BY T.J. TOMASI
“Leggy” players such as Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Camilo Villegas use noticeable lower-body action in their swings, and quiet players such as Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover and Padraig Harrington do not. But while each group’s leg action looks different, there are many similarities. Below is an outline of these similarities — the things every golfer should be doing regardless of swing type.
Complete motion of your core, including the hips, cannot be achieved unless your knee joints are flexed, thus the correct arrangement for the knees is bent at address. The amount of knee flex is determined in large part by your physique and your balance system and not by some arbitrary, one-size-fits-all standard. Golfers play well at both ends of the “knee bend” continuum.
To find your natural balance point for knee flex, take a normal stride, allowing your back heel to rise off the ground as you plant your front foot flat on the ground. Stop at this point and check the amount of bend in your front knee. This is your optimum balance position. Your knee flex at address should match the knee bend of your normal walking stride just as your forward foot flattens on the ground.
Preserving the angle formed by the upper and lower leg keeps your swing level. Thus the angle should be maintained from address through impact.
During the swing
Your knees “get friendly” during your golf swing. The front knee moves behind the ball on the backswing, then reverses direction to start your downswing.
During the downswing, the back knee “chases” the front one, almost catching up at impact because the front leg has stopped and straightened to form a “wall” to hit over.
Keep leg muscles in shape
If you do only one exercise to keep your leg muscles in shape, it should be the golf squat:
Assume your normal golf stance using a 5-iron, then bring the club to a vertical position, keeping the clubhead in place on the ground so it can serve as a support. Next, simply bend your knees until your thighs are almost parallel with the ground.
To avoid injury, at no time should you squat lower than parallel. Keep your back as straight as you can and use a mirror to check your form.
Do three sets of 12 reps every day.
In abbreviated form, the golf squat is an ideal warm-up before you tee off.
(And check with your doctor before you start a squat program.)
Golf’s most difficult move
By T.J. TOMASI
In the transition from backswing to downswing, the
key factor is a pressure change where your weight transfers to your front foot. It’s a move that is hard to see unless you’re looking for it, yet it is the most important move in the golf swing because it sets up your downswing for good contact at impact.
As you make a backswing there are natural pressure changes that take place as the upper part of your body rotates against a resisting lower body in a process called coiling. As you near the top of your swing, your weight should begin to migrate to your front foot.
You probably already know you must make a weight shift, but it happens a lot earlier than most people think.
Good players start the transfer
of weight forward before the clubhead finishes going back, and it is this differential — clubhead going one way, weight the other — that translates into increased clubhead speed.
Practice this drill to improve the timing of your weight transfer.
Rules of THUMBS – Golf
“In the absence of any other proof,” Sir Isaac Newton said, “the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” In further testament to its importance, Julius Caesar ordered the thumbs of opponents amputated so they could never again swing their weapons effectively. Both in war and golf, the one digit you want working correctly is your thumb.
Your thumb is controlled by nine individual muscles and three major hand nerves. Your target thumb (the thumb of the highest hand on your grip) plays a major role in the rotation of the clubface through impact.
In addition to its anchoring capabilities, the position of your target thumb on the club handle determines the direction in which force is applied to the shaft during your release and therefore how much the face of your clubhead will rotate through the impact.
When your thumb is on the top of the shaft at address, the pressure exerts down the middle of the club shaft, reducing clubface rotation through impact — and unless there is compensation, you’ll hit a fade or a slice. With your target thumb down the back of the shaft, the direction of the force causes your clubface to rotate aggressively through impact, imparting the characteristic spin of the draw shot.
Long or Short Thumb?
The “long thumb” position, with the top thumb fully extended along the grip, gives your clubhead the most arc by allowing you to make the largest wrist and thumb cock possible. The “short thumb” position, where the top thumb is retracted, restricts your thumb’s cocking action, producing more clubhead control but less clubhead arc and less power.
Note that cocking the wrist and cocking the thumb are related, but not identical. Your wrist can cock only about 15 degrees without bending or bowing, but your thumb can cock 90 degrees. If you cock you wrist fully, but restrict the amount of thumb cock, the shaft will appear to be less than 90 degrees even though the lead wrist is fully cocked.
This occurs in the swings of several tour players, including Steve Stricker and J.B. Holmes, prompting TV announcers to say that they are not cocking their wrists, which of course they are. Unfortunately, this mistake leads golfers to stop cocking their wrists — a recipe for a loss of power.
The hand is a complicated work of art made up of the wrist, the palm and the fingers. The hand complex contains 29 bones, 29 joints, 123 ligaments, 34 muscles, 48 nerves and 30 arteries — WOW! About a quarter of the motor cortex in the human brain (the part of the brain that controls all movement in the body) is devoted to the muscles of the hands.
