WHY I LOVE GOLF
As you are probably aware from some of my articles, I really love golf. Not for reasons that many others do though, such as relaxation, exercise and socialising. I love the fact that it can be a microcosm of life.
It goes far beyond the ‘work hard – get better principle’, it is about constantly seeking improvement. Appreciating the context of the whole performance, not a single skill element. Recording results. Thinking outside the box. Making unique personal judgements.
One of the roads I have travelled this year in my understanding of the game is biomechanics. I have delved into it, spent many hours reading and applying, and like the Socrates quote, “the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know”.
I will probably not achieve a PhD in biomechanics or lead a research team. But, I hope to understand enough to explain and apply the main concepts and applications of it in golf. Even if I were not coaching the application to my own game would be rewarding.
ART V SCIENCE
The definition of biomechanics is “the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms”. Many pros and amateurs hear the word science in association with the game they love and they recoil. They perceive it as a true art form, one that cannot be explained by numbers. They love or promote the idea of mystical performance and do not seek explanations.
Without getting into a semantic debate that will convince nobody and contain little original material lets get to the heart of the article – what are the implications for the player in improving himself.
Very soon in the future a PGA qualified Professional will not be able to gain his coaching qualification without a proper understanding of biomechanics. Qualifying in 2011, I read two pages in our manual relating to biomechanics. We were introduced to the force plates (a device that measures weight shift) on site, but little was made of it.
When Trackman made its appearance, controversy was rife. It is still dismissed by some. But its value is in its accuracy and evidence. A coach can no longer take a stab in the dark or make assumptions. Comparison with video has shown that it is very very easy to be incorrect in diagnosing path, face angle and angle of attack in the swing. Two dimensional video can easily misrepresent what is actually happening.
I think a fair summary that echoes many of the best coaches in the world, would be that it is a revolutionary tool for measuring and referencing changes, but not something that will guarantee improvement. An understanding of biomechanics does not guarantee improvement either but similar to Trackman can show you exactly what is happening and remove the guesswork.
Biomechanics goes a step further than Trackman. It doesn’t just prescribe ideal conditions for ball flight, it tells you how to achieve them. It is a method in the sense that there is a prescribed set of principles, principles that measure an individuals physical capabilities and seek to maximise them.
Far from being the preached method of instruction where ‘your right foot needs to look like this’ there is a focus on the context of the whole functionality and efficiency of the swing. It provides the tools for a coach to value the task objectively.
Jordan Spieth won back to back tournaments in December, netting a cool $2 million in the process. He employs a unique grip, a bent left arm and his left foot rolls significantly through impact. What coach reading this can honestly say they wouldn’t have changed it when he was younger? Some coaches might have done so but sometimes a certain mentality can ensure successful patterns persist.
Whats my point? Despite Jordan having a unique swing we can judge its true value with biomechanics. A period of successful golf is not enough to qualify the technique. Is the swing performed in a way that gives him the best chance of avoiding injury? Does he have the potential to gain more power while retaining accuracy (efficiency)?
Three dimensional capturing devices and ground force measurement devices allow us to do this. The technology is amazing.
‘HOW DO I DO THAT?!’
So why is this the title of the article? The evidence and data collected has blown a lot of common place instruction out of the water. More and more the biomechanics term will seep its way into the general public’s grasp as tv commentators mention it and magazines (Dec 14’ Golf World UK) do features on it.
The details of torque, ground force and angular momentum will be lobbed around and players will want to know how this information can make them better. They will ask ‘how do I do that?!’ The coach must not begin talking in detail to them about the specifics of biomechanics but instead suggest drills and feels which create the change in an organic method.
At the root of all performance is the brain. Movement starts in the brain through chemical reactions in the brain, neurons firing between synapses. If we work back from impact which is caused by the club moving, which is moved by the body which is controlled by the brain.
So it is clear that a great biomechanically sound swing depends on the proper mental skills. Much research has been carried out in the area of neuroscience (eg brain imaging) regarding peak performance. Patterns are visible, there is a common thread throughout peak performance, it is not mystical although the feeling is reportedly fleeting and highly enjoyable.
Biomechanics can help the player achieve peak performance by letting him focus on core, instinctive athletic movements during performance. He will be able to narrow his focus on the target and engage the brain in imagery and awareness throughout his performance.
He can play the game and be creative. He will not be focused on the minutiae of the exact angle of his forearm in the downswing – which lasts roughly 0.2s and creates speeds of over 100mph.
Players want to play better and have fun. There is no glory in working tirelessly hard and hoping that things will get better. Deal in facts and get better quicker.
3 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT GOLF BIOMECHANICS
1-“You can’t save a shot”
It is a commonly heard phrase amongst the better players, ‘I saved that one!’. But there is little truth to it. Generally a miss hit or unusually poor style elicits the phrase as the ball sails towards the designated target. The assumption is that the player sensed they were ‘out of position’ with the club or their body and somehow manipulated it at the last second to prevent disaster.
3D testing and research has shown that the forces are so great in the downswing that by halfway down (club parallel to the ground) any manipulation of the club by the hands and arms alone is impossible. (reference Como, Mackenzie S).
The variety of height and curve a player creates caused by path and attack angle are caused by swing plane and weight shift style. Certainly different looking releases can be achieved and the player may feel these are created in the arms and hands but it is the body position and weight shift that are ultimately responsible for the majority of differences.
2 -“The right hand is useless at impact”
The average PGA Tour golfer has a clubhead speed of 113 mph which creates around 170mph of ball speed. At impact huge force goes through the hands. Most would guess that the left hand is dominant (for right handed players) as many players choose to wear a glove on that hand, but want amount of force do you think the right hand is responsible for? 40%? 20%? 10%? The actual noted value in the research paper was ‘negligible’ – the left hand is responsible for controlling the extreme forces.
This seems counter intuitive but when we understand that its an exact measure at impact it makes a little more sense. Look at the photo’s below of Vijay Singh and Phil Mickleson, their low hand is almost off the club! The bottom hand of the grip does play an important role in creating force and maintaining technique earlier in the swing, but by impact the dominant target side takes over, and the low hand is pretty much a passenger. Dr Sasho Mackenzie was the originator of this measurement and analysis, published in his paper (click here to visit his site).
3-“Going normal!” – what really happens at impact
Counter to what the name suggests, this is not about avoiding notoriety or your adaptive personality! Its a term related to physics and in this context the angles and forces present in the golf swing. A “normal moment” (coined by Brian Manzella as “going normal”) is when the golf swing achieves peak force around the impact area. It is when the force of the clubhead going in the direction of the target is equalled by an opposite force pulling away from the target – namely the hands. Another way it has been expressed is “the unloading of the club”.
A good way of understanding this is what you would do if holding a string with a ball attached to keep it spinning round in mid air. You would always pull against the direction the ball is travelling, but timing is crucial. It is quite instinctive to react to these forces and doesn’t really have to be explained or understood to be performed correctly. But from the teachers point of view its essential to understand the forces at work during the golf swing so a correct analysis and change can be recommended.
There is a lot of information here for the average golfer but hopefully it provides you with a clearer picture of the dynamics at play during a golf swing. If you are curious about some of the information or would like further discussion why not get in touch below by leaving a comment or contacting us on Facebook or Twitter.