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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

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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