The Anatomy of the Baseball Pitch vs the Golf Swing

                                                The Anatomy of the Baseball Pitch vs the Golf Swing
This post is based on three months of being exposed to the theory of, plus a few days trying to mimic the positions of, the baseball pitch, during a 100+ day stint as a student researcher at the American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham, Alabama.

Every knowledgeable person in baseball talks of the kinetic chain and pelvic rotation helping to create force from the ground up, which is identical to the requirements of golf! In other words, both movements are supposed to be essentially rotary movements that deliver linearly directed motion to the ball.

As with golf, I wondered at the very many extraneous, idiosyncratic movements of the baseball pitch. Why lift the knee up and put weight through the back foot when the purpose is to make a forward stride? Why have the hands up high while in the glove, to drop them down then raise them once again to shoulder height in time for foot contact? Can the forearm ever catch up to the shoulder from the excessive forearm lag? How can hip rotation take place efficiently when the lead hip and knee are significantly flexed? (see both forearm lag and lead hip and knee flexion of traditional positions in the picture below)

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So, I proposed a theory to fellow student researchers at ASMI – no high-knee, set up in a narrow stride, then finally wind up the trunk and throw, with no further striding. With the radar gun out, and the ‘big-boys’ assuring no thrower or instructor bias, one student reduced speed from 60 to 55 and the other two from 70 to 60.

Of course we had no particular ‘method’ for just how to do this, so mostly the wind-up without an accompanying stride resulted in too much rotation, with the throwing arm’s latissimus dorsi taking it too far behind the thrower, with no ability for an eventual linearly directed throw in the appropriate direction. See below a pitcher with a lot of trail shoulder ‘horizontal adduction’ ie. arm too far behind body.

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Theories based on other people’s throwing mechanics are all very well, but some practical experience is essential. So, after a week of actually throwing balls, with the handicap of a 100% left brain, the only way the balls would start off at the ideal trajectory, with a straight direction and maximum power, and not be released too early or too late, was when the throwing shoulder had translated as far towards target as possible, LINEARLY, and the ball was released, without volition, somewhere along the way. The ‘before’  on the left and ‘after’ picture on the right. In both shots, the ‘top of backswing’ position has been superimposed on ‘end of forward movement’ position.

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Any attempt at a rotation-only move, often resulted in a too-early or too late throw.
My new theory, therefore, is that the baseball pitch/throw requires a linear motion of the throwing shoulder (the more distance travelled the better) for linear ball-flight, with rotation of the trunk over the lead leg serving only to decelerate the body (over the leg), towards the end of the motion.

The picture on the left (above) shows less shoulder forward translation and poor ball trajectory and distance, while the one on the right is much better.

Conversely, in golf, any lateral/linear motion (along the direction of the target), results in an imprecise divot, which is not always made at the same spot, as the golfer’s body slides past the lowest point of the club’s arc.

The picture on the left is the golfer’s original motion, and the one on the right shows how much more precise his impact can be with only rotation and no lateral motion (using merely the Phase I of Minimalist Golf Swing movements).

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The baseball pitch is much more like gait (a side-on type of gait!), but with involvement of the hip abductors and adductors as well, along with the usual hip flexor and internal oblique of the lead leg acting as stabilizers, while the external oblique brings the shoulder forward.

The golf swing requires powerful rotation from the lateral rotators of the trail HIP, FOLLOWED BY a stretch-shortening of the obliques and the pectoralis major of the golfer’s TRUNK – all rotational motion.

The solution? Cut out all rotation in the baseball pitch and all linear motion in the golf swing, as well as excessive lag in both. Both movements can easily be made much more ‘minimalist’ so as to reduce the scope for injury, while improving ball-flight.

The BOTTOM LINE is that the body cannot rotate AND translate linearly at the same time, in an efficient manner, because the same set of muscles cannot easily act in two different roles – say of prime movers and stabilizers – simultaneously.

Anatomical Analysis of swings – Jim McLean, Lexi Thompson, Lucy Li

Anatomical Analysis of the swings of Jim McLean, Lexi Thompson, Lucy Li

Jim McLean is one of the most famous golf teachers of all time. He has studied the best players of the world in great detail and can recall exactly what type of movements any great player makes. What he teaches is based on his experience of years, and he is one of a very few golf instructors to have access to the research of world authority Robert Neal, of GolfBioDynamics.

