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Rotation in the golf swing is about quality, not quantity

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This article was co-authored with Chris Gibson, an Australian AAA-rated golf professional. His teaching philosophy focuses on simplicity and longevity in the game, providing help for golfers at all levels. He focuses on interpreting information from technology and applying it in the simplest way possible to help his students.

Rotation is a buzz word that gets used a lot when talking about the golf swing. And it should. Golf is a rotary sport that requires us to turn the body in order to generate power in the action of hitting the ball.

More often than not, rotation is discussed with reference to quantity: How far? How much? How many degrees?

In our opinion, body rotation in the golf swing (like so many things in life) should be discussed in terms of quality, not quantity.

Why is it important to change our attitude toward rotation? Because talking about it in terms of quantity, while claiming that more is better, does not help the majority of golfers.

The average club golfer is often incapable of achieving large ranges of quality rotation in the key areas of their bodies. Because they can’t find the range or stability in the right places, they look for it elsewhere and usually end up in one of two scenarios:

  1. A reverse spine angle/over extension of spine, with a head that moves toward target (Photo 1).
  2. A collapsed lower body (Photo 2).
pic 1

Photo 1

pic 2

Photo 2

It would benefit a huge amount of golfers around the world to get a better understanding of what quality rotation is and where it needs to happen.

Quality rotation is the act of a joint moving through a range of motion in a way that is efficient, controlled and repeatable. Essentially, the correct muscles are exerting the correct forces on the correct bones in order for them twist against one other in the correct way. This allows golfers to get into powerful positions in the backswing, which in turn allows us to rotate in the opposite direction and return the club back to the ball in the most efficient way possible.

3 Key Areas

The three areas that we need to generate quality rotation from are the hips, shoulders and thoracic spine. It’s not mere coincidence that these are three of the most mobile areas in our body and are specifically designed to achieve large ranges of motion.

At the hip, we are looking for efficient internal and external rotation (see Photo 3). That is the pelvis turning around the top of the thigh bone (femur) efficiently, without the all-too-common compensations (see Photo 2).

pic 3

Photo 3

From the thoracic spine, we need the vertebrae to turn, one on top of the other (see Photo 4 of thoracic rotation). This allows the sternum (breastplate) to face away from the target, creating a wind-up effect in the torso without the usual compensations (see Photo 1).

pic 4

Photo 4

Here, we would like the shoulder externally rotate, essentially turning the inside of the elbow outwards (see Photo 5). This allows the club to be set “on plane” without the common shoulder-level compensations (see Photo 6, flattened shoulder plane).

pic 5

Photo 5

pic 6

Photo 6

If golfers can find quality rotation in each key area, then they have a good chance to find a solid backswing position from which they can reverse the movement back to the golf ball.

Individuality

Different people have varying capabilities to rotate in the three key areas. Sandy Lyle, Jason Day and John Daly have completely different amounts of rotation in their bodies during the golf swing. They are all long hitters who generate huge amounts of power from varying QUANTITIES of QUALITY rotation.

If you have limited range of motion in one or more of the three key areas, don’t despair. Make the most of what you have, and you can still be efficient and powerful in your golf swing.

Learn how to train quality rotation

Technology does a great job of quantifying our body and club movements during the swing. The most popular and accessible form of movement analysis comes in the form of K-Vest. K-Vest essentially tells us the degrees of rotation that we are achieving at the pelvis (hips) and at the thorax (chest), as well as how far our pelvis tilts from front to back. While K-Vest gives recommendations for quantity of rotation, it’s up to the user to interpret the info, match it up to the way the body is moving and look for the quality of rotation.

Here’s an example (Photo 7). Nick is achieving the K-Vest recommended degrees of rotation at the pelvis and at the thorax, which is demonstrated in Photo 8 (green is good). The position looks pretty solid. There’s a nice dynamic rotation in the key areas.

pic 7

Photo 7

pic 8

Photo 8

In Photo 9, Nick is also achieving the K-Vest recommended degree of rotation at the pelvis and thorax, but you’ll notice that the position does not look very efficient. That’s why just looking at the numbers (Photo 10) can be detrimental to a golfer’s swing. We have to focus on the quality of rotation, because simply going after the quantity can be very misleading.

pic 9

Pic 9

pic 10

Pic 10

As golf coaches and golf fitness professionals, we need to learn to recognize what good rotation is and how to assess and measure it. As for golfers, they need to learn what quality rotation looks and feels like, then go about practicing and training it.

