 weeks after to Lee Westwood.
With his decline in the world rankings, we can see definite changes in his swing that have proven to be mismatched to his body mechanics. When he won, Kaymer was swinging the club down on the shoulder plane like he tests out to be. He and his instructor decided to work on getting the club lower and closer, delivering it down the hip-plane, which is how most instructors at the time thought the golf swing should be swung. He quickly fell in the rankings until late 2012, when he went back to working on retooling his swing. In studying his swing we have found that his swing plane is getting closer to where it was in the 2009 and 2010 seasons when he was playing his best golf. And guess what? We are starting to see the name Martin Kaymer on leaderboards again.
Matching the planes of both the backswing and downswing with the appropriate hip movement and wrist hinge will help golfers tremendously. Proper wrist hinge and the matching of a golfer’s hip movement to his or her setup will be discussed in future articles, as I want you to properly understand this first. Realizing that your individual body mechanics can and will influence the golf swing is the first step in a much bigger picture that will take your game to new levels.