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Is getting to parallel really important?

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On my lesson tee, I constantly see golfers, especially senior golfers, obsessing over the mystifying position of parallel in the golf swing. Whether their swing goes past parallel or stops short of parallel it becomes a point of contention when describing their swing. Every time I put a first time student on video they make a comment about it. Why do we have a fascination with this arbitrary position? Who decided it was important? If you saw the following two swings below and had to decide which on would have the potential for more speed which swing would you choose?

Before a few weeks ago, I am not sure I would know the correct answer. After having learned some new stats from Dr. Sasho MacKenzie at a recent coaching seminar I attended I can now tell you the swing on the left would absolutely have a higher potential for more speed. According to Dr. MacKenzie’s research increasing hand path by 4 inches gives the potential for 2.4 mph of club speed. Conversely adding 30 degrees of club rotation will only add a potential of .2 mph.

Now obviously the two swings I made are a bit manufactured however I believe they illustrate a common issue I see in amateurs. I see tons of amateurs who are limited in mobility that will then allow the wrists to cock and the club to jackknife in order to reach parallel at the top. So yes you might swing the club .2 mph faster by allowing the club to get to parallel in this scenario but I would ask at what cost?

The two most common ways I see amateurs try to lengthen the club head travel for a false chase in speed is by either softening the left arm or cupping the left wrist at the top. Now plenty of all time golfers have had one or the other of these looks at the top but I think we must understand that the golf swing is a constant cause and effect relationship. I like to think about it as a system of credits and debits equaling out to a net ball flight. If we soften the left arm we shorten the radius of the arc. So, at some point in the downswing we must lengthen the radius or we will suffer in contact or potentially no contact with the ball at all!

If we cup the left wrist at the top of the swing, we are severely opening the club face. Again, this is adding another element we must “fix” on the downswing in order to hit an intended golf shot. I must remind you that all of these things are in order for a potential .2 mph of club head speed for every 30 degrees of club rotation! I just do not see the value of trying to go down this road for every day players.

If we look at some of the historically longest drivers of the golf ball you will rarely see them chasing club rotation and much more of lengthening the hand path. If you are thinking, “Well ok, but guys like Tony Finau and Jon Rahm have shorter hand paths and still bomb it.” I would concede that yes their hand path is short of parallel however that is relative to themselves. Often we are so focused on parallel we lose sight of the actual distance the hand path travels. Just because Tony Finau’s swing looks short, relative to his body, does not mean his hand path length from the ball is shorter than others. For example, Rory McIlroy is 5”9’ with a long-looking hand path but Tony is 6”4’ with a short-looking hand path. If I had to guess, I would say their hand paths are of similar length.

Now of course Tony is missing out on potential speed, because his hand path is shorter than what would seem physically possible for him. He has decided, knowingly or not, that swinging at 120 mph with a shorter hand path allows him to control the golf ball more than swinging at 130 mph with a longer hand path. It is vitally important to understand that he has speed to give up. If Webb Simpson, who swings at 109 mph, decides to shorten his hand path for more control the results of less speed and therefore distance could be disastrous.

If you cannot get to parallel in your golf swing, please do yourself and your score a favor, quit trying to increase the club’s rotation purely through wrist hinge. Also, if you have the physical ability to increase the hand path length go ahead and try it! It could do wonders for you game. Or if your kid is reaching way back at the top of the swing be very careful when deciding to shorten their swing. They are trying to create as much speed as possible to play a relatively long golf course.

Finally, it is very important to remember when applying any rules of thumb in the golf swing that it is different for every person. I have seen plenty of players who increase hand path and it actually lose swing speed because either their body cannot support it or it causes timing issues in their sequence for producing speed. If a doctor prescribes medicine for your friend, you don’t just automatically start taking the same medicine without the proper consultation. Please do yourself and your golf instructor a solid apply this same logic to your game!

