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Teaching Corner

We are starting the Teaching Corner with articles by Fred Elliot.  Fred Elliott is a PGA Teaching Professional at Hidden Valley CC,
Reno, NV. He can be reached by email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or by phone for booking lessons.  (775) 544-9812 (call or text)
The teaching corner is open to all teaching professionals in the area.  To contribute to this page email me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Hidden Power Thief

We have all watched or have known a golfer who has a swing that aesthetically and mechanically looks very sound, but hits the ball much shorter than we anticipate. There is a power leak somewhere, but is not evident to even a professional eye.
What do golfers that fall in this group have in common? Usually they are right-handed adults that have taken up golf not as juniors. Doesn't narrow it down much, does it? The one clue is in the fact that one reason juniors take to golf like "ducks to water" is that they have not built up their dominant side as adults have. Their lead side can do its job without the interference that the back side creates. Casting, over the top moves, and generally over activation of the right side are typical faults of adult golfers. Junior golfers who have had either no instruction or a small or moderate amount of professional instruction rarely exhibit these faults.
The culprit for our golfer with the good-looking swing that doesn't seem to create enough distance is excessive tension or pressure in the right hand, arm and shoulder. The adult has spent their life using his/her right side to perform a lot of tasks, many that require a lot of force; unfortunately, this is not one of the sources of power in the golf swing. When we push, shove, throw, or otherwise try to create speed with our right side mayhem ensues. The upper right side has a role in the swing, but it is more of a supportive or bracing role.

What can our shorter-hitting golfer do to gain distance? The first area is grip pressure. Our featured golfer usually exhibits extra tight grip pressure, particularly in the right hand. Hitting balls with as light as pressure as possible with the right hand is the first step. The usually reaction from the golfer is " the club feels like it will fly out of my hands". This is the first clue they are on the right track. If the golfer can overcome the counter-intuitive feel of the soft right hand, they can progressively relax their right arm and shoulder more and more.
Mechanically, the golfer has greatly increased his " conservation of angular movement". In layman's terms, he has maintained the angle between left arm and club as he proceeds in to his forward swing and greatly increased club head speed. The early straightening of this angle was not always evident before because the player's swing was rhythmic and balanced and only close inspection could sometimes expose it. Extra speed is gained as the relaxed right side allows more core speed to also develop. More speed-more distance for our golfer.
For those that are victims of our power thief- swing counter-intuitively and have a well rested right arm and hand to write down more 3's and 4's.

A Couple Power Short Cuts for Seniors and Others

     A recurring theme in golf instruction is the idea of coordinating body motion with arm swing.  This is certainly important and can be seen very clearly in quality golf swings.  However, there does seem to be one common error that derails this process.  For the proper sequencing of arms and body to be effective, wrist action has to be very passive-simply allowing the wrists to hinge and unhinge by themselves.  A proper grip and grip pressure are important, but if the club is manipulated or strangled by the hands all is for naught.  The arms can't swing smoothly in conjunction with the rotating torso because of the interference from the mistiming of this wrist action.

     What to do:  Here is an exercise that can be done almost anywhere, without a club, and can thwart our tendency to control or over power the club with the hands. 

From your normal address position extend your arms with the hands open and the palms 3 to 4 inches apart. Swing the arms back to hip high and forward to hip high, allowing hips and shoulders to turn freely with the arms, keeping the palms apart at all times.  At hip high on both sides the arms should finish parallel to the target line.  This allows coordinated motion between arms and body with no interference from the hands.  Repeat as much as possible; this exercise also has a very positive effect on your pitching. 

     Second short-cut:  As we age, our ability to make a full back-swing is damaged by our diminishing flexibility.

     A simple way to retain good backswing rotation is to address the ball with the hips slightly closed.  Be very careful to also not close the shoulders; this can adversely affect club path.  Giving the hips this slight "head-start" allows the entire torso to rotate more easily during the backswing.  Restricting hip-turn has been shown to be counter productive for  producing coil in the backswing.  The only reminder here is to make sure the right knee remains firm and at least slightly bent. 

     Give your body a running start with the hips slightly closed; let the arms and body work together as the wrists hinge and unhinge freely (lag?) and feel that remarkable acceleration into impact that just might let a senior reach a par 5 in 2.

Release the Biggest Myth

     Of all the myths that have perpetuated themselves over the years the one that is the most persistent and the most deceptive is that of the "release".  The definition should give a hint to the truth-"to set free".  Nowhere does the definition mention turn, twist, rotate, or square.

     "Releasing" the club is simply the act of letting the wrists unhinge from approximately hip-high on the downswing through impact.  The scientists tell us that swinging the double-pendulum of our left arm and wrist freely creates the most acceleration in the swing.  If the wrists have hinged inline with the left arm (flat left wrist at top), when they unhinge the clubface is in roughly the same position at impact as is was at address.  The clubface doesn't need squaring, it's been "square" all along.  The right hand and wrist does roll over the left, but it doesn't happen until the ball is well on it's way; and the more efficient the release is, the more the wrists simply rehinge.  In kinesiological terms, the more efficient the swing the less pronation and supination, and the release is simply radial and ulnar deviation. The added bonus is that the better the path of the swing the more easily and swiftly the wrists unhinge.

