Monday, July 26, 2010

"Body" -> Get In The Swing Of Things

This is myself at Saddleback golf driving range.  You can see that I have just finished my swing, having driven the golf ball off of the golf tee.

If you look closely at the picture, you will see something a bit strange about my golf driver.  The fact that it is radically bent, should be giving you some pause.  When you find out that the golf club is called the "Whippy," you might be able to figure what exactly is happening.  My golf club is bending like crazy.

The reason of "why" I am swinging a golf club that for all intensive purposed has the consistency of a wet noodle is something that can only be understood if you are interested in golf.

Golf seems like an extremely simply game.  You pick up a club.  You have a ball on the ground.  You hit the ball with the club that you have in your hand.  You count up the number of strokes to put a ball in the hole.  You do this 18 times, and you are done.  Yet, to the outsider, there is a mythos to golf that they simply do not get.  I know that I didn't get it when I was young.

"Golf," I would sneer.  "That's a game for old men that are too fat to run."

Now that I am too fat (and too injured) to run, I find out that golf is something more than just an old man's sport.

In some sense, there are two tricks to golf.  One of the tricks is deceiving, and the other is frustrating.

The first trick behind golf is the sheer misunderstanding of what is going on in the golf swing.  Really, I have never seen more people more confused about something that is happening right in front of their eyes.  If you have ever been with somebody that took you golfing, you will hear the following said with great assurity.

"You need to keep your head down," is something that is always said by one individual to another.  The common reason that anybody has missed any golf shot is because they some how couldn't keep their head down during a golf shot.

Often you will here people offer "Awww, I missed that because I picked up my head."

I have video taped hundreds and thousands of golf shots.  Mainly my own, but a fair amount of others.  I have never seen anybody not keep their head down while observing the video in slow motion.  Instead, everybody that I take a picture of has their head glued to the golf ball.  So, while everybody thinks they need to keep their head down, this is never a concern.  I have, however, had plenty of people tell me "oh, you picked up your head."

This bugs me so much that I simply tell them, "I've watched hundreds of my golf swings on slow-mo video, and I've never picked up my head.  I doubt it is happening now."  This normally makes them quiet, but I can tell that they don't quite believe me.  After all, they convinced themselves that they saw my head pick up.

On the flip side of things, I have never had anybody point out what my real problems are:  I don't open my hips.  I over swing.  I don't have a solid left wrist.  I don't clear my hips.  The list goes on and on.  All of these faults are obvious in slow-mo on video.

Most of all, I don't have a lag.

The main problem with a golf swing is that it happen very, very fast.  From the top of the golf swing to the bottom of the golf swing, there is one half of 1 second from the top of the golf swing to when somebody is hitting the ball.  This is fast.  Very fast.  There is little time for people to actually understand what is going on in such a short period.  There is a blur, and the swing is done.

What happens during that 1/2 of a second?

Forgetting for a moment that you need to aim the ball, most men just want to crush the ball.  I often see men at the driving range putting their all into their swing.  Letting out an enormous grunt, and while the ball does fly away, it doesn't go quite as far as what you think it should.  Every once in a while, you'll have a little guy come up and smash a ball with what looks like a lot less effort, which just goes as far as the big grunts.

So how can big guys and little guys be hitting the ball the same distance? What is happening?

The secret for hitting a golf ball far is first timing and then quickness.  

The secret of power is lagging the golf club.  Above on the right, you can see one of the world's best ball strikers, Ben Hogan, in 1955 killing the ball.  The color picture above is myself, in the process of not making a big hit.

Even though our arms are roughly in the same spot, you can see that Hogan has held his golf club at a big cock compared to myself.  His golf club to arm angle is very small and in a "V" shape.  In my golf swing, I my arm to golf club makes a square.  While Hogan has kept his arm cocked into his swing, I have already release my cock and the club is already at 90 degrees.

This is the first secret of crushing the golf ball.  Alastair Cochran and John Stobbs published the original, mechanical, scientific book on the golf swing in the mid-60s.  It was called "The Search For The Perfect Swing," and it had some elementary models in it.  It is still a good book that can be found at Amazon.  If you look at the pictures above, you will see that when you swing the golf club, you will have two points of rotation.  The inner point is the shoulder.  The second point is the hand that holds the golf club.

Let's say that I am swinging my arm so that my hand is going 30 MPH.  If I can also then swing my hand, so the club goes another 40 MPH, the end of the club will be going 70 MPH.  This is called the flail effect of the golf swing.  However, you'll notice that while the arm can swing about 360 degrees, the wrist can only 90 degrees.  So, you need to save that 45 degrees of the swing to just before you hit the golf ball.

