John Jacobs’ Teachings – Relevant to the 21st Century?

Are the teachings of John Jacobs – and by extension all the famous golf instructors such as Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter, Hank Haney, Jim McLean and Jim Hardy who credit Jacobs as a major influence in their teachings – relevant for the 21st Century Golfer?

Before reading on, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbAe2vgfzbA

John Jacobs was put on the map of golf instructors’ for bringing a vital perspective to teaching the golf swing. In his own words, “…..my breakthrough as a teacher. I look at what the ball’s doing, and then I ask, ‘why’?” He refers to his always having prioritized what the club was doing at impact.

So, naturally then, the video is a classic, a must-watch, full of useful information for what a golfer might do to bring the club back to the ball correctly, and, based on the Ball Flight Laws.

Jacobs mentions that many people thought him to be the teacher of a flatter swing, back in the day. He explains that Ben Hogan’s arms were very flat too, but when he set his wrists, that went away. ‘There is a relationship between the direction of the club shaft and the plane of the club’, so that Hogan’s flat and rounded arm movement with a cupped wrist at the top, changed him from being ‘closed’ and ‘flat’ at the top to ‘open’ and ‘upright’.

You could teach the body-arm marriage even to a beginner very simply, feels Jacobs, as long as the set up is right. Simply tell them take to the right (trail) shoulder back and point the clubhead to the target at the top. Then all that might be left to factor in would be giving the left (lead) arm some width, because the left (lead) arm must be wide enough on the right (trail) side of the ball, for the golfer to be able to swing through.

There is naturally nothing wrong with what John Jacobs, and those other famous teachers who succeeded him say, because otherwise how could they have produced so many great golfers? The patterns they teach are usually simple and common-sense. And, it’s easy enough for a golfer’s brain to ‘figure it out’ to some extent, and repeat the motion often, especially when the golfer is relaxed. (See Jacobs’ own swing below, and the many compensations it’d require for him to arrive from the inside)

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What never fails to shock me, however, is that all the very best teachers simply teach in opposites – if you’re laid off, swing more around, if you’re too shallow, steepen up your swing, if you arrive from over-the-top do something-or-the-other blah blah to arrive from the inside. If you top the ball, swing down, if you chunk the ball swing over it more and on and on.

HOW, HOW, HOW? What must the body DO to facilitate whatever you tell the golfer to do? What do the various arm and leg segments DO because, please understand, they are linked when we grip a club with both hands or have both feet planted on the ground (when the furthest part of the arms or legs is not free to move independently, we call it a ‘closed kinetic chain’, and this can make the linked joints move in peculiar, non-normal patterns).

The problem, now that Jacobs’ ‘why’ is well understood, is that no-one asks ‘how’.

How to make sure the body rotates in a horizontal plane as the arms are required to move in a more vertical one simultaneously?

How does moving the right shoulder back affect where the body’s weight moves, and, in fact, how should weight shift – move towards target, stay centered, move to the trail side?

How does setting the wrists at the top (wrists can set in varying combinations of two directions) affect the positions of the trail shoulder and elbow, and will the correct combination of shaft direction and plane (adjusted for the individual) ensure that the swing arrives at the ball from the inside and at speed?

CAN a golfer arrive at impact in a BETTER STILL manner, MORE CONSISTENTLY and with LESS SCOPE FOR INJURY? These are 21st Century questions! HOW?

The time for ‘why’ is long past, and the modern golf instructor must move beyond the club to what the body CAN/CANNOT do, so as to be able to teach the golf swing across all body sizes and shapes, because the human body only has very fixed motion capabilities.

Tiger’s has chipping ‘yips’? Nonsense!

Tiger’s chipping ‘yips’ – Hello Golf World, you need some ‘Anatomy 101’!

The whole golf world is commenting on Tiger’s ‘yips’. A word I’d save only for neuro-musculo-skeletal issues. Such as when there is a physical twitch with the trail hand during the down-stroke.

Tiger has the chipping ‘yips’? Utter rubbish. It’s the fact that human muscles can only do certain things and move in specific directions and no-one in golf has bothered to understand that – all golf ‘fixers’ do is ‘work out’ to strengthen and stretch muscles at alternate joints and expect to wave a magic wand that makes everything problem disappear.

