Not all athletes or golfers have an extreme body type. Instead, a great number of players fall into the “in-between” category, meaning they have a relatively “average” build with a solid combination of flexibility and strength. If you have this type of body, you need to develop a swing that takes advantage of both attributes, not just one or the other. This body type is best suited to a Leverage swing.
Golfers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as body types. Though not all players successfully match their swing type to their body type, most better players do. Sometimes this matching comes about by instinct, but often it’s necessary to do some objective analysis to get the right fit. If you’re relatively thin-chested, with long arms, your swing should be long and flowing like that of an Arc player.
The typical image of a good golf swing is one featuring a long, smooth, flowing motion that appears to produce effortless power. This type of swing is nice to look at and can be very effective, but it simply doesn’t work for everyone. If your body type is one that features a thick chest and upper body, with shorter arms and somewhat limited flexibility, your swing should be short and bursting like that of a Width player.
Matching Your Plane Angle And Body Type Is A Must
One of the most basic relationships in the golf swing is between body type and plane angle. Regardless of what other elements make up the game of golf, the swing is about geometry. The lines, angles and arcs of the body and the club must all have a proper relationship to one another if the swing is to provide solid, consistent results. One significant part of this geometry is the angle the club assumes at address in relation to the body and the ground. More specifically, the relationship the sole of the club has to the ground at address (the static lie angle) is important because it needs to be re-created relatively closely at impact (dynamic lie angle) in order to produce straight shots.
It’s essential to note that each club in your bag has a different lie angle, due to their varying lengths. For example, the 5-iron might create an angle with the ground of 62 degrees at address, while the 9-iron might create an angle of 66 degrees. Since your body posture and the plane angle of your swing are largely established by the tilt of the club at address, it’s not truly possible to swing on the exact same plane with every club in the set. Instead, every swing plane will be the slightest bit different. However, you must remember that the simple goal is to return to impact with a similar tilt (although not identical) to that which you established at address. Since the nature of golf club design demands slight variances in the measurement of this angle, it’s critical to tailor your method of re-creating your address angles at impact (and your golf club specs) to your body type.
The three basic body types are Ectomorph, which features a great deal of flexibility, Mesomorph, which combines strength and flexibility, and Endomorph, which features strength and thickness, but significantly less flexibility.
With hands high, the thin-chested and flexible Ectomorph should make what’s called an Arc swing. The position at the top of the swing for this type of move should have the hands and club over the plane and the front arm slightly over the shoulder line. The dominant power source for this type of player is the length of the swing and a high level of flexibility. This golfer is a “hitter.” If you’re an ectomorph, think about your swing plane in two distinct parts. On the backswing, you should try to reach a high-hands position by taking the club back on a fairly steep plane; on the downswing, the club should flatten to get back on the proper plane. It’s basically a loop that gathers speed along the way.
The more symmetrically built Mesomorph is best served by a motion that’s categorized as a Leverage swing. This player has evenly proportioned limbs and a fair degree of flexibility, and should strive to attain a position at the top of the swing that mirrors the backswing and downswing planes. The dominant power source for this player is Leverage, so he’s a “swinger.” If you’re a mesomorph, it’s critical that you focus on developing a swing plane that stays true to the lie angle of your clubs at address and impact. Your swing should travel along almost the identical path in the backswing and downswing, with little or no change in plane in the transition or through impact.
The thick-chested Endomorph has relatively short arms and lacks flexibility, but tends to have a lot of strength. To accommodate these characteristics, the Endomorph should make a Width swing, with low hands at the top of the swing and a noticeably low target arm. This player predominantly utilizes muscle strength during the swing and is a “slasher.” If you’re strongly built and lack flexibility, it’s unrealistic to think you can get the best results from a swing plane that requires a high-hands position at the top and a lot of extension. Instead, try taking the club away from the ball on a slightly flatter plane, which then steepens on the way down. Stay compact and let your muscles go.
Several elements have to work together for any of the three swing types to function properly, but the movement and timing of the hips is potentially the most important. The easiest way to know how and when to rotate the hips with each type of swing is to remember that the longer and higher the backswing, the more time you need to allow the hands to drop the club to the plane. In addition, the higher the position at the top, the more lateral hip motion you need to provide this critical time. So the long, flowing swing of the Arc player requires the most hip slide and the most delayed hip rotation, while the short, flat swing of the Width player requires minimal hip slide and almost immediate hip rotation.