Let’s shift our context of rotation from “How much?” to “How well?” so we can play more golf, and better golf, too!

You can access guides to increasing ranges of motion in the key areas, training stability and strength and learning how to move with quality rotation here: Training Quality Rotation.

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter and Rehab Expert contracted by PGA Tour Players, Division 1 colleges and national teams to deliver golf fitness services. Via his Golf Fit Pro website, app, articles and online training services, Nick offers the opportunity to the golfing world to access his unique knowledge and service offerings. www.golffitpro.net

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Pingback: Rotation in the golf swing is about quality, not quantity | GolfWRX | 40100sports

  2. Larry

    Feb 23, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    You want to see how much turn you really need?? Next time a PGA or Dot COm. tournament comes your way and D J Trahan is playing go to the driving range on a Tuesday or Wednesday and and watch D J Trahan hit drives 300 yards and irons as stright and high as anyone with a turn you would meaure in inches….

  3. Barry S.

    Feb 23, 2015 at 2:58 pm

  4. dcorun

    Feb 23, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Trying to over rotate especially when you get older only makes things worse. It’s the same as trying to take the club back as far as John Daly. I was trying to turn my left shoulder over my right foot and my belt buckle facing 45* and so on. Your game will go to hell. Rotate as far as you feel comfortable and can still keep good form. For myself, I’ve found that my game has gotten better even at 62 since I started doing that. I’m making a better swing and hitting the center of the clubface more often which increases your distance. This was a really good article, Thanks Nick.

  5. Barry S.

    Feb 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    What is the purpose of the rotation? I took lessons from Mike Austin over the course of 5 years and got to know and play with Mike Dunaway. Austin described the swing as a circle. There is a center, a radius and a circumference.

    The purpose of the pivot is to separate the club head from the ball. Shorter shots require less separation. The speed is on the circumference and not the radius (left arm).

    Good luck making solid contact and creating club head speed by trying to make the radius go fast by torquing and un-torquing. A recipe for back trouble.

  6. Bob

    Feb 23, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    I’m puzzled by the statement that the thoracic spine is one of the three most mobile areas in the body. My understanding is it’s one of the least mobile. The attachment of the ribs hinders movement, in general. Flexion, extension, and rotation are all limited by that and the orientation of articular facets in that region. The freest movement is lateral bending, but there isn’t much of that, either.

  7. Jay

    Feb 23, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Very interesting – well written

  8. Gorden

    Feb 23, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Turn, turn, turn….funny I see older, guys like myself, using a Don Trahan limited turn upright swing or the Graves Moe Norman swing hitting the ball just as far as the middle age and younger guys worrying about how much turn you can get into your swing. Clue guys, as you get older your arm strength lasts a lot longer then your ability to make a rotary type swing work.

  9. Eli Yates

    Feb 22, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    I like this article because I feel like I am not overly flexible… even to the point that I dont take the club back that far but I do feel like I make a good turn off the ball and then my move into the ball is above average I think. so I still get good distance with my swing. I am working on becoming more flexible but its not something that happens over night. In my mind im swinging like Adam Scott in reality it looks like something Charles Barkley had on a bad day.

  10. jonno

    Feb 22, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    vic park learning centre eh

  11. creamy

    Feb 22, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I didnt know Neil Patrick Harris plays golf too!! Great article

  12. Prime21

    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:51 am

    The quality of rotation is indeed essential, but to say that the quantity is any less important is misleading. Even quality rotation must reach a minimum quantitative value to produce a powerful and efficient swing. Failing to reach the minimum value would have a negative impact on both the swing plane and the kinematic sequence. While I agree that many turn with improper form, I do not think it is fair to imply that if a player loses form when they reach 20 degrees of rotation, then they can stop there and they will still play better golf. Let’s call a spade a spade. Learning to swing like a Tour Professional is hard. To accomplish the task, one must not only turn well, they must do so while turning this much. There simply are no shortcuts.

