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How “long arms” at the top of the backswing can help you hit the ball farther

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One of the hardest things to do as we get older is to make a big shoulder turn with extended arms at the top. It’s the swing of a younger golfer! However, every one of us can add width at the top so we can hit it farther, but few know how to actually do so. In this article, I will use MySwing 3D Motion Analysis to help you understand how beneficial long arms are at the top.

As you examine the swing of this particular player, you will notice that the lead arm is “soft” and the hands are close to this player’s head at the top. This is the classic narrow armswing to the top that most older players employ. And as we all know this position leaves yardage in the bag!

Now let’s look at the data so we can see what is actually happening…

At the top you can see that the shoulders have turned 100 degrees which is more than enough, but the arms look jammed and narrow at the top. Why?

The answer lies within the actions of the rear arm, the lead arm is only REACTING to the over-bending of the rear elbow. As you can see at the top the rear elbow is bent 60 degrees. In a perfect world, when the rear elbow is at 90 degrees (a right angle) or more, the lead arm will be mostly straight — depending on how you’re built.

Something to note…in this position the hands are just past the chest and the shoulders have turned almost 90 degrees. However, when this player finished his backswing, he added 30 more degrees of rear elbow bend and only 11 more degrees of shoulder turn! What this means is that for the last quarter of the backswing, all this player did is allow the hands to basically collapse to the top of the backswing. This move is less than efficient and will cause major issues in your downswing sequencing, as well as, your transitional action.

As stated when your trail elbow stays at 90 degrees or wider in route to the top, you will have a much straighter lead arm.

One last thing to note when comparing these two players is that this player two had a shorter backswing length but a BIGGER shoulder turn with WIDER arms at the top, giving this player a short compact motion that resembles Adam Scott — which seems to work for he and Butch!

Therefore, the thing to remember is that if your lead arm is soft at the top and your arms look crowded at the top, then you must fix the over-bending of the rear elbow on the backswing. And if you have wider arms you will have a more solid “package” to become a ballstriking machine!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. RBImGuy

    Jan 15, 2019 at 6:26 am

    nah, your not understanding the golf swing
    student added 80 yards from proper understanding
    went from am 220 yards to 300 yards.

  2. geohogan

    Dec 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    To extend left arm up to an additional 10 inches, simply elevate the left shoulder about an inch toward the left ear at address.
    That one move, described in “The Hogan Manual of Human Performance: GOLF, 1992”
    increases range of motion of the left arm sufficiently over time, to allow Lag.

    As you can imagine, elevating the left shoulder is exactly the opposite advise we received from golf instruction that says to lower left shoulder in takeaway.
    Lowering the left shoulder not only limits range of motion of the left arm in BS, but also forces the pelvic basin to slide away from the target, preventing a proper turn of the torso in the BS.

  3. Don Toth

    Dec 20, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Well done article…thank you for a great explanation!

    Look forward to more articles from you!

  4. scott

    Dec 17, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Good Article. Thanks. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule but creating width is the best way to create speed. For those that are arguing that Tom is wrong, try swinging a ball at the end of a rope and tell me the the way that you got the most speed. It isn’t going to be constantly folding your arms and extending.

    I have always been more concerning with the lead arm instead of the trailing arm. I will look at that.

  5. Raymond CHASTEL

    Dec 17, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    It is definitely preferable not to have a (too much) bent lead arm in the backswing,though many top players show a slight bend .If you look at the photos of very
    ancient top golfers (HENRY PICARD comes to mind )you see them with lead arms straight as arrows .One simple cure I practice is to push your right hand away fom the body going in the backswing .Much of this fault has to do with the stiffness of the right shoulder ,so work hard on your stretching exercises .
    As said LEE TREVINO “You don’t hit the ball with your backswing “

  6. Speedy

    Dec 16, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Good tip, Tom. A good grip is essential for achieving this desired position.

  7. chris pottle

    Dec 15, 2018 at 10:09 am

    good imformation. one small correction. It should be Butch and him.

    • Matthew

      Dec 17, 2018 at 11:20 pm

      You’re wrong on your correction.

      • Charlie Rouse

        Dec 27, 2018 at 6:26 pm

        So, you think it would be correct to say, “which seems to work for he”? “Which seems to work for him” is correct. It doesn’t change if more objects are added (in this case, “Butch”). I don’t know why this little bit of grammar is so hard for people to get right.

  8. FinnMan

    Dec 15, 2018 at 9:31 am

    There are lots of players on Tour and especially in long-driving that bend the lead elbow.

    • Mark Odenthal

      Dec 17, 2018 at 4:33 am

      Yes they probably have a good amount of extension w/shoulder turn. This matchup will allow for more time to create width P4-P5 as they don’t need to move as linear.