So, McLean studies top players, Neal studies the biomechanics (positions, velocities, acceleration-deceleration, forces and torques) of those same players and a ‘formula’ such as the 8 steps is created.

Two highly athletic current students of McLean are Lexi Thompson and Lucy Li, presumably being coached along the lines of the 8-step formula which gives broad guidelines in order for a golfer to be within the ‘corridors of success’ and the ‘safety zones’.
Lexi Thompson
Lucy Li

The only problem with this is that all golf study – sadly – is based on how the best players in the world do it, instead of being based on ‘first principles’. What are ‘first principles’? Once one has studied how direction and trajectory can be controlled based on club positions such as club path and angle of approach and how club speed can be increased based on the forces which produce it, one should go back to the ‘drawing board’ and find a way to place the body at set-up and at the top so that every joint is positioned ready for its role in the downswing – and nothing more. Such ‘minimalist’ positions ensure that the body makes the least number of moves in the limited time of the downswing, and that any moves made are comfortable and easy for the joints concerned.

See how the 8-steps works for Jim McLean and his 2 famous students:

Moe Norman – Anatomical Assessment of his Golf Swing

Moe Norman’s Golf Swing – an Anatomical Analysis

Many visitors to this blog have suggested an assessment of Moe Norman’s (MN) golf swing. It’s easy to assess the manner in which the joints are positioned at the top of the backswing, versus how they are at impact, to comment on injury potential. However, it is important to study ball-flight in order to study which compensatory moves a golfer is making, in order to arrive at the ball, from his/her top of backswing position. Not that it matters, because the Minimalist Golf Swing will improve ball-flight for any skill-level of golfer, regardless of how good or bad they are (that will be a subject for another day).

Look at MN’s rear-view picture at the top of his backswing. The two main positions to study are the lateral flexion of the torso and the rotation of the shoulder.

The spine has left lateral flexion, so that the right side is higher. This, compounded with a tight right scapula, position the right shoulder in internal rotation. Besides the internally rotated right shoulder, he also does not have much width at his right elbow, and although it cannot be seen here, his right wrist is extended (bent backwards). Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 6.00.42 PM

A down-the line series of pictures shows the compensatory moves he makes from his top-of-backswing position to get to the ball. The very first move during the downswing is a pushing forwards (towards the ball) movement of the right shoulder. As the scapular muscles are strongly contracted to keep the scapula in its excessive retraction, the entire shoulder girdle moves forward as one unit, rather than allowing the arms to drop down at the start of the downswing.

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By the time the arms finally drop down, The right shoulder has come pretty far forward, so that his right shoulder is not ‘closed’ to his left, and he is therefore not arriving at the ball with an externally rotated shoulder, which would help the club arrive at the ball from the ‘inside’. What saves this swing from an over-the-top impact is the straightening of the right elbow combined with exaggerated shoulder flexion (right arm moving forward) towards the far-away ball!

Note: Moe Norman’s excessive distance from ball should typically produce a rather glancing blow at the ball for most golfers, but his given particular combination of movements and his very internally rotated right shoulder, at least his right elbow is able to straighten out, somehow. This might be a better option than Jim Furyk’s. Furyk also has a very internally rotated right shoulder, along with a backward bent (extended) right wrist, and both these joints are forced to straighten out at the last minute, and in a direction they are not designed to perform ideally from.

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Moe Norman’s other idiosyncratic move, besides his excessive distance from the ball, is often termed his ‘single axis’ motion, which apparently refers not to any axis but to his swing plane, which has been shown to be virtually the same going back and through.

A similar swing plane made at the cost of joints positioned in a manner they are not designed to work best from, requires many downswing compensations.

The entire concept of swing plane should be redundant in golf for two reasons:
1. What we in golf term a ‘plane’ is not anything heard of in geometry. A Google result for ‘definition plane’ is “a flat surface on which a straight line joining any two points on it would wholly lie”. Now golf’s idea of a swing plane is that different body and/or club parts are supposed to lie on the same plane at different times!

2. Any club positions are a combination of several joint positions, so to discuss club positions such as swing plane at all seems redundant. So, for instance, an ‘across-the-line’ shaft is created by excessive body or arm rotation. Similarly a closed or open club face at the top is determined by left wrist position at the top, and so on. The Minimalist Golf Swing, if required to define any ‘plane’ during the swing, considers the plane to be that of the left (lead) upper-arm, which has a similar path in the back and through directions.