    • Nick Randall

      Feb 22, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Hi Prime,

      I agree with you 100%, there is a minimum amount of rotation needed. I was simply advocating firstly that we should focus more on the quality and secondly that golfers would benefit more from improving the quality of their rotation (through corrective exercise and swing drills) rather than simply aiming for more poor quality rotation.

      I hope this helps

      Nick

  13. Tom Stickney

    Feb 21, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    Good stuff

  14. Prime21

    Feb 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    While quality is important, I would not say that it is more important than quantity. Even a quality movement must meet minimal requirements of quantity to be effective. Without these #’s, both the swingplane and kinematic chain, would be greatly effected. This is what makes golf such a tough sport. We are asked to complete multiple movements, at a high rate of speed, all in a short time frame. One needs a combination of many elements in order to play at a high level, consistently. Sacrificing one OR the other, would have a significant negative impact on the overall quality of the swing. In this case I would have to say not only do they help one another, they simply NEED one another.

    • Jeremy

      Feb 23, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      But Prime, quantity without quality can be worse than just a bad swing, it can cause pain and injury to other parts of the body, and that affects life beyond golf. I get your point that for an optimal golf swing at a high level, both are critical. But golfers should learn how to do the right thing versus the wrong thing for their bodies, and then work on increasing that motion.

    • Alex

      Feb 23, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      Quality leads to consistent ball striking which leads to better scores. Most golfers would sacrifice 20 yards if they could hit their target line 4x as often. Golf has a simple solution for more distance: more club; but a different club won’t improve your accuracy.

  15. capbozo

    Feb 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Great article. This really came into focus a couple of weeks ago when both JB Holmes and John Daly were both playing well. Their turns away from the ball couldn’t be more different in terms of rotation but both were absolutely killing it. Those two swings alone are absolute proof of your quality over quantity premise.

    I was wondering if you would give your thoughts about how knee flex — particularly in the right knee — affects the quality of ones thoracic rotation. I feel like I get into trouble when I get away from feeling like I’m sitting through the take-away. Jim Colbert (old school) always seemed to be working on this.

    Thoughts?

  16. Chris Nickel

    Feb 21, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Great article here Nick! Well done!

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Instruction

Golf 101: How to chip (AKA “bump and run”)

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Although golf for a beginner can be an intimidating endeavor, and learning how to chip is part of that intimidation, this is one part of the game that if you can nail down the fundamentals, not only can you add some confidence to your experience but also you lay down a basic foundation you can build on.

How to chip

The chip shot, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-golf swing. To the beginner, it may seem like a nothing burger but if you look closely, it’s your first real way to understand contact, launch, spin, compression, and most importantly the fundamentals of impact.

What is a chip shot? A pitch shot?

Chip: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a 3-iron to a lob wedge that launches low, gets on the ground quickly, and rolls along the surface (like a putt) to the desired location.

Pitch: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a PW to a lob wedge that launches low- to mid-trajectory that carries a good portion of the way to your desired location and relies on spin to regulate distance.

Now that we have separated the two, the question is: How do I chip?

Since we are trying to keep this as simple as possible, let’s just do this as a quick checklist and leave it at that. Dealing with different lies, grass types, etc? Not the purpose here. We’re just concerned with how to make the motion and chip a ball on your carpet or at the golf course.

Think “rock the triangle”

  1. Pick a spot you want the ball to land. This is for visualization, direction and like any game you play, billiards, Darts, pin the tail on the donkey, having a target is helpful
  2. For today, use an 8-iron. It’s got just enough loft and bounce to make this endeavor fun.
  3. Grip the club in your palms and into the lifelines of your hands. This will lift the heel of the club of the ground for better contact and will take your wrists out of the shot.
  4. Open your stance
  5. Put most of your weight into your lead leg. 80/20 is a good ratio
  6. Ball is positioned off your right heel
  7. Lean the shaft handle to your left thigh
  8. Rock the shoulders like a putt
  9. ENJOY!

Check out this vid from @jakehuttgolf to give you some visuals.

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Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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