Hogan, in the picture above, is storing up the wrist action until he get later into his golf swing.  I, on the other hand, have pretty much already uncocked my wrist.  This means that I am just about ready to lose all the speed from uncocking my wrist, and the speed of my club is going to drop, in the example above, from 70 MPH down to just 30 MPH.

In golf, I am "casting."  This simply means that because I am releasing the club lag, I am giving up speed when the club gets to the ball.

Now, I am not the only one to do this.  Here is a picture of my friend "Mr Chung," who I played golf with last weekend.  I want you to take a good look at his swing just before he is ready to hit the ball.  Look carefully at his shaft on his club, which I have traced with my golf tracing tool.  If you look, you will see that his club is bent in a reverse C position.  What is going on?  How did his club get like this?  Did he bend it before hand.

The answer is no.  If you understand my description above, you'll understand that he was trying to work the flail action, but he failed just like me.  Somewhere, just before the picture was taken, he ran out of wrist uncocking.  So, the head of the golf club, which was going maybe 120 MPH, suddenly is getting no more push from the wrist.  However, since the club head was going at 120 MPH, it doesn't stop immediately.  Instead, the club head is still going 120 MPH for a second, and it races ahead of the shaft and bends it in the wrong direction.  In some sense, Mr Chung is lucky.  He has losing his club speed way before he gets to the ball.

Let's say that you are getting closer to the Hogan swing above.  You are actually in a worse position.  Why?  If your club is deforming right before hitting the ball, you actually will change the angle of the club face!  This will then send the ball sky high, as you've taken a club with a little loft, and turned it into a club with a lot of loft. 

Here is my friend Mr. B.  He has the "oops, I'm getting closer, which means farther" in his golf swing.  You can see the golf club has radically deformed.  His club face is now pointing upward just as he hits the ball.

His shots, of course, were going sky high.

Now Mr. B is a very smart engineer.  Do you think that he had any idea of what was happening?  Do you think that he could see the radically deformation of his club?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  Not until I showed him the video stills.  And I could tell that he was amazed.

Which brings me back to the Whippy and my other device that I use.  I've shown you all these picture that show what looks like very solid golf clubs bending like crazy.  So what happens when you take a very flexible golf club and swing it?

It bends even more.

And this is the beauty of the Whippy club.  It bends so much that you get zero distance if you are casting the club dramatically.  The problem, as I alluded to before, is that in the golf swing you often can't even figure out what is going on when you swing the club.  It just moves too fast.  Since the club shaft is pretty stiff, you can still hit the ball.  You may only go 150 yards instead of 250, but you hit the ball.

With the Whippy, you go zero yards.  You can't hit anything.  And somehow, it is this lack of results that forces you to find someway of swinging the club so that you get some distance.  It is subconscious but it works.  The Whippy forces you to do less errors.  I still cast, but not as bad.

You can see this with an add of another device in my bag of tricks:  The Swing Radar.

You can set this by your golf ball, and it'll measure your swing speed.  In this picture you can see it is an impressive 89 MPH.

Now, I've done this a lot of times.  I set up the swing radar.  I get my fastest and longest club, the driver.  I set up my fee solidly, and spread apart nicely.  I tee up the golf ball.  I rotate my body back as far and I can go, and I exploded into a swing just about as hard as I can and still keep control.

"85 MPH" the display flashes to me.

Considering the average tour player swings 115 MPH, I'm not all that good.  However, many golfers don't swing quite even 85 MPH.

However, I can go to the golf course with my Whippy driver.  I will stand with my feet together (so I get no benefit of the body turn), and I will swing my Whippy driver so that I know I can hit the golf ball.

"75 MPH" the display punches out.

In other words, even with the worst position in the world, a properly swung Whippy driver has 7/8th of the speed of my big "kill it" position.  This is because the "kill it" position loses all the club head lag.

Now, you can tell that I understand all of the theory.  I have all of the video.  I know what to do.

Now remember I said that there were two tricks to golf?  One was deceiving.  The other is frustrating.  The frustrating second trick to golf is no matter WHAT you mentally know, your body may not follow.  What is interesting about golf, is no matter that I know what I should do, I just can seem to do it during that 1/2 second of the downswing.

Believe me.  I've tried.  I'll slow down my golf swing so I can mentally train myself to change my golf swing.  I'll practice without a golf ball, and the video looks good.  However, when I actually trying to hit a golf ball, all of my rehearsal goes out a window, and I have the same old faults.  I could cry because of golf some days.

Oh well, back to the driving range with the Whippy.  There is always tomorrow.