Distance off the tee has always been a recognized weakness in my game. In my prime, tour players would hit the ball 30 to 40 yards further. "Things bad begun make worse themselves with time." Now, higher handicap players routinely hit the ball farther.
Although I tried to increase distance and swing speed, I had no idea how to go about the process. Lessons, videos, golf tips, golf books, practice - none of these helped.
Small physical size, lack of muscle strength, and lack of fast twitch fibers were all possible explanations. However, the fact that distance off the tee could vary during the year and from year to year suggested that technique might be the issue.
The arrival on the market of reasonably priced, golf swing speed radar devices provided an opportunity to experiment with different techniques to see which ones can increase golf swing speed. These devices provide instant feedback on swing speed, regardless of wind conditions, quality of golf balls, golf club technology. Below is a diary of daily experiences with a golf swing radar device.
Perhaps the experiences and lessons learned here will assist you with your game.
I warmed up with a 5 iron, set up the swing speed radar device, and then started hitting drivers.
The first observation is that the device probably provides a relatively accurate measure of swing speed at impact, most of the time. A few readings were significant outliers. Most readings were relatively consistent. Particularly bad swings got lower readings than normal.
A second observation is that swing speed, the feel at impact, and on-line direction of the hit are independent. One can get good swing speeds with bad, off-line hits, and lower swing speeds with shots that go off the centre of the club, feel great, and go straight. I decided to focus on swing speed, without concern for miss-hits and off-line direction.
Initial hits were in the 82 mph range, some slightly higher and others slightly lower. These were the first swings after a long layoff. The speed is significantly lower than that measured at a golf centre when testing a driver in mid-season a few years ago. That speed was 89 mph.
I proceeded to hit balls, experimenting all the time with different swing thoughts. One of the more obvious thoughts was to try to swing harder. ironically, this did not help much. Neither did the other initial swing thoughts.
Eventually, I decided to shorten the movement of my upper lead arm by limiting it to an "across the body" movement. The ultimate result was a sudden addition of about 5 mph to the swing speed.
This apparent contradictory result (shorter swing, faster swing speed, longer distance) makes sense. To maximize distance, one needs to move the lead arm across the body and no further. This movement will propel the ball down the fairway. Many of us are inclined to move the lead arm across the body, and when it comes to the end of its range of movement in this direction, we move the lead arm up. This imparts the extended, professional-looking, full, high swing. Unfortunately, the upward movement does not impart any additional distance and creates the risk of error. If one puts the lead arm out in front, then moves it upward (mimicking the back swing), then moves it downward (mimicking the downswing), the ultimately result will be to pound the ball into the ground, with no force applied in the direction one wants to propel the ball.
A number of swings with the new, shortened back swing provided swing speeds around 87 mph. With balls running out, new swing thoughts did not lead to increased swing speeds, until the last ball. This swing thought involved moving the trailing elbow inward toward the body. Here, the speed jumped to 91 mph. Since this idea was tried only once, further testing is needed, but again the result makes sense. Rotating the trailing forearm inward in the shoulder socket on the back swing prevents the elbow from rotating outward, in what is sometimes called the "flying elbow". Rotating the trailing elbow outward nullifies the benefits from the forearm rotation.
The first concern was setting up the device, specifically how far from the device should be placed from the ball. The directions say 8 to 10 inches. For consistent readings from session to session, it is probably advisable pick a distance and use it every session. I picked 9 inches. For those who do not wish to carry around a measuring tape, Canadian bank notes are 6 inches wide, so 9 inches amounts to 1.5 times the width of a bank note.
The previous session found that a short movement of the lead upper arm in the shoulder socket across the body worked, adding about 5 mph (and consistency) to the base swing of Day One. The short arm movement was the starting point to Day Two.
The purpose of the Day Two session was to see if keeping the trailing elbow rotated inward (so elbow is pointing down) adding another 4 mph. The answer is yes. Club speed was consistently around 91 mph, and reached a maximum of 93 mph.
Overall, two technical changes (movement of the lead arm across the body but not upward, and ensuring that the trailing elbow was tucked inward) achieved an increased club speed of 9 mph. According to the material provided by the manufacturer of the device, this should add about additional 22 yards off the tee.