It’s not enough to match your backswing or swing plane to your body type; it’s critical that your entire motion from takeaway to impact is properly coordinated. If you look at the best players in the world, you’ll notice that there are a lot of different body and swing types out there, all of which can work on the highest level provided they function together. The Leverage swing is one that’s particularly popular on all of the professional tours, both because it works well with a balanced body type and it’s relatively simple and easy to repeat under pressure. The Leverage swinger concentrates on taking the club back and to the top of the swing, and then back into impact, on the same basic path and plane. This type of swing provides a fairly rotary-looking motion that appears smooth and is aesthetically pleasing. Fred Funk and Annika Sorenstam use this type of swing, and not surprisingly, both are extremely accurate and consistent.
There are also a lot of expert players who utilize the Arc swing, which features a relatively steep backswing and then a return to the plane in the downswing. This move tends to create a bit of a “loopy” look and is generally used by players who are relaxed and languid in their movements. Fred Couples and Lorena Ochoa are good examples of players who utilize the Arc swing.
Not all professional golfers have smooth, seamless swings, as anyone who has watched Craig Stadler or J.B. Holmes play can attest. Both players have large chests and thick torsos, and accordingly, utilize powerful, bursting moves that fall into the Width swing category. These players are the opposite of Arc swingers, with relatively flat backswings that steepen on the way down.
The Leverage Swing
The Leverage player’s balanced and symmetrical body type is well-suited to what’s commonly considered a “Tour” swing. At the top, you’ll notice his elbows are fairly even with each other while the front arm is across the shoulder line so that the club is ready to slide back down on the same plane it travelled in the backswing. The front arm will then retrace the backswing path on the way down, keeping the clubshaft on the same plane throughout the swing. At impact, the rotary nature of the motion produces a relatively quiet release of the club that utilizes the big muscles in the body rather than those in the hands and arms. This simple swing requires very little manipulation of the clubhead.
The Arc Swing
The typically tall, lanky Arc swinger (think Davis Love III) follows a swing path that’s fairly steep and a bit over the plane angle established at setup as the club reaches the top of the swing. Notice how high the hands are as they rest above the shoulder line. This position creates a very long swing that generates power by gathering momentum over an elongated route to the ball. From the top, the Arc player delays his hip rotation and actually slides his hips laterally as he allows the club to loop to the inside, so that by the time the club is midway to the ball, it’s back on-plane and ready for impact. At impact, the Arc player’s front leg is straight and his body usually assumes a classic reverse-C position.
The Width Swing
The Width swinger needs to take the clubhead away from the ball slightly to the inside and then reaches a position at the top of the swing that looks quite low in comparison to the other swing types. Notice how his hands are well below his shoulder line—this is necessary due to an overall lack of flexibility in the torso. By the midway point in the swing, the club comes slightly over the top and becomes steeper in order to get back down onto the correct swing plane (opposite of the Arc swinger). At impact, the Width player has completely cleared his hips, which have started rotating from the very top of the swing. This is an explosive motion that can create a lot of power provided the timing is correct.
When it comes to developing a swing that works for you, it’s important to remember that, in reality, you can’t escape your shape. Though it’s possible to increase flexibility and strength through physical training, of course, there are limits to what most players can do in terms of truly changing their body type. As a result, it’s absolutely critical to be realistic about what your body type is and what you’re capable of physically. It’s tempting to focus on a player or swing type that’s aesthetically pleasing and then try to emulate that motion, but if that swing isn’t suited to your particular physical characteristics, you’re simply never going to achieve solid results with it.
The best way to discover which swing type is best for you is to do an analysis of your body, strength and flexibility levels. It’s also sometimes helpful to watch Tour players who appear to have your similar body type and take note of their particular technique. Ask yourself if this player is taking the club back and through on the same path (Leverage swing) or if he or she is steepening in the backswing and flattening in the downswing (Arc swing) in a looping fashion. If the player is getting steeper in the downswing and coming over the top (Width swing), consider why he or she is using this motion. The more you understand about the different body types and the swings that are best-suited for each, the better equipped you’ll be to improve your own swing. For more on these swing types or to take the LAWs test, visit www.tjtomasi.com.
Dr. T.J. Tomasi is one of the most widely published instructors in the world and now teaches at Nantucket Golf Club. Dr. Jim Suttie has worked with pros like Fred Funk and Loren Roberts. John Callahan teaches at Brae Burn C.C.