Sunday, March 1, 2015

Create Speed With Your Backswing

It's time to get mechanical again and talk about your backswing and how it is supported and balanced.  Your power, timing and control are all reliant upon this balance and how you achieve it. 

I'll start by talking of the chain of support in your swing.  Your hands support the golf club; your wrists support your hands; your arms support your wrists; your shoulders support your arms and your core supports your shoulders.  This might seem obvious or even overkill as an explanation of how your club is supported, but it is often not achieved.  Here are two shots of golfers at the top of the swing.  On top, the golfer fails to make a good turn away and her core isn't supporting her shoulders as it should.  Her motion will have to first correct her balance and second swing the club.  Compare it to Suzanne Petersson at the top of her backswing.  She is strong and stable at the top and all of her motion can go forward to the target.

Suzanne's core supports her shoulders, which support her arms.  She is balanced and strong at the top.

Often, golfers feel like a longer backswing will provide more speed and more power, but that is an assumption that isn't always the case.  The golf swing is reliant upon angles and leverage and if you can maintain good angles and create leverage with a long swing, then you can take it as long as you please.  However, that takes great athleticism, balance and flexibility to pull off.  Here are some notable pros with long swings who have the gifts mentioned above.


Sakura Yokomine

Bubba Watson
John Daly

The thing that all of these long swings have in common is a right arm that maintains a 90 degree angle and the shoulders and chest continue to turn to support the arms.  Actually, in Bubba's case, it's his left arm.  The 90 degree angle allows the width of the arc of the swing to stay consistent.  Long backswings run into problems when the right arm breaks down and the angle decreases.
Here is a way to feel how things work if you maintain consistent width at the top of the swing.

This creates the opposite effect on the downswing and generally results in an early release of the club, commonly called a cast.  It also makes the width of the swing smaller and the arms to "run" past the support of the shoulders.  When this happens, the body turn doesn't support the arm swing on the down and through swing causing the player to throw the club at the ball or get stuck on the inside of the path. 

Arms that run on past the shoulder turn.

Many people think that keeping a straight left arm is the key to a good back swing, but a relaxed left arm often allows a fuller turn and better balance of the core which allows it to support the left shoulder at the top of the swing.  Tight left arms often create tension that flattens the shoulder plane at the top and creates other problems.  The arms become the supporters instead of the core.  There isn't anything wrong with a straight left arm unless it is achieved with too much tension. 

This golfer is working on his shoulder plane by trying to get his left shoulder to turn down, but simply softening his left arm would allow him to turn more easily while allowing his shoulder to stay better connected with his torso.
It isn't uncommon to see a good player holding too much tension in her shoulders as she swings the club.  This tension creates problems in timing and release points.  Players whose swings hold up under great pressure or who have consistent ball striking from day to day often have a full turn and soft arms at the top. Check out these pros and you will see how a softer left arm allows the shoulder to stay on plane and supportive of the arms and hands. 
Jordan Spieth

Jim Furyk
Fred Couples

Above, you can see Furyk and below is Fowler and both are included to show that it isn't where you place the club at the top of your swing, but the fact that it is supported by your wrists, arms, shoulders and core that matters.  Over the years, that has most commonly been called "connected", but I think it is better to call it balanced at the top.  There are a lot of ways to swing the club, but if you want speed and consistency, you need to make sure you balance the club at the top of the swing.

If you want to create a swing that delivers speed to the clubhead and ball, you need balance at the top, good support of the club and the final thing is a good turn.  If you make a good turn away from the ball, you will have the opportunity to maintain a wide arc at the top of your swing.  If your body doesn't make a great turn and your arms start or take over control of the backswing, you will get small with your angles.  Big hitters commonly have some space between their chests and elbows.  This isn't the only way to get power, but it is one you commonly see on Sundays.  Fowler carries his arms closer to his chest, but gains power through his body speed and release. 
Stacy Lewis
Belen Mozo
Ricky Fowler

Hopefully, today's blog leads you to make some discoveries that are helpful for your swing.  First, we want to dispel the notion that a straight left arm is the key to a good position at the top.  Second, we want to dispel the notion that the length of the swing is the most important factor.  Instead, it is the ability to support that length with a good turn, which means you will need flexibility and low tension in your upper body.  Creating power which turns into ball speed is about creating and releasing leverage.  Think about your swing in terms of where your tension is and what role your right arm plays instead of your left arm.  Learning to control these two factors might lead you to some breakthroughs to power. 

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