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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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