Special Note: Peter, the owner of the very popular forum ‘Single Axis Golf Forum’ on network54.com, explained what ‘single axis’ means in Moe Norman’s swing (some google hits show ‘axis’ being mixed up with ‘plane’ as regards MN’s swing!). See below for his comments and some additional questions/comments from an anatomical/biomechanical perspective:

Re Moe Norman from Single Axis Golf Forum:

‘Single axis’ is not a reference to swing plane. 

 When the grip is placed in the lifeline of the dominant hand, it creates a single axis, three lever system in the dominant arm. This allow for straight line hammer motions (an Ideal Mechanical Advantage stroke). – From US Patent 5,803,827 

 The only relevance of ‘plane’ is that the movement of the trail wrist into impact has no pronation or supination and therefore the ‘three lever system’ (forearm, hand & club) acts within a plane. 

Questions and comments from the minimalistgolfswingblog:

What would be the common ‘axis’ of rotation of the trail forearm, hand and club? Which is the common ‘plane’ that those joints all remain on into impact, and for how long are they on that plane?

Moe Norman’s ‘hammer’ is one way to straighten out the elbow, not the ideal way.

The elbow is one of the middle joints of the upper ‘closed kinetic chain’, which comprises both shoulders, elbows, forearms and wrists, when they hold onto a golf club. Middle joints (ie. not closest or furthest from the spine, to phrase it in lay terms) inevitably get ‘stuck’ in awkward positions when joints on either side are incorrectly moved.

So, when the trail (Moe’s right) shoulder is in internal rotation, the elbow is  unable to straighten on the sagittal plane, as it is meant to, based on its design. [Anyone performing a bicep curl does so in front of the body, not to the side, because that is how the elbow works best].

Some people jump up on their toes, some straighten or ‘early extend’ their spines, and in Moe’s case he pushes his trail arm forward (technically a shoulder flexion) in order to somehow straighten his right elbow. The ideal way for the elbow to straighten is when the trail shoulder has been kept in external rotation throughout the back- and downswings – not easy to do with most swing styles. Thus, most swings require some downswing compensatory move!

Tiger Woods’ Rehabilitation and Prognosis

Tiger Woods’ March 2014 microdiscectomy (back surgery), what it was, what could have cause it, what next?

The thick long, vertical strap muscles which keep our spines erect against the forward pull of gravity, and which have given homo sapiens the ability to evolve to an upright bipedal posture, are the erector spinae (ES) group, which have a direction of action which pulls the posterior spine downwards.
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Certain positions of the spine, such as when one bends forward, require the ES group of muscles to contract even more forcefully to keep one upright. As they do so, they put compressive loads on the spongy ‘discs’ which lie between the bony vertebrae of the spine. Maximum loads are imposed lower down in the spine – the lumbar spine – which must bear the weight of the entire upper body.

The discs are ‘shock absorbers’, and are made up of a softer inner portion – the ‘nucleus pulposus’ and a tougher outer area – the ‘annulus fibrosus’. Healthy disc pictured below:
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The long-term effect of bending or bending-plus-twisting – especially at great speed – such as during the golf downswing, is that sometimes the tough ‘annulus’ layer can get weakened and have tears/fissures in it, into which the inner gel-like ‘nucleus’ can ooze – ‘protrude’.

When material from the nucleus leaks into the annulus, there is said to be a disc ‘herniation’ (in lay, but incorrect terms, a ‘slipped disc’) which can range from the minimal version (‘protrusion’) to an ‘extrusion’ or even ‘sequestration’. (See pic. below)
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The typical direction of forces acting on a disc result in a backwardly directed herniation, that is, one which extends into the already small spinal canal which is 1 cm to 1.5 cm in diameter. As the spinal canal is so small and everything inside it a snug fit, even a small protrusion can pinch a nerve or a nerve root, causing pain not only in the area of the ‘pinch’ but also, sometimes, radiating down the entire leg.

One of the last options (after conservative physiotherapy and injections) is a microdiscectomy, in which a small part of the bulging disc is removed to ease the pressure on the nerve being ‘pinched’.