So here’s an explanation that even the least scientifically-educated of those who feel free to comment on the situation can understand.

Think of Tiger’s current issue as being one of someone in a ferris-wheel suddenly deciding he wants a merry-go-round ride. In Tiger’s case his ferris-wheel is a triple-whammy situation.

So what’s ‘ferris-wheel’ about it? His arms swing ‘out’, but the ball needs to be approached from the inside. His left side drops down, but his right side needs to be lower at impact. His right shoulder girdle is very elevated and needs to be down to release into the ground. And the through-swing does not have all day to ‘undo’ these movements.

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So, being such a great athlete, he realizes he’s coming down too steeply at the ball and makes a downswing compensation – rotating his right shoulder around, and thus making the right arm the radius of the swing, and ‘smothering’ the ball (the club does not connect with the inside right quadrant of the ball), giving it too much run. An attempt at jumping into a merry-go-round!

All he needs is less of a ferris-wheel backswing with respect to all the three factors described above. His motion involves trail arm abduction with flexion, trail shoulder-girdle elevation and lead lateral flexion use a bunch of muscles as prime movers (agonists), when some of them should be stabilizers and others should actually not be involved at all. It is vital, also, to position both lead and trail shoulder-girdles appropriately at the outset of the swing itself, so the club follows a similar path back and through in order for the awkward latissimus dorsi’s origin and insertion to not get separated in the wrong direction. For all those to whom this (intentionally obfuscating and confounding) paragraph was double dutch, how about some Anatomy 101? Just so you understand the situation based on what the body is and is not capable of doing before passing judgment?

What made a Mouse out of a Tiger?

The System that made a Mouse out of a Tiger

Where to begin? Full-swing or short game? Everything was so un-Tiger-like at the 2015 Phoenix Waste Management event. Under pressure, his full-swing simply went back to default mode based on what he’d been doing for the past few years.

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Imagine a mouse which has been in a rat trap for a long time. If the cage door is open, it does not simply run out of its cage. It looks around, sniffs around, and then might either bolt from the cage or run right back inside straight into its comfort zone. The mouse has no way of knowing what is in its best interests – freedom and perhaps a new set of survival problems, or the cage and lifelong captivity.

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The problem lies not with any of Tiger’s coaches or himself, he is still one of the greatest golfers ever. The problem lies with the entire ‘traditional’ golf swing system. ‘Traditional’ here meaning any backswing which involves a simultaneous horizontal rotation of the body and vertical movement of the arms; requires the lead side to drop down in the hip, knee and ankle and requires a lot of forward bend of the body to achieve the latter. These aspects are true of all swings being made today whether they are ‘traditional traditional’ or ‘stack and tilt traditional’.

Basically there is too much movement involved, in too many directions, which must happen all together. Whatever combination of moves the golfer tries to make results in a slightly different set of start-of-downswing compensatory moves, and herein lies the problem.

The golfer’s brain must decide which to accomplish first in the limited time span of the downswing – slide sideways to bring body weight into position; or drop the trail side down; or rotate? Then the brain must decide where the arms and wrists must be in relation to all that body motion. Under pressure, when muscles contract faster and more forcefully because of an increase in hormone levels, everything changes.

The ‘traditional’ golf swing requires the golfer’s brain to make too many choices. What is required is a movement of very limited choices, with most of them being accomplished before the backswing even begins, and one move leading to the next in a domino-effect so the brain has very little to control.

Simply put, why do more than needed? Why lift the trail side up only to drop it down? Why drop the lead side just to lift it up? And so many more ‘whys’.

Let’s take a look at what is actually needed for downswing success. The body (legs, hips, torso, shoulder girdle) produces the power and club speed, and the arms (shoulders, forearms and hands) control club path and face and thus direction. The only link in their roles, then, is the shoulder girdle. Where the shoulder-girdles face, there go the arms.

It is thus obvious that it is mainly the body’s position at any given time which can control both itself and the direction of motion of the arms. Why not position the body in advance  of the start of the backswing so that all that’s left is for the arms to move where they now have no choice but to move, and from where they cannot interfere in the role of the body?

