The seed for what would blossom into the A Swing was planted back in 1998, while I was visiting David Leadbetter at his academy headquarters in Florida. As time went by, our discussions about the A Swing deepened, which, as a biomechanist specializing in sports, excited me tremendously.
While about 10 years in the making, the A Swing has now made its debut to the world. I feel proud to have helped David realize his dream of developing a swing that maximizes energy efficiency, employs a minimum of body movement, is easier and simpler to repeat and is far less stressful on the body than conventional golf swings. In a manner that I hope all will understand, I’d like to present and explain a few of the A Swing’s key biomechanical facts and principals and offer some of the reasons why the swing works as well as it does.
First, the A Swing (which stands for the Alternative Swing) isn’t based on flat, two-dimensional Euclidean geometry. The golf swing unfolds in the same three-dimensional space we all live and act in every day, so one needs to think about the golf swing and frame it within the voluminous space of the real world as well.
With this in mind, we can compare the biomechanical efficiency and overall efficacy of the A Swing to a helicopter’s blade revolving around the fixed axis of its stable hub. A helicopter can, like a gyroscope, nimbly and precisely tilt and shift the plane of its orientation while flying in space without disturbing the constant rotation of its blade — just as a golfers tilt their bodies while swinging their arms and club around the hub of their spines. This is why the helicopter metaphor is a very good one for the A Swing, whose set-up posture, alignment, grip and flat-arm swing/steeply set shaft backswing motion has been designed to swing in sync with the body’s stable hub-like pivoting action, which we will shortly discuss. Our research reveals that golfers can repeat their A Swings with less of a need to make last-moment arms and hands compensations before impact than when executing conventional swings.
The Traditional Backswing vs. The A Swing Backswing
The A Swing is unique among contemporary swing philosophies in that it values and considers the biology part of biomechanics as much as it does the mechanical side. In this context I want to discuss with you the importance the A Swing places on the use and control of the body’s deep core muscles of the entire torso, from the abdomen up through the chest. Anatomically known as the abdominal-thoracic hydro pneumatic caisson, this organic structure of bone, muscle, organs and other tissue establishes a composite beam, or girder-like structure, around which the several kinematic muscular chains of the golf swing revolve.
In more layman’s terms, it is this core “unit” which in tying into the muscles of the golfer’s shoulders, pelvis, hips and legs both transmits and stabilizes the golfer’s motion throughout the swing. The correct and sustained engagement of the body’s core is an inviolable principal of the A Swing, and when golfers fully engage and sustain the contraction of their core muscles throughout the entire swing, they reap the benefits of a tremendously stable and repeatable swing that produces power and accuracy on a consistent basis.
Our research also shows that 30 percent less energy is needed in the A Swing to complete the backswing pivot or coil than in conventional swings and that the golfer’s center of gravity shifts 15 percent less during the swing than in conventional swings. The first finding allows for a greater establishment of potential power during the backswing, while the second allows golfers to more easily transition into their downswing while maintaining complete balance. Taken together, they result in a more efficient energy and controlled build up and application of power applied through the downswing and release into the ball. Please keep in mind, however, that the percentages quoted in this article and in the book refer to A Swings made in a fully efficient manner according to our model, and that any incremental movement in the direction of these percentages and improved will result in better shots and long-term better swing for golfers. Furthermore, we obtained these findings by working with a group of golfers of different handicap levels who had previously trained by working with The A Swing book’s “Seven-Minute Practice Plan.”
With that said, it’s important to know that the key to the A Swing, and, indeed the impetus behind David’s commitment to developing it lies in its simpler and more efficient backswing. In testing the A Swing’s backswing, we found that the hands travel 20 percent less in distance, while the club itself travels 15 percent farther than in a traditional backswing.
Now the reason an A Swinger’s hands travel a shorter distance to the top of the backswing is because they stay inside of the arc of the club head’s backswing motion all the way to the completion of the backswing itself. In a conventional backswing, the club head actually swings back inside of the hands at some point in the motion, and this change of direction, so to speak, increases the distance that the hands travel as well. We can compare the hands’ path of an A Swing’s backswing to driving a car directly from Chicago to New York City. If we extend the analogy to a conventional backswing, we would find this car driving first to Miami Beach before turning around and heading north to NYC.
