Since the beginning of the video technology era circa 1984, golfers have learned more detail about their swings. We learn of planes, pivots, posture, wrist angles, impact positions and more. But while golfers have become more educated, they have not become better golfers. The average handicap of a golfer is still around 23 in spite of vast improvements in clubs, balls and biomechanical and video lesson technologies. And, especially with the immediate feedback of video technology, it is surprising that the most often misunderstood part of the golf swing is the actual impact itself.
Impact as a position is easily seen. We’ve seen pictures of Tiger or Phil with tremendous impact positions with the shaft leaning as much as 7 degrees forward on average. And not only do they achieve these tremendous positions, they drive them through impact very well. (How else do these guys hit 200-yard seven irons sometimes?)
Contrastingly, we know the average golfer has a backward shaft lean at impact and a chicken wing follow through.
So what’s the difference and how does the Average Joe achieve a great impact position like Tiger?
Static Position of Impact
One major problem to achieving Tiger’s impact position is first in explaining it. Impact, viewed as a static position, is simple. His shaft is leaned forward by about 7 degrees. His wrist bone is slightly raised in a “bowed” position. Some people call this a flat wrist position, which is pretty much the same thing although purists might argue this point.
Body-wise, his hips are open as much as 50 to 60 degrees and his shoulders are open by about 20 degrees. Weight is shifted onto his left leg.
Does that sound daunting? It probably does, to the majority of golfers. What makes that position so difficult to attain is that the movements leading up to it must be correct. In order to even have a chance at getting to that position, the grip, pivot motion, kinetic chain, posture, etc. must be correct. Many of those things are easy to do, yet impact eludes us. Why is that?
Scott Verplank in a very good impact position with his hands well ahead of the ball at impact.
Dynamic Movements Involved in the Impact
The dynamic movements aren’t so simple. There are three hand/arm/wrist movements occurring at the same time and they start in the middle of the downswing when the club reaches the right thigh and the shaft pointing around 9 o’clock. The dynamic movements are basically finished by the time the arms reach 3 o’clock on the follow through.
The first is the simplest and is called arm abduction. The left arm is moving towards impact and should be reaching peak speed just before impact.
Notice how far forward Tiger’s left arm is just a little after impact.
But arm abduction can slow to a halt when the hands are adjacent to the right thigh for people using their wrists to snap and flip through impact.
The second is left wrist extension or a bowed position. The left wrist should bow outward towards the target and attempt to hold its strong position.
As Hogan said, the left wrist bone should be raised. Notice also Tiger’s right wrist holding the angle.
The third and most difficult to accomplish is the supination of the left forearm and wrist. Supination is when the left wrist and forearm begin to face up.
*Tip: In order to feel this position, one's left wrist must not buckle back. The best way to feel this position would be to hold a glaass of water in one's hand when the left arm is here.
In his book, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Ben Hogan discusses this concept and said that all good players supinated while poor players pronated. His assessment is very accurate and he knew this without even having slow motion video at his disposal. But his analysis was not complete enough for the average Joe to fully comprehend how different his motion was from a tour professional nor was it complete enough for most people to learn the movement.
The Difficulty for Average Joe
As you can imagine, if all three dynamic movements are not present, achieving the correct impact position is nearly impossible. Being that there are three factors and any combination of them can occur, this gives us nine potentially different circumstances or impact conditions that can occur. For the sake of simplicity, let’s discuss just the most common errors inhibiting Average Joe from achieving a great impact position.
Supination is the single most difficult thing to do. As Hogan said, the palm of the left hand must rotate to face up through impact. The left hand must also drive through without breaking down and allowing the right hand to take over.
The purpose for supination is the closing of the clubface from the 9 o’clock position through the 3 o’clock position. Since the clubface is typically about 90 degrees open at the 9 o’clock position on the way down, the clubface must be squared using the supination of the left hand.
Average Joe (heretofore known as AJ) practices the opposite or pronation of the left hand. AJ’s left palm is facing down.
Compare this position to Tiger’s post impact position. AJ’s hands are still in the middle of his body while his club has broken way past the ball. That means very little arm abduction or arm speed moving through impact. This results in the typical weak, flip fade shot or worse yet a slice.
In an effort to square the clubface at impact, AJ instead slows down the arm abduction or arm speed, and then attempts to flip the clubface closed. This results in the left arm breakdown and follow through recognized as the dreaded “chicken wing.”
Weak Attempt To Square The Clubface
There is one major problem with this method of squaring the clubface. It does not consistently close the clubface. Typical AJ golfers who say they hit their short irons straight but slice their woods are generally in this category.