While quality of hits and straightness were not specifically tracked, the technical changes seemed to improve both.
In terms of the mechanics of the movement, it made sense to put the trailing elbow in the proper position at address by rotating the trailing upper arm in the should socket inward (i.e. clockwise for the right-handed player), and leaving the upper arm in this position throughout the back swing. Establishing the proper position at the outset reduces the amount of movement needed during the swing.
Day Two also included an experiment with different clubs, specifically my driver (a G5 Ping, with 1.5 inches added through a plug at the top of the shaft to lengthen the club) and my wife's driver (a Ping Rapture). Her driver is noticeably lighter, mine longer by 2.5 inches and heavier (but not very heavy). Club head speed remained approximately the same at around 91 mph.
So far, the device has contributed to a gain in 9 mph, after spending at most an hour and hitting less than 100 golf balls. Future gains are likely to be less dramatic but there are a number of areas to explore.
Frustration. The readings were substantially below previous readings; something was amiss. Experimentation with distance of the device from the ball, whether adjacent or slightly ahead of the ball, and the tilt of the device (perpendicular to the ground, or at a greater angle) did not change the result. After much fiddling, a reread of the manual, and similar efforts, the conclusion was that the on-board computer in the device was confused. The batteries were removed, and this was supposed to reset the device.
On this day, the machine's readings were closer to expectations and the norms established in Days One and Two. The device seemed to be working properly, but the readings were slightly below those of Days One and Two. While a couple of swings got to 95 mph, most were around 89 to 90 mph, about two or three mph less than measurements on Day Two in particular. Despite attempts to swing the way as on Days One and Two, the swing did not feel right. Something was wrong. After the session, it occurred that the trailing elbow may have been rotating clockwise in the back swing (right-handed golfer). With this rotation, the hits feel like they have been pushed from the right arms, rather than rotations. This remains to be tested on Day Five. The strategy is to build on a solid base.
For the day, swing speeds averaged about 89 mph, with a maximum of 93 mph. Experimentation with ideas such as more shoulder turn, greater involvement of the legs and particularly the push off the trailing leg in the downswing, faster torso rotation, more forearm rotation, greater wrist cock and more knee bend at setup did not appear to make much difference in swing speeds.
Three thoughts emerged toward the end of the session, and will form the start of the next session.
First, the idea of moving the lead arm in the shoulder socket faster across the body on the downswing seemed to make a difference of several mph. This is a simple movement with a relatively directly effect on club speed.
If one listed all the movements in the golf swing in terms of their immediate impact on the club speed, cocking and uncocking the wrists would be first, followed by rotating the forearms, and then this movement. Movements such as increasing rotation of the hips through leg action are more removed from the hitting ball; movements between this movement and the striking of the ball need to be performed effectively for hip rotation to have an effect. As a strategy to increase distance, a good idea would be to start with movements close to hitting the ball.
Two, movement of the shoulder sockets are closely linked with moving the lead arm in the shoulder socket, and could be worked on next time.
Three, the effectiveness of rotating the forearms at the elbows depends on the angle between the club and the forearms, and this in turn is related to whether the club is gripped in the fingers or in the palms. My default swing is one where the club is largely an extension of the forearms, with the club gripped largely in the palms. In this swing, there is little value added in forearm rotation. Options to explore are to eliminate the forearm rotation at the elbow, thereby simplifying the swing, or grip the fingers so that the club is at a greater angle relative to the forearms. This complicates the swing, but can theoretically add some distance.
As a final thought, after approximately 55 years of practicing to hit the ball in the centre of the club and straight, it is interesting to practice in terms of club speed. Ironically, the balls for the most part seem to be going off the middle of the club and relatively straight.
Swing speeds averaged around 89.5 mph. These speeds are better than recent ones, but not as good as Day Two. Improvement over recent days seems to be based on moving the lead arm across the body quicker, and also moving the lead shoulder from forward to back faster, making sure the lead shoulder goes around rather than up in up in the follow-through. Other efforts - legs, torso, etc. - did not make much difference.
