|Long's Putting Stroke|
Long's Swing Modeling System
Long's Swing Preferences
by Steve Long
How to use momentum and incremental progression (gradual lengthening of the swing) to improve your swing.
Table of Contents
Long's Swing Modeling System is not a new kind of golf swing, but some new ways of learning swing features that are used by the best players.
There is some original research.
The Swing Preferences are recommended golf swing techniques which exist independently of the Modeling System. The Modeling System consists of learning tools; the Preferences are actual swing features.
The Swing Modeling System provides a number of new swing learning tools. These include an independent production of a downswing and top of swing without a backswing, building a swing backwards from impact to address, and the ability to find a workable swing plane for any setup or club.
One of the main problems in learning a golf swing is to get the swingplane right. The swing plane is not taught exactly because different planes of the hands and club head can be made to work. The club head's plane is different from the hands plane, which requires that the club head be "pitched" out of the plane the hands are moving in, and this is done to varying degrees by different players. Even by the same player.
Another main problem has been the learning order. If the execution of a downswing depends on a backswing, as is normally the case, and the backswing is incorrect, then the downswing is largely a compensation for an incorrect backswing, and both are incorrect. With the method taught here you are given the tools to learn the downswing by itself, so as to get it right independently of the backswing. The top position is learned from the Downswing Exercise and an additional exercise. The backswing is constructed to produce the top position. In this regard is the swing learned "backwards," in terms of order. As you will see below, it is also learned from impact backward to the top position and then backwards from the top position to the address position. It is, however, not like learning to walk backwards in order to learn to walk forwards. It is more like learning to take small steps before taking big ones, or taking one step at a time before taking two or more at a time.
This method can help you determine:
Long's Swing Preferences, as options that can be used with or without the Swing Modeling System, includes among other things:
Long's Swing Modeling System is comprised mainly of two Special Exercises and variations thereof, and by some Swing Preferences. It will generate or specify most aspects of a good or correct swing, including features never before generated, such as swing plane, but it does not try to cure every problem or define every detail of the swing.
The Downswing Exercise, or a version of it, should usually be done before the Backswing Exercise.
The Downswing Exercise includes finding the top position. With a top position, the backswing can be found. This is explained completely below.
For a video of the Special Exercises, see below.
After a short introductory period, the exercises, if done correctly, become models for the real swing.
The Downswing Exercise is a continuous back and forth training swing that grows from a short swing into a full swing. It produces the top position of the backswing better than the backswing can itself.
At the same time, the Downswing Exercise produces the proper swing plane.
It also allows practice and development of the downswing, from impact backward to the top.
The Downswing Exercise bypasses the normal backswing by replacing it with a "returnswing" that goes from the end of the followthrough to the start of the downswing. The returnswing makes use of momentum. By the time the club reaches impact position, going in the reverse direction, it has generated a lot of momentum that helps keep the direction intact. This momentum is what makes possible the determination of the swing plane and the improved position at the "top" (the top of the backswing). It can overcome the tendencies and bad habits that are ingrained or pre-existing in your swing, including your backswing.
After practicing an improved downswing with the downswing exercise, a backswing is needed before hitting a ball, a new backswing designed to go with the new downswing. The new backswing leads into the new downswing.
To utilize any particular downswing, the backswing must take us very close to the top position and the muscle tension array at the top position of that downswing. Otherwise we are forced to use some other downswing.
In the ordinary golf swing we usually make backswings that vary somewhat or even considerably, as well as being far from ideal in the first place, and then we improvise or respond automatically with a downswing that tries to make the best use of that backswing. This is the basic problem with the normal swing method. The downswing is usually a response to the backswing. The way it should be is that the downswing is made correct first, then the backswing is tailored to it.
The backswing sought in these exercises can be relatively easily reverse engineered. Instead of starting the practice of this new backswing at address, the normal way, we start at the top of the swing. The top is first found with the Downswing Exercise, then it becomes the starting point for the Backswing Exercise. We go from the top to address, and then make the actual backswing back to the top, then without stopping repeat the process, down to address, back up, etc., each time feeling for that top position and tension array that was just created by the Downswing Exercise. If we lose the feeling of the correct top we have to start over with the Downswing Exercise and find the top again.
The basic procedure is to first use a proper setup, then do the Downswing Exercise, and then the Backswing Exercise seamlessly after the Downswing Exercise. This means that as the final returnswing to the top of the Downswing Exercise is finished, we switch over without stopping to the Backswing Exercise. There are variations on this described later on, and in particular the four-step exercise for those who have mastered the two basic exercises.
Do these two exercises until it feels like you can do the backswing correctly from address, and you are ready to hit a ball. There is also a special technique called waddling that takes you from the exercise to the ball hitting. You must learn to waddle.
Those are the special exercises in a nutshell.
For a full description and instructions, read on.
Long's Swing Modeling System is designed to make your swing improvable.
It simplifies golf swing learning.
It works with and without professional help.
With Long's training method, you develop your swing by doing two exercises and their combinations and versions. You can also improve your swing by considering and adopting some or all of the features and preferences of Long's Golf Swing Preferences, such as the constant Arms to Torso angle (ATA).
