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Swing efficiency: How ugly golf swings win

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Shaun Webb is a PGA Class A Member, a TPI Level 2 Golf Instructor and certified K-Vest Level 2 instructor. 

A question I am often asked as an instructor is, “How can golfers with swings like Tommy Gainey and Jim Furyk hit the ball well enough to win at such a high level?”

Fortunately, with the aid of 3D motion capture systems, we now have been able to identify the true measurement of a good golf swing and have the answer to how unorthodox swings can produce such successful careers. The answer is very simple, SWING EFFICENCY. Before we dive in any further, let me ask you a couple of questions.

  • Are you tired of taking lessons and not improving?
  • Are you working tirelessly on positions of the swing but still not striking the ball the way you would like?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may be in need of some education on the subject of swing style versus swing efficiency. Let start with the subject of swing style: this is how your swing looks on video and to the naked eye or with a video camera. For example, Ernie Els has a more classic swing style, while Jim Furyk has a unique swing style. Both are great ball-strikers and both swing in way that suits them.

So what is swing efficiency? Swing efficiency is how your swing measures and performs and does NOT take into account the way your swing “looks.” Swing efficiency cannot be measure with video and is only measured using 3D technology such as K-Vest 3D Motion Analysis. Swing efficiency looks at the way your body produces energy and power during the golf swing and is quantified using a measurement called the kinematic sequence.

The amazing thing about the kinematic sequence is that two very different swing “styles” can have nearly identical kinematic sequence graphs. Again, Els and Furyk are excellent examples of this fact. Although these two players have swings styles that are on opposite ends of the spectrum visually, they incredibly similar swing efficiency (kinematic sequence) graphs.

For you to better understand the kinematic sequence, it helps to imagine snapping a towel or cracking a whip. The first thing you would do is accelerate the handle of the whip to generate speed. You would then rapidly decelerate the handle to transfer speed to the next part of the whip. The same thing happens in great ball-strikers. Their lower body represents the handle of the whip and the club shaft represents the end of the whip.

The fact of the matter is that all great ball-strikers begin by generating speed from their lower body and transferring that speed through their torso into their arms and then into the club. What style they use to complete this signature is completely unique to each player.

So what does all this mean to you, the frustrated golfer?

It means that you should immediately stop focusing on how closely your swing resembles Tiger or Rory on video camera and ask yourself the following question:

“How can I make my golf swing get the job done?”

The problem is that the typical golf lesson focuses only on swing style and does not even take into account the efficiency of your action. The traditional lesson consists of the instructor pulling up a video of you swinging next to Tiger or Rory. The instructor then proceeds to draw a series of lines proving to you that your swing isn’t performing because you have not put the club in certain “positions” throughout the swing. The instructor then let’s you know that once your swing looks like Tigers or Rory’s you will magically hit the ball much better.

Although this seems like it should work, in reality this style of instruction does not address the most important aspect of solid ball striking — you guessed it, SWING EFFICIENCY. It often boggles my mind how many instructors actually believe that the swing has to “look” a certain way in order to be effective, or that the body and club need to be in any number of positions in order to be considered “good.” In actuality, there is one major determining factor that separates good ball strikers from great ones. I’ll give you a hint — it’s not that the club is “on plane” during the take away.

The amazing thing is that all great ball strikers have the same kinematic sequence or the same signature of generating speed and transferring speed throughout their body. So how can you take advantage of current technology and start training for swing efficiency as opposed to swing style? Your first step would be to locate an instructor in your area who has access to 3D motion analysis technology. The instructor will attach sensors to your body and have you hit balls as he collects the data and generates a graph of your kinematic sequence. Using this data he will answer the following questions:

  1. Is your swing efficient or not?
  2. Where is the efficiency breakdown (takeaway, transition, or downswing)?
  3. What is the cause of the breakdown (physical limitation, mechanics, equipment)

With this information the instructor can give you a concise plan of attack to improve your swing based on one or all of the three areas of efficiency breakdowns. Armed with this information you can then begin a solid training plan that will have you on your way to improved swing performance in the shortest time possible using your own unique swing!  You will be training like a tour player and focusing on what matters most in your golf swing. Instead of making swing changes just for the sake of making it “look” different, you can now objectively look at your swing and only make the changes that produce more efficiency.

I hope that now you have a different understanding of what is a “good” golf swing and strive to learn more about how to make your swing more efficient. In closing, just remember not to ask yourself how you can make your swing look like your favorite tour player.Instead ask yourself, how can I make my swing get the job done?

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. gabe

    Aug 2, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I don’t care about my golf score, if it takes me ten, twelve shots to complete the shortest par 4.

    After nearly 10 years of hacking around the course, in the early morn at daybreak b 4 most can see me, I still pursue a far more elusive goal than scratch: Looking fabulous in the full motion of a full swing, completed.

    If there are any instructors out there who can guarantee to make me look fantastic on every swing, no matter where the ball goes, I’d pay good money from oldest child’s College fund, or his piggy bank.

    After viewing videos, 6 years apart, I know this is unthinkable, but I actually look much much worse lately than I did in 2008.

    HELP!!

  2. Nathan

    Sep 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Good points here. One thing I’ve found very underrated in instruction is the sound of the swing, the whoosh. I’ve only been golfing heavily for a year but I find when I’m not hitting well I can get back on track by using my ears. Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and when I open them I realize I’m swinging much closer to my feet than before. I just want my swing to sound like Rory’s then I’ll be content.