A very informative youtube video on the subject, by Dr. P. R Jeffords, states that outcome prognosis post-operation is very good. However, 15-20% people continue to have back pain and 5-10% can have re-herniation.
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So, has Tiger’s coach Sean Foley had him make any swing changes, post-surgery, to prevent future injury to the currently well-healed back?

 It is very obvious the backswing has been shortened, and been made even more compact (no side-to-side movement). The hands, as a result, seem rather ‘blocked’, coming across the ball much as a ping-pong bat would be moved when one intends to put right-side-spin on the ball!

An anatomical perspective of Tiger’s new motion(s) post his first event post-surgery below.

[Sir Nick Faldo got in a small dig by commenting that Tiger himself had said his swings might be rusty but that he’d got in a lot of short-game practice so why should that have failed too!]

The Full Swing:
The set-up: This amount of forward flexion at address, excessive though it is, might not cause disc herniation, but certainly does not help relieve low-back pain. Moreover, it is so redundant. Forward flexion of the spine prevents the abdominal muscles from rotating and  forward flexion of the knees prevents the gluteal muscles of the hips from rotating, and both are required during the downswing to aid both the production of swing speed and straight direction.
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The backswing: This new Nike shirt is perfect to see spinal movement. One can see clearly that the cervical, thoracic and lumbar parts of the spine are working at cross purposes, putting much greater stress and strain on the vertebrae, besides making it difficult to re-align them all for a good downswing.
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The new full-swing sequence: Other than a very slight ‘lag’ of the left wrist during early takeaway (which merely serves to keep the left arm making a low movement (adduction), which, in turn, reduces ‘combined-arm’ width at the top), the entire backswing is a pure left-trunk lateral flexion. The arm movement to the top is short, and combined with the totally ‘close-packed’ position of the right hip, all Tiger can do to start his downswing (as his arms cannot drop down with gravity nor his hips start with an unwinding rotation) is make a squat-like movement, lowering body level, then raising it up again in time      for impact.

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Although much has been written about a squat-jump type movement during the downswing being beneficial, it truly is NOT because all Tiger’s downswing serves to do it minimize the time span within which the club can connect the ball. When the right shoulder is ‘back’, it is able to present the club to the ball on an inside path, and thus increase the time-margin within which the club can reach the ball from the inside. With Tiger’s too-compact backswing, there is no time for his right shoulder to fall back (ie. become more ‘closed’), and, in fact, his right shoulder and thigh drop down and forward steeply, ‘blocking’ his hands at impact, and requiring split-second hand-timing if he wishes to draw the ball. No golf swing should ever reply on last-minute small-muscle changes to alter ball-slight as that is too unreliable, too last-minute, and too many small joints must all move in correct sequence to pull it off.

The Chip Shot: For this small shot too, Tiger is making the same basic moves as for his full-swing. He makes a long club and arms arc, back-and-through, when all one needs for such a shot, (with the ball just a few yards from a green and not much slope) is a small, low-trajectory swing! His body at address has too much spine and hip flexion, and once again, the trunk flexes laterally for the backswing. Is there enough time for all those big muscles of the shoulders to undo the backswing-movements in the short distance the club travels during an approach shot?
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To add insult to injury, he makes a stand-and-turn type follow-through. As one stands one reduces the time-span within which one can connect the ball below its equator, and as one turns, one reduces the time-span within which one can connect the ball on its inside-right quadrant. With a stand-and-turn follow-through motion, only a part of the force intended for the ball actually goes into it (the cosine of the total amount!), the rest going into the ground or the air!
Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 9.39.06 AMHis follow-through from what should be a putting-stroke-like chip shot is very complex too. His hips have rotated (why?), his shoulders laterally flexed (dropped down) on the right side, his left arm is in the beginnings of a chicken-wing (internal rotation) and his right arm excessively stiff, altogether resulting in blocked hands and an unreliable ball-motion.

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To make the same full-swing style for a chip shot is bad enough, but to do so from a slope and expect good results is truly asking a lot, unless one practices tons of just such shots all the time, and even then, under conditions of arousal or fatigue, the brain will not as easily co-ordinate all the joint-movements required for such an unnecessarily complex movement.