The hands contain the densest areas of nerve endings on the body in order to provide tactile feedback, but the hands also have the greatest “positioning” capability of all of the body parts, i.e., they are the prime-time manipulators. The fact that they are trained by evolution to “position” objects can be a problem during the golf swing, where overmanipulation of the club is ruinous. It’s up to you to train your hands to cooperate, but not to run the show.
There are no muscles in the fingers — the muscles that move your fingers are located in the palm (17 of them) and in the forearm (18). They’re connected to the finger bones by tendons, which pull and move the fingers.
Most gripping power comes from your last two fingers, but be careful of applying too much pressure there because overcontracting muscles of the forearm make it more difficult to rotate your forearms correctly.
Hand surgeons say that if you have to lose one finger, lose the index. Fingers are most useful working together, and the index finger is the most independent. This is one reason I don’t like the index finger down the shaft when putting — it’s too independent to make a coordinated stroke under pressure.
At address, your trail wrist has a slight bend to it, with the knuckles of the back of the hand tilted back toward your forearm. This allows the back of your front wrist to remain in line with your front forearm, a relationship it should maintain until after impact.
During the takeaway, keep the hands moving along the toe line. At waist high, the front wrist is still straight and the club is parallel with the ground, i.e., it has not been elevated by the wrist cock.
At the top of your swing, your trail wrist bends back toward your forearm. In this cupped position, it supports the weight of your club. Imagine a waiter carrying a tray of food with one hand — that’s exactly the position your wrist will assume at the top.
To keep the clubface square to the target, the trail wrist remains bent all the way to impact, just as it was at address. The majority of golfers lose the angle formed by their trail wrist too early on the
Here’s a thought to help retain this key angle: As the hands pass over the back foot, the palm of your trail hand looks at the sky with your knuckles to the ground. If there is any single position that the good player achieves and the bad one doesn’t, it’s this one.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being very soft and 10 being your tightest grip), normal shots are played at about a 6. Out of the rough, grip firmer with both hands at about an 8 on the scale. Soft pitches require softer hands, around a 4.
The major pressure point, no matter what shot you are playing, is where the hands come together on top of the club, not the last three fingers of the left hand as this only increases tension in the forearms and interferes with the proper release of the clubhead.
After impact, not all players’ hands look the same. To avoid hooking, Vijay Singh allows his trail wrist to bow so much that his hand almost leaves the club when it’s parallel to the ground. Fred Couples does much the same. Others, like Zack Johnson, keep the front wrist in line with the forearm much longer during the follow-through.
POWER in your arms
BY T.J. TOMASI
Your target arm (left for right-handers) is the radius of your swing, and it controls the position of your clubface. At address, the target arm rests on top of the chest, and your goal during the swing is to maintain this arm-to-chest connection.
Your arms swing upward during the backswing and down from the top of your swing. Think of it as a surrender to gravity that drops your arms into the proper position to initiate the return to the ball. This is why it’s called the “downswing” and not the “around swing.”
During your downswing, keep your arms in close to your body to produce maximum clubhead speed. Too many golfers let their arms and hands drift away from their body, a very inefficient and powerless way to hit a golf ball.
Let the trail arm straighten as the front arm pulls away from your back shoulder. The presence of a gradual forearm rotation squares the face of the club at impact. Just after impact both arms are straight until they fold at the elbows at the end of the swing.
Below is a list of six benchmarks for arm positions throughout the swing. I recommend that you follow these movements in a mirror, repeating them time and again in slow and stop action.
Position 1 — Address:
The front arm is straight and in line with the club shaft while the trail arm is slightly bent to create a triangle formed by the forearms and an imaginary line connecting the two elbows.
Position 2 — Halfway point of backswing:
Here the front arm is straight, bisecting the chest, and the club shaft is pointed at the target line. The trail arm is folded at the elbow.
Position 3 — At the top:
The arms form a triangle with the hands at the high point of the triangle, which sits over the back shoulder. At the top of your backswing, your target arm should be bowed but not bent, straight but not stiff.
Position 4 — Halfway down:
From the top, the triangle drops straight down, and once again the shaft points at the target line.
Position 5 — At impact:
While this position varies depending on the release pattern, the triangle of address is reformed at impact as a part of the release package.
Position 6 — At pre-finish:
Both arms are straight with the lead arm under the trail arm, the opposite of the configuration at Position 2. This signals the presence of forearm rotation, the key element in squaring the face at impact.
Golf – The shoulders
BJ T.J. TOMASI
Things you should know about your shoulders:
1. The shoulder is one of the most sophisticated and complicated joints in the body with the largest range of motion.
2. The wide range of motion comes at the expense of joint stability. With the odd angles and high stresses it’s easy to wear out your shoulders, so here’s an exercise to protect them:
Choose a light weight (I use two 7-pounders) at waist level, and stand with legs bent and a tad wider than shoulder-width. Keep your elbows slightly bent and raise the weights to shoulder level in front of you. Do three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions at least twice a week.
