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“The bottom of the swing arc is the only part that matters”

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One of the most discussed topics when it comes to the golf swing is swing plane. It’s is also one of the least understood concepts in that it covers a much broader area than is generally considered.

The golf club is built on an angle for a reason. Simply stated, the ball is on the ground and it is also aside the player. Therefore, the idea of inclined plane is integral to understanding the swing of a golf club. But the incline that affects our ball flight is not the image most people have of swing plane. One of the first images that comes to mind is of Ben Hogan’s famous pane of glass; and as iconic as that illustration was, it has served to distort our understanding of swing plane.

I should add here as well that any complete discussion of plane can never be limited to the golf club only. The torso, the lower body, the arms and hands — as well as the golf club —  all swing on a “plane.” For our purposes, however, we’re only to discuss the golf club.

One way of understanding plane might be to think of it as an arc relative to the ground. Because there are several of these “mini planes” in the golf swing, we see how the club can be traveling on different planes at various times in the swing. The club moves away from the ball on a certain plane, then moves to the top of the swing on a little different arc and transitions down on yet another plane. A golfer’s preferences and body type can dictate all those arcs.

A player can choose how to take it back, even how to transition, but when it comes to the impact area — which is where the club is carrying maximum speed — choice is no longer part of the equation. At this time, the club head might as well be a free-flying object. It weighs the equivalent of about 100 pounds, so golfers have little to no control over the clubface. That’s why the clubhead must be “programmed” VERY EARLY in the swing, well prior to impact.

Flightscope defines Vertical Swing Plane (VSP) as the vertical measurement of the sweet spot movement in the bottom of the swing arc. The bottom of the swing arc is approximately where the golf club gets to parallel to the ground on the downswing to the first time it gets parallel in the through swing.

3D Club Analysis
This 6-iron shot has a VSP of 61.4 degrees and an attack angle of -4.7 degrees. 

Are there optimum numbers for vertical swing plane? Not really, but here are a few PGA Tour averages. You’ll notice that with the irons, that is, for shots hit off the turf, the VSP resembles the lie angle of the golf club.

  • Driver: 47 degrees
  • 6-iron: 61 degrees
  • Wedge: 65 degrees

So what does this mean for your swing? Well, the vertical plane of the swing can make a difference in a few areas. For example, the flatter the plane angle (lower numbers), the more hitting up or down affects path. Path and attack angle are ever changing on an inclined plane, and the more inclined they are they more they change. Someone swinging on a flat plane, say a VSP of 40 degree with a 6 iron, needs to swing or aim more left (if they are a right-handed golfer) than a golfer with a VSP of 60 degrees.

Flatter plane swings also tend to be wider, and may require a more centered pivot, while upright planes are narrower and would allow for more of a move move off the ball going back.

These are just some of the issues we have to deal with when it comes to swing plane. But before we go drawing on videos and seeing lines, remember the bottom of the swing arc is the only part that matters, and the only part that, when set in motion, remains stable enough to stay that way.

Good luck, and those of you interested in my swing analysis program, go to www.dennisclarkgolf.com or check in to my Facebook Page for information on how it works.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. dg7936

    Sep 24, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    This article is a great reinforcement of the “pocket to pocket” swing. Essentially, the most important position during the swing is the lowest portion of the path, where it’s impossible to manipulate the club due to the speed through this low zone. If the movement through this area is off, the ball cannot go where you are aiming. The variables in backswing and follow-through can exist but not in the impact zone.

  2. Bob H

    Jan 22, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Impact can not be achieved without a back swing, down swing or follow through.
    The swing plane is clearly defined in a book call “The Shape of Golf Plane and Simple”.
    720 year mystery solved. Single arc plane “sheet of glass” misrepresents golf swings.

  3. ca1879

    Jan 8, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Dennis – interesting that the average VSP is so close to the static lie angle. Wouldn’t you think it would be near the dynamic lie angle (i.e. including droop), or is the difference within the error of the data?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 8, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Yes I would. Droop definitely a factor. How much I’m not sure. Thx

  4. Dan

    Jan 8, 2015 at 1:08 am

    iyo, could the type of sole shape/grind on an iron help to counteract certain attack angle & VSP issues & improve contact & ball flight? I’ve been testing out a few different iron styles & certain sole shapes seem to help me catch the ball better than others. Tks for posting, intersting article.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 8, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Dan, Always possible but I cant see the design affecting the VSP that much. At impact of course the lie angle, and grind on trailing edge will make a difference. As far as AoA goes, yes grind can affect where and how the club meets the ball/ground. For example on a mid- sole pitch like a lot of the tour players hit, the AoA needs to be fairly steep but with a leading edge square type hit, shallower is better. Does that help?