All body parts should be set for their downswing role – of harnessing the by-now-famous ground-reaction-forces! Then all the arms have to do is move within a limited ‘channel’ which assures they will arrive at the ball from the inside and at the correct angle.

The ‘traditional’ golf swing must go  - and soon – before golf loses even more popularity than it already has, and before more and more leading athletes succumb to injury because of too many conflicting moves during the downswing.

The mouse will never run out of it’s cage when faced with the prospect of an unknown future, and thus the Tiger might never roar again.

What is the Purpose of the Backswing in Golf?

What is the Purpose of the BACKSWING in golf?

Collective comments of golfers from 3 facebook groups:

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A scientific response to this poll:

It is scary that we, as a group of golfers and golf instructors do not reach consensus, and really do not know the purpose of the backswing in golf. Responses were so diverse that even after an attempt to group similar ones together there were too many.

It is important for all golfers, but especially for instructors to understand what the terms energy (potential, kinetic), power, momentum, torque, leverage actually mean.

PP in bold stands for POINT to PONDER so that the reader may re-consider the purpose of the backswing with regard to a specific topic.

Basically, OF COURSE the full-swing backswing is designed to put a golfer into ‘position’ (what a cop-out to merely say that!). BUT FOR WHAT exactly (other than ‘for the downswing’ – another ‘cop out’!). Specifically for the downswing to deliver the club for straight direction and maximum distance, MAINLY BY achieving the most important of the ball flight laws – the INSIDE PATH.

You might interject, “So the path will help with direction but what about club speed?”

ONE – and ONLY ONE – downswing body SEQUENCE, is capable of SIMULTANEOUSLY generating both inside an path AND maximal club speed (see this reference to learn more: http://coewww.rutgers.edu/classes/mae/mae473/golf_biomechanics.pdf).

That is one with a proximal (lower body) to distal (upper body, arms and finally club) body motion pattern. ONLY this sequence can give a golfer both straight distance and maximum possible direction.

Note that this correct ground-up sequence is able to harness external forces better (ground reaction force, mainly), so that less muscle-force is required to be generated by the golfer.

PP1: So, WHICH body/arm POSITIONs of the backswing are ‘PROPER’ for the production of a good downswing SEQUENCE?

PP2: If the purpose of the backswing is to store ‘POTENTIAL ENERGY’ (PE), what precisely is potential energy? PE can be of several types – ‘gravitational potential energy’ (GPE), and ‘elastic/strain energy’ (SE) amongst others. GPE is the energy stored in an object by virtue of it’s position (away from the Earth’s center), so that an object placed at a height of 5’ has more GPE than one placed at 3’ from the ground. The height of the hands above the ground is an indication of stored GPE. Similarly if the body is fully ‘wound’ it just might have the ability to ‘unwind’ and release the SE it has stored.

Look at the orange-and-stick experiment below to understand useful and meaningless GPE. Past about 10 o’clock in the backswing, GPE is stored so the orange can only fall off the stick in a USELESS direction. In other words, WORK must first be done against gravity to bring the club to a position of USEFUL (ie in a targetward direction) GPE.

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‘Coil’, ‘rotation’, ‘torque’ are all words used (sometimes inappropriately) to describe rotary or twisting motions, which are believed to store SE via muscle stretch. However, here, a meaningful direction of ‘unstoring’ is on a horizontal plane, which also harnesses the horizontal element of ground reaction force. So that unless there is a purely horizontal element to backswing rotation, downswing ‘unstoring’ (as in the typical golf swing) will be in a downward (towards the ground) direction.

Try this drill to understand why the typical golf backswing is not a true coil. Stand upright, with the feet slightly apart and the arms by your sides. Now twist everything from the ankles to the head (yes the eyes too). THAT is a twist, around an imaginary vertical axis, just like the top on the left, in the picture below. Now put your hands on your hips and side-bend to your left. Then ‘rotate’. What you’re doing (as in the typical golf swing) is really mostly a side-bend -not a pure twist – followed by an ‘un-sidebend’ – NOT a rotation/coil for storage of useful elastic energy. More like the top on the right.

