Golf Science – The Golf Swing: Science and Common Sense
There are over 60 million people on this planet who chase a small white ball across a huge expanse of green lawn while using what experts have termed “one of the most biomechanically complex motions in sport to execute”. Little wonder then that professionals and amateurs alike are inconsistent, are always in search of better direction or more distance and are often injured. So, the question arises, could it be that all 60 million of us “suck” at golf? Or that there might be something fundamentally wrong with the golf swing? You be the judge, while you’re being taken on a journey of scientific — and common-sensical — discovery.
Golf research (all focused on the creation of club and ball speed, with no care as to how direction and trajectory might be improved or how injury risk factors might be reduced) tells us that there are some movements that are not correlated with the creation of that greatly-desired-by-millions aspect of the swing – club speed. Moreover, there are some movements that are highly correlated with greater club speed, but only skilled golfers can make those movements through a large range of motions, while less-skilled golfers (i.e. most of us) cannot.
The one movement that has never convincingly been associated with the creation of greater club speed and deserves to be eliminated altogether also happens to be one that common sense would tell us deserves to go. That is lead-side (the side closer to target — left for a right-handed golfer) side bend during, and at the top of, the backswing. Check it out for yourself. Which shoulder is lower at address? Which shoulder is lower at impact? (Once again you’ll have the same reply). Which shoulder is lower at the top of the backswing? You will see it is the left or lead one, when in both previous positions it was the right or trail shoulder. What sense does that make? Why not keep the shoulder that’s lower at both address and impact lower throughout the backswing?
Then, there are three movements which have been related to the production of greater club speed. They are (all during the downswing) weight shift toward target, torso rotation toward target and a “vertical lift” of the torso (lead shoulder higher than trail shoulder) close to impact. However, only skilled golfers can make a large range of movement to get into the required impact positions. Why not, then, reduce the range through which the body has to move to get to all the required speed-creating positions? Make sense?
There actually is one swing which does all of the above. It is called The Optimal Performance Swing (TOPS), and was the one I researched toward my recently submitted PhD dissertation. It cuts out side-bend of the lead side of the body during the backswing, and positions the golfer’s body much closer to where it needs to be at impact, in order to reduce the range of motion through which a golfer must move to get there.
It does one more thing that makes complete sense if one has a slight background in neuro-anatomy. It separates the role of the torso from that of the arms. HOW does it do that? It has a golfer rotate the torso to face away from the target at address and then has the golfer make an arms-only backswing while not shifting weight in the backswing and not side-bending the lead side of the torso. WHY does it do that? Because the rather-lacking-in-common-sense typical golf swing expects a pretty sophisticated movement of the torso, but the human brain allocates extremely limited resources to torso motion, while reserving most of its recourses for arm and leg movement. The brain, after all, was designed for humans to be hunter-gatherers — running after prey (legs) and plucking roots and berries and putting them in the mouth (arms). It was, believe it or not, not designed for golf (rotating the shoulders around a bent-forward spine) or for limiting pelvic rotation while increasing thoracic rotation (X-Factor, which should be called Back-Pain-Creating-Factor).
So, folks, the golf swing in general is in urgent need of an approach which makes more sense and is, at the same time, more scientific.