AJ’s club approaches from outside-to-in and will have great difficulty in squaring the clubface. Compare that position to Tiger’s.
Notice that AJ’s left hand is palm down while Tiger’s looks to be facing up.
If you look at the clubface positions on the follow through, you’ll see that AJ’s clubface never rotated closed.
Another problem with the flip method of squaring the clubface is that this method does work sometimes leaving the AJ golfer with the mistaken impression that he’s “got it.” The hands must slow down just before impact and flip the clubface closed to square it perfectly. A little too early and it will pull hook. A little too late and it’s a weak fade again. The flip method must be timed perfectly in order to produce a straight shot.
There are more inherent problems with this method.
The next problem is that the wrists must release earlier than normal in order to square the club. This is also called casting and while AJ knows that casting is bad, it is also his lifeblood. It’s the only method he knows to square the clubface somewhat at impact. It’s evident in the previous pictures that casting doesn’t really close the clubface. It’s still open on the follow through. This is akin to saying that my 1978 Dodge Dart has a bad engine and is leaking oil but it’s my only method of transportation.
So what’s so bad about casting? Besides inconsistently delivering the clubface to impact, another predicament arises. Casting causes the bottom of the swing to be behind the ball at impact. What does that mean? It means you’ll hit the ground prior to contacting the ball. Bobby Clampett’s book called the Impact Zone details the problems of AJ golfers. They studied everyone from tour pros to top amateurs to AJ golfers. Their findings? Tour players have their impact three to four inches AHEAD of the ball at contact while AJ golfers have it as much as five to six inches BEHIND the ball.
If you need to know why you are hitting the ball fat or chunky this is the simple reason. But wait. It gets even worse.
Solving the fat shot
Given that AJ golfers have the bottom of the swing or arc several inches behind the ball and are destined to hit the ground first, what would be the most logical thing to do? Stand up. Or lift up. By doing this, AJ has a chance at cleaner contact but guess what? In an effort to stop hitting the ground, he/she inadvertently will start to top the ball or at the least, begin to hit thin shots.
Of course this solution does not work consistently therefore AJ golfer must seek another solution. What might that be? How about changing one’s swing plane? You got it. AJ golfers will sometimes steepen their downswing plane in an effort to get a better impact. The steeper, sharper angle of approach puts the bottom of the swing back in front of the ball despite the casting that is still occurring. But what nasty gremlins are coming along for the ride now? How about slicing, chopping and shanking?
AJ golfers are in a catch-22 situation. Flipping it makes it somewhat work, yet it brings with it all the problems that you’d rather avoid. But if you don’t know how to stop flipping, how will you ever stop? So the endless cycle continues……..
If you don’t like those options, you really need to consider going back to the truth……supination.
Better Than Average Joe (BTAJ)
BTAJ golfers are a little better at creating better arm abduction, hold their lag longer but still flip the wrists at the bottom of their swings. They are able to “time” the release or slowdown of their arms at the precise moment before impact to allow the club to sling through.
Grant Waite is pictured on above showing this type of release can be effective on the tour.
Notice a slight bend in his left arm. It is a sign that his elbow and not his wrist are accelerating the club at this point. Consequently he is retaining less angle than Tiger.
Also, the back of Waite’s left wrist is already slightly cupped or in a slight flexion position in the picture on the far right.
This creates a decent impact position where the clubshaft is closer to vertical at impact (or has less forward shaft lean) and the bottom of the swing is right at the ball.
Sometimes great golf can be played using this method but it is somewhat limited in power due to the heavier reliance on timing. The typical BTAJ golfer must swing under control or at somewhere around 80-85% of his/her power or the likely result is a hook or a weak fade.
Nothing wrong with that, but Tiger does not have to swing under such constraints and can still control the ball. Power and control are optimized for Tiger. For everyone else, power is sacrificed for more control.
BTAJ golfers do not have the wrist extension or bowed wrist of Tiger. Therefore their impact is not quite as strong as that of the supinated, bowed wrist impact of Tiger. Their contact is likely to be a little flipped under right after impact. If BTAJ golfers were to rapidly close the clubface through impact it would no doubt create hooks. So the better BTAJ golfers learn to slide the clubface a little under by breaking their left wrist slightly through impact which will allow for straight shots albeit a little floaty and weaker than Tiger’s impact position.
Notice Tiger’s strong left wrist position is still apparent moments after impact. Contrast that to Waite’s slightly cupped left wrist.
