The cause, effect and cure of backswing problems
I am sometimes criticised for stressing the role of the left hand and arm at the expense of the right hand. People have occasionally asked me if, in my view, the right hand has any role to play in the golf swing? My answer is this....
The vast majority of golfers grossly over use the right hand in the swing. After all most golfers are right handed and "right sided". They allow the strong right hand and side to dominate the swing.
This, as we shall see later is fatal.
It is the function of the left hand and arm that has been sadly neglected in golf teaching. I have merely tried to redress the balance.
I say again, A FREE SWING OF THE LEFT HAND AND ARM IS THE BASIS OF THE GOLF ACTION. The right hand and arm never acts independently in the swing. Its proper role is one of co-ordination with the left hand and arm. The hands should work together as a unit......with the left hand in control.
During the backswing the right arm and elbow are virtually passive, but the right had and wrist contribute towards control of the clubface at all times.
It is when the right hand and arm resist and interfere with the free swing of the left hand and arm that positional problems occur at the top leading to complications in the downswing. The flying right elbow comes precisely because the right hand is overpowering the left in the swing.
Lady golfers, in particular, tend to be very right handed. Their left arms are, not unnaturally, often weak. Hence they actually support the left hand and arm with the right hand at the top of the swing.
The solution to this problem is simple. The left hand and arm must play the dominant role in the swing at all times. If it does not, you have no alternative but to over employ the right hand,
The right hand can only dominate if the left hand and arm fails to play its controlling role.
One final word of warning.
Using clubs that are too heavy for you promotes misuse of the right hand.
We have said that the shaft of the driver at the top of the swing should be horizontal or slightly short of horizontal. It is undesirable for the shaft to dip below the horizontal as this often leads to lack of control in the down-swing. This unnecessarily "loose" swing is termed "overswing".
It is common for overswing to be attributed to "opening the hands at the top of the swing".
I do not entirely agree with this.
Admittedly the hands are opening.....but why?
All errors in the golf swing can be traced back to some cause. Nothing happens without a good reason!
Overswing not only causes loss of control (and hence direction) in the downswing, but the excessive wrist action with it means that a consistent length of shot with the same club is impossible,
To be accurate, and score low, a player must hit a consistent length with each club, especially the irons. Overswing makes this virtually impossible.
To understand the causes of overswing, let's consider an incorrect takeaway again. Here it is with the left shoulder drop.... and the CONCAVE body shape is appearing already. This is the result of holding the club head low to the ground in the takeaway.
There is absolutely no swing of the left hand and arm at all!.
The left hand has gone back and down..... so the right forearm is directly above the left.... actually resisting any possibility of a left arm swing.
Since the swing of the left hand and arm is effectively blocked both by the incorrect body movement and the resisting right arm, the wrist must now break if the club-head is to keep moving. This is precisely what happens. The wrists break too early... and too much.... actually destroying the "wide arc" that "low to the ground" is supposed to produce.
This excessive wrist cocking accelerates the club-head to such an extent that the hands are literally forced open as the club reaches the top. This opening of the hands is what causes overswing.
So we see that the hands DO NOT simply open at the top due to a loose grip as is so often stated. They are forced open by an incorrect swing action which leads to excessive wrist action. So to cure overswing we must first correct the swing action.
Overswing can be corrected simply by adopting the correct takeaway method which we have already discussed. If the left hand and arm starts the backswing movement.....and the shoulders turn in order to permit the left hand and arm to swing unrestricted to the top there is no reason for premature or excessive wrist break to occur. It is as simple as that.
If the arm doesn't swing the club, the wrists must break. Remember that!
The wrists, incidentally, break naturally at the top of the swing due to the momentum of the club-head. hence, the shorter the shaft the less the club-head momentum..... and the less wrist break.
The amount of wrist break at the top will depend upon the club in use. Some wrist break occurs with the driver. Much less with the medium irons, and virtually none with the short irons.
Firmness and control at the top is essential.. It comes from getting to the top in the correct way.
IF THE ARM DOESN'T SWING THE CLUB, THE WRISTS MUST TAKEOVER!
Good and Bad Backswings - A Comparison
We have already examined in detail the characteristics of a good backswing movement... and a bad one. Now, we see them side by side to make a direct comparison. Visual comparisons are a powerful aid to learning.
Once the picture of a good backswing movement is established firmly in the mind correct execution of the movement becomes easier.
A full-length mirror is extremely useful for checking your body "shape".
A Bad Backswing
- The start of a bad backswing. The body is propelling the hands and arms. Note that the player's head has already started to tip to the left. This is the first sure sign that the body is doing the work.
- The effort being made by the body is now obvious. The upper body is dipping down to the left (bringing about the left shoulder drop) in order to move the hands and arms. The right leg is straight and the left foot is beginning to roll inwards.
- At the top the body "shape" is CONCAVE. The club shaft is "across line" at the top (pointing to the right of the target). The physical effort involved in this type of "body swing" is quite obvious. It can hardly be termed a swing at all.
