The changing face of golf instruction part I
Over the years golf instruction has changed. This is really no surprise to anyone who has kept up to date through the years. The following
article will give some insight into the many changes, subtle and obvious, over the years. Some may surprise you.
The changes in instruction have occurred in the physical, mental, video and apparatus areas. Instruction is designed to develop learning. No learning – no teaching. If learning is not taking place then the method or style of instruction must be changed. It is amazing how many teachers teach their same method student after student, year after year. Naturally, this may not work with all students so some students drop out. The teacher rationalizes that it was the student’s fault – they are not teachable. As Casey Stengel once said, “I coached good, they learned bad.”
PHYSICAL CHANGES IN INSTRUCTION
The golf swing has changed dramatically from basically a roundhouse swing with lots of body movement to a more vertical swing with less body movement and more arm action for greater consistency.
The old swing of yesterday was taught with a very strong body rotation. In fact, Mindy Blake claims that the left arm rotated around the body to a 76-degree angle from the line of flight. This angle is created by moving the shoulder over 90 degrees of rotation. The hips rotated 70
degrees. Of course, these measurements are not exactly accurate to all the golfers of this era but it does give us a general idea. It is also noticeable that the hips and shoulders both rotate almost the same number of degrees as the whole body rotates away from the ball. The clubface is open at the top of the swing and the left wrist is concave. The legs also move with the hips on the backswing as the left knee kicks inward considerably towards the right knee, independently of the arms. Almost all golfers at this stage lifted the left heel off the ground and in some cases the heel lift was quite high. This is not surprising as the excessive body rotation almost pulled the left heel up. With the golfer’s club at the top of the swing, the body is well coiled but the upper body muscles are not stretched and are loose because the hips are rotated as much as the shoulders. For the downswing and the uncoiling of the body, the muscles must pull the body around to the ball. For muscles to react in this fashion they must be in a state of tonus (slightly stretched) for quick reaction. Unfortunately this coil did not stretch the muscles because the hips and shoulder are turned together almost the same distance in the coil. To start the downswing, the golfer slammed the left heel down to tighten the muscles to pull the body around to the ball for the swing. This is what is meant when it was said that the downswing starts at the feet and then works its way up to the hands.
The strong grip was taught with three or four knuckles showing on the left hand. The strong grip made it easier to close the open clubface
from the top of the swing to impact. The 10-finger grip was popular and was taught until Harry Vardon changed the teachings to the overlap or Vardon grip still endorsed to this day by many as the only way.
With the strong grip and lots of body rotation the golfer stood to the ball with a closed stance for the driver and long clubs and progressed to a more open stance for the shorter clubs. The stance also altered the ball position. With the driver the ball was played well forward and then moved back towards the right foot as the shorter clubs were used. The stance was very inconsistent and varied with each shot. This stance gave a pronounced inside takeaway to the backswing because of the excessive body rotation.
This swing had a strong weight transfer. Weight went to the right leg on the backswing as the body shifted back. On the downswing the body moved forward and the weight shifted onto the left leg. The body rotation was around the right leg for the backswing and for the downswing the body weight moved forward onto the left leg. Lots of timing factors. Lots of teaching and practice. At impact, the right heel is well off the ground and the hips are well forward into the body rotation. With this excessive rotation the body sway to the target is extreme.
EARLY MODERN SWING
Golf swing teaching has now moved to lessen body rotation. This is to help develop a more consistent swing with easier timing factors. The
basic move was to develop more stretch to the upper body muscles for a stronger reflex action. The more modern swing has less body rotation as the hips now rotate only 45 degrees. The angle of the left arm to the direction of travel is also about 45 degrees. Although the left arm angle to the direction of flight is 45 degrees the shoulders have rotated about 90 degrees to give this angle. As you will notice the left arm is now moving more in line with the flight line of the ball. This means the swing has become more vertical. This swing has put the clubface more square at the top with the left wrist now flatter and even flat with some golfers. This more compact swing brings about easier coordination between the arms and legs. The hips are now providing resistance to the upper body rotation. This resistance means that the muscles are stretched and are being set up for the downswing. This early modern swing has the left foot flat on the ground during the backswing giving limited hip movement. The upper body muscles are now stretched to provide the required tonus to the muscles for a powerful downswing. This swing has fewer moving parts and as a result it is more compact and more consistent.
The grip is now moving to a weaker grip with one or two knuckles of the left hand showing. This is possible because the clubface is now placed in a more closed position at the top of the swing. This means less hand rotation is needed to achieve clubface squareness at impact. The overlap grip is still demanded but some concessions are made for the interlocking grip if it was felt the golfer’s hand were small.
The stance is now taught to be squarer to the target for all shots. There may be some openness to the short irons but the idea is to develop a more consistent stance. The ball position is also more consistent as most golfers are playing the ball just off the left heel for all shots. This stance affects the takeaway, as the takeaway is now straight back with little or no hip rotation as the shoulders are rotating. The buzzword for this was the one-piece takeaway.
The weight transfer still exists but it is less pronounced. The weight may shift but the body usually does not slide backwards or forwards as much as the old swing. At impact, the body is closer to square to the ball. The shoulders are square but the hips are a little ahead of the shoulders. In most swings the body is more perpendicular with minimal body sway to the target.
THE LATE MODERN SWING
Late modern swing teachings continue the trend to less body rotation. The swing is being taught to be more in line with the line of flight. The
line of the left arm to the direction of the ball flight is about 15-degree or less. The hips are almost nil in rotation as the range of hip rotation is down to 10-degree range. This shows how the upper body moves the swing while the legs are strong supporters or stabilizers to the swing. If we believe in the old adage of “the less moving parts, the less to go wrong” then this late modern swing is the answer.
The grip is now moving to a more weaker left hand position with one or no knuckles showing. This weaker grip does not mean weaker power to the swing. It is just that the clubface is even more closed at the top. Less hand rotation is used to achieve square contact with the ball. With the swing in a more upright or vertical plane the hands do not have to rotate as much to achieve squareness at contact. The body and hands rotate less. Some of the late modern teachings even have the hands swinging with no rotation at all. This makes timing and accuracy much easier. In this era, grip teachings have become more flexible. The 10-finger grip, often called the baseball grip, is now used and taught by many. Natural Golf teachings recommend this 10-finger grip, which they call the palm grip. This grip has also achieved great success. In fact, research studies, experiments and dissertations have been unable to prove one grip as better than the others.
The stance is very similar to the early modern swing.
Weight transfer is even lessened more as some are now teaching to keep the weight evenly balanced until after impact when the follow-
through pulls the body weight onto the left leg. Jerry Heard, a famous PGA golf pro before being struck with lightning, teaches this in his golf schools. Most golfers are now being taught to brace the right leg at an angel to achieve minimal weight shift backwards. This helps to prevent a body sway backwards. Ben Hogan claimed this right leg brace and his cupped left wrist at the top of his backswing was the basis of his “secret”. At address he angled his right knee inward towards the target and maintained this right leg position till impact. On the downswing, his first movement was to push the right knee inward to the left so as to ‘run the right knee at the ball’. This ‘secret’ now out in a book by Jody Vasquez is to be published in April 2004. Now that this is out, the secret will be quickly taught by many teachers simply because Ben Hogan did it.
At impact many modern teachers are now teaching to have both feet flat on the ground and the body square to the ball. This trend is noticeable with many of today’s top touring professionals.