      • Dan

        Jan 9, 2015 at 5:52 am

        Hi Dennis, and yes it does tks. I think I’m talking more about attack angle… I’ve noticed my divot pattern (depth & width) changes with certain sole types, and helps to get a better strike/impact.

  5. Dennis Clark

    Jan 7, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    The information in this article is from my reading the scientific research of Dr. Steven Nesbitt professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. His extensive work in this area is enlightening and I suggest a thorough investigation of his findings.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761476/

  6. Plain Plane

    Jan 7, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Great article. What do you mean when you say “That’s why the clubhead must be “programmed” VERY EARLY in the swing, well prior to impact.” How do you program the club head? By gripping it at address? By its open or closed orientation on the back swing?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 7, 2015 at 7:19 pm

      If the face is open at the top it needs to be corrected well before the bottom with an EARLY pronation of right palm etc; cant wait to get near bottom…or vice versa for closed. Thx

  7. Jack Heath

    Jan 7, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Agree with most of the swing issues, however, like all golf coaches you are trying to perpetuate the myth that the club head follows a true semicircle, This can not be true if there is a weight change from back leg to front leg causing a change in the “centre of effort” or “pivot point”, the club head must follow an ellipse, so, the important factor must be the timing of the weight change to ensure the flat part of the ellipse occurs during impact, until the golfer has got this right s/he will not get much benefit from the “angle of the dangle”. The recent posting of “microwave training”, cheek to cheek would be a good starting point and work backwards to the full swing from there. Although I play a lot of Golf, I have based these assumptions on my experience as a Gymnastics, Trampolining and Skiing coach and the related study of body mechanics and theory of movement. Too test this, push two map-pins next to each other in an inclined surface such as a drawing board or a pizza box use your ingenuity to set it at the angle you want, make a loop of string (long enough to go round a cup), place this over the pins, then, using the sharp end of a pencil, pull the string away from the pins until it is taught, this point would represent the centre of the flattest part of the Swing/Ellipse, from here, keeping the string taught draw the backswing to the point when the pins and the pencil are in line with each other or beyond, then, go back through the impact point and draw the front swing ’til the pencil and pins are again in line or beyond, the resulting drawing will show the path of the club head. Too confusing, if anyone is interested, I will produce a video or schematic to explain what I mean.

  8. JEFF

    Jan 7, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Yea,,, be sure to think about all of that crap just before you take it back!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 7, 2015 at 7:20 pm

      thanks for the positive contribution to the discussion

  9. Plane

    Jan 7, 2015 at 3:43 am

    Excellent stuff! This is what I talk about, with my kids, all the time.

  10. Andrew Cooper

    Jan 6, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Interesting article thanks for sharing. One question-you note the 6 iron VSP of 61 degrees is close to the lie angle, the driver is 47 degrees (a little above its lie angle?) Is returning the club close to its static lie angle something you look for? Would be interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 6, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Not necessarily Andrew, it varies. But again, think about the article in terms of the way Tracking radar devices have redefined swing plane. A player can return the shaft over or under its original incline and still be “on plane”. Or the shaft can be get back to original incline and come in below or above the “plane”. The measurement is from the center of mass of the club head, sweet spot to the target line or ground. If the ball is say 6 o’clock, the VSP is from 8 to 4, where the head of the club is at maximum stability

  11. TR1PTIK

    Jan 6, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Good discussion Dennis. Not sure when I’ll be able to get some video of me actually hitting a ball since it’s so cold in Missouri right now, but I definitely plan on submitting something to your swing analysis program.

  12. Todd H

    Jan 6, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Very good read, now, how can make sure the bottom of the arc is past the ball? Depending on club and shot shouldn’t the club bottom out an inch or 2 after contact?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 6, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Yes. But that is attack angle. The VSP IS THE BOTTOM PART OF THE SWING FROM SAY KNEE HIGH TO KNEE HIGH THROUGH.

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Instruction

The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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