“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 Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
- Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
- Don’t just “do”…observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
- Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
- Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
- Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.
So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
As someone who has observed rank-and-file recreational golfers for most of my life – over 50 years of it, anyway – I have always been baffled by why so many mid- to high-handicap golfers throw away so many strokes in prime scoring range.
For this purpose, let’s define “prime scoring range” as the distance when you have something less than a full-swing wedge shot ahead of you. Depending on your strength profile, that could be as far as 70 to 80 yards or as close as 30 to 40 yards. But regardless of whether you are trying to break par or 100, your ability to get the ball on the green and close enough to the hole for a one-putt at least some of the time will likely be one of the biggest factors in determining your score for the day.
All too often, I observe golfers hit two or even three wedge shots from prime scoring range before they are on the green — and all too often I see short-range pitch shots leave the golfer with little to no chance of making the putt.
This makes no sense, as attaining a level of reasonable proficiency from short range is not a matter of strength profile at all. But it does take a commitment to learning how to make a repeating and reliable half-swing and doing that repeatedly and consistently absolutely requires you to learn the basic fundamentals of how the body has to move the club back and through the impact zone.
So, let’s get down to the basics to see if I can shed some light on these ultra-important scoring shots.
- Your grip has to be correct. For the club to move back and through correctly, your grip on the club simply must be fundamentally sound. The club is held primarily in the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. Period. The lower hand has to be “passive” to the upper hand, or the mini-swing will become a quick jab at the ball. For any shot, but particularly these short ones, that sound grip is essential for the club to move through impact properly and repeatedly.
- Your posture has to be correct. This means your body is open to the target, feet closer together than even a three-quarter swing, and the ball positioned slightly back of center.
- Your weight should be distributed about 70 percent on your lead foot and stay there through the mini-swing.
- Your hands should be “low” in that your lead arm is hanging naturally from your shoulder, not extended out toward the ball and not too close to the body to allow a smooth turn away and through. Gripping down on the club is helpful, as it gets you “closer to your work.
- This shot is hit with a good rotation of the body, not a “flip” or “jab” with the hands. Controlling these shots with your body core rotation and leading the swing with your body core and lead side will almost ensure proper contact. To hit crisp pitch shots, the hands have to lead the clubhead through impact.
- A great drill for this is to grip your wedge with an alignment rod next to the grip and extending up past your torso. With this in place, you simply have to rotate your body core through the shot, as the rod will hit your lead side and prevent you from flipping the clubhead at the ball. It doesn’t take but a few practice swings with this drill to give you an “ah ha” moment about how wedge shots are played.
- And finally, understand that YOU CANNOT HIT UP ON A GOLF BALL. The ball is sitting on the ground so the clubhead has to be moving down and through impact. I think one of the best ways to think of this is to remember this club is “a wedge.” So, your simple objective is to wedge the club between the ball and the ground. The loft of the wedge WILL make the ball go up, and the bounce of the sole of the wedge will prevent the club from digging.
So, why is mastering the simple pitch shot so important? Because my bet is that if you count up the strokes in your last round of golf, you’ll likely see that you left several shots out there by…
- Either hitting another wedge shot or chip after having one of these mid-range pitch shots, or
- You did not get the mid-range shot close enough to even have a chance at a makeable putt.
If you will spend even an hour on the range or course with that alignment rod and follow these tips, your scoring average will improve a ton, and getting better with these pitch shots will improve your overall ball striking as well.
More from the Wedge Guy
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 1
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2
Clement: Don’t overlook this if you want to find the center of the face
It is just crazy how golfers are literally beside themselves when they are placed in a properly aligned set up! They feel they can’t swing or function! We take a dive into why this is and it has to do with how the eyes are set up in the human skull!
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