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Solving your golf swing equation

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I think of the golf swing as two parts: The backswing and the downswing. Each represents a side of an equation that needs to be balanced. In other words, the downswing needs to be compatible with the backswing; it has to complement it for a golfer to reach a good impact position.

It would not be a stretch to say that a golfer can make almost any backswing if they learn the counterbalance motion in the downswing. Those of you who are regular readers of my instruction columns know that I often discuss this issue, simply because it is the single most important aspect of hitting the ball solidly.

If we look in the golf hall of fame, we would see a variety of backswings. Take Lee Trevino’s backswing and compare it to Raymond Floyd’s. Or to use a more recent example, take Jim Furyk’s backswing and compare it to Matt Kuchar’s.

Left-Arm-Spectrum-P4-e13976800122741-600x384

Matt Kuchar (left), Tiger Woods (center) and Jim Furyk.

What do these swings have in common? Each player learned a downswing that is fully compatible with their backswing.

If you look at the video below, I have filmed a student who has a very Jim Furyk-like backswing, that is, the left arm is almost totally vertical at the top, but the downswing difference is radically changed and rather obvious.

https://youtu.be/-uSjbgAOrNE

It is very difficult to change the way golfers get to the top of the swing. The good news is that you might not have to — at least not drastically!

A few more detailed examples.

The golf swing has two components: Vertical and horizontal. The more vertical it is, the more narrow the motion tends to be. The more horizontal it is, the wider it tends to be.  Picture the up-and-down swing as a “V,” and the around swing as a “U.” If you have an upright backswing, you’ll need a little width coming down to balance your swing equation. Conversely, if you take the club away flat, you’ll need to narrow your downswing arc.

How do golfers gain or lose swing width? Look at it this way: If a player stays very centered over the golf ball, with little to no motion “off the ball,” he or she could balance that narrowing with a fairly wide arm swing, i.e. pushing the club away or setting it quite late. So the width here would be with the arms and club, as in a flat swing.

Golfers who move to the rear foot with a more lateral move off the ball have their width in the body motion. Their swing will need to be balanced with a more narrow swing arc, as in a vertical swing: one that stays in tighter to the body or sets the club up earlier in the backswing.

When Tiger Woods was younger, for example, he had a very wide body move off the ball, but took the club way up high (and across the line) to balance the slide. When he started staying more “stacked,” his swing got flatter by necessity (he was much more comfortable in my opinion with the old way, but he did win both ways). Tiger seems to be getting wider again off the ball now, and a little more up with the clubs and arms.

Then we have a Sergio Garcia-type swing. He is very wide going back, with no offsetting upright move in the backswing, but he has a very, very narrow downswing arc with all that lag. Again, a balance. All elite level ball strikers have matching components.

Jim Hardy said once that golf can be played in even numbers, never odd numbers. that is, Two back, Two down works, but 3 back, 2 down does not.

The permutations are numerous, but matching is the key. Another example: Does Jim Furyk drop and flatten the club coming down because he takes it back so upright? Or did he start out by learning that drop, and then figure out that the super upright backswing matches it? The answer is, “Who knows or even cares.” It has worked for him to the tune of some $64 million.. and counting.

I can’t think of ONE THING that all great golfers did in their swing except hit it solid. I’ve played in PGA section events and state opens with guys who looked like they were digging ditches and shot 68. I also teach some “beautiful swings” who can’t break 80. The difference? Compatibility.

It’s usually futile to try and change your whole swing. I might suggest finding an innate CORE MOVE and building around it.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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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

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Golf Swing Mechanics - Backswing and Downswing - Golf Training News

  2. Craig

    May 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    I have always been told my problem is L.O.F.T. – Lack of Freaking Talent.

    • Dennis Clark

      May 9, 2015 at 9:06 am

      LOL. We all have LOFT but we do the best we can with what we have to work with????

  3. Mike

    May 7, 2015 at 9:45 am

    “I’ve played in PGA section events and state opens with guys who looked like they were digging ditches and shot 68. I also teach some “beautiful swings” who can’t break 80. The difference? Compatibility.”

    Scary and makes me wonder if it’s a talent thing and all of our work is in futility.

    • Dennis Clark

      May 7, 2015 at 10:22 am

      Never futile my friend. There are also plenty of classic swings who can flat golf their ball!

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Instruction

Learn to play like the pros by mastering course management basics

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The line that is drawn between amateurs and professionals certainly covers more than one aspect. However, there are some things that anyone can do in order play like the pros and shoot better scores. Knowing how to plot your way around the course from tee to green is something that not many amateurs take into consideration, though it is something that professionals do so well. Learning how to play to your strengths and learning to take what the course gives you will ultimately lower your scores, no matter what your handicap.

From the tee

-Use sound judgment when setting up on the tee box by knowing what your miss is and playing for it. For example, for those that fade that ball, teeing the ball on the right side of the box allows you to play for your shot shape with more room for the ball to work. This is also the case for playing away from trouble, in being that lining up on the side of trouble allows you to play away from it.

-In some cases on short holes, make a note to hit your tee ball to where you leave yourself with a comfortable yardage for your approach. You don’t gain anything from hitting a driver if it leaves you with a feel shot from 30 yards when you could hit a wood or hybrid and leave yourself with a full club in. (This is also the case when hitting your second shot on a par 5)

Hitting into the green

-Know which pins you should attack and which ones you shouldn’t. The biggest mistake that many amateurs make is trying to hit the ball at a tucked pin. Even the professionals choose which flags to go at and which holes to play safe, making sure they leave themselves a putt rather than short siding themselves.

Chipping/Putting

-The biggest thing that gets us in trouble around the greens or on them is trying to make the ball go in the hole. It’s easy to get greedy with your shot and create the mindset that you have to make it when, in reality, it’s much more feasible to play for a three-foot circle around the hole. Leaving you an easy tap in. There is nothing more infuriating than a 3-putt.

I hope these tips will benefit your golf game by allowing you to manage your way around the golf course. The pros use these same approaches when they step on each hole, and it is imperative that you do also. We all may not have the ability that professionals do, but we can certainly learn things from them that will lower our scores.

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Instruction

Lesson of the Day: Improve right arm connection for a more consistent golf swing

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In our “Lesson of the Day” video series with V1 Sports, we match a different GolfWRX member with a different V1 Sports instructor. It’s extremely important to both V1 Sports and GolfWRX to help golfers improve their games and shoot lower scores, and there’s no better way to do that than getting lessons. While we not only want to provide free lessons to select GolfWRX members, we want to encourage and inspire golfers to seek professional instruction. For instructions on how to submit your own video for a chance at getting a free lesson from a V1 Sports instructor as part of our Lesson of the Day series, CLICK HERE.

About the pro

Clinton Whitelaw is the Head Teaching Professional at University Park Country Club in Sarasota, Florida. Clinton was a prolific junior player in South Africa before he attended UCLA on a full scholarship. He turned pro at age 21 and has recorded more than 55 top-10 finishes around the world, including winning the 1993 South African Open and the 1997 Moroccan Open on the European Tour.

Lesson synopsis

There are two main swing flaws identified in this GolfWRX member’s swing that can be improved. The first is a disconnected right arm in the body that causes the arms to be out of sync with the body. The second is a bent left arm in the follow through, which causes a loss in power. Two easy drills can be practiced to create a simple, repeatable, and consistent golf swing.

Student’s action plan

  1. Practice with a glove under the right right armpit to improve connection with the body
  2. Practice the “9 o’clock to 3 o’clock” drill demonstrated at the end of the video lesson

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Instruction

Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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