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PP3: Loading. This term strictly means adding a resistance or weight. Muscles do not load, they only create tension. Weight-shift could be considered adding weight to the trail side, and is useful only if ‘un-load’ happens in the correct kinematic sequence, ie proximal to distal or lower body before upper body. In other words, the ‘loading’ is quite useless for all those who come over-the-top (often as a direct result of the loading process itself!)

PP4: Momentum. This term, in physics, means ‘quantity of motion’. It is a product of the mass of an object and its velocity. As velocity changes with the direction of motion, the momentum of the golf club is zero at the top of the backswing, and must be recreated during the downswing, so momentum is not an appropriate term to use here. For the same reason, neither are velocity or acceleration.

PP5: Creating time/space for acceleration to take place. In many sports a person is told to increase the length of their swing/motion so as to give themselves a greater distance over which to accelerate. To my mind it means exactly the same as telling someone that driving from New York to California will allow them to accelerate more than merely driving to New Jersey! If distance increases without time reducing, velocity and thus acceleration do not automatically increase. Moreover, in the case of human muscle, can muscles hold their forceful contractions as efficiently over longer distances? After all, it is well-known that muscle force and velocity are inversely related.

PP6: Leverage. A wider arc creates a longer lever so that more force can be created with less effort. Yet, when a golf swing goes ‘on-and-on’ with a lot of wrist ‘cock’, where is the wide arc? Merely having a wide arc at the start of the backswing but narrowing it down considerably by bending the trail elbow and wrist no longer count as ‘wide’.

So, what then, IS the purpose of the backswing, if nothing above can be converted to useful positions or forces (to give both distance AND direction) during the downswing? I have no idea!

I only know the purpose of the Minimalist Golf Swing’s backswing – to place all the body’s joints into positions that harness maximal external force, thus reducing the effort required by the golfer’s muscles; and for an inside path. To me, most other backswings make no sense in science!

The Minimalist Golf Swing System, 2015

Happy New Year to all visitors to this blog, and to all users of the Minimalist Golf Swing System.

Over 3 years spend completing a Masters in Sports Science helped to solidify concepts of how the body is designed and thus how best to harness its natural capabilities.

Now, a single term in a PhD in Biomechanics has only served to validate previously developed patterns for the MGSS.

The movements taught over the past 3-4 years have been correct, only I never quite knew how to get the positions right for any and every individual.

Three weeks spent working with my oldest student and dear friend (a leading pulmonary physician of India), have helped to consolidate all the tiny missing links, because there is nothing as useful as feedback from someone who has internalized a system and understands the repercussions of making correct as well as wrong moves.

So, ofcourse any regular visitor to this blog knows that the MGSS requires

a) A pre-swing rotation of the entire spine (including the big mass of the pelvis)                       b) The arms to be the only moving parts from address to the ‘top’                                               c) The angles of the trunk and head to be maintained from address to impact

Here’s the latest information for 2015:

1. If the body forward-bending posture and front-to-back weight distribution are ideal, the pre-swing ‘turn’ is very easy

2. If the pre-swing head position is correct, the body maintains its required angles during the swing

3. If both the pre-swing turn and the head positions are correct, the arms movement is effortlessly fluid and on the correct ‘plane’, and the right (trail) side – ear, shoulder, elbow, wrist and waist – is always lower than its corresponding part of the left (lead) side.

IF you are a serious student of golf and wish to use the MGSS to improve either your full-swing or short-game, the ONLY way to do so is with in-person lessons.

There are no other teachers of this system and no availability of lessons on-line.

See some pictures below and decide whether they’re MGSS or not:

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Tiger Woods and his Swing Coaches

Tiger Woods and his Swing Coaches

 

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As any undergraduate course on the subject will explain, the purpose of studying sports biomechanics is three-fold:

  1. To understand the mechanism of injury of sports movements, and then rectify the cause (by either reducing any loads which are beyond the ability of various body-tissue to tolerate, or by improving the endurance of said tissue)
  1. To maximize efficiency by having greater economy of motion
  1. To maximize performance by more efficient positioning of body parts

How should a good biomechanical approach be applied to Tiger Woods’ swing, which currently needs to have greater efficiency AND less potential for causing injury?

