Video is a great tool for teaching and learning golf. It replaced the naked eye in golf instruction, and is used by teachers world wide. A video of a golf swing can show us a lot about what a player is doing, particularly with the body motion. But a word of caution is in order when relying on it exclusively to see the golf swing.
First, we have to consider something called parallax. Because of the design of my car’s speedometer, I can see that I’m driving a certain speed when I’m sitting in the driver’s seat. But the person riding shotgun looks at my speedometer and says: “Take it easy, you’re doing 70 in a 55 mph zone,” because that’s what it looks like from where that person it sitting sitting. That’s a parallax: two different perspectives of the same picture. And we have to be really careful of this when looking at a golf swing on video. Just by moving the camera a few feet left or right, we can skew the picture of the swing we’re looking at. It also explains why the golf ball appears to go so far right every time a player on TV hits.
Secondly, video is ultimately a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional motion. Video cannot see the true path of the golf swing because path is combination of the horizontal and vertical movement of the golf club into the ball. What we see on video is the horizontal plane we are swinging on. We see a base plane line, not a true swing path. The camera can see the left or right but not the up and down, and this can be misleading. A swing which can look well left on the camera may also have a very steep angle, actually requiring leftward movement of the club to zero it out. This means every degree we swing down on say a 6-iron, we have to swing a half-degree left to offset it. So a very steep angle, say seven or eight degrees down would need as much as four degrees left to get it to actually swing at the target. On video, we’d see on the left (the horizontal plane) it appears over the top, but in fact it is not — so be careful. James Lietz, the great teacher and fitter from Louisiana, does some wonderful work explaining this.
Third, at impact, the contact point on the club can twist the face open (toe hit) or closed (heel hit). This may appear to be the result of a movement the player is making (either over-pronation or over-supination) when in fact it is the result of twisting due to the off-center impact.
Also, when a model swing is being used for comparison, be real careful about what view is being shown and what shot the PGA Tour pro is hitting — this is critical. You may be seeing a top-level player deliberately swinging well right or left, (base plane line) to hit an intentional draw or fade. And when we select them randomly, we just never know what his intention was hitting that particular shot. The parallax issue I noted above is limiting here too. In fact, when I’m teaching I very often use extremes. If I have someone swing well over the top, I may show them a video of a Tour pro hitting way from the inside, just to plant that image in their golf brain. I teach by using the most extreme opposite measure I can.
Now the good points of video analysis are obvious. Is there lifting or lowering of the body during the swing? A close-up of the grip is also very revealing. Sequencing is another motion visible on video; so is the club face in relation to the swing arc. And when the camera is positioned correctly, aim, ball position and width of stance can all be seen accurately. I also like to see the golf club in relation to the lead arm. Is it laid off, is it across the line, is the left wrist flat, is it cupped; where is the club pointed in transition? These are all things in which video is enormously helpful. I have a Casio camera and use it regularly. But of course, for accurate path, face-to-path or attack angle readings I rely on TrackMan or FlightScope.
Note about shooting video: I try to position the camera on the hand line directly behind the player, about belt high. From the face on view, I position it at the belt buckle, 90 degrees to the target line. This gives me the best view. Many times, students send me swings from a camera positioned anywhere but where I can see the swing. I also love an overhead camera which allows me to trace the shape of the arc of the swing. And of course the camera must be still. It cannot be hand-held or moving in any way to get a good look.
All in all, I use video, it is a great help, but the critical areas I mentioned have to be measured.
As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.