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Swing in Pictures: The Top

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Over the next several weeks, Tom Stickney will be presenting a series called, “The Swing In Pictures” on GolfWRX.

Each Monday a different swing position will be coupled with thoughts you (as the player) should pay attention to based on your current handicap level. I would suggest printing each of these articles out and placing them in a binder, as the series will take you from address through the finish from the front and down the line views.

Click here to view Tom’s previous articles.

PLEASE NOTE:

This article is meant to be used as a general reference for the most common swing model used in today’s game. As with any golf swing, there are personal idiosyncrasies that will alter the look and/or actions of the club shaft and body motions back and through so there will always be exceptions. Please keep this in mind as you read each section. As Homer Kelley identifies in ‘The Golfing Machine,’ there are 446 quad-trillion stroke patterns, or ways to swing the club. You only need to find the one that works best for you.

The Top (Front View)

Stickney

The top of the backswing is where the backswing stops and the forward motion of the body and clubshaft begins.  This is the position that will allow the downswing to begin without any radical manipulation.

For the Beginning Player:

  • The shoulders have turned about twice as much as the hips.
  • There is a noticeable separation between the legs as if you were holding a beach ball between your knees.
  • The arms are extended away from the head with a left arm that is relatively straight but not rigid.
  • The rear knee is solid and has not swayed laterally; thus, the weight is centralized on the inside of the rear foot and the forward foot is on the ground or very close.
  • The head should remain relatively stable on the way to the top, it can move slightly laterally towards the rear foot.

For the Intermediate Player:

  • Focusing on lower body control is a must — the knees must remain separated and the forward foot must not be allowed to leave the ground haphazardly.
  • The head should be directly over the rear foot so you can be “behind the ball” or “loaded up” at the top — this is a necessity for power and control.
  • Maintain the “L” created by the rear arm at the top for added width — do not let it collapse beyond 90 degrees.
  • Rear knee control will create a more controlled hip turn to the top and a better foundation for the transition.

For the Advanced Player:

  • Halting the swing “from the feet” is advisable whereas your feet do not leave the ground and the weight stays on the inside of the rear foot at the top.
  • There is a noticeable “lean over the rear leg” at the top which was created by the lateral side bending at address; if your lower body is out of control or over-rotates then you will lose this angle.
  • It is here we desire a medium hip turn, a maximum shoulder turn, and a slight “lean over the rear leg.

For the Professional Player:

  • Notice the high X-Factor — the torque created between the differing upper and lower body turns.  The shoulders will be turned around 90 degrees and the hips around 45, this torque allows the hips to lead and power the downswing without thought and in the proper sequence.
  • The angle of the rear biceps and rear forearm must be as wide as possible to create a short arms swing coupled with a big shoulder turn.
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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. 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 60 people in the world.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. David

    Mar 8, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Excited to see the transition!

  2. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Semantics can me misconstrued; thanks for the note…

    • David

      Mar 8, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Tom i’ve been reading all of these posts. They are awesome.

  3. Walt

    Mar 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    That wasn’t that great of an answer to the fact your instruction says explicitly to get the head directly over the right foot.

    I think what you mean to say here is just to position your head comfortably atop your shoulders.

    Pointing out head over right foot is too generic as some people might take that to mean oh I need to lean my head backwards, or I need to lean my upper body backwards more to get my head over my shoe.

    It might be better to say move your left shoulder somewhat in line with your right instep. Flexibility of the individual dictates how much they can accomplish this action.

    Head directly over shoulder is just inviting a bad backwards sway into the swing.

  4. tom stickney

    Feb 27, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Simon–Remember that in the beginning levels there are many things that they need to worry about that the better players do not…secondly, the amount of lateral spinal bending at address controls the amount of lean over the right leg and subsequent head position at the top. If you read the first part of each of my articles in this series you would also see that these tips and photos are very general…there are great players in all types of positions at the top. Try to look beyond what you see as “exact” in the photos and you will find ideas that just might help you improve. There is no one way to swing…

  5. simon

    Feb 26, 2013 at 4:56 am

    “The head should be directly over the rear foot so you can be “behind the ball” or “loaded up” at the top — this is a necessity for power and control”…. not really… contradicts the point about how the head can move laterally a little bit in the beginners section as well….

    how many good players do you see move their head directly over the rear foot?

  6. William Wilson

    Feb 25, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    I love the b/w image at the top of the article – almost looks like Hogan. What is definitely noticeable is the weight on the inside of the ‘golf shoes’ – a classic ‘Hogan Fundamental’… Nice one!

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Instruction

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Instruction

Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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