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What you can learn about the golf swing from an NFL quarterback’s throwing motion

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The more I have studied the golf swing throughout my coaching career, the more I have realized its similarities to a throwing motion… but not just any throwing motion. The movements necessary to properly swing a golf club are remarkably similar to the way an elite, efficient NFL quarterback throws a football.

Why a quarterback and not a baseball pitcher? Pitchers throw the same distance every time (60 feet, 6 inches) with a ball/strike percentage of just 62 percent. An NFL quarterback has to be more accurate and precise under different circumstances, making a variety of throws from different lengths. As for their accuracy? Often a quarterback’s 30-yard pass is into a windows the size of a receiver’s hands, and the difference of a few inches determines whether a pass was a huge success or complete failure.

I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the best in the business, Todd Downing, quarterback coach of the Oakland Raiders, to discuss the similarities.

“The longer the motion, the more margin for error,” says Todd Downing, quarterback coach of the Oakland Raiders.

When it comes to throwing mechanics, Downing works on limiting motion to develop speed, consistency and efficiency. He works on shortening the stroke of the throw to make it as efficient as possible. “The second an extra moving parts start to go, a big sweeping motion with the arm will occur, which is not necessary,” Downing says about a quarterback’s throwing motion.

In golf, when we limit excess movement, players will have a greater chance of a consistent and a more efficient strike, and more efficiency equals more speed and distance. If you look at any sport, great athletes seem to do more with less. For example, a quarterback’s effortless throwing motion producing a 60-yard throw; a simple golf swing producing a 300-yard drive; or the smooth home-run swing of Ken Griffey Jr.

The similarities between the two motions — a quarterback’s throwing motion and a PGA Tour player’s golf swing — as well as how they are taught is striking. In both sports, the target is in front of you and both motions should be trained to produce forward inertia, with the body moving toward the target. As it turns out, there are also several misconceptions about the two motions.

The Setup

In both golf and the quarterback position, getting into the proper setup is key to making an efficient motion. The better position we start in, the better chance we have to succeed. In both sports, we have 100 percent control of our posture, so both should be practiced, maintained, and put us in a position to make the most effortless, efficient stroke possible.

In golf, when a golfer sets up with incorrect body angles at address, then he or she will have to “find” the correct impact position on the downswing, requiring more motion and timing to be successful. That results in inconsistent shots.

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“It starts with the setup,” Downing says.

When a quarterback is not in the correct posture when he throws, for example, or had to throw with his body in the incorrect position with bad balance, the chances of accuracy are diminished. The quarterback has to try and find his correct throwing shape or posture. If both a golfer and a quarterback start correctly, the chances of accuracy are increased.

The Coil and Throwing Position

This position has by far the most similarities, as well as misconceptions. In the golf swing, the backswing is a coil, which should have a golfer’s body move the proper direction and amount. This allows golfers to swing down and through in the most efficient way possible: going toward the target.

Note that I used the word coil and not the word turn. This is a common misconception; I’ve found that golfers who think about turn tend to get what I call “over-rotated” and/or turned in the wrong direction, which causes a lack of power.

Oakland Raiders

If you correctly fold up your right arm in the backswing with the correct sequence, you can allow your glutes to load and body to be pulled into the proper coil position. Attempting to consciously create a bigger shoulder and/or torso rotation is not required and is a false sense of power. Over-rotating or consciously trying to turn your upper body from the start can result in your body tilting toward the target and downwards, as shown below, which is incorrect.

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“Why would you twist [your torso] when you want to drive forward?” Downing says.

This goes back to the false sense of power previously mentioned. in both athletic moves, a big rotation away from the target is not required.

Below is a great drill to feel the proper coil. Get into your correct golf posture with just your right arm holding the club. Fold up your right arm, and then grip the club with your left hand. As your left arm moves around to grab the club, allow your right glute to move back and the left side of your body to move out. If this changes your backswing position, it will be for the better. You’ll notice how much more powerful the new position is as you swing the club into impact.

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The same is true with NFL quarterbacks, Downing says. The quarterbacks that struggle are “the ones that feel like they need that long, throwing motion to develop speed.” Downing works to tighten loose throwing motions, making them more efficient and resulting in more speed.

The Finish Position

Downing teaches what’s called the “flamingo finish” for his quarterbacks, which can be translated to golf and is a great drill for many golfers. A flamingo finish is one where a quarterback can lift his trail foot completely off the ground as the right shoulder is over the lead foot. This drill is especially great for golfers that hang back with their upper body in the swing.

Below is a picture of the NFL Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the “flamingo pose.”

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How do we use this for our golf swing? Getting your right shoulder over your left foot (for a right-handed golfer) in the finish position is a great way to make sure your right side has rotated around through the shot. “Standing tall” in the finish is a product of your upper and lower body working properly through impact.

As a drill, hold your finish and make sure you can lift your right foot off the ground. This is an indication that your weight has moved forward through the shot.

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Lastly, a point about work ethic. Downing usually starts his day at 5:15 a.m. and leaves at 9 p.m. The quarterbacks he works with tend to share the same work ethic. The desire to constantly improve is a requirement for both a player, and a coach, to reach the peak of your sport.

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Kelvin is a Class A PGA golf professional in San Francisco, California. He teaches and has taught at some of the top golf clubs in the Bay Area, including the Olympic Club and Sonoma Golf Club. He is TPI certified, and a certified Callaway and Titleist club fitter. Kelvin has sought advice and learned under several of the top instructors in the game, including Alex Murray and Scott Hamilton. To schedule a lesson, please call 818.359.0352 Online lessons also available at www.kelleygolf.com

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Purtell

    Dec 29, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    I just laid some bricks down to repair my shed roof. The golf lesson I got was amazing. My handicap is going to plummet.

  2. knoofah

    Dec 29, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    The best piece of advice in this article is the last paragraph, but I like what the author is saying.

  3. Joe Brennan

    Dec 28, 2016 at 1:55 am

    Definitely helped my swing

  4. MuskieCy

    Dec 27, 2016 at 12:46 am

    All quarterbacks would be better with hyper-precise change ups.

    Sometimes, actually most times, with 300lbs bullets flying around a fastball all is all you have.

  5. Alex

    Dec 26, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Definitely one of the best articles I’ve read in awhile!

  6. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 26, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    The Raiders are a playoff team this year. Though I don’t know if I’d be willing to break a leg to have a better golf swing.

  7. Christosterone

    Dec 26, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Awesome article…
    Only problem was putting a Raider as ur archetypal QB…
    I didn’t know they still had were an NFL team…though they moved to England or Canada…
    ????

    Jk…great article A++++

    -Chris

  8. Dennis Jones

    Dec 26, 2016 at 11:41 am

    While I’m sure your article has some merit, the initial theory of a baseball pitcher not being as accurate as a quarterback is flawed. A pitcher isn’t trying to throw the ball over the center of the strike zone, if he did, it would result in a homerun almost every time. A quarterback isn’t trying to throw a screwball, change up, curve or slider. Each is different is their own way but don’t to confuse people with your misguided summation.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Dec 26, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      I’ve seen some QB’s throw screwballs and knuckleballs. And oftentimes they are required to throw a change-up.

      • Calheel

        Dec 27, 2016 at 3:51 pm

        Noticed Tebow at the QB position did you?

        • Double Mocha Man

          Dec 27, 2016 at 10:24 pm

          Except, now Tebow is trying to hit screwballs, knuckleballs and change-ups…

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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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?

Take action

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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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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