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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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