Hitting It Longer: The Lag Myth
Power and distance have always been at the forefront of golfers’ minds. There is something about hitting the long ball that appeals to all of our egos. Everyone wishes they could hit it a long way and are impressed by those who can. There are many ideas as to how to hit the ball longer, varying from swing technique to fitness, to equipment, and to a better understanding of the physics of ball flight. Beyond a doubt, today’s equipment – specifically, lighter and longer shafts and lightweight titanium heads – contribute to longer drives, but they have only helped longtime golfers hit the ball the distances they did 20 years earlier.
Truthfully, those with moderate clubhead speed have not obtained the exponential increase in distance in recent years as seen by the longest hitters in the game. The club and ball manufacturers perpetuate the myth that modern day equipment will help moderate hitters the way it helps the longest hitters. Unless a ball speed of 160 m.p.h. is reached, this is simply not true. Want proof? Ask Fred Funk.
Starting at age 30, humans lose approximately 1/3 of a pound of muscle per year. With the loss of muscle mass, we lose a percentage of our fast-twitch muscle fiber, which provides us with bursts of speed. The percentage of fast-twitch muscle fiber one has is genetic, and studies of whether fast-twitch muscle can be increased with training are not conclusive. Generally speaking, most people have about a 50-50 slow-to-fasttwitch muscle fiber ratio. It would be wise to physically train in order to maintain one’s muscle mass in terms of the fast-twitch muscles we were born with. Accompanied with good mobility (flexibility) and stability, golfers can expect to improve their technique and continue hitting the golf ball a fair distance for many years.
Finally, there is swing technique. Without embarking upon the physics and kinesiology of the swing, we’ll talk in golf terms. Rotation, width, leverage, and proper sequence are four main criteria for hitting the long ball. I’ve previously written an article on swing sequence. We obviously need to turn our torso in both the backswing and through-swing while maintaining good leverage (stability) with the ground. Width is created by the arms and helps to stretch the “lats” (large back muscles) in order to create good elasticity in the swing. Finally, there is the leverage created by the wrist hinge, often referred to as the lag.
Has the lag been taught by most in an incorrect fashion? I say unequivocally and emphatically yes! Pictorial sequences of professional golfers’ swings laid out in various golf publications traditionally show eight different photos of the swing. Often, the commentary accompanying the pre-impact photo (photo – Rory McIlroy) is the following: “Holding angle for delayed hit.”
An experienced eye can see that the angle formed between the left forearm and club-shaft is not being retained this late in the down, or forward, swing when looking at Rory above. The releasing of this angle began when the left forearm was approximately parallel to the ground. From this point forward, the release begins and is completed a little post-impact when the right arm (for a right-handed golfer) is extended. However, there is a little more here than meets the eye.
How often have we instructed a student to hold the angle for a delayed hit, increased clubhead speed, and improved distance? This is some of the most dangerous advice an instructor can offer. The golfer will likely not square the clubface in time, but more often will compensate with unwarranted body motions (compensations) in order to strike the ball – which can actually increase the risk of injury.
As teachers, when we recognize there is little or no apparent angle in image #3 within the student’s swing, we must scrutinize the entire backswing and initiation phase of the downswing (the transition). More often than not, the golfer is not creating ample enough wrist hinge during the backswing. If this is not the case, then holding the angle during the transition becomes paramount. This will often lead to a better transition regarding the proper use of the lower body.
Personally, I cringe every time I hear an instructor state you must hold the angle until the hands are halfway down. As a drill this can work, but it is not the reality of how this crucial element unfolds during a golf swing. What should be stated is, “Let’s create a better angle and change directions by holding it.” In reality, it will increase slightly during the initiation of the downswing, and immediately after will release right through to impact and beyond.
Our goal as instructors is to debunk the myths about the golf swing and not create them. The lag is taught everyday to thousands of golfers. Let’s you and I teach it properly.