3. A healthy rotator cuff is a staple of your best golf, but it’s the deltoid muscle covering the top of your shoulder joint that gets the most use. Even though it shouldn’t be used in the golf swing (unless you like cutting across the ball), most general shoulder exercises overwork the deltoids, so you need special exercises for golf to train your rotator cuff muscles.
4. The shoulders don’t turn “around” the spine; they are attached to the spine, so they turn “with” the spine, which is the hub of your coil.
5. Research shows that the shoulders account for about 8 percent of the total work output of all the segments of the body.
So while they are not major power producers, their action is a key in the sequential passing along of energy from the ground up. Don’t try to swing your shoulders fast, but do allow them to keep pace.
6. Your shoulders can move independently of one another
— i.e., the front can turn under your chin while the back hunches upward. So you need to practice a two-shoulder turn where your front shoulder swings under your chin, while the back shoulder goes behind your neck. You accomplish this by coiling your spine.
The learner’s grand SLAM
BY T.J. TOMASI
When you pay attention to a particular area of your body, your brain sets about building “transmission highways” of instruction to that body part, even in the presence of severe physical injury. That is how choreographer Tamar Rogoff taught Gregg Mozgala, an actor with cerebral palsy, to dance ballet. She used a completely new pattern of motor movement that allowed him to “discover” individual body parts he had no command of before the intervention.
Using a similar approach, I have spent the last 20 years field-testing my Subsystem Learning and Modeling protocol (SLAM). In this protocol, the system (the golfer’s body) is separated into subsystems, each of which plays a role in “finding” and then training the key body parts necessary to make a golf swing. The club is simply a temporary prosthesis that responds to the movements of the body.
Golf requires solving a series of Point A (the ball) to Point B (the target) problems. Once the subsystems have been correctly modeled, your brain has the information it needs to solve each A-to-B problem. I call this “running software,” and when you are “running,” you are at peak learning efficiency.
Your brain SLAMs for a living
Understanding how each body part works and tracking each part from the start of the golf swing to the finish allows you to learn with full attention and full intention. The concept can be summed up in one sentence: “The golfer learns the subsystems, and the brain is responsible for coordinating them.”
This is what the human brain does for a living — it coordinates subsystems and solves problems.
There are five basic subsystems that must be modeled and trained: the head/spine, the shoulders, the arms/hands, the hips and the legs/feet. The role of the brain in coordinating these systems is the centerpiece.
In a series starting this week, we’ll visit each subsystem, describing how they operate in normal situations and how they move during your golf swing. First, the head.
Golf is a “head” game
At address, your head should be positioned in the middle of your shoulders with your chin held high in the proud position. If you let it rest on your chest, your chin blocks your shoulder turn.
The proud position requires you to “peep” at the ball with the bottom of your eyes rather than stare at it with a droopy head. (Note: Don’t wear bifocals when you play golf because they force you to drop your head to see the ball.)
During the swing
You hear it all the time, especially from TV announcers: “Look how still Freddy keeps his head,” or “Phil has made a career out of keeping his head still.” The trouble is, when you put the film in slow motion, the head moves all over the place. In the good golf swing, it has to move because of the way the human body is constructed and because of the laws of physics.
Studies of tour players by Dr. Rob Neal, a Ph.D. in biomechanics, show that the head moves away from the target from address to the top of the swing over a range of 3 to 4 1/2 inches, and that it drops or lifts 1 inch. Coming back to impact, the head moves 3 to 4 inches back toward the target (but never ahead of the ball), and drops or raises 2 to 1 1/2 inches.
The amount and type of head movement varies with the player. For example, Tiger Woods drops his head down a lot, while Justin Rose raises his head slightly. But the point here is that the head is allowed to move.
Thus to make a good pivot, your head must float with your spine, keeping its position in the middle of your shoulders to the top of your backswing. During the downswing, your head once again follows your spine until, through the hitting zone, the head moves away from the target as the spine tilts backward in response to the forces of the downswing.
Basically, your head-float will establish itself if you let it, but if you try to hold your head still, you’ll ruin your swing and may, in the process, give yourself a pain in the neck.
Second ball drill
The second ball drill trains your head to rotate softly through impact, i.e., the head doesn’t snap around, but quietly follows a smaller circle than that of the shoulders.
Take your normal stance with a teed-up 9-iron, then place a second ball about 20 inches in front of the teed ball and about 2 inches to the right of your target line. Now hit some balls while looking at the teed ball during the backswing and then gently rotating your head to look at the second ball during the downswing.
