“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.
What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching
Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.
Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.
Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.
I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.
There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.
Individual Transactional Coaching
Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.
What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.
For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.
Individual Transformative Coaching
Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.
Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.
Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.
Which One is Right for You?
It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.
Some things to consider when selecting a coach
- Do they use technology?
- What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
- Do they make you a priority?
As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.
The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.
The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.
The importance of arm structure
How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.
To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.
I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.
From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.
When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.
A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.
Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.
What is ground force in the golf swing?
There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.
Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal
With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.
Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.
If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!
Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.
Welcome to the world of 3D!
Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.
While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).
- Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
- Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
- Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.
In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.
I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.
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