  3. tlmck

    Dec 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I cannot remember who said it, but I remember some guy saying all great players share one feature in their swings and that is the position at impact.

  4. Bryan

    Dec 13, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Great article. Shaun can attest my “bad” swing would make Furyk look traditional, but it’s effective when shortened and slowed down to let everything work together.

  5. Shaun Webb

    Dec 9, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for the kind words everyone…much appreciated

  6. Kris

    Dec 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Great job Shaun, I really enjoyed this article. I’m an instructor in Scottsdale at Boccieri Golf and we use the K-Vest almost exclusively when teaching. The rapid improvement in our students is simply amazing. It’s hands down the quickest way to improve your golf swing. Keep up the good work.

  7. Doug

    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    A real Eye-Opener Shaun! I recently took a series of lessons with the goal of improving consistency. I thought the lessons were pretty high tech, in that they involved video analysis, and using motion sensors to track hip and shoulder turns, with on screen comparisons of my swing positions to pro swings, and on screen lines tracking swing plane, separation etc, etc. BUT, at the end of the lessons my swing became so disjointed and erratic, that I put away my clubs and took a hiatus from golf. Your article described my experience to a “T”

  8. Peter Minot

    Nov 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    This is by far one of the best articles on the golf swing I have read in a long time, as a former teacher I use to tell the student I give two lessons 1 I can teach you how to swing the club or 2 I can teach how to get around the course with the swing you have. I always use to laugh at the statement you must keep your left arm straight on the back swing or your back swing should look like such and my responce always was I have never seen anyone hit the ball on the back swing, it only needs to be straight or as l like better is firm at impact.

  9. Shaun Webb

    Nov 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks Jordy I really appreciate your input and I’m glad you enjoyed it

  10. Jordy

    Nov 29, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Hi Shaun,

    I’m not used to comment on here, but this is a very nice article which talks about having our OWN swing.

    Unfortunately, Youtube videos, magazines or even tv show (all about golf for sure) shows us how to drive like Rory or play long iron like Tiger etc etc…
    So on one hand, it’s a good thing because we can see how beautiful their swings are, but on the other hand it’s a bad thing because it doesn’t push us to develop our own swing.

    Anyway you did a really good article Shaun.

    Jordy – from France 😉

  11. Matthew

    Nov 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    * And i truly believe that this is why Michelle Wie has struggled so mightily. She got where she was BEFORE David Leabetter got ahold of her swing, it used to be fluid and strong, and clearly became mechanized through time. I personally watched them destroy her swing. Sad.

  12. Matthew

    Nov 27, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    I could not agree more. at the age of 14 I was a +1 hcp, and I decided to go to highschool at the IMG David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, FL. While there, we spent copious amounts of time working on “positions” and the “3 step backswing” and no time at all working on the individual and what got them there in the first place. I personally got infinitely worse as a result.. they tried to instill a quick wrist set, toe pointing the sky, quick release after impact and a lower finish around the body etc… I left with a scoring average around 78.. significantly worse than when i arrived. I subsequently quit the game, put the clubs in the garage, and didn’t play a sober round of golf for 3 years. Luckily over that time i forgot everything they ever told me, and have since gotten “MY SWING” back, and am proudly playing to a +3hcp, and as a golf professional try to maintain this valuable lesson in all of my teachings. To those who teach positions: you don’t know SH*T. thanks.

  13. andrew cooper

    Nov 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Interesting stuff, good article! Somewhere I think a lot of golfers and coaches lost sight of the fact that the swing is essentially an athleitc movement. The obsessive quest of seeking “perfect” static positions through the movement screwed up so many otherwise good athletes.
    And the positions broadly take care of themselves when a golfer learns good sequencing anyway-not the other way round. Good to see new technology being used to actually help golfers.
    Think you’re really on the money with this!

  14. Shaun Webb

    Nov 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks Trevor. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
    SW

  15. Trevor

    Nov 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    This is a really good article. I think the points listed in this article are a very good reason why Ben Hogans 5 Lessons book sold so many copies, it teaches the fundamentals and helps build efficiency in your basic golf swing. This article says the same thing! Efficiency is key to consistency.

    Greta stuff!

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Instruction

Right Knee Bend: The Difference Between PGA Tour Players and Amateurs

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The knees play an especially important role in the golf swing, helping to transfer the forces golfers generate through our connection with the ground. When we look closer at the right knee bend in the golf swing, we’re able to get a better sense of how PGA Tour players generate power compared to most amateur golfers.

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How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location

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One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:

Observations

  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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Master your takeaway with force and torques

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Most golf swings last less than 2 seconds, so it’s difficult to recover from any errors in the takeaway. Time is obviously limited. What most golfers fail to realize is that the force and torque they apply to the club in the initial stages of the swing can have major effects on how they are able to leverage the club with their arms and wrists.

Our research has shown that it is best to see the golfer as a series of connected links with the most consistent golfers transferring motion smoothly from one link to another and finally to the club. Approximately 19-25 percent of all the energy created in a golf swing actually makes its way into the motion of the club. That means the remaining 75-80 percent is used up in moving the body segments. This emphasizes the fact that a smooth takeaway is your best chance sequence the body links and become more efficient with your energy transfers.

In the video above, I give a very important lesson on how the forces and torques applied by the golfer in the takeaway shape the rest of the swing. There will be more to come on the subject in future articles.

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