     Sound too technical-in simple terms a neutral grip with the left wrist hinging in line with left arm allows the clubhead to remain square to the path of the club through the swing.  There is no opening or closing of the club face-

no need to manipulate the clubhead as so many descriptions of the release imply.

     Yes, there is a complication.  A strong grip creates a closed clubface when the wrists hinge; players such as Trevino and Duval played like this, but compensated and got the clubface square at impact by maneuvering the hands well ahead of the ball at impact.  Conversely a weak grip would literally require a deceleration so the hands are well behind the ball at impact.  The first requires talent and years of hard work to achieve; the second usually doesn't work well at all.

     Yes, true release is simply letting the clubhead go or be "set free".  Thusly, letting go of the concept that the clubhead must be manipulated through impact can free up some more solid hits and release some lower scores.

Another Candidate for Hogan's "Secret"

Even since Ben Hogan announced his "secret" in an article in LIFE magazine in 1955 avid golfers the world over have speculated over the exact nature of this phenomenon.
Through the years we have heard the secret could be the cupping of the left wrist at the top, the "fanning" of the left wrist on the backswing, the supination of the left wrist at impact, Hogan's incredible concentration, his right leg stability, his transition from backswing to downswing etc. etc. ad infinitum. Probably only the location of the Holy Grail has received more attention.
In our present golf world the term "turn" is heard over and over. Yet, when Hogan talks about the backswing he uses the word somewhat differently. He talks about the "correct order of movement" He emphasized the sequencing of hands, arms, shoulders, and hips. Although he discusses how much the shoulders should outturn the hips, he seems to say the accumulated momentum from the club, hands, and arms are pulling the shoulders and hips around. If we consciously turn shoulders, and/or hips we destroy Hogan's "correct order of movement". Good sequencing is heavily damaged. Is keeping the shoulders and hips passive and being allowed to be pulled around Hogan's secret?
Let's look at a few facts. Obviously, Hogan is known for his incredible accuracy, but he also won several driving contests that were held prior to tour events. Although we  greatly admire Snead's huge shoulder turn, Hogan's was almost as big. Yet, when you look at Hogan at the top his lower body screams "stability". He clearly is poised to create a great deal of force with his legs and core to initiate the downswing Is he trying to tell us maximum leverage is created by relaxing shoulders and hips on the backswing, not by consciously twisting and turning them?

Although this seems to be another reasonable candidate for the "secret", maybe we are missing what was really Ben's advantage. He seemed, in his own way, to understand the scientific method. He tested concepts with a large number of trials and then put them into the crucible of competition. He did not come to a conclusion first and then do the trials. Recently, we have seen some "reinvent the wheel" swing methods that are thrown out there backed up only by evidence such as selective camera angles and unique assumptions. 

Give Ben's well-tested thoughts on the backswing a trial, and maybe the "secret Santa" will knock some strokes off the old handicap.

Baseball and Golf
     Many golfers new to the game, when encountering swing problems, are advised that their problems stem from taking a "baseball swing".  It is true that spinning the hips open to contact a ball located well out in front of the body and 2 to 4 feet off the ground does not work well to hit a ball on the ground directly in front of you; there are characteristics of striking or throwing a baseball that correlate directly to striking a golf ball.  
     The first is related to the move that more than one famed instructor has described as the most important part of a strong, fundamental swing.  That is the mostly lateral move of the hips (core) back towards the target to start the downswing.  This is very similar to the "stepping into the pitch" move in the baseball swing.This is sometimes the first thing taught to little leaguers. Particularly if one has played baseball, the feel of this move promotes a proper transition from backswing to downswing in the golf swing.  It has even evolved to a golf drill commonly called "the step" drill.  Early weight shift (or pressure) to the left side and increased lag are two positive by-products of "stepping into the pitch".
     The second correlation between the golf swing and baseball is the way in which the right arm and wrist behave in either swinging the club or throwing a baseball.  The two "L's" that are formed-the first one with the back of the wrist and the second with the elbow are nearly identical in delivering a club or a baseball.  They are formed during the backswing in golf and the wind-up in baseball. Both then retain their prospective angles well into the downswing or delivery and then straighten as both club and ball are being released.  For those that didn't play baseball just throwing a ball is helpful for the golf swing.  For those that have experienced "throwing" sports hitting wedge shots with just the right hand on the club has a very positive effect on one's golf swing.  The fact that many of the best golfers in those "celebrity" tournaments are pitchers is not a coincidence.
     The next time you're told you have a "baseball" swing, take it as a compliment and step into that pitch and deliver a long and straight tee shot.