Warning: These exercises will change your swing if you want them to, maybe even if you don't want them to. If you don't want to change your swing, don't adopt the changes that are recommended by the exercises. Or to be really safe, don't do the exercises at all. If you do them, there could be a brief period where your swing becomes unfamiliar and less predictable, but soon or immediately the improvements will take hold, if you keep doing the exercises.
If you decide to work on your swing, take videos of your swing so as to see what is good and bad about your swing. Compare yourself to the best professional swings you can find on the internet. YouTube, for example, has slow motion swings of most of the touring pros. Check out Anthony Kim.
The exercises in this Modeling System depend on the use of momentum and incremental progression.
Incremental progression in this usage means gradual change in the length or speed of the swing. For example, starting with a static pose, then going to a slow swing or a short swing, and then increasing the speed or length. It's a good way to get things right in the realm of movement learning, and it should be used more in golf. The Downswing Exercise makes extensive use of incremental progression.
The use of short continuous swings in the Downswing Exercise generates a complete correct movement with little room for error. They, the short swings, then become part of longer swings. It is a good idea to hit balls with the short swings before going on to the longer swings. If you cannot hit a short swing shot, there is probably something wrong that will plague a longer swing.
Momentum is the phenomena of moving mass continuing to move with the same velocity (direction and speed) unless acted upon by an external force.
In addition to those stated above, changes to your swing are made in the following ways:
The Downswing Exercise is based on a number of realizations.
The backward part of this motion, from the end of the follow-through to the start of the downswing, bypasses many of the imperfections of real backswings, allowing a better downswing to emerge.
The second realization is that short hard continuous swings, done correctly, create correct body movements in the hitting zone. The short hard continuous swing can be made very accurate. It can coordinate the body very quickly and strengthens the weak muscles. It is a kind of slow motion exercise, in that the actual velocity is low but the motion seems quick.
The third realization is that longer swings can and should be built from shorter swings. The full swing by itself is easy to do wrong. Because the short swing is more accurate, it makes sense to create the long swing by gradually extending the short swing. It also allows one to have short swings that feel and function much the same way as the longer swings.
The fourth realization is that swinging gradually harder exposes weaknesses and limits, and allows the attempt to correct them. This is another example incremental progression.
The Backswing Exercise is based on the realization that because the downswing can be found more accurately without the backswing, the backswing must be created after the downswing, and for the downswing. Once the downswing is determined with the exercise, then a backswing is created that leads into the downswing.
The top position is the starting point for the backswing exercise.
You can work on the right downswing by itself, with no backswing at all. Then when you have the downswing you want, it is relatively simple to make the backswing that goes with it. Relatively simple, but not easy. I am convinced that a good backswings are more difficult to execute than good downswings. With this method, you have a fighting chance because at least you will find out what the backswing should be and then you can deal with the difficulty of repeating it.
When there is more than one way to make a swing work well, the author has chosen the way that can be checked or measured either at address or during an exercise. As a result it can be practiced and improved upon more easily.
The author has found that some features of a good swing can best be found, or only be found, with exercises. One such feature is the swing plane and top position.
Given a choice between swing features, one should pick the features that are measurable in a normal swing, measurable in an exercise, produced automatically by an exercise, or measurable in the setup.
Measurable means that you can fairly easily monitor some aspect of your swing just by observing it or making a simple measurement. For example, for head height, you can watch your head in a mirror or window reflection, or even your shadow, and whereas you could not easily measure how much it moves, you can see if it stays at one height. Therefore, the feature of choice is "keep your head at one height" (until impact).
Golfers can experience the force of the Exercises by seeing how fast a swing can be learned opposite-handed (left-handed if you are swinging right-handed normally).
This discussion of the swing plane may be interesting but the exercises can be done without reading it.
The terms flat and upright refer to the angle of the swing plane as seen up the line. The terms have been used in various ways. It is most noticeable as the height of the hands above the shoulders at the top of the swing. When the hands are higher it's called upright; hands lower is flatter. Sometimes it refers to the inclination in relation to the ground. The longer clubs generally receive a flatter swing than the shorter clubs, in relation to the ground, but the position of the hands in relation to the shoulders might not vary between clubs because the torso is changing its inclination as well.
Research on the golf swing (Nesbitt, 2005) has shown, and it can be clearly seen in slow motion videos looking up the line, that the hands are not swinging in the same plane as the club head. The hands are on a somewhat steeper plane than the club head, usually 9 to 12 degrees steeper, according to Nesbitt. The plane of the hands, being steeper, goes under the ball, intersecting the ground somewhere between the ball and halfway between the ball and the feet. It is different for different players.
Both flat and upright swing planes can be made to work. You can see a variation among even the best golfers. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson have upright planes. One advantage of such an upright plane is that the lead arm, the left arm for right-handed clubs, will tend to swing and stay in this upright plane by its own momentum. To go flatter than this will tend to make the lead arm fly outward and above of where it actually must go as it goes through the impact area. The effect is that the golfer must use some strength to hold the arm down as it goes through the impact area. To do this, the lead arm or the trailing arm, or both together, have to redirect the momentum of the arms in a downward direction in order to not hit shots on the heel of the club. The effect is slight, however, or you wouldn't see so many good players with medium or flat swings.