In addition to this drill, I recommend that to “find” your head, you make at least 60 repetitions a day of the correct head movement for 21 days, focusing solely on what your head is doing as you swing. Your reps should be done in front of a mirror with a club, but no actual ball striking.
The position of your body just before impact is important because at this late date in the swing you really have no time for correction. If you’re in the correct delivery position, you’ll hit a good shot. If you’re not, then it’s “scramble time.”
When your hands are thigh high on their way to impact, your lead arm should be extended over your trail arm, which is still bent.
In the photo below, teaching professional John Bierkan is posing in the wrong delivery position to demonstrate what not to do. John has started the downswing with an outward heave of his shoulders toward the ball. As he spins his shoulders, he straightens his right arm, forcing the club out and across the target line. This cutting action opens the clubface, and that spells weak slice.
In this photo, John does it the correct way, starting the downswing with his lower body so that the club slots from the inside. Note the classic relationship all good players exhibit at this point: bent trail arm under straight lead arm. From here he can turn as hard as he wants to and release the two power angles: (1) the angle formed by the shaft and his front arm, and (2) the angle formed by his back elbow.
Tour player Richard Green demonstrates the thigh-high position in this picture taken during a tournament practice round in 2008. His hands are almost to the ball and yet his back shoulder is still waiting to fire through, proof that his body coil is retained until the last possible moment.
Roll to a coil
By T.J. TOMASI
“Golf is best played on the inside rims of your feet.”
Jack Nicklaus said it, but he received this advice from his teacher, Jack Grout, who got it from Alex Morrison, the scion of much instruction that is accepted today. Morrison was one of the first to emphasize the importance of rolling the ankles in the golf swing.
How it works
The ankle is a hinge joint with a range of motion that allows the leg to move inward toward the center of the body while the foot remains essentially in place — a key move in a correct backswing.
This rolling motion is rarely used in everyday movement since it is much more natural to lift your front heel and knee in line, a habit ingrained from walking. This is why so many golfers simply lift their front heel and knee straight up during the backswing, thus ruining their coil.
Roll your ankles
On the backswing, your left ankle (right for left-handers) folds inward toward the center line of your body in response to
the pull of your front knee as it moves behind the ball. The knee should move inward rather than directly upward.
GET FIRED UP!
BY T.J. TOMASI
You hear this advice all the time: “Fire your right side” (left for left-handers). It means to aggressively transfer weight to your front foot while rotating your core through the ball.
This is good instruction, but to be effective, it must be applied correctly. Two of the reasons I’m wary of the “fire” concept are that it (1) is sometimes misunderstood and (2) is often performed incorrectly.
The misunderstanding happens because of the human architecture. Since we are designed for walking and running, biomechanically the knee flexes over the foot, a position that aligns the hip, knee and ankle joints to provide maximum stability. Thus the natural (but incorrect) tendency during the downswing is to move the back knee out toward the target line as if you were going to step in that direction.
Phil Mickelson is an example of a player who fights this problem, and it is just another indication of how counterintuitive this game is — what is natural is wrong. As Jack Nicklaus says, “Golf is best played on the inside rims of your feet” — a departure from the normal that must be learned.
“Firing” is performed incorrectly when you push up and out off the back foot so your trail knee juts out over your foot instead of leaning in toward the target, a move that positions the back foot on its inside rim.
When you fire your trail side correctly, your back heel is off the ground, and as part of the release, your back shoulder moves from a high position behind your neck to a low position at impact while your trail elbow moves in front of your hip.
For some excellent slow-motion swings that demonstrate the correct way to fire your trail side, go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_axF1OpSzA.
If you watch these swings, make sure to stay for the last swing, which is actor Morgan Freeman. While the pros show the correct move, he demonstrates the wrong move as his right side remains passive. Stop the tape at impact and you’ll see he’s completely “unfired.”
Don’t Miss Your Connection
It was golf instructor Jimmy Ballard who made the concept of “connection” popular. The idea is to keep the target arm in contact with the chest so it moves with the chest and not independent of it. Your target arm (left for right-handers) is the radius of your swing, and it controls the position of your clubface. If you keep your radius intact from setup to impact, your ballstriking will be very consistent. Unfortunately, most golfers change the radius as they swing and are forced to make some sort of adjustment to get it back to where it’s supposed to be. To feel the connection, try this drill: Place a head cover under your target arm, then keep it there with light pressure all the way to the top of your swing and well into your follow-through until your connection is naturally broken and the head cover falls to the ground. Use this head cover drill when you practice then when you play, plant your target arm on your upper chest at address and leave it there. Imagine that there is a strip of Velcro on your chest and a strip on the underside of your target arm, locking the two together. If you break the connection, you’d hear the famous Velcro rrrrrrip. Your job is to swing without any ripping.