I’ve just described three scenarios of impact. Tiger, AJ and BTAJ. But there are six other possible combinations with varying degrees of correctness or incorrectness. The symptoms of poor impact positions will still be present. So if the two earlier scenarios do not describe you, you’re probably somewhere in here. You may have variations in the errors and possibly have other errors in your swing that affect your movements at impact. But do not fret; there is help on the way.
How to Achieve Tiger’s Impact
So how does AJ get a beautiful, powerful impact position like Tiger? He has to learn the movements in slow motion first.
If he hooks or draws the ball already, he has to focus on the bowing of the wrist at impact while working his body rotation through impact.
If he is fading or slicing the ball, he needs to focus on the supination. Clubface rotation comes from turning the left wrist as if the left hand is going to turn a key in a door lock. The rotation should be counter-clockwise so that the palm faces up. Also, he needs to train himself into supinating early i.e. the movement begins when his hands reaches his right thigh. Waiting too long only results in a weak flip at the ball.
One major problem with achieving this position is that positions don’t feel right initially. Another problem is that these positions don’t feel like they look. Everyone thinks they’re doing this right. NOT!!! Get a video camera with a high speed shutter and you’ll be able to honestly assess whether or not you’re able to do this.
Still can’t do it?
I am working on developing a product that is complex enough to present the golfer with the precise amount of resistance necessary to ingrain the proper movement patterns into his/her subconscious. Instead of confusing and complicated rote instructions, my goal is to give golfers a tool that I can just put in their hands and tell them to “do it.”
Prototypes have been pretty successful thus far but it’s far from being perfected. Check out this incredible case study using my Impact Prototype device.
Eight-year-old Logan Sunada was your typical beginner golfer -- early release of hands and flipping of wrists.
Nice chicken wing going on and his typical ball flight was a weak fade.
After a few minutes of using the Impact Prototype he transformed his weak flip into a world class impact position. Compare the right wrist angle prior to impact and the bowed left wrist at impact to the ones in the top photo.
Then he got full extension, retaining the strong position of his left wrist and obtains a nice release on the follow through. Better still was the nice little draws he was hitting just immediately thereafter.
The Body Drives the Impact
One last thought for those trying to learn this position. Yes, the hands must be educated. But just as important as learning the hands is that one’s hips and shoulders are driving the hands through impact. Tiger’s left leg snapping straight at impact, hips forcefully clearing/rotating and shoulders moving in synch with extended arms are prime examples of the body actively driving the swing while the hands are delivering the club in the most powerful way.
Contrast that with the typical golfer that uses up all energy well before impact and his/her body going passive through impact. How will he/she hit the ball? With the tiny muscles in their hands. Weak.
Solving the Riddle
The prototype teaching/training tool I’m working on seems to bypass one’s conscious thought and delivers neuromuscular training directly to one’s subconscious. It builds the muscles involved during impact and movement patterns quickly and easily into the body/mind. While the prototype is still being perfected, as it is now, it already the best teaching/training tool for learning this difficult and complex movement. Stay tuned.
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In viewing your artical on tiger's impact and post impact postions, I have this comment/question. I have been studying the book on " The Plane Truth". The position of Tiger's left palm (waist high) is correct for the two plane swing, but is incorrect for the one plane swing? Based on your comments I assume that the release of the one plane swing, which reccomends palm of left hand square with the plane, would be less powerfull?
Any further word on the impact training device you are developing? I would love to try it out. Thanks.
I too want to try out the device. My pro calls the supinated left wrist the swing's "magic move." I can't describe the difference the correct position is making in my contact with the ball. My sweeping hook has all but disappeared and when all goes right the ball flies dead straight with maybe a hint of a draw. It's actually making me enjoy beating balls at the driving range, something I've always detested and that has even been counterproductive to my game. But you're right: The move is very unnatural, especially when you've done it wrong for 45 years. I would agree that turning the left palm skyward is a good starting point for getting the proper feel.
Thanks for the feedback. If you are interested in the prototype, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your device intrigues me. While I can maintain a firm left wrist at impact, the heel of my right hand separates from from the club and allows the right wrist to bow outward (rather than inward like Tiger). Thinking of making my right palm face the ground at impact helps. Ofcourse, this never really happens, but you have to think a mile in golf to get a foot.
Very interesting and sound concept. I just had a lesson where we spent a good bit of time trying to get me in that position. I would be interested in trying your prototype. Please email me at email@example.com. Thank you
enjoyed all your artiles for golf, please could you send me information on all your teaching aids for golf ,etc prototypes,
thanks mark, firstname.lastname@example.org
when do u expect to perfect the prototype -i also would like to try this tool or purchase same