The trailing arm is always below the hands plane and seems to be able to go wherever the golfer sends it, so it probably makes no difference in difficulty if the trailing arm is in a flat or upright plane.
As the head plane and the hands plane, are different, it means that there has to be a way to make the club head travel on a different plane from the hands. The club head receives a slight sideways motion so as to stay beneath the hands plane for most of the downswing until it swings outward and crosses the hands plane approximately when entering the impact zone. So, in other words, starting out at the top of the swing the club head plane is underneath the hands plane and at impact it is over it.
The difference between the two planes starts immediately at the beginning of the backswing. The club head almost naturally takes a flatter plane than the hands as the arms rotate during the backswing.
But all these intricacies are not to worry about--the exercises here automatically deal with them, so you don't have to understand the swingplane.
If the swing plane is not passing through the ball, it must be changed during the swing until it does, or a mishit will occur. Almost all of this re-alignment of the plane occurs during the beginning of the downswing. The further along in the downswing the club goes, the less chance there is of successfully adjusting the path before impact.
The swingplane not only has an inclination but also a direction, inside-out or outside-in. Inside-out and outside-in refer to different clubhead paths, and they also describe a direction of the swing plane.
There is room for variation of the plane that the hands move in, for a given club head plane, because the difference between the two planes is adjustable.
Note that the backswing path and plane is usually quite different from the downswing path and plane. Few golfers use the same plane for both.
A way to find a good or even best swing plane for the hands is to freely swing the leading arm by itself, without a club. In this way, the momentum of the arm is allowed to assert itself independently. It swings by its own momentum in a relatively upright swing plane, like Tom Watson's. This might be the easiest plane to repeat in real golf swings. As the leading arm is swung back and forth by itself on the correct line and height at impact, and the rest of the body is making the proper swing motions, the arm is stopped at the top to note and memorize its position. With this plane of the leading arm determined, the club is added into the swing while trying to keep the same plane of the hands, by again swinging back and forth. The club head impact position is then noted. This process automatically includes the throwing or pitching out of the club required to get the club head into the plane of the impact position.
Your swing plane problem is not likely to be solved permanently or immediately no matter how you do it. Old habits die hard and come back when you least need them. In addition, the golf swing is constantly changing and slipping away, thanks to the human body's imprecise movement and setup ability. So you probably will need to be able to refind the swing plane at various times. Hence the need for a portable on-demand method.
To do these exercises you need to memorize and follow some rules. Admittedly this requires a certain amount of effort but it is something you can then use forever.
It is usually easier to learn with the support of a good teacher. A good teacher can usually see your failures more quickly than you can yourself. But most teachers do not have the tools to cure or see everything. And you may not agree with the theory of the teacher. The teacher's toolbox will I think be enhanced by using the new tools here. The tools here also help the golfer improve more on his or her own, with or without a teacher's help, thus imparting a greater ability to self-diagnose and self-cure. Do not hesitate to use your video camera on yourself. The method does not preach a new kind of swing, so the end goals remain the same, but the route of reaching those goals is different.
It might be difficult to find a teacher willing to learn additional methods, but if you look enough, you can probably find someone.
Everyone is encouraged to print out this copyrighted material for personal use.
Below you can find the following sections:
Long's Swing Modeling System does not teach all the basics of golf. It is a method to work on aspects that are normally beyond the reach of self-teaching. These are aspects that usually require a pro to help you, or are aspects that you must do yourself in any case, but which you may not understand. This does not mean you won't need lessons or help from a pro. You might be able to do it all yourself, but it is easier to have someone help you. But the method here may help you decide how you want certain key aspects of your swing to be and/or help keep or recover certain aspects without going to your pro all the time.
Most basics you have to learn elsewhere. For example, learn a good grip, preferably the Vardon.
The Preferred Swing Setups discussion here is mostly about comparing different methods of setting up. There seems to be a traditional method and a different method actually used by most of the best players today. Which way is better need to be scientifically studied, but logic can be used to compare the methods until the scientific method provides us more trustworthy results.
There is also discussion of how different setups will work with the Swing Modeling System.
The ATA and ACA. These refer to angles that are formed between the leading arm and the torso (ATA) and between the leading arm and the club (ACA) at address and impact as we view them down the line. These angles change depending on how far we stand from the ball, club length, and hand height at address.
For example, standing further from the ball forces us to lean over more and stick out the arms at a greater angle from the torso.
When you have gotten used to standing a certain distance from the ball with a certain club, and then change that distance, it takes a while to adapt your swing and find the correct movement so as start hitting solid and straight again. After this adaptation, there may be an improvement or a worsening in ball-striking, because standing too far from or too close to the ball makes the swing more difficult to execute.
The swing plane changes with these angles too. Standing further from the ball flattens the swing plane. Not only are the arms sticking out more at address, but they are lower at the top.