So let me ask you a question, and believe me, you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to answer it correctly. Which route consumes more gasoline and, therefore, expends more energy during their respective road trips? Obviously it’s the Chicago-Miami Beach-New York City route! The same scientific concept of conservation of energy applies to the A Swing’s compact, “short” and direct backswing. The time and energy saved when the hands move on the most direct path to the top of the swing both allows the golfer to more leisurely transition their swings into the downswing, and provides them, again, with more energy that they can apply into the club, and, ultimately into the ball.
Now the golf club itself travels up to 15 percent farther in the A’s versus a conventional backswing because of the efficiency of the swing’s pivoting or coiling motion and also because of its extremely flexible “Prayer Grip.” The grip, which features a slightly strong left hand and weak right-hand placement on the club, yields maximum wrist motion and bend but almost no rotational motion during the backswing. David, who designed this grip specifically for the A Swing, really understands that the human wrist joints are extremely mobile, even “fluid,” and are not machine-like and rigid like clamps. Again, the A Swing is backswing oriented, but only for the sake of its capacity to create a powerful and easy-to-repeat downswing.
From a biomechanical point of view, the A Swing’s backswing and downswing create far better synchronization between the body’s rotation and the movement of the arms and club than do a conventional swing’s. In fact, a key “episode” in this coordinated and synchronized “story” of the swing in motion takes place during the transition from its backswing to its downswing. Here is where the initially steeply set shaft flattens planes into its shallower downswing counterpart, which produces a kind of whiplash effect that turbo-charges the shaft with an infusion of living energy. Now I’m aware that this isn’t the most mechanical description of a downswing’s transition that you may have ever encountered, but, remember, this is BIO-mechanics that we’re discussing here!
Let me conclude this article by talking about the two synergistically linked ideas: the applications of “ground forces” in the swing and the role and importance of the body’s center of gravity (COG). These two elements combine in the A Swing to create its powerful, stable and consistent pivot motion, which David describes in the book as “the life blood” of the swing. Since the mid-1990s I have focused on studying and understanding the essential elements of the closed kinematic chain as they are expressed and executed by golfers and other athletes. This intricately involves the way ground forces work and interact with the throwing (and swinging) and posture forces of the athletic actions in which they take place.
To begin with, golfers need to use the ground correctly in order to execute the essentially circular motion that defines a pivot as a pivot and creates the swing’s vital centripetal force.
I’ll turn to another car analogy, and this time ask you to imagine one riding in a straight line on an ice rink. Now when the driver of the car attempts to steer this vehicle into a turn, what will happen? Because of the insufficient friction between the tires and the ice, the car will skid off in the same straight direction on which it was driving. Correspondingly, the feet in the A Swing really need to grip the earth to provide what’s called the “centripetal requirement” that allows the body to move in a circular pivoting motion. To this end, The A Swing book teaches with great detail a pivot action that first transfers the golfer’s weight into the right heel by the completion of the backswing (and its concurrent and diagonal distribution of the weight that’s placed on the left toe), then how it moves in a symmetrical fashion into the left heel by the completion of the full swing.
Now the A Swing’s pivoting action, again initiated and sustained throughout the swing by the body’s core, must rotate around the body’s Center of Gravity (situated approximately just above the body’s naval) and it does so by taking advantage of the stability the ground forces provides. Finally, it is the circularly generated centripetal force of the pivoting action of the feet and body synchronized around the body’s Center of Gravity with the swinging motion of the arms and club that produces the A Swing’s power, accuracy and consistency.
In conclusion, then, let me say that it is the entire gestalt of this wonderfully synchronized, unified and biomechanically efficient “system” that represents the A Swing’s greatest achievement. It is a golf swing that offers a tremendous opportunity for improvement to golfers serious about working on their swings and games.
For more information about the A Swing, visit www.leadbetterAswing.com
Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)
Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.
In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.
You have to understand your swing
The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.
We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.
It comes down to form or function, and I choose function
The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.
For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.
Sport coats and golf swings
Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.
Translation to improvement
Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.
We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.
How golf should be learned
With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.
Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.
Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.
This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.
To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.
From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.
After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.
Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.
Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)
Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.
As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.
Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.
All golfers can play well consistently
I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.
With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.
What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?
Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.
The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.
I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.
Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.
There are two key takeaways in this comparison
Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.
By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.
Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?
If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.
You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.
It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.
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