A general description of what the above three aspects mean with respect to golf is followed by Tiger’s particular problems, below:

INJURY:

Firstly, improving the ‘endurance’ of body-tissue is not enough, especially because some tissues with less blood-supply are less amenable to, and do not benefit from, training. After all, most golf-fitness programs work at trying to reduce the scope for injury and simultaneously to improve performance. They are based on strengthening those body parts (muscles) which produce power-speed and stretching other body parts which need greater flexibility (once again mostly muscle). HOWEVER these programs are all flawed because they are based on the swing-mechanics of the best players in the world – which are themselves flawed.

Fitness programs should be based on an ‘ideal’ golf swing, which should be one devised from ‘first-principles’; working backwards from the laws of physics and biomechanics which govern ‘ideal’ impact (ie. arriving at the ball from an inside, shallow path at maximum speed).

Fitness programs should NOT be based on what is traditionally considered to be a ‘good’ swing, because all traditional ideas have evolved from the SUBJECTIVE, NOT SCIENTIFIC, thinking of leading players and teachers.

Injury mechanism should purely be assessed by looking (from a rear view) at a golfer’s top-of-backswing position and then at his impact, and just-past-impact body positions. When doing this one can count how many of the following joints change their direction of motion from the top of the backswing to the start of the downswing:

Cervical spine, rest-of-the-spine, trail shoulder, trail elbow, trail forearm, trail wrist, lead shoulder, lead hip, lead knee, lead ankle.

If a golfer’s change-of-direction (mainly because the golfer accelerates at maximum speed during the downswing) requires very many of these joints to be repositioned during the LIMITED TIME SPAN of the downswing, the golfer can only be successful as long as his rhythm remains smooth. It is known that in an aroused state (ie. one of anxiety) such as that seen during competition, the fight-or-flight response kicks in, and the hormones secreted as a result make the muscles contract faster and more forcefully, so that with the best will in the world a golfer cannot help but slightly mis-time body-movement sequences, resulting in unreliable results. Similar mis-timing takes place under conditions of fatigue, when the brain cannot handle many complex movement patterns regardless of how often the patterns have been repeated in practice. (For example do you walk or talk as efficiently when exhausted?).

EFFICIENCY:

The very same extra-movements-in-a-short-time-span which cause injury also cause inefficiency, and not only under conditions of arousal or fatigue. If two people who can run equally fast were to be in a race, and one of them took a few steps backwards before running towards the finish-line, the other one, leaning forward and running in a straight line towards the finish would surely win. EXTRA movements which require to be undone before the joints are in position for their roles in the downswing, waste time and increase the potential for inefficiency.

For instance, when the right side/trunk (of a right-handed golfer) is lower than the left at both address and at impact (simply because the right hand is placed lower than the left!), what earthly sense does it make for the right shoulder to be higher at the top of the backswing? Contact is never as pure as when the right trunk/side stays lower than the left throughout the backswing. Besides that, the great concept of ‘ground reaction force’ (GRF) which is being made so much of these days, has to be ‘artificially’ increased! This can be seen in the work of some coaches, who encourage their students to squat down then jump up to increase GRF. GRF is optimized when the left arm is able to be fully extended as the radius of the swing. However, many golfers are unable to drop the right side of the body down AND straighten the lead arm, IN TIME FOR impact.

MAXIMIZING PERFORMANCE:

In the full-swing in golf, maximizing performance means hitting the ball as far as possible, in a straight direction, and with ideal trajectory for the club being used. There are only 3 biomechanically proven ways to increase distance – the stretch-shorten cycle (recently proven controversial), ground reaction force, and a sequential summation of forces. Of the three, the latter is also responsible for straight direction, and simply requires the lower body to rotate before the upper, allowing the arms and club to be the last things arriving at the club, so that each successive moving body-part adds to the forces generated by the previous one.