The swing plane can be referenced to the torso. If the torso leans more, and the angles of the arms in relation to the torso has not changed, as seen down the line, then the swing plane, in relation to the torso, has not changed.
There is a major question, normally not dealt with, as to whether to swing with one downswing swingplane for all clubs, as referenced to the torso, or to have it change as the club length changes.
The ATA and ACA at address and impact. (I am having some trouble showing the labeling on this illustration. There are four angles in this picture. The upper left label would read ATA at address. Just below that is the ATA at impact. To the right are the ACA at address (upper) and the ACA at impact (lower).
Different golfers use different angles for the address ATA and address ACA. The impact ATA and ACA are more uniform. A random selection of seven touring pros were measured for ATA at impact using a wood. All were about 45 degrees. That is 45 degrees between the torso and leading arm at impact. At address the angle is less for nearly all players, and it varies more.
First comes the question about whether to measure these angles at all, and whether to use a constant ATA at address, a constant ATA at impact, a constant ACA at address, and a constant ACA at impact for all clubs, from driver through the wedges, or to have varying angles. Using the same ATA, one for address and one for impact, for all clubs, in the author's opinion, increases reliability because it seems easier to repeat one ATA than to repeat various ATAs.
This led to a check of three famous players, the first ones to pop into the author's mind, just to see if they use one ATA or not. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els do keep the same ATA with their driver and wedge, and so presumably with all their clubs in between driver and wedge. I measured them in videos posted on YouTube (e.g., Woods at Tiger Woods driver slow motion ).
The angle is measured from behind or down the line. (If you measure some of these pros yourself, be aware of the age of the video. Some players change their ATA over time. For example, Woods used to bend his torso more with his driver.) Both players vary the ATA's between address and impact, with the hands higher at impact, as in the drawing above. They also keep the same angle between their arms and the clubshaft, the ACA, at address, when they switch between driver and wedge, and keep the same ACA at impact for driver and wedge.
ATA and ACA at Address and Impact
for Tiger Woods and Ernie Els,
for driver and wedge,
leading arm to torso angle for ATA,
leading arm to shaft (actually grip-to-ball) angle for ACA
Ben Hogan used a different method, in which his torso lean doesn't change much, if at all, between clubs, so the ATA had to vary. For longer clubs, Hogan just stuck his arms out more, which increases the ATA. For shorter clubs he kept his hands in closer to his body. But he reduced the difference between driver and wedge address ATA by holding is hands relatively high at address with the short clubs. If that sounds confusing, it is because "relatively high" means he reduced the ACA at address, compared to longer clubs. The result is that his hands were definitely closer to his body for the shorter clubs, but not as close as they would have been, had he not straightened out the angle between arms and club at address. In fact, with the shorter clubs, his hands at address were at or close to impact height, instead of being somewhat lower. With his driver, the impact and address ACA's were different from each other, more like Woods and Els. His driver ATA's were also about the same as Woods and Els. In fact, all of their ACA's and ATA's match when they hit driver. But as the clubs shorten, Hogan brings his hands closer to his body while Woods and Els instead lean over more. One constant between the players is the impact ACA; they all kept it the about the same between clubs.
Hogan's method probably requires more practice or more talent, at least in the arms coordination, but his torso, hips, and leg movements might be easier to repeat because they are done at the same angles. It is hard to know which method is easier and more reliable overall. Logic chooses the constant ATA over the varying ATA, but logic is not necessarily correct. Experimental testing will someday confirm or confound the logic.
You can purposely try different ATA's by keeping the torso lean constant while hitting different clubs. Perhaps you will find that that is the way you swing. Or you may discover that you change the torso angle somewhat, but not enough to keep the ATA constant. You could experience the feeling of different impact ATAs very quickly by swinging back and forth and changing the height of your hands at the top (which tends to change the height of your hands at impact). If you find it daunting to use different ATAs, then by all means try to use a constant one. And it is recommended to use an ATA of 45 degrees at impact, at least for the driver, as that is very common, if not universal, among pros.
How can the angles be measured and controlled? Measurement of ATA is relatively simple at address. In practice, it is achieved by measuring the distance between the groin and the leading hand's. If you want to keep the address ATA the same for all clubs and lies, then this measurement stays the same (but the torso lean changes).
You could have the ATA change between address and impact, or stay the same. Gary Player kept it the same.
Most players have their hands higher at impact than at address, meaning the ATA increases between address and impact.
Though the ATA may change between address and impact, if it starts out the same for all clubs, the change between address and impact should be uniform as well.
Probably most touring pros don't consider or measure these angles, except that they do make adjustments to how far they stand from the ball, which does change the angles. This shouldn't stop a serious amateur from actually making measurements. Measuring it prevents it from wandering over time, and keeps it the same from club to club or allows control of the variation between clubs. As you may have guessed, it is more difficult to have a varying angle when it comes to measuring and controlling it. If you use the Ben Hogan method, you might want to find some way to measure the torso inclination, so as to keep it the same. If you want to copy the pros, have the ATA at impact at 45 degrees. There is a method to do so.