  9. stevek

    Dec 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Interesting point, Tom. A long arm cantilever at the top will create more hand acceleration in the initial downswing path and a s s uming body torque is constant. However, Miura posits that bringing the hands in towards the body when approaching impact will create “parametric acceleration” for the arms and club with a 4% clubhead speed increase. How do you reconcile that dichotomy? Thanks.

    • Gun Violent

      Dec 15, 2018 at 10:00 am

      You use the proper angle of the dangle

    • Mark Odenthal

      Dec 17, 2018 at 4:38 am

      Definitely faster to maintain trail arm fold into P7. More rotational matchup….how you maintain the fold and what happens after is also a big factor in the speed increases.

  10. geohogan

    Dec 14, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Calvin Pete was straightest driver on the pga tour for ten years and he was unable to straighten his left arm, ever.

    There is no good reason for width in the BS.
    The only time a straight left arm is important is at impact.

    • Gun Violent

      Dec 15, 2018 at 9:57 am

      Yes it certainly is a load of BS

    • Mark Odenthal

      Dec 17, 2018 at 4:30 am

      Yes there is. Width in the trail arm allows the trail shoulder to work externally in transition like DJ without manipulations. Obviously many match ups as you definitely can be narrow and then create width in transition before turning lead shoulder as this article was trying to explain. I actually made a visual demonstration on IG of 6 common flaws that lead to a poor internally rotated throwing pattern P4-P9 that I learned from George.

      • smz

        Dec 17, 2018 at 5:56 pm

        … George who?…. P4-P9 whazzat??

      • geohogan

        Dec 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm

        @mark odenthal,
        It seems to me that to achieve all that your saying, we simply need to supinate our trail hand from the top of the BS and keep the palm facing the sky during the DS

        At impact trail arm bent, elbow at the trail hip is the goal.

        Now if your of the school who try to square the clubface with your hands at impact, there are many manipulations that have to be timed.
        Good luck with that.

      • geohogan

        Dec 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm

        Some of us want to reach impact with our trail arm bent, and elbow close to the trail hip.

        To achieve that , we simply need to supinate our trail hand at top of BS and to keep the palm facing the sky for the DS.

        Schools that teach to square the clubface with the hands, at moment of impact, have many manipulations to time.

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Instruction

Walters: Avoid these 3 big chipping mistakes!

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Chipping causes nightmares for so many amateur golfers. This s mainly due to three core mistakes. In this video, I talk about what those mistakes are, and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 1

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

 

Back pain is by far the most common complaint among regular golfers. It is estimated that up to 35 percent of amateur golfers endure lower back injuries. And in our experience working with tour players, the prevalence is even higher in the professional ranks! 

Back pain can affect our ball striking and short game, diminish our enjoyment of the game, or even stop us playing altogether. It can make us feel anxious about playing (and making the pain worse) and just generally disappointed with current performance falling way short of our expectations. 

There is certainly no shortage of information on the topic of back pain, and with myriad back pain products and supplement options available, confusion about the best path to pain-free golf is one of the main reasons we don’t actually do anything effective to alleviate our suffering! 

We aim to present in this article an easy-to-digest explanation of the common causes of back pain, alongside some simple and practical ways to address the underlying issues. 

The recommendations we make in this article are generic in nature but effective in many of the low back pain cases we have worked with. However, pain can be complex and very specific to the individual. You should seek the personalized advice of a medical or exercise professional before undertaking any form of remedial exercise.

Reason 1 – Lack of mobility in 2 key areas

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected. 

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Area 1 – Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercises – Hip Mobility

Foam roll glutes, you can also use a spiky ball

90 90 hip mobility drills, fantastic for taking the hips through that all important internal rotation range

90 90 Glute Stretch – great for tight glutes / hips

Area 2 – Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

Foam rolling mid / upper back

 

Cat / Camel – working the T-Spine through flexion and extension

 

Reach backs – working that all important T-Spine rotation

Reason 2 – Alignment and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right and back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and/or below.

For example, if we have short/tight/overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knee to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain. This would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance

Reason 3 – Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

 

The 3 major spinal curves – 1-Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures. 

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

Fortunately, re-establishing good posture is really simple and you can combine the information and exercises featured in the videos below with the mobility exercises featured in the Reason 1 section above. The equipment used in the videos is the GravityFit TPro – a favorite of ours for teaching and training posture with both elite and recreational players.

 

In the next installment of this article, we will cover reasons 4, 5 and 6 why golfers suffer from back pain – 4) Warming Up (or lack thereof!), 5) Core Strength and 6) Swing Faults.

 

If you would like to see how either Nick or Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

Nick Randall – golffitpro.net

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