I met Kathy Welsch in 2010. Kathy is a Class A tour player who played on the LPGA Tour from 1974 to 1976; she’s is currently a Class A Teaching and Club Professional and Lifetime LPGA member. Kathy has an easy, balanced swing and she explained her thoughts to me during our golf game. She took the approach that all of us can and need to enjoy the game through understanding our own body types and styles — in essence, develop our own golf swing and build what she calls our own “golf house.”
The basic premise is that different bodies and different body types require different approaches to the swing. Some of these changes are small but are essential to success and consistency on the range and the golf course. Our bodies are all different from birth, they age differently and we all suffer from injuries and the scars of life.
I don’t play enough and truly have much higher expectations than I should, even though I have studied the game almost as hard as I studied for my PhD. The real problem has always been that I am just plain inconsistent and cannot routinely delivery the club to the contact/strike area the same way again and again. The wrists, the shoulders, the right knee, the left knee, the club route, the club speed and the simplicity of Newtonian physics all are areas of the swing and impact that have been hashed and rehashed by nearly every golf instructor.
How do we get good solid, repeatable contact as our bodies change? Look no further than the great Ben Hogan for some clues.
Hogan’s accomplishments after his injuries from a near-fatal car accident in 1949 are well-documented. Indeed, he may have pulled off the greatest recovery and competitive “second act” in professional golf history, going on to win the bulk of his major championships from 1951 to 1957. Is there a way to use Mr. Hogan’s recovery to help all golfers enjoy their experiences? After his injuries, Mr. Hogan’s body was quite different and this forced swing changes — changes we must all admit as we age.
Hogan’s series of articles in Sports Illustrated — which became his seminal Five Lessons book — was a great first read that I recommend this to anyone wanting to learn about the five important lessons and aspects of the game. Hogan arguably was one of the best ball strikers and maybe the best golfer of his or any era. His lessons drive us to the conclusion that managing our golf swing and the human rotation used to make repeatable rotations contribute to lower scoring and more consistent contact.
We can learn from Hogan and the myriad golf instructors and their swing planes, golf tools, analytical results to help us break 80 or just enjoy the game. The book Physics of Golf by Theodore Jorgensen does an excellent job of helping us understand the physics behind the golf stroke and the transfer of energy from the club head to the ball as integrated into our swings. One of the most important chapters is titled “Developing Your Own Golf Stroke.” Several articles by Jorgensen and others examine the elements of the swing as they relate to Newtonian Physics, and the more we know about the element of a golf swing the better we understand the difficulty of integrating these elements with our own bodies. I would recommend all go back and research Mr. Hogan’s swing and the changes he made that kept him playing great golf until his final competitive rounds in the 1970s. and if you want to understand the physics you can stay with Jorgenson’s book. For me, I want to understand why I can’t hit the ball consistently, which is, of course, the key for all golfers.
In this golf tip we work from the assumption that age, body types and changes, injuries to shoulders, hips, knees and legs have lead us to understand that the golf swing is a reflection of our body types and the history of injuries we have suffered over the years. This understanding will help you to capture energy and transfer that energy to the golf ball in a repeatable fashion.
Let’s start with a solid base called the Golf House.
The Golf House is indeed a construction analogy — the chain of command in construction and dynamic movement. It refers distribution of the height (H), width (W) and depth (D) for managing the double rotation in three dimensions. During a golf swing the area covered, or the “square footage,” is the result. Blue prints for building a Golf House are the same as building a real house, though there are only three “models.” Each must conform to the Laws of Motion and must be integrated into a “Human Rotational Model” that would include a free-falling club, much like a hammer throw. The Golf House shows why we must look at every swing from a different perspective and understand the integration of body typing into our swings.
To take advantage of the body, we must first understand our differences and how they define the three dimensions. The H, W, and D, locations hold the center of gravity in place and allow the golfer to convert potential energy into kinetic energy through rotational movement. Connecting the H, W, and D to the center of gravity sharpens the key angles required in skeleton placement. The skeletal placement distributes the “mass,” or weight, of the golfer to take the greatest advantage of our strength and our friend and nemesis, gravity. Proper mass distribution is a major part of the puzzle. In fact, the angle of each skeleton joint is predetermined by body type. We can introduce the three most common body types at the joints and use these points as the foundation for successful rotation. The dynamic movement of the golf swing is a double rotation followed by the free-falling action of the club head to the strike point. To have the best chance for repetition — where the distribution and management of mass is determined by the individual’s own body, strength and flexibility — all points must act in coordination.
Kathy’s theory/concept is simple: The golf swing is a “dynamic rotational movement” that travels — contrary to walking and/or running, which are default “vertical dynamic movements.” To achieve a repeatable golf swing we need to understand how to build the Golf House from the “inside out,” hewing to aero-dynamic absolutes while keeping in mind your own body type and any injuries over the years.
A quick look at your body inside the golf house can help you understand your body type. The templates are simple and seen in the figures above. Red is given to the shorter legged longer torso template, Green is a neutral of equal template and Blue is the longer template. Simple measure from your hip joint to your ankle and repeat the measurement from your hip to your shoulder. An equal measurement results in a “Green” body type, where shorter legs results in a “Blue” body type and longer legs represent a “Red” body type. Once you have done the initial body type, you have started your journey on understanding your swing. The key for any biomechanical sports effort is taking advantage of the space between your ears and how your body type affects your swing and eventual transfer of energy to a golf ball. The figure below shows how to turn your body type into a solid structure. Otherwise you’ll end up with a weak foundation and inefficient structure, simply because you didn’t take full advantage of the tools you’ve been given.
If you are passionate golfer and are fighting to find a reproducible swing that allows you to hit the ball like Jason Day or Jordan Spieth, you must realize that will never happen. The only way to swing like Jason or Jordan is to be Jason or Jordan. You need their height, their strength, their weight, have their torso length, leg length and center of mass. The perfect Jason or Jordan swing can then be used to deliver the club face to the ball again and again in the same motion. Since you’re not Jason or Jordan, you must understand your own body and how it affects rotations and the golf swing. It’s a life-long process that will continue in the coming years. For now, let’s enjoy and rejoice in our differences and not fight our natural structure. Swing Easy, Swing Balanced and Swing in Control.
Gary Clapp, Ph.D., is Director of Workforce Development & Grants at Western Institute and an avid golfer