Feel has not been the same since Day Two, so a challenge is reviving the feel.
Moving the lead arm across the body in the shoulder socket requires significant range of movement. Maximum range of movement when arm is 90 degrees to torso. At lower angles to the spine, the body gets in the way. Range of movement matters, because it gives time for the muscles to fire.
Increasing the range of movement can be achieved by bending over more, bending the knees, playing the ball away from feet. Efforts to keep the trailing elbow close to the body limits the range of motion. Perhaps we should focus on getting it away from body, while ensuring that the trailing elbow points down in the back swing.
Swing speeds jumped significantly, with a top speed of 97 mph, and several others in the 95 to 96 mph range. This suggests a potential target level of about 95 mph, well above the original 82 mph.
Several factors explain the jump.
Getting the arms away from the body creates a wide range of movement for the upper arms in the shoulder socket. Getting the arms away from the body came from standing further from the ball, bending the knees, sticking the butt out, and tilting the spine more forward from the hips. This allows the upper arm to achieve an angle relative to the spine closer to 90 degrees.
Loosening the grip also seems to make a difference.
Ball position probably made a big difference. Typically, I position the ball opposite the lead heal. The resulting ball flight is low. Moving the ball forward about two inches seemed to make a difference. This raises the question at what point in one's downswing is club speed the greatest: at the low point (the mid swing position), a few inches forward from the low point; or many inches forward. What is needed is a radar device that can measure swing speeds at the various positions to provide scientific guidance. In the absence of such a device, we are left with experimentation. Today's experimentation suggests that the ball should be well forward, so the club makes contact well after the mid point, with a high trajectory being the result. This position necessitates a high tee.
Finally, today's swing focused on keeping the head at the ball, rather than moving away from the target on the back swing. This seemed to position the body to aggressively move (through rotation) at the ball.
In golf, there are always those outlier swings - swings that produce a phenomenally long hit. Usually, the long hit is assumed to be the result of a favourable wind, or balls landing on down slopes or hard parts of the fairway or sprinkler heads or the like. In fact, the long hits could be the result of swings in which the player gets everything "right". The swing speed measuring device makes it easier to identify these outlier swings. The identification is instantaneous, so one has the chance to reflect on the actual swing that produced the outlier result.
Speeds were largely in the 90 to 94 mph range. I had higher hopes for the day.
In retrospect, the higher swing speeds were associated with good power through leg action, which may have been missing in Day Eight.
Speeds in the 87 to 91 mph range. One swing reached 99 mph. Was this a measurement error, an outlier aberration, or establishment of the new target. The next closest was 94 mph.
Maybe efforts to hit the ball further leads to swings that are faster during and at the top of the back swing, and less speedy at impact. Next time, we'll try tempo drills: (1) take a practice swing that incorporates the swing thought to be applied; (2) do waggles at address; (3) start the back swing slowly; (4) stop and sense position at top.
Practices are now following a predictable pattern. Get warmed up. Try hitting using the swing thoughts determined the day before. Then work through the list of speed producing drills to see whether any make a difference (set up posture, take light grip, take fingers grip, full wrist cock, roll the forearms, move lead shoulder across the body, move lead shoulder backward in downswing, rotate torso to stretch on back swing, use torso on downswing, use push and clear in feet - push off trailing foot, push away from ball with lead food, keep weight on insteps, use pure rotation. Typically, each movement as a swing thought makes a slight improvement but in aggregate not much happens. We need a more orderly approach.
The session saw most swings in the 90 to 94 mph range, with outliers of 98, 103 and 107 mph. Swing thoughts on the day included head remaining forward over the ball on the back swing, loose hands, a waggle, good posture and start.
Could the promising results come from positioning the device ahead of the ball, with the device pointing back at the tee? Perhaps this would lead to club speed measurements at impact, rather than at some point in the downswing. Note that the product manufacturer recommends the device be placed adjacent to the ball, at an angle of about 45 degrees the target line, with no comment on the elevation. The manufacturer may want the device placed at or behind the ball, to prevent damage to the device from miss-hits, and the resulting dissatisfied customers. Putting the ball 9 inches directly opposite the ball and pointing the device at 45 degrees to the target line points the device 9 inches before contact. The club should still be accelerating at this point. At issue is how Doppler radar works and how is it applied in this device.