A Good Backswing
- The left hand and arm has clearly made the initial movement of the takeaway. The shoulders are now just starting to turn. This is the start of a genuine body turn, and the left shoulder has maintained its height from the ground. The body is responding to the arm swing in a balanced, controlled manner.
||2. The left hand and arm continues.... the shoulders continue to turn in response. The head is still. The legs remain flexed. The right elbow is passive and the arm is beginning to fold correctly behind the left arm.
3. The positioning movement is complete and the club is on-line for the downswing. The body has not risen up with the club....it has remained down as the flexed knees indicate. Note the full shoulder turn and 45 degree hip turn. No tension or effort involved here. Just a fluid, "shaped" body movement which has enabled the left hand and arm to swing uninterrupted to the top.
A Bad Swing Analysed
Now that we have seen how a correct backswing takes place let us examine the concepts and movements that sabotage a correct action. By understanding these errors we can avoid them.
First, as we already know, POWER DOES NOT ORIGINATE IN THE BODY. The body turn does not cause the hands and arm and the clubhead to move. The body turn does not occur to create power. The backswing is NOT performed to generate power.
These concepts may be widely held and handed down from the "highest authority" .... but that does not make them correct.
We are going to see what happens to the swing when these are applied and then test our own concepts against these old, false ideas.
Especially dangerous is the old cliché about holding the clubhead low to the ground in the takeaway. This is supposed to create a "wide backswing arc", but in fact it does the opposite.
Equally untrue is the concept of "the one-piece takeaway".
According to this theory the shoulders, arms and hands "start back together".... taking the club with them. Another way of saying that the body propels the hands and arms!
This player thinks the backswing is for generating power. He employs the "one-piece takeaway" and he heeds the advice that the "club-head stays low to the ground in the takeaway". He also thinks that the shoulder turn starts the swing.
Okay.... lets see what happens.
Power is uppermost in his mind so he grips the club like an axe. Fully alerted for a massive effort his body lurches to one side to start the club-head moving. The club has only moved a foot but already his swing is ruined. This is NOT going to be a SWING at all.... it is a body heave with wrist action added for additional force.
|Now he thinks "low to the ground on the takeaway". The left arm extends backwards and downwards in obedience to the law. The left shoulder dips down in response and the head drops with it. There is no sign of a turn yet, just a sideways rocking motion of the body! His "wide arc swing" theory has produced a king-sized sway. Note that the right leg is already straight and the left foot has begun to roll inwards (See what I mean about the left foot roll and the sway being related?)
How about those arms and hands? Well, they're just hanging on to the club and going along for the ride while the body does all the work. Obviously this body dip can't go on for forever or this chap will break in half. That's not a joke! Most "body action" players wind up with back trouble.
When the body dip does stop, how will the club-head keep moving? The wrists take over... they will break prematurely in an effort to keep the whole show moving. Whatever happened to that "wide arc" that he was seeking? Now I ask you, did you ever see a top player make his takeaway like this? Yet millions of average golfers do, and they're the people who buy the instructional books!
See what I mean about good and bad concepts?
||He's made it to the top... but what an effort! I call this a "coal-heaver's" action. It involves the use of terrific physical force to move the club that weighs a few ounces! The body swing is clearly wasted power. How much easier and more productive to just swing the left hand and arm! The shoulders have turned at last... after a fashion... but just look at his body shape! I call this the "concave bow".... hallmark of the body heaver.
Where can the club go from here..... into and along the intended line of flight? I doubt it very much. Our "power man" has put the club up there with body action and he's sure to bring it down into the ball by the same method.
We have here the classic condition for a shoulder-roller's out-to-in smother, or slice, or hook, orbital shot, daisy cutter .... you name it, it's possible! Any shot, except a straight one. The odds against that are enormous. That's why this poor fellow suffers so. He is the victim of bad advice. I feel sorry for him because he is keen, he wants to play good golf, and he's tying himself up in knots. Is this really the best that modern golf instruction can do for him?
By adopting correct concepts he could have a good action and be enjoying his golf, and employ a tenth of the physical effort in the process.
The point I am trying to make is, he shouldn't be in this hopeless position in the first place.
This I submit, is the result of well meaning but incorrect advice. This dreadful position can be seen any day, on any course or driving range. Why? Because the vast majority of players have read the same books and are consequently operating on the SAME FALSE PRINCIPLES.
You never saw a top player in any of the positions illustrated here, and yet the concepts which most of them advocate inevitably produce these results with amateur golfers!
The only conclusion that one can draw from this analysis is that the accepted concepts of the swing do not produce the results they are intended to produce.
The swing must be seen in a different way. Not just for novelty, or to be controversial, but because golfers deserve better... and because golf is great game.
After all, it was once thought that the sun moved around the earth. When that concept was reversed and corrected, we found we could devise a coherent model of the solar system, and then the universe.
Oddly enough, if you reverse many of the "accepted truths" of established golf instruction you come pretty close to the truth! The golf instructional scene is as mixed up as that!