You can measure the address ATA as a distance between the lower belly and the end of the grip. You can use your trailing hand to do it. It looks kind of funny to measure it, but that is a small price to pay for better golf. The complication in this method is that every person has a different girth and a different gap between the groin and grip, so there is no absolute distance for everyone.
If you want to have the best swing possible, first set your impact ATA, because the impact ATA seems to be the only consistent angle among the four. The impact ATA of most touring pros is around 45 degrees as measured between the torso and the leading arm.
After setting the impact ATA, then set your address ATA, and consider making them the same. It might be uncomfortable to have the club straightened out to the impact ACA when you are addressing the ball. That is probably why it is not usually done.
If you prefer to use a different ATA for different clubs, you can still use the Downswing Exercise and enhance your ability to quickly create or verify the right swing plane for each particular club. Indeed, the Downswing Exercise will be especially useful in that endeavor. In any case, you may discover that you have a tendency to use a flat or upright swing plane on all or some of your clubs. That is quite common and is not necessarily related to ATA. You might have some clubs that work better than others, when the ATA matches the swing plane. If you use an ATA that places your hands outlandishly close to or far from your body, you might consider changing that. With this setup method you could even choose the swing plane or top position you like and then find the impact and address ATA that goes with it. But take heed that the impact ATA of 45 degrees might be the best way to go, in which case you would start with that and then work you way back to a top position.
How to set the impact ATA at 45 degrees: To do this you need a way to get your leading arm set to about 45 degrees from the torso. A handy portable way to do this is given here. If you are not too long or short-waisted, you can create the angle by resting the palm of you leading hand on your leading kneecap while using good posture (straightened back). That creates the angle. If you can lock in this angle while you take impact position, then you have it.
If you can't hold the position while you move the rest of your body and put a club in your hand, try this: snug up your trailing hand between your torso and your leading arm. That will help you keep the angle while you move about. This is the impact ATA, not necessarily the address ATA, unless you want them to be the same. You may not be used to taking a static impact position, but it is worth doing, and the way to do the Downswing Exerise. Hips displace to target and open, trailing elbow is a little bent. Then if you move from this impact position to an address position, you might discover whether you keep your hands lower at address. If you want to keep them high at address you can learn to do it, preferably by bending the trailing elbow, rather than by standing taller with a straight trailing arm. To do the latter encourages an increasing torso lean at impact, which is not desirable, so as to be close enough to the ball to hit is solidly.
How to set the address ATA using the trailing hand measurement: If the gap between the butt of the club and one's lower belly is not too large, you can use your trailing hand (right hand for right-handed players) to measure it and recreate it whenever needed. Standing at address, once you have the one you want, remove the trailing hand from the grip so as to use it to make the measurement. Spread out the fingers to a maximum like a fan. Put the thumb against the lower belly, just above the groin, and then see if one of the other fingers fits exactly against the end of the grip. If there is still a gap, then instead make a measuring stick to use or, if nothing else, estimate the remaining gap by eye.
Conversely, you could measure the existing the gap of all your clubs to see what you do, then decide whether to keep it the same for all clubs or vary it in a certain way. And you could then use the downswing exercise to develop your best swingplane.
To understand the effect of keeping one ATA, try the following: Take the address position with a pitching wedge, and make and hold the ATA measurement at the same time that you tilt your torso upward then and back down slowly, keeping the torso, arms, and club a unit. As you tilt up, you cross the positions for longer clubs. Thus you can feel the effect of keeping the ATA the same with different clubs. This also teaches how to maintain the angle when you go from a practice swing with ground clearance to a swing with ground contact, or to a swing on a sidehill. Keeping this angle the same does not mean that all your swings will feel exactly the same, but it reduces to a minimum the variations in the feelings, and it means that the muscles of the upper body are working to produce the same directions and positions of the arms and club in relation to the torso, for every club and lie.
You can experience the relationship between the swing plane inclination and the ATA by making a few back and forth practice swings at different inclinations. The swing plane tends to flatten as the ATA increases (the hands move further from the torso). The swing plane tends to go upright (more toward the vertical) as the hands come closer to the body at impact. It is quite possible to ignore, not notice, and overcome these tendencies; then you get the same top position regardless. This phenomenon is one of the challenges with golf. You can overpower almost any movement, up to a point, so as to use a less efficient movement. To learn how to use momentum to find the efficient movements, in this case the top position, learn the Downswing Exercise. For example, the faster you swing, the harder it is to alter the direction that momentum is taking the club. And start small...then add gradually to swing length.
Once the setup is more or less automated, keep measuring the ATA whenever you begin the exercise and occasionally before hitting, and especially when changing clubs.
Most good golfers have raised the leading shoulder and lowered the trailing shoulder at impact compared to address. This usually comes from having the trailing elbow still bent at impact. This raises the club toward the shoulders at impact. To avoid topping the ball, there needs to be a "compensation" of some kind that gets you closer to the ball. The most common compensation is to have the hands lower at address than at impact. Another is to have the right elbow bent at address. Or both. Still another is to lean the torso toward the ball on the downswing. These compensations will be discussed below.
