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Many good golf swings are ruined by tension

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There is an old saying in golf instruction that goes like this: “You have to give up control to gain control.”

From a golf mechanics standpoint, it means that if your grip pressure is light and your arms are relaxed, the club will move more naturally and the golf ball will respond more favorably than if you had more tension in your body.

I see a lot of golfers ignore this idea and squeeze the club very tightly, with lots of forearm tension, and impose their own will on the club in an attempt to make it move a certain way. And more often than not, it’s the wrong way. If you just setup and let everything hang relaxed, the club face will naturally swing open going back find its way back to square at impact.

Let’s look at an example.

Recently, I had my first lesson with a really good player who competed in high school and college on accomplished teams. After graduation he got a job, got married and became successful at something other than golf.

Now, having some time to work on his game, this player wants to improve and be as good as or better than the collegiate version of himself. As we hit some shots and I watched his swing, it became apparent that he tense over the ball. I noticed the veins in the forearms popping out and his hands were squeezing the club. It was like he was gripping a live snake. The result of this was that he “imposed his own will” on the club and it went back dramatically shut with the face of the club pointing too much into the ground.

RObStranoGolf

The outcome was shots that started left and went left. Looking at the data, shots Nos. 5-9 clearly show the face pointing way left at impact. Both the ball angles and spin axis show a heavy left bias.

So what we attacked was his grip and arm pressure, and I explained how that was restricting the club as it went back. The results of the simple changes in these two areas was immediately visible in the ball flight and showed up in the data on shots Nos. 1-4 on the FlightScope screen. Everything we wanted to change improved.

This player’s club went from a left bias at impact to slightly right and his ball angles moved from too far left to slightly right on most shots. Since he was “letting go” with the hands and arms, the club face was able to open and close in a more natural pattern, and he was able to produce quality shots that didn’t start start left and go farther left.

Most golfers can learn from this, and you should learn to relax when you set up to the golf ball. Tension will restrict your club face from working how it should, and it will affect your ball flight, and your scores. So, lighten up!

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If you are an avid Golf Channel viewer you are familiar with Rob Strano the Director of Instruction for the Strano Golf Academy at Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, FL. He has appeared in popular segments on Morning Drive and School of Golf and is known in studio as the “Pop Culture” coach for his fun and entertaining Golf Channel segments using things like movie scenes*, song lyrics* and familiar catch phrases to teach players. His Golf Channel Academy series "Where in the World is Rob?" showed him giving great tips from such historic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, on a Gondola in Venice, Tuscany Winery, the Roman Colissum and several other European locations. Rob played professionally for 15 years, competing on the PGA, Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide and NGA/Hooters Tours. Shortly after embarking on a teaching career, he became a Lead Instructor with the golf schools at Pine Needles Resort in Pinehurst, NC, opening the Strano Golf Academy in 2003. A native of St. Louis, MO, Rob is a four time honorable mention U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Youth Golf Instructor and has enjoyed great success with junior golfers, as more than 40 of his students have gone on to compete on the collegiate level at such established programs as Florida State, Florida and Southern Mississippi. During the 2017 season Coach Strano had a player win the DII National Championship and the prestigious Nicklaus Award. He has also taught a Super Bowl and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a two-time NCAA men’s basketball national championship coach, and several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players. His PGA Tour players have led such statistical categories as Driving Accuracy, Total Driving and 3-Putt Avoidance, just to name a few. In 2003 Rob developed a nationwide outreach program for Deaf children teaching them how to play golf in sign language. As the Director of the United States Deaf Golf Camps, Rob travels the country conducting instruction clinics for the Deaf at various PGA and LPGA Tour events. Rob is also a Level 2 certified AimPoint Express Level 2 green reading instructor and a member of the FlightScope Advisory Board, and is the developer of the Fuzion Dyn-A-line putting training aid. * Golf Channel segments have included: Caddyshack Top Gun Final Countdown Gangnam Style The Carlton Playing Quarters Pump You Up

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Me too

    Nov 13, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Sounds just like me! Minus the college golf;) Just like your student, when I ease up on my grip & arm pressure, it slows everything down and I’m able to get out of the way of my swing. Great tip.

  2. Matto

    Nov 13, 2015 at 4:26 am

    Many good golf swings are ruined by me.

  3. Chip

    Nov 13, 2015 at 12:40 am

    Great article Rob. I totally agree with tension killing the swing. I am curious- On a scale of 1 to 10, how light should someone hold the club?

  4. Pingback: Is tension ruining your otherwise good golf swing? | GolfJay

  5. Carlos Danger

    Nov 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Sometimes a lil “samson” will cure your tense swing. Actually, it will cure alot of things…

  6. Al385

    Nov 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    That’s the story of my life. Great article.

  7. NC

    Nov 12, 2015 at 11:27 am

    How did you attack his grip and arm pressure? Did you change his grip? Use a larger grip? Swing thoughts? Curious to know what worked for him. I realize everyone is different but would be interested in knowing what helped his situation. Cheers.

    • BigWednesday96

      Nov 12, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      This is such great advice. Not only can these suggestions help to improve your swing and ball flight immediately, it can also help in the prevention of injuries. I’ve struggled with too much tension in my swing for many years (mostly brought on by overdoing grip pressure). Elbow and shoulder injuries resulted. For me – the first step in alleviating the tension was to get properly fitted for grips. Most of us mid-high handicappers simply assume that standard grips are fine. My hand size is a bit larger than average and I discovered mid-size grips with a couple of extra tape wraps was what I needed. I no longer had to “strangle” the club in order to feel I had a secure grip.

    • MQ

      Nov 12, 2015 at 6:35 pm

      Getting fit for the right size grips seems to be hugely overlooked. I was recently fit for a new set of irons and it appears I’ve been using grips that are way too small for me. I definitely had a tendency to grip the club way too tight, which is alleviated now that I’ve moved to a midsize grip. I feel much more comfortable holding the club and I’m striking the ball solidly much more consistently.

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Instruction

WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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Instruction

WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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