In the fall of 2014, a high school sophomore walked into my facility for a K-VEST evaluation session. He was referred by a K-VEST-certified fitness professional, Scott Prunier. Averaging in the low- to mid-70s in tournament competition, he had just won the New Hampshire State Junior title, but he was barely getting any attention from colleges around New England — never mind top Division I programs — because of his history playing in bigger regional and national events on tougher, longer courses. His ambition was to play college golf at the highest possible level, and he was willing to work hard to achieve this goal.
To give you some background, the young man (who must remain anonymous because of the rules of amateur status) was averaging 270 yards off the tee, was a slender 5-foot 10-inches tall, 160 pounds, and occasionally fought back pain. A couple of close friends had helped him reach that point in his golfing career by using videos to assist him with his swing and overall golf game, but he was stuck. He no longer knew what to do to improve his swing. To play at a higher level, he knew that he needed to gain more distance off the tee, add consistency with his irons and learn how to eliminate his back pain.
I suited him up in K-VEST and captured his swing. When I looked at the swing summary reports and the graphs of his kinematic sequence, I identified a few red flags that indicated why he was losing distance, had issues with iron consistency and had some back pain. First, at address, he would set up in C-Posture. Second, at the top of his backswing, his pelvis bend increased too much. Third, he had too much upper body rotation and upper body bend at the top of his backswing, which put him into a reverse spine angle, creating his occasional back pain. As a talented player, he found ways to compensate for these challenges in his swing. However, to achieve the level of golf at which he wanted to play, it was important we address these aspects of his swing right away.
After assessing his swing, I developed a program using the biofeedback function that’s a part of both K-VEST and K-PLAYER. As with all players who have more than one issue — and most do — I had to pick a starting point. As a rule, I work from setup through impact unless an area is screaming out for attention. In his case, I was concerned about the injury risk from the reverse spine angle, but I decided to work on posture first, as I thought that could also help change the reverse spine angle.
Where a player starts a swing has a lot to do with where the swing goes, in my experience, so I worked on his posture first, getting him more athletic and feeling engaged through his feet and lower body with a neutral spine. To do this, while suited up in the K-VEST, I set him in the exact posture I wanted him to learn and hit the “set live” button on the K-VEST to save it as our model going forward. We then worked for some time setting him up in this position. Our work process was first without a club, then with a club, and then hitting balls.
After he was comfortable in his new athletic posture, I trained his pelvis bend by building a program that helped us train his pelvis bend at setup, impact and the top. I used a number of variations and added difficulty as we went along. We followed the same work path as with the setup: no club, club and then hitting balls.
Watch the video below to learn more about how biofeedback works.
Once he had mastered his new pelvis mechanics, we addressed the upper body side bend with biofeedback, following the same workflow. The greatest value to him was using the biofeedback program I designed. He was quite pleased at how it enabled him to consistently execute perfect reps to more quickly develop a more efficient and powerful swing. He could see and feel the improvement as we worked, and that increased his motivation.
Our work experience was like that of many of my students with K-VEST and K-PLAYER. After the first lesson, when we captured his motion, we saw the efficiency and red flags that we had identified had already improved greatly. In one lesson, he had learned to swing without creating reverse spine angle at the top of his swing (eliminating the risk of back injury), and most importantly to him he was able to swing faster with more control. However, to really make the new move permanent and enable him to perform when under pressure in tournaments, he stayed dedicated with the training throughout the off-season. Session one was the “wow.” Then came the months of hard work. In my experience, the wow is not to be under-appreciated, as it provides inspiration for the hard work to come.
In order to feel prepared to have his best competitive season yet in 2015, he came to see me about once a week through the winter. We worked mostly in the supervised form of coaching. We always used the biofeedback in K-VEST and K-PLAYER to train him and then captured swings at least two times per month to make sure he was progressing. Since he is a very competitive and talented player, I wanted to be sure I was supervising him consistently.
Once he began his competitive season and he was traveling around the country, we would only meet once or twice per month to capture his swing with K-VEST to see if there were any red flags in his technique that we needed to improve quickly. Often, we were continuing to train what we worked on from our initial sessions, making sure he was not reverting to any of his previous poor swing patterns.
Key in training these high-level players in a competitive season is to not have them feeling as if they must change their motion under the pressure of competition, which leads to poor performance. So, during competitive season, it was most important to help him manage his already-improved swing. In the offseason, we could attack the changes we wanted to make in a more intensive manner. This is a pattern we have stuck to ever since. We make changes in the offseason and maintain and build on that progress during the competitive season.
In the summer of 2015, he finished third in the Southern Junior Amateur Championship at Olde Stone Golf Club in Kansas. After this event, his phone started to ring, calls coming from schools such as Wake Forest, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia. His game had really improved. He hit a few drives over 300 yards, showing an improvement of more than 30 yards from the year before in this event, and he did so while under the pressure of playing in front of the coaches of these programs who could evaluate his new swing.
In the fall of 2015, my student received an early scholarship offer from Wake Forest, currently the No. 12-ranked team in the country and accepted it. In the summer of 2016, he was a quarterfinalist in the U.S. Junior Amateur and is now the No. 16-ranked junior golfer in the world according to Golfweek. He is currently a senior in high school and will attend Wake Forest in the fall.
