The purpose of the swing

Whereas contrived swings are purposeless, effective and self-organised swings have purpose in abundance. This comes firstly not from swing theory, but from task clarity.


As discussed in The Realities of the Game the reason there is such an appetite for prescriptive swing instruction, is that:

Most golfers don't have an intuitive connection to the forces they need to apply on club and ball.

Most other physical skills involving force creation and precision, however, we learn without theory, because the task is more obvious. By the task here, I mean the effect we need to create to get the outcome we want. Moving appropriately is so much easier when the task is clear. Tools like tennis racquets, cricket bats and hammers have nice flat edges, and hitting stuff with them seems relatively intuitive.


However with golf you get small heads, lie angles and 14 different lofts, it's no wonder golfers want to be told how to move.


The good news is that when the task becomes intuitive, good movement can be learnt with considerably less "instruction". This allows faster learning and more sustainable skill.


Let's see if we can start the process for you. An intuitive and complete sense of hit doesn't come straight away, first we must pick apart the different requirements of impact to understand them.

 

3D task

The golf ball will always behave as it's told to, by the way in which the club is delivered through the impact zone. The challenge is that there are a handful of impact skills, within the task, required to get the ball to match your intention. Let's take a straight shot with a 7 iron as an example:


Centred strike

Although it sounds like a statement of the obvious, I regularly hear established golfers say they never think about the middle of the clubface. But distance and direction both depend on making contact on or near to dead centre. Whilst a tour player might expect to hit within a £1 coin, a 12 hcap might aspire to hit within a poker chip, in terms of dispersion of strikes.


When it is middled, the ball comes off the clubface as fast as it can for distance, and is also resistant to twisting of the face, which costs directional control on off-centre hits.


Aligned force

To hit a shot that doesn't curve in the air, we need to create aligned force with the clubhead. That means there is no difference between the direction the club is travelling on, and where the clubface is pointing at impact. As a hammer should strike a nail, path and face are aligned.


Direction of force

Both the path the club is travelling on (relative to the target line), and the angle of attack (relative to the ground) can be described as direction of force. I bundle them together using the stick in the image above to encourage golfers to see the task in 3D, and reduce the risk of achieving one but not the other.


On our straight shot example, at the moment of impact, the middle of the clubhead is travelling straight down the target line (path) and a few degrees downward (angle of attack). The latter allows us to get a nice shallow divot after the ball.


Low point

Closely correlate to angle of attack is low point (lowest point of the club's arc in relation to the ball). A tour pro typically might have this 4-5" after the ball.



Loft/shaft lean

Hitting irons a long way isn't just about speed and hitting it out of the middle. Good ball strikers also deliver the club to the ball with considerably less loft than its natural design. This de-lofting is sometimes referred to as shaft lean. When you deliver a 7 iron to the ball with the loft of a 5 or a 4 iron, the ball speed perks up considerably for no extra effort.


On-plane force

Many golfers' don't have a complete and 3-dimensional view of the task if they can't integrate the points above with a sense of plane. However if you look at the design of the club, the angle between the shaft and the ground gives an ever-present cue of what else is required to use the club effectively. On-plane force is thus delivering the club through the impact zone broadly at the angle of the club itself.


Speed

By learning how to apply force on the head and shaft in a way that satisfies the elements above, it allows to get the club travelling at speed at little cost to control. The combination of efficiency and power is how we get the distance we are athletically capable of producing.


Bundling it together

Understanding this in a dry, intellectual way is a helpful start point. However in order to enjoy the experience of your body coming up with awesome technique for free, we need more. We need you to be able to consolidate these aspects of delivery so that your perception of the task is as intuitive as seeing a nail needing hammering.


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