Another issue is whether to change ATA and ACA between impact and address, with the hands going higher at impact. Most golfers do it. Woods and Ells do it. Ben Hogan and Gary Player did not. Hogan and Player had their hands very high at address, close to the impact height. Angel Jiminez does too, as do many others. Moe Norman used virtually the same angle at address and impact. I will look closer at what is going on and what the options are. I like the idea of hands high at address for a number of reasons. But first we should understand the trailing elbow and arm.
A trailing arm that goes straight too early after impact, or at impact, or before impact, creates an uncomfortable effect in which the trailing arm and its shoulder are jerked toward the ball as the trailing hand rotates around the leading wrist. And the clubface may start closing faster. If you hit a lot of shots, there is the risk of repetitive injury. Never mind that Tiger Woods gets his right arm straight very close to or just after impact. He is so strong that he is unlikely to be injured by a little jerking. But if I dig the club into the ground with the trailing arm straight, and am forcing the trailing arm with most of my strength, the trailing elbow can get damaged by reverse bending. And the jerking effect mentioned above, which occurs without ground contact, or with minimal ground contact, increases with higher clubhead speed, and even more so when no ball is struck, as in a hard practice swing or in the Downswing Exercise, because the club, not being slowed by ball or ground, pulls even harder on the trailing arm. The swing is smoother and safer when the trailing elbow does not go straight until long enough after impact. At impact, the trailing elbow can still be quite bent. You can see this in the slow motion swing of Anthony Kim, who has nearly a perfect swing: video of Anthony Kim drive. If you were to stand in impact position with the trailing elbow bent a certain amount, then your action from impact onward can be tested in slow motion to see where the trailing arm goes straight. Without measuring it on videos, I would imagine that with a full driver the hands should reach about 4:30 o'clock or more before the trailing elbow is straight, but it is rare to find slow motion videos showing both the down the line viewpoint and the face on viewpoint at the same time, both of which are required in order to see where the elbow reaches straight.
With the trailing arm still bent at impact, the leading shoulder is back and up a bit compared to how it would be if the trailing elbow were straight at impact. When the leading shoulder is back and up, the clubhead travels a bit closer to the torso. If you swing this way without compensating for the effect of a nearer clubhead, the clubhead can be one or two inches up and inside of the ball at impact, enough to cause a serious mis-hit! So. How is such a compensation made? There are a number of ways. The compensation can be made at address or during the swing, or both. If made during the swing, it means the upper torso moves closer to the ball during the swing. For example, the torso could lean forward on the backswing, or dip on the downswing. If made at address, it means that the upper torso is partly or wholly moved closer to the ball before swinging. Probably the most common way is to position the hands lower at address than at impact. With the hands lower at address, the entire upper torso is closer to the ball. At impact the hands then are higher, which extends the clubhead further away from the left shoulder, but the left shoulder is back, so the clubhead is pulled back in. In other words, the two compensate for each other, and if they cancel each other out, and everything else goes fortuitously, the hit is solid.
The other approved method is trailing bent elbow bent more. The more it is bent at address, the more the shoulders rock andcloser the upper torso comes to the ball. To the extent that the trailing elbow at address approaches the angle it will have at impact, the less compensation is required by other means. For example, the hands could be higher at address. Most players have the trailing elbow bent to some extent at address, but a small bend doesn't do much, it doesn't shorten the arm and rock the shoulders much. With greater elbow bending the upper torso gets increasingly closer to the ball.
Actually there is another method not yet mentioned. You could set up with the ball aligned to the heel of the club. Or when the ball is teed up, setting up with the ball elevated above the center of the club face gives the effect. In these cases the clubhead is outside the sphere that passes through the ball. The clubhead is also below or above the ball at address, requiring a return to the ball on a different line.
Use none of the above methods and instead just hit with a straight trailing arm (not advised; it's OK if you don't get hurt).
Remember that a mixture of methods will work. Rory McElroy impacts driver with a bent trailing elbow that was straight at address, sets up a little close (club face below the ball on the drive) and may dip a little on the downswing: video of Rory Mcllroy drive
Other matters in the setup:
The hands, wrists and forearms should move in the classic form. The leading forearm rolls as it moves, but this movement is automatic in response to other correct movements. Rolling of the arms and hands refers to a movement that opens or closes the clubface. The hands in the impact zone could (should?) stop rolling momentarily so as to improve the accuracy of the clubface direction (more on how to achieve this later). There is no purposeful rotation of the hands at any time. On the follow-through the forearms cross each other.
Keep your torso centered during the backswing. The center of mass of the upper torso should stay put on the backswing and the downswing until well after impact. The head, by the way, has to move a little away from target to do this. Some pros go further, and "move off the ball" a little, away from target, which takes their upper torso center an inch or two away from where it was at address. It seems it would be easier to just locate the upper torso mass at address where it will be at impact, and just keep it there. But there seem to be reasons for "moving off the ball" that have to do with where the hips go on the backswing, so that it is the relationship between the upper torso and lower torso (hips) that counts. The swing becomes more difficult if the hips move further from target than the does the upper torso. Since many pros, and most golfers, move the hips away from target a little, they also need to move the upper torso center of mass away from target.