Doppler radar works by sending a microwave beam in a particular direction. If the beam encounters an object, the beam will bounce off the device with a compressed wave length reflecting the speed of the device. The emitting device will detect the compressed wave length of the returning beam and calculate the velocity. From all this, the device works most accurately when the device is pointing directly toward the path of the club at impact in terms of direction and elevation.
Club speeds are frequently measured at indoor hitting facilities. These facilities apparently calculate speed by taking high speed pictures of the ball at the early stages after the hit, and from the pictures, calculating how fast the ball is going. The result approximates club speed, rather than an actual measurement, and can be influenced by factors such as the quality and age of the ball. The Doppler device should be more accurate, if positioning is correct.
While the focus in my sessions has been on club speed, the device could also be used to compare speeds of the ball coming off the club, by pointing the device toward the ball in flight. One could compare several types of new ball to see which produces the greatest initial speed. The device could also be used to compare different clubs, particularly in terms of shaft length and weight.
On this day, club speeds started in the 90 to 94 mph range for the first half of the session. Then, I changed the position on the driving mat. Subsequently, the speeds dropped to 87 to 90 mph. Different swing techniques did not seem to matter. Also, different positioning schemes for the device also did not matter. What is going on, since swing-wise, everything seemed the same between the two halves of the sessions?
The last swing of the day had a club speed of 91 mph, and the ball flight was uncharacteristically low. Perhaps, in changing the position on the driving mat, the ball placement started to change. Certainly, the balls had a high flight, and conceivable I started placing the ball too far ahead.
For the next time, I will try different ball positions with the lead foot pointed out. Also, I will also try hitting with the lead foot perpendicular to the line of flight, and different ball positions related to this.
The measuring device was placed about 12 inches ahead of the tee area, as close to the line as flight as prudent and the desire not to hit the device would allow. The device was pointed at the tee in terms of direction and elevation; hopefully, this targeting will prevent the device from measuring club head speed, and not the speed of the departing ball. Overall, the positioning seemed to generate relatively reliable results.
Swing thoughts for the day included feet aligned perpendicular to the swing path, rather than the more conventional slightly out position of both feet. This positioning allowed weight to be maintained on the instep in both feet throughout the swing, with positive results.
Getting the arms away from the body, while ensuring the trailing elbow pointed down or inward rather than out, seemed to make a difference of one or two mph. I felt that on occasion with arms away from the body, the lead arm may have been moving up once it reached the end of its range of movement across the body.
Thought was given to increasing rotation of the hips. One technique was to force relaxation of the lower body in setup. It is surprising how tight the lower body can get without purposeful efforts to relax it.
Ball placement was off the front toe. With foot placement perpendicular to the line of flight, ball striking is likely to be more consistent.
Keeping the head over the ball in the back swing (by lateral side bending a.k.a. stack and tilt) seems to create a small positive difference in swing speed. It certainly supports a more powerful body movement on the downswing.
Results were in the 90 to 93 mph range. Hopefully, small improvements will get the range up about 5 mph.
The results for the day were in the 90 to 94 mph range, with 92 mph the most frequent result.
Feet were positioned perpendicular to the line of flight, and the ball was positioned off the lead toe. The foot positioning seemed to help rotation, by facilitating the movement of the lead hip away from the ball on the downswing.
while focusing on relaxing the hands at the start of the back swing, I became aware how tight my lower body was. Consequently, I focused on relaxing the lower body and getting a greater rotation of the hips through the proper movement of the ankles. One challenge is getting this greater rotation through leg action while not over swinging with the arms by moving the lead arm both across the body and upward, rather than just across the body.
Care was taken to not move the head and weight toward the back foot on the back swing, but to keep the head over the ball throughout the swing. This is accomplished with some degree of bending to the side.
The swing thoughts for the day echoed those of Day Thirteen. Feet were positioned perpendicular to the target line, with weight maintained on the instep of the trailing foot on the back swing, and the instep of the lead foot on the downswing. This seems to lead to a tight rotation around one spot, and a good rotation.
