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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

The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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