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The Putt: lots of pros suddenly seem to be using this style of putting – one always wonders who’s idea it originally was! How such subjective ideas get passed around in golf is truly amazing. Once again, the Nike stripes are in perfect position to aid an anatomical analysis!
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The intended concept is obvious – to make the swing a right-arm-only movement. How is it obvious? The shoulders are open at address, the right fore-arm is on the putter plane, and the right arm moves straight down the target line.

How it would work with different golfers would depend on how active their right shoulders are. In Tiger’s case, as his right shoulder and trunk drop, his left (LEAD, and should-be-radius-of-swing) arm gets pushed back, and will surely exert some influence on club direction, as, after all, the arms both hold the club. Also, his right shoulder’s range of motion becomes reduced because of the right side lateral flexion, and might be a factor in longer putts.

A prognosis? One website lists all of Tiger’s injuries to date, and given his tight left arm and tight neck, one cannot rule out left shoulder and left wrist injury, he truly needs the Minimalist Golf Swing System URGENTLY and for all his shots from full-swing to short-game.

Try out all the described motions for yourself (without a ball, don’t get his injuries!) and feel the restrictions of Tiger’s various swing positions. Write in any questions/comments.

Stacy Lewis’ Golf Swing 2014 – An Anatomical Analysis

Stacy Lewis’ Golf Swing 2014 – An Anatomical Analysis

A look at Stacy Lewis’ statistics, score-cards and golf swing will show why she can collect a ton of birdies and have a very cool-blue score card one day (as on Day 4 of the 2014 US Women’s Open) and an orange/red card (with high/heat inducing scores) another (Day 3)!

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During the event, (see ‘statistics’ above) her ‘fairways hit’ ranged from a high of 13/14 to a low of 9/14, while her greens-for-regulation went from 11/18 to 17/18. Her average driving distance ranged from about 244 to 257, a difference of 13 yards (of course a few outliers alone can cause this difference, but in a mere 18 holes, each outlier is expensive).

How often can she rely on a mere 26 putts to save the day, as she did on Day 4? (Score card below)

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Compare Day 4′s score card with that of Day 3 (below)

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See her video

Lexi Thompson Swing 2014 – Analysis of Joint Positions and Anatomy

Lexi Thompson Swing 2014 – Analysis of Joint Positions and Anatomy

Even the most talented professional golfers do not make ‘ideal’ swings in terms of how their joints can work best, simply because prior to this no-one has ever thought to consider that aspect.

So, an athlete such as Lexi Thompson can improve too, by positioning, at the top of her backswing, her entire spine (head to tail bone), right shoulder and right thigh closer to the positions of her impact, rather than diametrically opposite of what they are!

For instance, if she needs her spine to be tilted away from target at impact, it should be so at the top of the backswing. If her right shoulder is to be externally rotated at impact it should be so at the top. her right hip should not be so extended backwards at the top, as the ‘close-packed’ position requires some aggressive repositioning to get it into its desired downswing position.

US Women’s Open 2014 – Day 2

US Women’s Open 2014 – Day 2

See the top-of-backswing position of Stacy Lewis (leading after Day 1) from the front and rear, Lexi Thompson, Karrie Webb and Cheyenne Woods.

Any comments about how their positions are? With respect to joint positions, that is? How many joint positions will each of them have to undo to get to impact?

Videos of all four with joint-placement comments to follow.

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US Women’s Open 2014 – Day 1

US Women’s Open 2014 – Day 1

Comments on the ANATOMY of this and that….

Had the honor of speaking with Dr Tom Boers, physiotherapist to the LPGA and PGA Tours. A wonderful quotable quote from him, “The golf swing should be designed around the spine, not the spine around the golf swing”. If only more people in golf understood that.

He has worked with very many injured golfers’ backs, including that of Suzann Pettersen. Scroll down to the previous post to see the video analysis of the anatomy of her swing and understand what might have exacerbated her disc irritation a few months ago. Also, a golfer’s standing posture is rarely analyzed in golf, look at hers below:

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Then there is the question of swing efficiency. It seems to be very popular (and this is true for all skill-levels of golfers, all over the world) to make long back- and through-swings for small ‘chip’ shots. Did these originate from the ‘dog must wag the tail’ phrase, requiring shoulder involvement even for short shots such as chipping? Did it originate from people believing the wrists are essential for all shots [see the note at the end of this post regarding wrist involvement]? Whatever its antecedents, the ‘modern’ chip shot involves too many joints being bent/twisted during the backswing for there ever to be enough time to undo it all, in this tiniest of swings.