Attention was given to keeping the head over the ball and looking at the tee till well after impact. This seemed to make a difference of 1 or 2 mph. While not a conscious thought, this action is the result of lateral side bending. Theory suggests lateral side bending should increase distance by small amounts.
Keeping the lower body relaxed is a continual challenge. I had never realized how tense the lower body can be.
The results of the foregoing led to a slight improvement in club speed over Day Thirteen, with speeds in the range 90 to 94 mph, with a greater number of swings over 92 mph.
With a few balls left, I remembered a tip from a few years ago - move the arms faster on the downswing. All the balls struck with this thought in mind went 95 mph, and essentially established a new normal. Several observations about this result are warranted. First, of all the movements in the swing, the movement of the lead arm across the body has a direct effect on club speed, without mediation through other movements. Only forearm rotation and wrist cocking and uncocking come between this movement and the ball. Second, the correct movement involves moving the lead arm across the body on the downswing. If one feels one is pulling the lead arm down, then one is probably raising the lead arm on the back swing, necessitating a "pull-down" on the downswing. Third, the focus should be on a "faster" movement, not a "harder" movement. A "harder" movement creates tension, which kills speed. Fourth, the "default" speed at which we typically perform most movements in the golf swing is probably not our "peak" speed. If we could get "default" speeds up to "peak" speeds, we would probably hit the ball further. This is a challenge in concentration.
On this day, the initial hits were in the 90 to 93 mph range. Subsequently, a number of hits were in the 95 to 102 mph range. Finally, toward the end of the session, hits reverted back to the 90 to 93 mph range, despite efforts to recapture the formula for the hits in the 95 to 102 mph range.
The day set a new standard regarding what is possible. However, the formula was the higher swing speeds turned out to be elusive. In all likelihood, the differences between the lower speed hits and the higher speed hits are subtle and hard to detect. Possibilities include tempo issues, particularly starting the downswing before completing the back swing; ball positioning issues (moving the ball slightly forward or backward in the stance); letting the lead arm move upward rather than across the body; allowing the trailing elbow to rotate away from the body, rather than tucking into the body; setting up to the ball with weight on heels rather than does; and failing to keep the weight on trailing instep in the back swing and the lead instep in the downswing. These are all subtle issues where imperfect technique can make a difference.
Among the dominant thoughts on the day included the importance of having the lead arm at as high an angle, relative to the spine, as possible. The higher angle allows the lead arm to move more fully across the upper body on the back swing. On this day, the angle was maximized through posture at setup. Bending the knees and sticking the but out allow the spine to bend forward at address. The lead upper arm can then be positioned away from the body.
As an aside, years of practice in previous years focussed on feeling the ball strike in the middle of the club and the direction of the ball. These days, a number of hits have the good feeling and ball direction.
This day was much like Day Fifteen. Most hits were in the 90 to 92 mph range, but a few hits in the middle of the session were in the 95 to 102 mph range. After the hits in the higher range stopped, numerous attempts to recover the distance failed. Something is making a dramatic difference in swing speeds, but it is unclear what swing thought is having the effect.
The leading suspect, for next time, is the movement of the rotation of the trailing upper arm in the shoulder socket. For the right-handed player, the upper arm should be at the end of the range of movement in the clockwise direction, causing the elbow to point down and in at the top of the back swing. Movement in the other direction nullifies other swing movements, and is counter-productive. It is possible that efforts to get the angle between the lead arm away from the body, to enable a full range of movement, often lead to the trailing elbow getting away from the body and into a wrong position, causing a loss of distance. Since this faulty movement of the trailing arm in the shoulder socket is one that has probably been going on for sixty years, the movement persists unless a conscious effort is made to not do it.