TIGER’s PROBLEMS:

 

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  • All his recent coaches have supposedly worked on reducing his distance to control his direction, yet made his swing more violent! They have reduced his distance yet not improved his directional control – how ironic!
  • The latest coach has erroneously reduced the length of his backswing and made it more compact. When the backswing is reduced too much, so that the club and hands are not even at around 10 o’clock (in THIS BLOG 10 o’clock means without any wrist-bend) – their position of maximum gravitational potential energy, the body has to exert force to start the downswing, rather than it beginning with the force of gravity alone. This force throws off the correct sequence of the downswing
  • The swing coaches have also made his swing increasingly more compact (as seen by an increasingly more flexed/bent trail elbow and excessively flexed lead hip, knee and ankle), which means all the OTHER joints which have made movements surplus-to-requirement now have to unbend and untwist within a very narrow space. A ‘wide’ trail elbow creates a longer lever for more power, and also has to straighten out less when arriving at the ball!
  • According to a former coach, Hank Haney, Tiger himself has always believed that the squat-jump gives him greater power-speed. Yet, common sense tells us that to jump up and down in an essentially back-and-through movement is absurd. Do baseball pitchers jump up and down on the mound in order to throw the ball forwards faster? In slightly more technical terms, if one intends to put ‘x’ amount of force into an object, then makes a glancing blow – instead of a full-on one – at the object, one only puts a portion of intended force into the object, and the rest into the ground or the air around the ball!

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  • He has been overloaded with ideas of across-the-line, laid-off, swing plane, palm-vs-finger grip etc. etc. ALL club movements are merely the result of body-joint movements – after all, the club does not move itself! THEREFORE the entire concept of swing-plane is redundant. The ONLY requirement is for the club to arrive at the ball from a slightly inside path (to connect the right-inside quadrant of the ball), and this becomes a non-issue if the lead upper-arm maintains a similar, slightly-inside path, during both back- and through-swings
  • Those of his former coaches who believed ‘rotation’ to be an important element of power-creation gave him a ‘lateral flexion’ instead! A TRUE body-rotation during the downswing can only come from a similar movement during the backswing, which in turn requires not only trunk, BUT ALSO HIP, rotation.
  • His fitness coaches have bulked up his upper-arms and chest (some sports chiropractors term this ‘mattressing’!). This prevents his arms from swinging freely during the backswing and prevents his having an ‘ectomorph’ body type, ideal for golfers as it provides long, slim, wiry-strong limbs, which have better leverage and less ‘inertia’.

The MINIMALIST GOLF SWING is able to:

  1. Reduce injury potential by placing all joints – at the top of the backswing – IN POSITION for their role in the downswing, so that no re-routing is required before target-ward motion can begin
  2. Maximize swing efficiency by minimizing the numbers of joints moved, and minimizing their directions (planes) of movement
  3. Maximize swing performance (maximum distance, straight direction and ideal trajectory) by ensuring a without-volition downswing summation-of-forces

IT ACHIEVES these ends by

  1. Being the only swing in the world which creates TRUE rotation of the spine AND hips for more power
  2. Separating the roles of the body and arms, as the former requires to move in a merry-go-round or horizontal plane and the latter in a more ferris-wheel or frontal plane, and when combined result in less efficiency
  3. Cutting out all extra movement so that contact with the ball is much purer and no effort is wasted in connecting with the ground or air around the ball
  4. Always positioning the club so that it arrives at the ball – WITHOUT VOLITION – from the inside, at a shallow angle and with maximum speed

In CONCLUSION, a 21st Century golf coach MUST have academic-based, in-depth knowledge of anatomy, rehabilitation and biomechanics (preferably also exercise physiology and exercise testing-and-prescription) in order to coach top athletes. The causation – or at least exacerbation – of several of Tiger Woods’ injuries can be linked to specific unscientific-in-anatomy movements he has been taught over the years.

See the ‘about’ section of this blog to understand the type of credentials required.

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.

Screen shot 2014-07-08 at 5.06.07 PM

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.

Screen shot 2014-07-08 at 5.11.13 PM

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.
Screen shot 2014-06-28 at 8.52.21 AM
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:
Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 10.46.01 AM
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)
Screen shot 2014-06-28 at 8.55.55 AM
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.
Screen shot 2014-06-27 at 5.39.23 PM

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.
Screen shot 2014-06-27 at 3.53.34 PM
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.
Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 7.16.51 AM
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.

Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 7.59.35 AM
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?
Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 8.10.11 AM
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.

Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 8.12.22 AM

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.

Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 8.24.01 AM
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!
Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 8.34.08 AM
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.

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