“I am trying to make a full turn.”
“I am trying to complete my back swing.”
I’ve heard these phrases come out of golfer’s mouths for 30 years, and didn’t care to know what they really meant… until I started teaching golf.
Some instructors say golfers should bring the club to parallel with their backswings, and others say that a 90-degree shoulder rotation is best (not to be confused with shoulders turning at a 90-degree angle to the spine). Then there are those who believe golfers should try to “turn their back to the target,” and ones who preach of getting the front shoulder over the back foot.
There are several problems with all of these tips, however, starting with the fact that parallel is a meaningless, arbitrary position that only has value in that it is symmetrical. And most people do not have the flexibility to make a 90-degree shoulder rotation, which again, is another symmetrical, although less arbitrary position. Falstaff would be selling these movements if he taught golf.
Now turning your back to the target seems meritorious, but it can cause a common, yet overlooked problem — the body over rotating and the spine losing its tilt away from the target or even tilting toward the target. I have come to call this reverse tilt, loss of tilt, or rotating out of tilt. It also involves the rear shoulder getting too close to the target.
This should not be confused with a reverse pivot, which usually happens immediately on the takeaway where the weight shifts to the front side, and then shifts to the back side on the downswing — the bane of beginners and very high handicappers. Reverse tilt, which begins fine but ends poorly, is an epidemic among mid to low handicappers, as many of them do it to some extent.
There are in fact people that can and should get the club past parallel and turn their shoulders past 90 degrees. It is almost a direct correlation between flexibility and ability to create speed for those that go to and past these arbitrary positions. Payne Stewart, John Daly and most of your world class long drivers are famous examples.
So again, the question begs, what is a full turn?
The answer is very individual. The simple answer for most golfers is that the back swing stops as soon as the shoulders reach their maximum rotation. Golfers should take care to make sure that the arms do not continue the swing when the shoulders reach that point of maximum rotation.
The exceptions are for people with the ability to create speed and/or link their arms up to their turn after they have run past. It’s not an ideal movement, and there are a very few who are successful at it, such as Fred Couples. It’s extremely hard to consistently separate the arms from the body during the turn/pivot and make consistent contact.
Most golfers who over run their shoulder turn with their arm swing aren’t as skilled as Couples, which gives them a backswing that is too long. As a result, they can’t generate enough speed with their turn or their arms, so they end up with what I once heard described as, “A Southern Belle limp wristed throw” at the ball. I still don’t know exactly what that means, but it sounded pretty negative to me.
Here’s are true, technical answers to what a full turn really is:
- A full turn is created when the shoulders have reached their maximum turn at the proper angle (rotating at an angle perpendicular to the spine at address). This will be 50 degrees for some golfers, and in two-time World Long Drive Champion Jamie Sadlowski’s case, upwards of 120 degrees. Most golfers will be in the 70-to-90 degree range.
- A full turn occurs when the arm swing does not continue after the maximum shoulder rotation is achieved.
The above two issues are commonly known throughout the golf world and supported by most instructors. But there’s a third, more important answer, which is often overlooked by instructors.
3. Stay short of the point where the body can no longer sustain spine tilt away from the target. In a face on view, the rear shoulder does not rotate closer to the front foot than the rear foot.
Many high handicappers violate No. 2 and are told by all their friends, internet gurus, instructors, network announcers, their wives, kids, religious leaders, mailman and Pilates instructor. As a direct result of this “arm overrun”, they lose their lag, which for the Rip Van Winkles is the magic angle between the left arm and shaft (for right handed golfers).
I want to make it clear that no holding of the angle, float loading, ringing the bell or Marquis de Sade endorsed training aid is going to allow these golfers to keep their lag when they violate No. 2. They can’t create enough speed to sustain their lag because their overly long backswings just won’t allow it.
Yes, it’s true that a longer swing can create more speed and power for a select few, for most golfers it greatly reduces it. And since quality repetition is what creates good golf, redundancy from an instructor is not a sin and doesn’t put you in the third ring of Inferno. With redundancy being a virtue, I get to follow Beatrice into Paradiso.
The amazing thing is how many low handicappers, single digits and mini-tour level players violate No. 3 and don’t even know it’s a bad thing. Not only can many of them not sustain their lag and speed all the way to the ball because their arms don’t have the room to speed up, violating No. 3 tilts the spine toward the target, steepening the angle of attack. Most often, the body reacts by throwing the lag angle away to shallow out AoA (so a golfer doesn’t dig a grave with an iron or put an idiot mark on top of the driver). What makes it even worse is that experienced and high-level golfers know from a feel perspective they don’t want to hang back to recreate tilt at impact that all good players have with all clubs, so they end up moving the upper body laterally toward the target, exacerbating their problems.
Below are pictures that illustrate this point. Photo 1 is of one of my clients who is a low single digit, next to my “playing swing.” My client’s right shoulder has rotated all the way over to his front foot and he has not tilted away from the target. At first look, this back swing looks text book as the shoulder turn appears huge, there is no arm overrun and he is not past parallel. However, he has set himself in a place where his angle of attack is going to be too steep and he gradually will lose his lag angle and have no shaft lean at impact — the two main reasons he came to me for help.
Photos 2 and 3 are of my “long drive swing” that at 46 years old, I can still use at times produce club head speeds of more than 130 mph. You will notice how even in my swing that goes well past parallel, I still have spine tilt away from the target and my right shoulder has not gone across the midline of my body. That is a full turn.
Photos 2 and 3
In the photo below, you will see the real X-factor on the right (not to be confused with the X-factor that caused millions of golfers to restrict their hip turn). My long drive swing with a vertical line from my right shoulder to the ground and one on my spine make a nice X. On the left, you will see a long hitting GolfWRXer who makes a huge turn, but has no X-factor. This is not a thinly veiled attempt to brag. As I prepare for the Remax World Long Drive Championships in two months, it’s evidence I am trying to practice what I preach.
I’ve also included photos of Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan below. In the photo, Tiger is working on a centered pivot, and you can see that Hogan went past parallel. But neither Tiger nor Hogan rotated the right shoulder past their mid-line, and both sustained their tilt away from the target in the backswing. They both have real X-factor.
So if you want to achieve your maximum power and efficiency — and for the lagists, maximum lag — you need to figure out what your full turn is. For nearly all of you, it is going to be a shorter swing that “feels powerless.”
Put a shaft across your chest and hold it cross-armed with the club head on the side of your back shoulder and stand in front of a mirror in a golf posture. Stretch to your maximum turn where your spine is still tilted away from the target and that clubhead is still closer to your back foot than your front foot. Now take the club, grip it and extend your hands away from your chest.
The key is not getting the front shoulder over the back foot — it’s getting a maximum turn while keeping the back shoulder over the back foot, or at least not across the middle of the stance. That is what sustains the tilt away from the target, gives your arms room to accelerate, produces the optimal angle of attack … and wait for it … sustains maximum lag and shaft lean through impact.
That is a full turn. For most of you, it will be a lot shorter than what you do.
The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training
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.]
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.
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 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.
Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers
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!
Clement: How to turbo charge your swing
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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