It is worth noting many of the things that seem to be working. These include: (1) placing the feet perpendicular to the target line, to facilitate a tight rotation of the lower body; (2) relaxing the lower body, to facilitate lower body rotation; (3) getting into a good posture at setup, with knees bent, butt sticking out, stretching for the ball, and spine bent forward at the hips; (4) keeping the weight in both feet on the insteps during the swing, to facilitate a tight rotation; (5) moving the lead arm across the body (and not upward) in the back swing; (6) positioning the lead arm at setup away from the body, to allow for maximum range of movement; (7) rotating the trailing arm inward in the shoulder socket at set up and keep it there throughout the back swing, to ensure the trailing elbow points down and not out, and (8) getting a good tempo, particularly by allowing completion of the back swing and consequently a full swing.
This day followed in the pattern of recent outings. Most hits were in the low 90s mph, with a few in the 95 plus mph range. Various attempts to find the secrets in the higher velocity swings did not yield consistently faster swings.
The results continued in the pattern of the recent past. Most hits were in the low 90s mph range, with about 15 percent in the 95 plus range.
The focus was on moving the lead arm across the body without moving upward at the end of the range of movement, and rotating the upper arm clockwise (for a right-handed player) in the shoulder socket. This did not have substantial impact in terms of getting into the 95 plus mph range on a consistent basis.
One thought for next time was to keep the weight forward on the toes and on the instep.
The results were the same in the recent past, with most hits in the low 90s mph and a small percentage in the 95 plus mph range. If there is any consolation, the percentage in the 95 plus mph range seems to be growing, albeit slowly.
Thoughts about keeping the weight on the insteps and toes did not materialize into a consistent increase in swing speeds.
During the day, some awareness of the attributes of swings that had higher speeds emerged. These thoughts include (1) the feeling that the back swing is flat, with trailing elbow close to the body, and (2) the legs seem to be more powerful and active in the swing than normal.
On reflection, the range in swing speeds went from 89 mph to 100 mph. This suggests a huge variability in swings. With this kind of range, distance control in iron shots would not be good.
In reflecting on the cause of the variability, a primary suspect is the transition process from back swing to downswing. This process is a subset of timing and rhythm issues.
In the past, there has been a tendency to begin the downswing with a move forward, rather than a rotation. This move is apparent when one keeps a close idea on the ball at the top of the swing. If the head moves forward slightly at the transition stage, one notices the forward movement. The solution is to observe the transition point and make sure the head stays still. Keeping the head still ensures rotation rather than lateral movement. This should translate into more speed and distance. The lateral movement in my swing has probably been with me for over fifty years, beginning with early instruction to "move" at the ball. Paying attention to the head position at the transition also changes the swing tempo, causing a small but perhaps significant slow down.
The focus of the day was managing the transition from back swing to downswing, in particular by trying to observe head position at the start of the downswing. The goal was to avoid subtle shifts forward, but instead to keep the head still and start the downswing with rotation around a still head.
Because of significant variation in swing speeds in the past few outings, there was an attempt to keep statistics by counting the number of hits is the 89 mph or low range, 90 to 94 mph range, and 95 or more range. Out of 30 drives, 2 were in the 89 mph or below range, and the rest in the 90 to 94 mph range. None were in the 95 mph or more range. The lesson is that transition management can lead to a significant improvement in consistency. Almost every hit was 92 to 93 mph. This is good for purposes of distance control and club selection.
However, the goal is to get swing speed up a bit more. In this regard, the lack of teasers in the 95 mph or more range was disappointing. On this point, several thoughts come to mind.
First, the hits were against the wind. Some of the days with higher swing speeds saw hits with the wind. It is possible that wind speeds make a minor difference.
Second, on the two hits with slower speeds, the back foot slipped. The most relevant point is the direction of the slip. The trailing foot went backward. Clearly, if one is trying to rotate the hips and the trailing foot slips backward, the rotation has stopped. This explains the lower speeds of a few hits. If one pushes off the trailing foot in the downswing as a driver in the hip rotation, the direction of slip should be outward, not backward. The lessons include pay attention to the direction of your slips, and make sure you push off your trailing foot and straighten your leg in the downswing, to properly execute the "push and clear" downswing.
Third, whenever attention went to specific movements and related muscle involvement, swing speeds almost variably went up one or two miles per hour. Improved performance of perhaps 5 movements could lead to the 5 mph swing speed improvement in total. Patient, marginal improvements may be the secret to more distance.