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PGA Member and Golf Professional at Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, NC. Former PGA Tour and Regional Representative for TrackMan Golf. Graduate of Campbell University's PGM Program with 12 years of experience in the golf industry. My passion for knowledge and application of instruction in golf is what drives me everyday.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Jim Gift

    Feb 4, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    Please explain how to correctly increase hand path and what you mean by this??

    thanks, Jim

  2. joro

    Feb 4, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    You don’t hit the ball with the backswing and the farther you have to get to the ball the more room for error. So for the average player shorter is better. Even most of the Tour long hitters are short of parallel. So who is to say, other than those that feel they have to change a persons swing, and have no idea how to really teach.

  3. Ray

    Feb 4, 2019 at 12:44 am

    Somewhere Alan Doyle is LOL hard at this article.

  4. James

    Feb 4, 2019 at 12:10 am

    Dumb question. What is hand path?

  5. Speedy

    Feb 3, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Woods parallel. Irons short of parallel. Past parallel is reckless endeavor.

  6. geohogan

    Feb 3, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Tony F has very long arms, much longer than Jack N.
    His hand path is longer than Jack’s even though his shoulders appear to turn less than 90 degrees.
    Yet he creates as much lag as Jack and Sam S.

    Its angular momentum that creates clubhead speed and that is dependent upon lag.

    Lag is dependent upon how we use our hands, not getting club to parallel at the top of BS.

  7. Greg V

    Feb 3, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Good article.

    In general, back when clubs were heavy – hickory and then steel – it was important to have a long swing in order to build up speed through impact. Modern drivers are much lighter, and can be accelerated faster from a shorter backswing.

    Width is always important. Making a big shoulder turn and not letting the lead arm break down is much more important than swinging the club back to parallel, or beyond.

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Instruction

Stickney: Sit on it (for a better backswing)

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As we know golf, is a very tough sport and one that involves many moving pieces. Whenever something overreacts or moves too much on the way back, you end up playing catch-up on the way down. One of my favorite things to watch is how the head moves or doesn’t move on the backswing. Sure, you can have some movement, but you can’t have too much or you put yourself behind the eight ball.

I have charted the head position of a tour player at address and we can see that this is a very normal set up position. It is one that looks positioned to do great things.

However, en route to the top, you can see that this player has put himself into a position where his rear knee straightened too rapidly off the start of his backswing. When this occurs the pelvis “runs out from under” the upper body on the backswing the hips will react and begin to slant downward. (You can see a -10 degree tilt versus 3 degrees the opposite way at address for you number people.)

This causes the head to move out in front of where it was at address. This is not a bad position for the irons but for a driver we have a pending issue. If you don’t make a compensation from here then the player will have an angle of attack that is too much downward through impact with their driver.

As the player moves into his transition, the hips have leveled as the rear shoulder lowers the club into delivery but the head and pelvis are still too far out in front of the ball. The only thing you can do from here is fire the lead side upwards and hope that your head falls back into the correct position. If so, you will have the correct angle of attack, if not, you will chop down on the ball causing your launch conditions to be faulty.

And as we see here that this is precisely what this player did at the very last minute…not the easiest way to swing the club but it is functional IF you make the right correction. So, now that you understand how simple things like the action of the lower body can cause your head to move and your angle of attack to become faulty, what is the secret to controlling your lower body?


Just “sit” on the rear knee flex slightly longer during the backswing as you see here. This will slow down the tilting of the pelvis on backswing and thus your head will stay more in position en route to the top.

Personally, I teach both flexion and extension of the rear knee to the top, depending on what the player is wanting to do, so it really does not matter. However, what does matter is the rate at which it begins to straighten for those of you who do allow it to lengthen. I try to make most of my students hold the most of their address flex until the club moves between belt and chest high, any sooner and you risk the faulty pivot we saw above.

Therefore, take it from me and “sit on it” slightly longer for more quiet head motions as well as a more balanced backswing—your angle of attack will thank you!

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Davies: Training the trail elbow in the golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get the correct trail arm and elbow action in the downswing. He shares some great drills that can be done at the range or at home to help lower your scores.Get the correct training for the trail arm here today!

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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