If you look at John Daly, who has the longest swing and arguably the most difficult to keep on plane, you can see that his hips stay centered or even move slightly toward target on the backswing. The right hip is definitely around to the back and toward target. This happens when the center of mass of the hips stays centered or move toward target, so we have to look at the leading hip to see where it goes. In John Daly's case, it is difficult to tell what his left hip is doing because his protruding left buttock appears during the backswing, and depending on its size, may cause the appearance of moving toward target. Even if he doesn't move his hips toward target on the backswing, he is keeping them centered, and the upper torso seems also to stay centered.
I think this method not only facilitates the downswing, it makes the backswing easier by decoupling the arms from the torso immediately at the start of the backswing.
The thing to avoid is the "reverse pivot" where the upper torso moves toward target and/or the hips move away from target on the backswing.
The traditional advice is: "shift the weight" to the trailing side, but this is an indefinite instruction that allows a wide selection of places for the torso to go, including staying on center. It allows students to choose for themselves just how much the torso moves or doesn't move in a range from slightly toward target to far from target during the backswing, all the while feeling like it fulfills the rule of shifting weight away from target.
You might ask how staying torso-centered can create a weight shift or the feeling of it. When the arms and club move off-center to the trailing side they are in fact a substantial bit of mass going to the trailing side. In addition, the act of accelerating the arms and club in the takeaway creates a reaction force in the trailing foot that feels like a weight.
A centered torso turns but does not move out of its location on the backswing. Note that as the torso turns, the head and eyes travel around the torso axis, because the head always sticks out in front of the torso. If the torso stays centered, the head and eyes travel away from target on the backswing and toward target on the downswing. This creates a visually moving environment during the swing that may be unpleasant compared to fixed head position, but that is unavoidable.
Conversely, if the head rather than the torso is kept centered on the backswing, then the torso mass moves a little toward target, making the backswing and the downswing more difficult to execute. It often leads to that unpleasant feeling that there is no way to get back to the ball and hit it straight or no way to start the backswing correctly.
It would be very convenient if the head could be kept in one place during the backswing, and still have a good swing, because it is much easier to measure a centered head than a centered torso. Unfortunately it just isn't a good idea.
It is a little tricky to see or measure whether the upper torso stays centered on the backswing. If you try to stay centered by looking in a mirror or window reflection, a faulty result is likely to occur. The head and even more so the eyes are moving around the torso axis as it turns, moving away from target, and creating ever changing views. In addition, as the upper body turns on the backswing, the torso changes its appearance, its width.
But if you watch your shadow in front of you, with the sun or a light shining from behind, you can see fairly well if the torso stays centered, even though the profile changes. The profile of your torso, as seen from the front or back, gets narrower as you make the backswing. It should shrink on both sides equally; the centerline of the shadow should not move.
Another way to check torso location is the following: Stand straight up without a club, arms by your sides, weight exactly and equally distributed between left and right (or however you do it at address). Make a full shoulder turn in the backswing direction, and make an effort to turn in place, and also with the hips staying centered, by the way. The leading arm hangs; the trailing arm should be placed behind you. The leading knee should not increase or decrease its bend as it moves. After reaching a full turn, you are still standing straight up, lean over gradually forward without leaning to the left or right. As you lean over the leading knee must bend more. The amount you lean over will depend on which club you are hitting and the lie. Lean down to a short iron then back up to straight up. Repeat the whole process over and over. Try to memorize the this position of the hips and shoulders, as the backswing depends on it.
You can also put your arms up as if you were holding a club at the top of the swing. The height of the hands remains to be determined though.
Once learned completely, torso centering can be executed automatically, but as with most physical movements, old ways of doing it can sneak back into your swing, so it is good to do occasional double checking with a conscious exercise.
Warning: The following exercise is hazardous for anything that gets in the way of your club. Don't swing in the dark, next to an open door, or where you can't see what is coming toward you. A person or pet who gets hit could get a devastating if not fatal bashing.
The Downswing Exercise promotes a correct swing plane, length of swing, wrist hinging, timing, balance, and other body positions throughout the downswing.
The Downswing Exercise can even be used while playing, and it's legal. It looks natural so that folks won't notice your doing something special. Touring pros can be seen sometimes using it unconsciously while playing or practicing, and I am pretty sure they didn't learn it here.
The exercises are done almost entirely without hitting balls. The procedure here describes the method for beginning users of the Downswing Exercise. The procedure can be streamlined and shortened for experienced users by expanding the length of the swing much more quickly.
You can sense and judge the timing of the hands/clubhead arrival at impact because you have practiced it just moments before, with the shorter swings you took. If you have observed proper timing at each stage of the exercise, then your goal is already achieved. However, with an actual swing to hit a real ball, there is a tendency to swing harder than during practice. This can change your timing. That is why you may sometimes wish to use maximum force on the downswing when you reach the very end of the Downswing Exercise, and it wouldn't hurt to use maximum force at the very end of each swing length increase, just to make sure the timing is right. (As noted below, you can find the proper swing plane and top position without using full force). In case your timing is wrong, it can be adjusted by three separate means:
1) the amount of wrist bending, with more bending for more delay of the clubhead in relation to the hands,
2) the speed of the arms on the downswing, with more speed delaying the clubhead,
3) the force applied to the straightening of the wrists on the downswing, with less force delaying the clubhead.
