Saturday, January 14, 2006

Golfing Zen #10: The Physical Fundamentals

In a recent essay/podcast pair, I proposed the first segment of my golf fundamentals: true laws, not preferences or tendencies. They were the mental fundamentals:

  • A practiced and ingrained routine.
  • Visualization — going to the movies — as part of that routine. This includes visualization before the shot as well as a mental (but non-judging) play-back while the ball flies and then rolls to a stop at our next test that the Golf God is assigning.
  • A belief and trust in continued growth. (Stated equally as a refusal to accept our current level as our ultimate level.)

The topic today is the physical fundamentals, the in-swing laws. As above, they will be simple and few:


This, to me, is one of the great paradoxes of golf. How can you possibly expect to make a powerful and repeating swing, time after time, if you can’t maintain your balance? But, take a look around you, on the course or at the driving range. I think you’ll find a strong corollary: 60% of us have handicaps of 18 or higher, and that same percentage are falling over or backwards on every swing.


Of course, I’m referring to balance throughout the entire swing, but I can reduce that to balance at two key points. If you can be in-balance at the top of the backswing and at your finish, that will insure that you are in balance throughout; hit those two anchor points and all the rest will take care of itself.

Weight Transfer:

The balance requirement leads to a truth about weight transfer. If you were in balance at the top of the backswing and also at the finish, it must follow that your weight moved forward as you swung through.

And how could it be anything else? Look at any athletic motion where something (a baseball, football, shot-put, Frisbee, etc,) is propelled forward and you’ll see clearly that the thrower’s weight moves forward in order to propel the object: the weight moves first so that the object can then move. Yet, many instructors claim that the swing stays centered, and many of your friends (I’m sure) fall backwards as they finish.


Power Source:

Here lies a great debate. Does the body power the swing? Do the arms drive the swing with the body only responding? Hit with the hands! No, the hands are passive! On and on… you can search the literature and find any answer you want, someone that supports any position you can conceive.

Yet this question has been clearly answered, and answered many years ago. There have been any number of engineering studies that look at the amount of energy required to propel a golf ball over a competitive distance, taking into account the aerodynamics of the ball. Once you have that, it is well known how much energy a pound of pure muscle can generate. Hence, you know the pounds of muscle that must be involved in powering the ball. Answers vary a bit from study to study, but here is the range:

28 to 32 pounds of pure muscle

Think about that. We’re talking pure muscle, not bones, ligaments, skin, nor fat… only muscle. If you want a visual picture, imagine sitting at a fine restaurant and being served 30 of their biggest steaks, all in one big pile.


It should be obvious that you won’t accumulate those 30 pounds by means of your arms and your hands. The only way to involve that amount is through the big muscles of your thighs, gluts, abs, and back.

This leads to a fundamental, and also to an opposing corollary:

  • The swing is powered by the big muscles of the torso (or in today’s popular term, the core.)

    — and —

  • The arms and hands remain relaxed and only transmit the power.

The arm/hand role as a relaxed power transmitter is a key concept. The mechanics of the swing can be simplified to a rotating core that carries a two-lever hitting device, with those two levers being the lead arm and the club shaft. The two levers move fastest when they swing free, the arm from the shoulder and the shaft from the free-swinging hinge of the wrist. It is a proven fact, by both physics formulae and by high-speed photography, that any effort to apply active force to the hinging action only causes speed at the wrong time and/or an actual slowing of the overall motion.

So, we’ve now laid down the laws of the physical swing:

  • A balanced swing throughout, but specifically at two points:

    • Point A: the top of the backswing
    • Point B: the finish position

  • Weight movement forward as the swing goes from A to B

  • Complete relaxation of arms and hands, which only transmit power provided by the legs, butt, abs, and back. The forward swing is from the ground up and from the inside out.

The only thing left unsaid might be the actual position at those two key points: A and B. I hope you want more on that, as you’ll find it on my companion podcast.


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