Look at this big dog. If he had a tiny fly sitting at the end of his tail, should he ‘wag’ his entire body to get rid of it? Would simply wagging his tail not be sufficient? That would be the equivalent to a chip shot being made with the arms acting as two sticks, with no in-swing knee bending, no hip rotation and no shoulder rotation. A simple pendulum-like motion (with a shallower arc than a true pendulum would have), picking the ball off the ground with no dramatic divots.

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Look at the size of back- and down-swings of this golfer making a small shot from 15 yards off the green, with 5 yards of green to the pin, OFF an UPHILL LIE! Do not all professional golfers attend ‘Chipping 101′, the basic class that tells one not to have a big arc of swing from an uphill lie, as it reduces the margin within which they can err?

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In the above situation, the golfer has to undo all of: 1. neck forward flexion 2. left arm adduction (the ideal lead-arm movement should be more like a flexion – post a question in the forum here if interested in how/why) 3. right shoulder elevation 4. right shoulder internal rotation 5. right wrist extension (backward bending) 6. left trunk lateral flexion

Another golfer made 6-7 practice shots from the same position with a highly lofted club which had lots of bounce, and brushed the grass at different spots each time, to get the feel of what to do. Better sense finally prevailed and she chose to go with her putter. However, even then she made a long swing arc back and through, with the putter-head moving steeply up then down and then up again. Both chip and pitch shots should have a low, shallow arc, especially on an uphill lie, to increase the margin within which to err!

As regards bunker shots. See this green-side bunker top-of-backswing and past-impact positions. At the top there has been wrist bend, right elbow bend, left trunk bend and a lot of spinal rotation – different at each of the spinal levels – the cervical or neck region has remained in place, and the thoracic spine (where the ribs are) has rotated. The lumbar and sacral areas (hip area) are probably being kept in place, if the amount of knee flexion is any indication (players are often told to have a ‘solid base’).

In the downswing she chokes –  as can be seen by her hands, which stop moving during early and late follow-through. Her brain probably makes hers arms decelerate in reaction to feeling either that there will be more-than-required acceleration from the body’s involvement OR that as her shoulders spin open, over-the-top, the club will come too close to the ball (not stay behind the ball as would be the case with an ‘inside’ approach). Another reason for the cessation of her hand and arm movement could be that her head turns during early follow-through.

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The Minimalist Golf Swing System works not only for the full-swing, but has excellent heaven-sent solutions for the basic pitch, chip and putt strokes too. [An example of MGSS simplicity - create any steepness required for a slightly high chip shot or what might be termed a pitch-and-run shot, from elbow, NOT wrist, bend, as there is more time for the trail elbow to straighten than for the trail wrist to do so].

Suzann Pettersen’s Golf Swing 2014 – An anatomical analysis

Suzann Pettersen

What a phenomenal athlete! Can just imagine how pure her ball striking could be with an anatomically efficient golf swing, where every joint is positioned according to its design-based capabilities.

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See her golf swing assessed for where her body is during address, backswing and downswing. Also a picture which shows what could have caused/exacerbated, with overuse, her back injury of a few months ago.

The Common Factor in six MORE top Women’s Backswings

The Common Factor in six MORE top Women’s Backswings

Muscles of downswing rotation:

The abdominal obliques rotate the spine and the gluteal muscles (along with 6 other ‘ladder’ muscles) rotate the hips. They can rotate best when the spine is as upright as possible and rotate less and less efficiently as the spine and hips get more and more flexed forwards.

The consequences of no backswing hip rotation, along with steep trunk lateral flexion:

A lot of muscles have to hustle to position several joints into positions from which they can deliver the club to the ball from the inside. Women do not have as much fast-twitch muscle as men, and also have larger hip areas to rotate during the downswing, so will not always be able to time (ie sequence or co-ordinate) all movements in an efficient manner.

See six more top golfers with negligible to no hip rotation during the backswing, and too much trunk lateral flexion. All the various parts of the spine having to torque at different rates and in different directions! OUCH.

Left to right top row: Julie Inkster, Jessica Korda, Caroline Hedwall

Left to right bottom row: Ally McDonald (A), Karrie Webb, Marta Silva

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