Is Your Swing Out Of Date?

In with the new. The swings of today?s top young golfers are vastly more efficient than those used by yesterday's heroes, which begs the question

Is Your Swing Out Of Date?The trophy cases of the likes of Nicklaus, Irwin, Miller, Stewart and Trevino are full of championship hardware, but all had swings that would now be considered old-fashioned. Yesterday’s players used a significant amount of lateral lower-body movement, which placed a lot of undue stress on the neck, hips and back. The great young players of today strive for a more stacked position at impact, which is both more efficient and much healthier for the body.

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the technique used by the world’s best players, and it’s pretty easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for. In Jack Nicklaus’ heyday, great players like Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and even the Golden Bear himself had swings that featured a tremendous amount of leg drive through the hitting zone and a lot of upper-body hang-back. The signature look of this “old” swing was a big reverse-C finish, which had the player’s spine bent backward and the hips thrust forward.

Probably the biggest single element that contributed to the development of this swing style was the general theory that you had to keep your head down and behind the ball through impact, a technique that basically forced the player to hang back with his or her upper body. Another major contributor to the old swing was the lack of video technology. Obviously, video cameras existed, but the use of video analysis in swing theory was basically nonexistent. In addition, most teachers weren’t well schooled in bio-mechanics, and didn’t really understand how the human body is supposed to work.

In contrast, the modern swing, which evolved in large part through the use of video analysis and a solid understanding of bio-mechanics, features a more stacked position through impact, with the upper body aligned with the lower body. Today’s players employ much less leg drive and lateral slide, instead using a more rotational move that powers the club and arms by pivoting the hips and turning the body. The result is a more consistent swing that’s significantly easier on the body. If you’re interested in learning this motion, take a look at my student Ben Fox as he demonstrates it to near perfection.

The modern setup features a neutral eye line and level head position, meaning the head isn’t tilted away from the target at address. This position is critical to eventually creating a stacked position at impact, meaning the upper body is directly over the lower without much lateral shifting of the hips or lean-back of the spine. Along with a neutral head position is minimal spine tilt, with the right shoulder (for a right-handed golfer) only slightly lower than the left, and hands that grip the club more toward the middle of the torso rather than too far forward. Square or slightly flared feet (as opposed to Hogan’s square back foot and flared front) encourage a free turn of the body on both the backswing and forwardswing, instead of just on the downswing. In addition, slightly rounded shoulders and a head position that’s more directly over the ball removes the need to drop the head over the ball and round the shoulders during impact, which further simplifies the modern motion. Finally, modern players tend to favor a neutral or weak grip, which helps to keep the shoulders more level.

A straight, flat back that’s tilted at the hips places the head more directly over the impact zone, adding more leverage and power. Notice how the right knee is comfortably flexed at address—this must be maintained all the way through to the top.

Placing the majority of weight toward the toes at address is a must for an athletic move away from the ball. Keeping the head in a neutral position, and not allowing it to tilt toward the right shoulder, encourages a more rotational forwardswing. 

 Although your body weight will eventually move into your back heel at the top of the backswing, it should start more toward the toes. This way, your weight will be forced to shift properly, preventing a move toward the ball during the backswing. This common mistake prevents extension and saps power.

Toe It Up
The key to developing a modern setup position is to focus on athleticism. Forget all you’ve learned about tucking in the right elbow, locking the right knee in position, tilting the right side down, forward pressing and the like. Many old-school setup positions were full of obvious adjustments that created tension and attempted to immobilize certain parts of the body. In contrast, the modern setup attempts to free up the body to allow the player to pivot aggressively on the backswing and forwardswing. A major difference in the modern setup and old setup is the distribution of weight in the feet. While many old-style players placed more weight toward their heels, the modern player places more weight toward the toes. This is critical to facilitating the proper pivot of the body on the backswing where the weight should work into the right heel. When the weight is incorrectly placed toward the heels, the tendency is to have the weight move toward the toes during the backswing. This mistake generally moves the body closer to the ball during the swing, minimizing extension and power through impact.


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