Guide to the Golf Swing (P1)

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Who to believe? There are lots of ideas about how to swing a golf club: which ideas should you follow?
When someone presents ideas about how to swing a golf club, it is useful to ask why one should believe the ideas. Typically, the reasons for following a particular idea include one or more the following:

  • The presenter is one of the best players in the world and presumably must know something about the game.
  • The presenter has taught a number of highly successful players, and must know something about the game.
  • The presenter has studied a large number of successful golf swings and on the basis of this study, has identified common elements that correlate with success.
  • The presenter is an older player with experience and on the basis of experience and wisdom, has identified key attributes of the successful swing.
  • The presenter is endorsed by organizations such as TV networks, Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, professional golf organizations, and on the basis of these endorsements, must be credible.

With personal opinions playing such a prominent role in the ideas being put forward, it is not surprising that there are a range of views, many of which are contradictory.

The ideas put forward in this Guide are based on science – physics, anatomy, human kinetics, geometry. As we shall see, science provides confirmation about many conventional ideas and explains why they work. It questions some conventional ideas, and explains why they may be in error. And it leaves you, the golfer, with some decisions. There is no universally correct golf swing.

As a science-based guide, the Guide follows several principles:

  • The golf swing is based on the interaction between human anatomy and physics.
  • The golf swing can initially be reduced to specific movements.
  • These movements occur because of the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
  • It is important to know what muscles are involved to improve the performance of these muscles in the swing and to tailor exercises to improve their functioning.
  • Since the purpose of the swing is ultimately to propel the golf ball toward the target, the correct performance of the movement needs to contribute to that purpose.
  • Movements that do not contribute to this purpose at best are unnecessary and at worst become a potential source of error; they should be eliminated.
  • Each relevant movement in the swing has its own physics.
  • Understanding of the physics of the individual movements can lead to an understanding the relative importance of each movement in the overall swing.
  • Physics includes measurement, but each player comes with his or her own height, weight, length of legs and arms, golf club length, ability to rotate, etc. This Guide addresses this through modelling based on person-specific parameters.
  • Distance ultimately results from carrying out all the movements with speed and precision. Lack of distance results at least in part from not incorporating some movements in the golf swing, not incorporating them effectively and not timing them optimally.
  • One should focus on the downswing, since it determines impact. The backswing serves only to position the start of the downswing, and the follow-through is irrelevant in determining what happens to the golf ball.
  • Gym exercises to improve the golf swing need to focus on the muscles used in the relevant movements in the swing.

This Guide is for the serious golfer – the golfer who wants to improve his or her game and is prepared to invest time and energy in a methodical and organized process of improvement.

Serious golfers can include beginners. Golf is a difficult game to start playing. Typically, the swings of beginners lack power and the ball goes nowhere, or the swings are mighty but technically flawed and the ball goes everywhere but straight.

Guide to the Golf Swing (P1)

While many beginners visit the driving range either occasionally or on a regular basis, serious beginners have gone further. They have probably bought a golf book or two dealing with grip, stance, posture and other details. Most golf books provide few clues about the theory and dynamics of the swing.

Serious beginners have also probably tried a series of lessons from a professional golfer. Like typical golf books, golf professionals deal with the grip, stance, posture and other details. Once these are addressed, they try to get the beginner to start hitting the ball, and then they try to correct faults.

The problem with standard instructional approaches through books and golf professionals is that they try to get the beginner up and going quickly, so the focus is on a few basics. Missing is the basic theory of the swing. Without this theory, beginners do not have a foundation from which to move forward, particularly when on their own.

The problem lies not with the golf professionals; they are just trying to satisfy their client. Nor does it lie with the client; most are in a hurry to get instant success, are satisfied with whatever help they get, and do not realize the need, or have the patience for, a structured, long-term approach. If blame needs to be assigned, blame the golf swing. It is complicated, with multiple movements occurring within a fraction of a second and the involvement muscles all over the body.

To summarize, this Guide is for the serious beginner – one who has read the standard golf books and taken some lessons and is probably already addicted to the game, but is looking for a more fundamental understanding of the golf swing, and has the patience to work through its underlying theory.

The Guide is also for the serious advanced player who has played a lot and has perhaps played well and who is looking for more. The theory of the swing – the subject of this Guide – is not readily found in conventional golf books. An understanding of the theory and dynamics of the swing may help to coax a few extra yards out of anyone’s swing.

This Guide is limited to the full golf swing, and nothing but the full swing. The full swing is only one part of the game of golf. The full swing is important. So too is putting. There are a myriad shots requiring less than a full swing (three-quarter and half wedges, chipping, pitching, sand and trouble shots); these are important for a complete game. Not only is it important to be able to execute shots, it is also important to know when to execute shots, where to aim and how to select the right club. For the competitive minded golfer, it is important to know how to play well in competition. For all of us, it helps to manage our game, to keep a good round together for eighteen holes, and to quickly identify and solve problems that could quickly transform a good round into a bad one. Finally, fitness has a role too. General fitness helps manage fatigue and prevent injuries. Fitness targeted specifically at the golf swing can create strength and flexibility and lead to increased power and distance.

This Guide focuses only on the full golf swing. This aspect of golf is not more important than others; it makes up only one part of the fascinating game of golf.

In this Guide:

  • Chapter 1 provides an introduction to anatomy, physics and the basic movements in the golf swing.
  • Chapters 2 to 9 describe the basic movements, starting with the anatomy of the joint involved and the relationship between anatomy and the golf movement.
  • Chapters 10 to 13 address the physics and geometry of the golf swing, leading to a model of the golf swing. The model provides the basis for comments on aspects of the swing.
  • Chapter 14 provides some ideas about how to incorporate the movements into your swing.
  • Chapter 15 offers some exercise tips related to the movements.The hope is that it will help you to add thirty or forty yards to your game, and to bring your handicap down by five to ten stokes. The corresponding fear is that it will cause you to obsess about muscles, and to create a path of destruction and lost balls in its wake. Be warned.

This Guide is a total revision to a previous version produced in 2010. Notable changes include the addition of information on the physics of the golf swing, corrections related to the role of the hips and legs in the swing, and the introduction of the spinal tilt as a fundamental part of the swing.

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