When I started teaching the game of golf, it never crossed my mind that I would be studying biomechanics, 6D video and physics, but this is the high level of education available to instructors. I am just a novice at these subjects compared to the top teachers in the world. However, my expertise is helping a student make a golf swing that is functional for their body.
A new buzz word in the golf instructional world is biomechanics. Many biomechanics are discovering that that the biomechanical study of the golf swing is complex and right up their alley. There have been studies done and dissertations written about the golf swing by many leading biomechanics. Even though I have a hard time making sense of vectors, down forces and other biomechanical terms, the studies are helping golf instructors better understand the golf swing. In many instances, they are only conforming to what many instructors have always believed, but help with a deeper understanding of why these teaching theories are true.
There are many moves in the golf swing that separate the good player from the average player. The most obvious difference to me as an instructor is the transition from the backswing to the downswing — also known as the start of the downswing. Different instructors have various ideas on how to start the downswing: pushing off with the trail foot, or stomping the ground with the lead foot, or bumping the hips toward the target, and many more theories.
I have discovered that many of these ideas work if one thing happens in the golf swing: the club shaft drops below the hand path. This is otherwise known as the shaft being laid off. The hand path is the path the hands travel on the downswing towards the golf ball. The club shaft at the top of the backswing can vary, as long as the club drops below the hand path on the transition (The picture on the right shows this motion). If the club shaft becomes vertical to the hand path, or above the hand path, the golfer with inevitably have to make adjustments to make contact with the golf ball (seen in the picture on the left). Typically, the club shaft will continue to be “over the top.”
Another move from the incorrect position is a reroute of the club underneath the hand path. The club shaft working underneath is usually accomplished by a player standing taller in the downswing. Not only is this compensation a major loss of power, but it will be a major challenge to consistently hitting the golf ball in the center of the club face.
As I study this biomechanical look at the transition, one key element is missing in the discussion. Is the golfer’s body able of make the correct movements? I do not expect the biomechanics of golf to think about this aspect; they can only account for so many variables during their studies. It is my job to find out what a student’s body is capable of before we set goals and start working on the golf swing
The best physical evaluation test to determine if a golfer is capable of the movement described above is called the 90/90 test. This will determine if the trail shoulder and arm can function properly. The trail arm and shoulder is the right shoulder for a right-handed golfer.
The 90/90 test starts in a standing position. The elbow makes a 90 degree angle from the shoulder, and the forearm is 90 degrees from the upper arm. The forearm is facing the ground (all parts of the test seen in the pictures above). Move the forearm towards the wall behind you. The angle of the forearm matching the angle of the spine is a passing grade.
This test is also done in a golf posture. The 90/90 test in golf posture is the most important aspect of the evaluation. The golf posture 90/90 test represents what a golfer can physically do in the golf swing. I have given many physical evaluations, and this test separates the good players from the average player. Even though there are always exceptions, the student must be in the ball park of passing the test to be able to function properly in the golf swing.
I can teach a student to make certain moves in the golf swing that I have learned from biomechanics, 6D video and physics studies, but if their body cannot physically produce a desired motion, I am wasting the student’s time.
If the student has a desire to get better with the body-swing connection, I will teach them the motion and then have them see a TPI-certified fitness instructor or physical therapist. The other part of the team will help the student create the mobility or stability desired to physically produce the instructed motion.
Go see your local PGA Professional to help get you into the correct biomechanical positions that your body is able to produce.
Todd Elliott is the PGA Head Golf Professional for Hideaway Beach. Todd is TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Certified as a golf professional. This gives him the ability to give golf specific physical screening to detect any physical limitation that might affect the golf swing. Todd is an active Student Mentor at FGCU; a volunteer with the First Tee program and was presented the 2010 and 2011 PGA’s President Council Awards on “Growing the Game.”