As a coach, I can say that using K-VEST and K-PLAYER with my student immensely accelerated our improvement process toward achieving his goals. We were never guessing how to improve; instead, we had designed our program to maximize his swing efficiency and he put in the effort. The ability for him to know he was making perfect practice reps every session and being able to capture swings to validate our program’s success, tracking his progress from start to finish, gave us great confidence that he was continuing to improve as a player.
I have found that the use of K-VEST and K-PLAYER in different ways during the on- and off-seasons has added great value to how he and all my players train and play. We use it to make big changes in the offseason and to maintain those changes during the competitive season. And when anything is starting to slide, we return to the setup first, using a setup we saved by “setting live” in biofeedback on a day when a player was swinging really well and confidently.
I am proud of the progress my student has made and look forward to being a part of his journey as he continues to grow as a golfer.
Kelley: Should a Tour player’s swing be the pattern we copy?
PGA Tour players are the most gifted golfers on the planet. Their ball striking ability is remarkable to the average, even scratch, golfer. With the time to practice all day, usually perfecting their imperfections in their own swings, why are PGA Tour players’ swings always the model we seek?
Look at the progression and expectations in other sports played recreationally. If you start playing Tennis, you don’t expect to serve as fast and accurate as Rafael Nadal. When joining a gym, do we look and replicate the times and bodies of Olympians? However, in golf, players seek the worlds best trying to emulate them. Examining this idea, could this actually be detrimental?
Let’s start with the speed differential. The average PGA Tour driver club head speed is 113 mph. The average male amateur golfer driver speed is 93.4 mph. The average handicap for the male golfer sits between 14 and 15. Below is a chart from Trackman showing the distribution of clubhead speed among male golfers.
Speed is mostly a natural talent developed at an early age. It can be enhanced with speed training, gym work and even lifestyle changes. ?With such a differential in speed?, wouldn’t players first be better served focusing on center contact with the most efficient route to do so? This can include modeling simple looking swings.
Besides the speed differential, the world’s best golfers all have unique swings that have been perfected over time. Take for example the top ten players in the world. Different swings with different match-up moves throughout the motion. They have made it work for themselves with countless practice hours. Usually time the average golfer doesn’t have.
A main example would be Rory McIlroy, often a sought out golf swing among students. Here is a quote regarding his swing swing sequence after visiting the Titleist Performance Institute Center. “At the start of McIlroy’s downswing, his left hip spins violently counterclockwise, as it does for every elite, long-hitting player. but then, and only with the driver, Mcllroy makes a funky move you could not teach. a moment before impact, his left hip suddenly changes direction and jerks back, clockwise, and then rotates again.”
With the average golfer on a time constraint?, golfers could actually look at what the greats do the older they get in their careers. The swings become more simple, using their instincts to get their body in efficient and more teachable positions. This is usually in their set-up then backswing, with less excess movement for an efficient strike. Take for example a young versus older Ben Hogan. (Picture below)
Below is another example of a young Jack Nicklaus compared to an older Nicklaus later in his career.
This is in large part due to the concept that less can be more at times. Unfortunately in golf, all to often players are told to do more with their swing, only to jeopardize center contact even seeking vanity over function.
A concept that could be beneficial is next time you want to work on your swing, focus on efficiency and minimizing the ?motion for center contact and a better face/path relationship. Then you can build. Rather then taking a bit from a Tour player’s swing, understand how your body should move to achieve your desired ball flight. Once you have a foundation, then add speed and your own DNA to the swing.
The argument could be made the opposite should be taught for aspiring junior golfers, especially the way the game as going. This article is intended to open a discussion and perhaps change the view of how the golf swing is being taught based on your skill-set and what you are trying to get out of the game. Also, what may be teachable and not teachable. You can change swings with concepts alone.
Clement: Why laying up = more power
You have been there before — you can’t get over the hazard on a par 5 and decide to lay up and take the club you need for the distance and the ball makes it into the hazard after you took this smooth swing that smoked the ball 15 yards farther than you expected? We uncover the mystery right here!
Kelley: Simplify your swing with the hammer drill
Regardless of your handicap, a simple hammer can teach you how to efficiently address the ball, start the swing and then put your body in a dynamic position at the top. If you can hammer a nail, there is no reason you can’t simplify your swing. This drill can also change the parts in the middle of your swing you have been struggling to change.
To start, grab a hammer with your trail hand as if you are hammering a nail into a wall in front of your body. You will notice how this instinctively gives you a slight tuck of the trail elbow and drops your trail shoulder below the lead with angle in the trail wrist.
Once gripping the hammer, move the weight of the hammer as if hammering a nail. This will give you the feel of the takeaway.
From here, the golf swing is no more then a lifting of the arms as the right arm folds and the body goes around a bit.
From this position, holding your spine angle and placing the left hand on the right hand will pull your body into a coil or “turn”. This places your body in a position to efficiently swing the golf club back down to the ball.
A great way to combine the hammer drill with a golf club is to hold a hammer on the grip of the club or tape the hammer down the middle of the shaft. Start with just your right hand on the club and make slow swings.
Once you have practiced this a few times, the hammer can be removed and this feel can be integrated to a normal golf club. To continue this feel, simply turn the clubhead in as if you are hitting the ball with the toe of the club (below picture). When turning the club like this, the center of balance goes more to the clubhead, helping replicate the actual hammer feel.
What’s great about this drill is that the actual task is driving the technique. Rather than being thoughtful of several technical positions in the golf swing, replicating the instinctive motion of the hammer will put you in the proper positions. This drill will also help you place your focus of attention on the actual club, which is often overlooked.
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