Monday, December 3, 2012

Shoulder Plane

As a teacher, I am aware of times when I offer similar lessons to my students.  It is important that I'm focused on the individual's needs and not caught up in a topic that is popular in my teaching or thoughts at the moment.  I used to work with a pro who gave his students the same lesson he himself was working on.  Thanks to him, I always think about whether or not I am on a hot topic or serving individual needs.  With that being said, there are two topics that seem to be the focus of many lessons.  The first is the ability to deliver the clubhead to the golf ball effectively and efficiently.  The second is the shoulder plane that is set and maintained through the swing.

Lately, we have been working on adding distance to some young ladies games.  If we start at the beginning of the process, we have to start with the need for speed.  Power in golf is actually speed.  You can see big, beefy men on the driving range who can't hit it very far, but next to them is a little, skinny guy who has a lot of power.  The power produced in golf comes from the ability to deliver the club head with as much speed as possible.  We have talked about that in past blogs and you can refer to them using these links:  Deliver the Club Head Blog or Swing the Club Head Blog  Just delivering the clubhead doesn't automatically lead to speed.  When coupled with rotation and weight shift, you put power behind the delivery.  In order to get as much power as possible, your sequence of movements needs to be correct.  One of the main indicators of whether or not you are successful in having a great sequence that produces power is your shoulder plane.

Shoulder plane is an indicator in the same way that footwork is an indicator of balance.  A well sequenced swing looks effortless.  It is balanced, centered and the turn of the shoulders is unhindered.  Shoulder plane is directly related to power.  Check out these pictures of Rory and Tiger side by side:

From Golf Digest

Read More Golf Digest Link
In their back swing, both men make a free and efficient turn and their shoulders reach a plane that allows them to stay centered and create maximum rotation.  The same thing happens in the through swing as shown on the right.  Their shoulders appear almost as wide after impact as they do in the finish, which tells me their rotation was unhindered.  The outcome is the right arm extension down the line in this picture.  That is a position that is impossible to achieve if a player's swing sequence is off or if the shoulders get too level.  The right arm extends athletically, which means it is active and lively, not forced or locked.  This can only occur if it works under the shoulder instead of up and around the shoulder.  The other thing to take away from the picture on the right is that the hips are cleared ahead of the shoulders which allows the right shoulder to work down through the ball as I just mentioned.

We gain power by gaining speed in the golf swing.  However, our instincts seem to be based on power = force.  Force seems to mean big muscle movements to players, so many players learn to square the club using their right shoulder and "hitting" the ball instead of "swinging the club".  The simplest way for me to describe a hit instinct is to tell you the major difference in the two moves.  A swing motion always happens with the elbows pointing down and in toward the body.  This is true of even the flattest swingers of the club.  Check out Matt Kuchar here:
Matt may get to the ball completely differently than Rory and Tiger, but his position just past impact is exactly the same and the position we should all strive for.  His hips are cleared, his right arm is extended down the line and his shoulders have rotated quickly and efficiently and allowed him to stay centered at impact.

A hit motion happens when the dominant arm rotates to a position with the elbow pointed outside the body.  Stand up and swing your dominant arm in front of you with your elbow coming in close to your hip.  Now rotate your arm on the downswing as though you are throwing something to the ground.  In the first move, you will see the inside of your forearm and in the second, you will see the top of your forearm and the back of your hand.  That second move is a killer in the golf swing, yet it is very common.  It is the result of the "hit" instinct.  

As soon as either of your arms rotate so that your elbows point outside your body, you will lose your sequence and speed.  This isn't a big move, but a very small and subtle move.  That is why the shoulder plane is an important indicator.  Students often feel the move and know it is wrong.  They usually come to the lesson tee and tell us that they are coming over the ball.  That is code for losing their sequence.  In my experience, these players lack the ability to square the club with their hands, so that is often where we start. 

When I was a kid and we didn't have video cameras, the old pros taught us to loop the club at the top.  Swing it up high and drop it in was often heard as a swing thought.  With the advent of video and the chase for perfection of movement, that tip was lost and we instead were taught to swing the club on plane back and through.  With this shift in language and focus, a lot of new golfers lost the feel of the drop of the club at the top.  It might seem like I am talking about high handicappers, but this is not exclusive to them.  This lack of drop in the transition is consistent through players of all handicaps and takes away power from all.  The better the player, the more subtle the move and the smaller amount of power is leaked.  However, fighting the natural sequence of the swing will eventually lead to injury in players who are truly dedicated and hit a lot of balls.  They will get sore shoulders, elbows and wrists from fighting the forces of the swing instead of just hanging on to them as the players in the pictures above are doing.  
The classic swing of Bobby Jones.  Over the years, the best swings remain the same.

Many players fail to move toward the target to generate motion in their transition.  Instead, they stay centered on their right foot and must generate the club's downward motion with their upper body.  If this is you, your shoulders will look flat prior to impact and very steep just past impact. You can move to your left side and do a poor job of delivering the club head.  These players complain about being "stuck" and are told that they are sliding through the ball.  If they don't slide, their shot will go dead left, so that slide is a key defender of bad shots.  These players will get sore hips and lower backs if they hit a lot of balls.  

Hogan's swing depicts excellent balance as he clears his hips.  From this angle, you can see that a proper sequence shows a centered player, whose chest appears to be moving back or away from the clubs motion.  This is much the same as the rotation of a skater spinning. 

The skater's chest is back and behind her lead hip to produce a center despite movement the opposite way.  As she brings her arms to her body, her spin becomes faster and more efficient.  As golfers, we must offset the swinging of our arms by rotating and leaning slightly back.  If your finish shows that your chest is in front of your lead foot, you know that you lost your kinetic chain and lost speed. 

Instead of going through every scenario possible, just understand that your center starts every movement and your arms react to that movement and swing.  The swing occurs from the combination of gravity and force as they keep up with the turn of your center.  If you can go to the range and feel some swings with heavy, dead arms, you might begin to feel the first force, which is gravity.  Now add some athleticism and allow your arms to be lively, active and rotating under your shoulders.  If your right arm extends too quickly or over rotates, you will lose your ability to extend through the shot.  

True power in golf comes from speed.  Speed comes from motion and rotation while balanced.  Check out this picture of a team in a tug of war and you will instantly see that shoulder plane is crucial to power in that it represents rotation and leverage.  No matter what your size or level of strength, if you tap into your balance, rotation and leverage to create speed in your swing, you will be long!








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