Below are the videos of Magnus swing during his first couple of days in Spain practicing, before he made any changes. Pay particular attention to his spine angle and arms and wrists through the impact zone.
CHANGING THE SPINE TILT
The picture maybe a little subtle for some reading this and always with 2D photos with superimposed lines drawn, it doesn’t tell the full story. Bearing in mind that iron play is a strength it is hard to find fault with his iron swing. As stated earlier no swing is perfect and like looking in the mirror in the morning there is always things you wish to change. But this swing is capable of performing to a high level. What becomes obvious with driver is the poor spine angle through impact and into the follow-through.
In context, his impact position looks good and it was a nice shot. The way he used his body though, created a very small margin of error and we can see the efforts of his compensation appear later in the follow-through. To create a more consistent path and angle of attack we decided to work on how his spine moves through the downswing. We can see in the image how tall and straight his spine is with driver just after impact.
The idea is not to keep the spine fixed in its position and bent forward. It is to encourage more rotation of the spine while remaining more inclined for longer – it will of course become much straighter by the end of the swing. Doing this will reduce a number of variables that he had in his swing.
Magnus feeling after this change with all clubs was that he had ‘more time – it felt less rushed’ and that there was ‘less effort required’ to hit the ball the same distance. Because the club stayed on-line and squarer for longer he felt he had more time through impact. Because he used his spine more efficiently, there was no compensation or fighting of forces through impact, he utilised the momentum of his swing better to generate the same if not more power.
To create this change Magnus felt like he was making his chest face the target earlier in the downswing with a little more inclination to the ball. The drill he used was half shots and a shortened follow-through so that he himself could check his spine position.
CHANGING THE WRIST RELEASE
After a week or so of extended practice on the range and some money games with fellow pro’s he decided to make a further change. The spine change had improved ball striking but he still lacked the control over the ball he felt was possible with a swing that now felt really comfortable. His pattern of miss was a straight high right push or a low hook.
Without access to 3D analysis or a Trackman we can’t evaluate in numbers these changes but ball flight is a key indicator. It is our opinion that change should be seen very quickly on the range, but it will take longer to effect change on the course in terms of consistency. If no change in ball flight is seen in the lesson then telling the student to just practice harder is not good advice.
So on video it Magnus path looked relatively stable, perhaps slightly in to out. Photographs and videos can lie, you really need Trackman, but with a lot of previous experience on Trackman Magnus is confident of what he feels and what the resultant path is. What we dont know is how a player adapts or changes his technique on the course. There are many players who perform to a golden standard on the range but struggle on the course.
One of the least discussed technical aspects for better players in the swing is the role the wrists play in determining the result and timing. It is assumed that the lag they create with resultant distance means the wrists are working correctly. It is a common theme among teachers to implement a body orientated swing – “we are going to take the hands out of it” is a commonly heard phrase on the range. It is assumed that if the player demonstrates a nice swing plane and a nice weight shift that by default the wrists will follow suit. Biomechanic research is an exciting development in golf as we discover what truly happens in the swing.
Before we discuss the wrists in more detail or before you work with a new player or head to the range yourself it is worth checking out your wrists capability. Visit the Titleist Perofrmance Institue page to take the wrist flexion tests. Magnus has some previous rugby injuries that prevent his wrists from being as flexible as others but he just passes this test!
One of America’s best teachers is Brian Manzella, well known in the industry. In relation to what the wrists do with better players he has coined the phrase ‘handle dragging’. Demonstrated in the picture above, Tiger in 2000 on the left is ‘normal’ whilst recently he has been ‘handle dragging’. Rory Mcilroy below can be considered ‘normal’. This is of course a 2D approximation from Brian for clarity of visualisation and explanation but his data in testing backs this up.
In summary ‘handle-dragging’ is an inefficient way to release the club, it is essentially maintaining the lag for too long in the swing – it goes past the point of optimum release. This is of course the opposite problem most people have. From the video it looked like Magnus was a bit of a handle dragger! Rather than instructing him to simply release the club more, we used a drill to create a repeatable feeling for him. This would also teach him instinctively the optimum point of release rather than a conscious method of ‘system override’ that would not be transferrable to a pressure situation such as the course.
With a short iron, using only one hand, Magnus made swings attempting to hit quality shots. The purpose of using one hand is that it removes the ability to handle drag. Without the strength of the second arm it is impossible to create too much lag and maintain it – there is far too much force and momentum in the swing – a ‘normal’ release must be used to hit a good shot. For some players the additional thought of stone skimming or a squash or tennis serve may create the desired result.
This type of drill can be considered a ‘vitamin’ drill in the sense that it is very difficult to do so much that it negatively affects you. A ‘medicine’ drill however can become addictive or destructive very quickly if the wrong amount is done.
For clarity, by wrist release we are detailing the wrist flexion when you’re gripping the club. Flexing and extending the wrist transfers energy and releases the club head in the swing. This is different that pronation and supination which requires forearm roll and creates a lot of clubface roll – ie very open to very closed.
The feedback from Magnus was very positive by making this change. It is very difficult to pick up in video – you really need 3D analysis to quantify this. But we can check his success rate when doing the drill and the change of ball flight on the golf course when determining the effect on his game. He feels his swing has changed in the same way the spine change did – more effortless and more time in the swing. It has allowed him to make swings of different tempos and with different clubs much easier. It is very difficult to dial in your feel or your compensations in golf as there can be five minutes between shots. Now he doesn’t have to time his release differently with different clubs and distances. He is utilising his timing and good positions to release the club more naturally now.
This is a detailed article not really aimed at higher handicaps but should provide food for thought for the better players. You may agree or disagree with some of the changes, the methodology or reasoning used above. But as a coach you are looking to make the player more independent and to enjoy the game more. You do not need to tell the player all that you know or want them to become dependent on you. Your long term reputation will improve by getting results not a repeat lesson.
Rob Neal is a leading expert in the field of golf biomechanics and kinematics. He is a clear and insightful communicator. We recommend watching this interview to gain a little more insight into the above information. Thanks for reading.