There is a fourth means which can be used when the swing is shortened into the region where the wrists normally uncock. This is a rare very short swing but illustrates the physics. At less than full force, you can control the timing directly, like for a chip or pitch. At full force, the wrists must be less cocked the shorter the swing, or the timing will be wrong.
For normal swings the following applies. Say for example that the clubhead arrives at impact position before your hands and you cannot or do not wish to change the force applied to arm movement or wrist bending, and you don't want to shorten your swing to the point where wrist uncocking begins, then the only option is to use greater wristbend at the top, in order to delay the clubhead by coming into the wrist uncocking region with a greater wrist cock. The opposite applies if your hands arrive at impact before the clubhead (i.e.., use less wrist bending).
Another method, probably the most common, is to use the maximum amount of wrist bend, say 90 degrees between the upper arm and the club as measured in the swing plane, and then limit the force applied to either straightening the wrists or pulling the arms down. Another solution would be exercise that increases the strength of the wrist straightening or the arms pull-down, whichever is the weak one.
Try using the same ATA on your chips and pitches as you use on full shots. If you have to change your ATA to do that, you must decide whether it is worth it to do so. You have to estimate the sacrifice in time and performance that would be required to change over to the new ATA. It might not be too bad.
Since you are free to use more or less wrist bending on less than full power shots, you can do the same on chips and pitches. The main advantage of using more wrist bending is that the clubhead follows an arc with a smaller radius, and thus can better avoid grass that is in the way to the ball. Another advantage is that there is more clubhead travel and velocity for a given amount of body movement. The advantage of the less wrist bending is that some folks need it, because they don't hit the ball solid with wrist bending. There might also be an argument about which why controls distance better. While I have not seen scientific evidence on this, both ways can probably work equally well with equal practice, assuming solid contact with the ball.
At address, for chipping or pitching with a short swing and wrist bending, the hips can be set into impact position, or close to it, to allow room for late wrist action and clearance for the right elbow, without having to make a quick big hip movement. For a medium length swing the address position of the hips can be normal because there is more time to move them into impact position. A way to slow and smoothen the hip slide/turn is to start it early, even quite early, while the club is still going back. This is a luxury only for shortened swings.
There are many other things to learn about the golf swing. For example, when you hit balls on the course instead of the driving range, you will find yourself on uneven ground much of the time, requiring adjustments. Even flat courses have tees that are not level. You can be cruising along with good shots and suddenly hit a hook from a tee without knowing why, if you didn't adjust your stance for a teeing area that puts you on your back leg a little. You were supposed to bend the forward leg a little more. So it goes with the rest of golf. There is no end to refinements.
Alignment to a target:
You probably know how to lay a club on the ground, aimed at the target, so that you can line yourself up to it during practice. On the course you can do a variation that works well and quickly. I call it the Rifle Aim because it looks a little like sighting down a rifle, and I don't know what others have called it.
You have to decide first whether you are going to make practice swings before or after making this alignment. Let's say you make some practice swings first and have already finished with that. Take the approximate address position for the shot. With both hands holding the chosen club a few inches under your eyes, clubhead toward target, and with most of the shaft to the target side of your head, rotate your head and sight down the shaft. Point the shaft at the target. Then, without moving the club, look down at your feet in such a way as to see the edge of the shaft and your feet at the same time. Then align your feet in reference to the shaft. Then finish taking your address position, checking ATA if you must, and then waddle, if necessary, until the clubface is positioned correctly behind the ball. Hit the ball.
If you are having difficulty with your swing, it might help to make practice swings as the last step before hitting. In that case, do the alignment first. Take your address position six inches further away than for hitting. First make the alignment as described above, then make the practice swings, then waddle the few inches into hitting position, moving the feet equal amounts so as to preserve target alignment. Hit the ball.
This page is updated frequently. Check back for additions and changes. Good luck and good golf.
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1. Turning too quickly back to the ball on the downswing is a common fault. This normally takes the arms outside the intended line. Even more undesirable is a compensation for this mistake wherein the rear arm, by pulling sideways to the rear, keeps the forward arm on path in spite of the over-rotation. This is a common swing. It can work but it is not as reliable.
A flat swing is likely to cause topping or shanking; conversely, an upright swing is likely to cause fat toe shots.
Wrist movement exercise for rank beginners: Take an impact position using a reasonably correct grip with any golf club. You are going to move the club between about 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock, approximately horizontal to horizontal, back and forth continuously, without moving the leading arm very much out of position, although it rotates in place. The trailing elbow bends on the backswing and straightens on the downswing. On the follow-through the forearms cross. The back of the leading hand must stay approximately parallel with its forearm. These are classic golf positions.
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