My plan was to do a little series on what great players do to be great, but I need to delve back into swing mechanics today. A friend of mine is trying to figure out how to get more power by developing more lag. He specifically asked me how he can get his right elbow to lead the down swing. My goal today will be to explain lag and how it is formed and used in the golf swing. To start, I would like to share the swing of a new student who has incredible power. Check out Colorado native Pat Grady's driver swing:
The first thing that Pat does to create power is to make a very strong turn back into his right side. Notice I didn't say a big turn, but a strong one. What makes it strong? First, his right knee is flexed and solid all at the same time. By having a bit of flex, he remains athletic and has the spring necessary to swing through the ball. By remaining solid, he stays level and strong, producing a stable base to build upon and turn into. Many golfers have too much knee bend when they set up and that is an invitation for unneeded up and down movement in the swing. Another common error is lock the right knee which causes the weight to stay too centered, never allowing it to move behind the ball and create momentum. Secondly, Pat makes a good shoulder turn and his muscles are taut and ready to fire. Once again, Pat has the right amount of movement in this swing. Too much turn generally causes golfers to "fall" to the middle at the top and not have their balance in a spot that allows them to fire through to the target. An insufficient shoulder turn will generally result in a swing that relies too much on the hands instead of the speed of the core.
Now, we are in the position to answer my friend's question about producing lag. Before you reach the top of your golf swing, your body is already making a move to the target. I have talked about the first move in the "Fire the Hips" entry. If you grew up skating on outdoor ice rinks like I did, you probably played a lot of crack the whip. The best skaters dared to be at the end of the whip and when the whip cracked, they flew along the ice. The inside skaters worked hard to hang on to the mittened hand of the girl or guy next to them and turned as tightly as possible. They were barely moving by the time the last guy flew off. That is how lag works in the golf swing. Look at Pat's body as he swings down to the ball. His chest starts the move and turns through quickly, but it doesn't have far to go. Pat's hands will travel a lot further and faster than his body. The club head is the end of the whip and must travel an even longer distance and therefore at a much faster speed. At impact, Pat's body is still moving at a slow speed, but the club is flying. He has cracked the whip.
What makes it happen? Just as with the ice skaters, the power starts with the inside and moves to the outside. The most common power leak I see on the lesson tee is golfers who try to move the power to the outside. It is as if the skater on the end is trying to pull the whole group of skaters along with him to make it all go faster. It is futile. Instead, the end skater learned to relax and be ready when the whip finally transferred its speed to him. He had no control over it so he learned to wait for it just as you do when the roller coaster nears the top. If you keep the inside, your chest, turning constantly and allow your arms to relax and wait for it, you will start to feel lag. That lag is what creates speed.
Now that you have lag, you have to learn to use it by controlling the angles and rotation of the golf club. This is where my friend's elbow question comes in. He asked, how do I get my elbow to lead the downswing and get in front of my hip. Go back to the link one last time and check out Pat at the :12 and :13 marks of the video. As Pat is turning through, his arms are swinging freely and quickly through the ball. He has great timing and great patience in his swing. Because his arms are relaxed, they look as though they drop in this video. That is because they do drop as they swing and keep up with the chest turn. However, the word drops seems to make people thing it is a passive move. Remember, your hands have to move a lot farther than your chest, so the drop isn't passive. It is propelled using both momentum and very active chest, back and shoulder muscles. Even though you are active, everything happens in a kinetic chain and looks easy.
If your swing doesn't look or feel easy on the down swing, your chain is broken. That is the same as one of the kids in the middle of the ice skaters losing their mitten in the hand of the girl next to him. Skaters scatter everywhere with little control or speed. The end of the chain turned quickly in these instances. In golf, the club head loses control and turns quickly up in what is usually called a flick or cast. The causes of this can be many, but the most common ones I see are stopping or slowing the chest turn, throwing the hands at the ball, tension in the arms, and loss of body balance and center.
Remember, golf is a game of power, but the source of the power is speed, not brute strength. Pat is not a big guy, but he hits the ball as far as most on the PGA Tour where he hopes to play one day. His strength lies in his motion and control.