This was supposed to be the day when the breakthrough happened, and swing speeds started to average in the mid to high 90 mphs. Instead, speeds were in the 88 to 92 mph range - a disappointment. And wind was not a factor.
The day's focus was on pushing off the back foot in the downswing, to speed up the hip rotation when combined with getting the lead hip out of the way. Obviously, the day's focus did not have the desired impact. The reason may be that premature pushing off the trailing foot may shorten the back swing, leading to an unruly transition from back swing to downswing, and ultimately slowing down the club speed.
Of interest was the warm up, where normally there are 10 to 15 swings with a 5 iron, starting with slow swings and speeding up over time. In these slow warm ups, the focus was on pushing off the back foot, but also making sure the shoulders and hips are facing down the fairway at swing completion. These swings got 5 iron speeds up to 80 mph with swings that were relatively easy. One would think these techniques would get driver speeds in the 90 mphs.
My typical swings focus on keeping the head at the ball at impact. This could have the effect of putting the brakes on the various rotations in the downswing. A full rotation with shoulders and hips pointing down the fairway at the swing's end would eliminate this braking effect, and could lead to higher swing speeds. This will be the focus of the next session.
As a side thought, a major empirical difference between my swing and those of professionals is the follow-through position. My swing is more constrained on the follow-through. Videos of my swing also show a tendency to finish with the lead shoulder up, rather than around. These videos could provide evidence of this braking effect.
The swing thought for the day was to make sure the shoulders rotated fully in the follow-through, so that they were facing at least 90 degrees to the target line, and perhaps more. The warm-up 5 iron hits got more distance than usual with the technique, and gave credence to the idea that perhaps a swing secret had come to light. Hits were in the 80 to 85 mph range. The transfer to the driver started off impressively, with the first several hits in the 95 to 100 mph range. As time went on, the hits dropped to the more typical 90 to 93 mph range, with occasional hits a bit higher.
One take away from Day Twenty-Two is that perhaps by trying to hit the ball further, one slows down the swing speed. The relaxed, easy 5 iron swings and initial driver swings seemed to generate more club speed than swings that attempted to hit the ball further. The likely explanation of the paradoxical result is that there is a problem in the transition from back swing to downswing, that perhaps the desire to hit harder causes the back swing to shorten and the downswing to start too soon.
Another take away is that the full rotation of the shoulders in the follow-through seems to make a difference.
The focus of Day Twenty-Three will be to swing easier (with a slower transition), and see what happens.
Today, about a third of the hits were 95 mph plus, with several (including the last) at 100 mph or more. Swing speeds are gradually moving upward, as are expectations of potential. The occasional 100 mph swing in previous sessions no longer looks as a measurement error outlier, but an indicator of potential.
As usual, the day started with 5 iron warm-ups, some of which got to swing speeds of 80 mph or more. After a few initial hits with the driver, speeds got into the 95 mph or more category, before reverting to the low 90s mph range. A reversion to the 5 iron got some good swing speeds with that club, and they carried over on return to the driver. Clearly, there was a difference between the 5 iron swing and the driver swing.
There were several swing thoughts for the day. The first focused on moving the lead arm across the body in the back swing and rotating the upper arm in the shoulder socket. This forces the trailing elbow down. This was a movement rehearsed in the morning at the gym on the cable machine using light weights. The rehearsal made it easier in the practice session. In previous days, there were efforts to move the lead arm across the body in the back swing, but without the rotation of the upper arm in the shoulder socket.
There was also attention paid to proper posture at setup (butt out, weight on toes) and on relaxing both the grip and the lower body.
Finally, there was attention paid to the transition from back swing to downswing. Through paying attention, it became apparent that there was a tendency to move the head away from the target in the back swing rotation. this is natural tendency that comes with rotation the spine with a forward lean, but needs to be countered by a lateral side bend toward the target. There was also a tendency to move the head and by implication the upper body forward at the start of the downswing, rather than rotating both. These tendencies did not exist with the 5 iron. The focus in the next session will be on these two aspects of the transition.
The results on the day were in the 89 to 91 mph range, a result that was disappointing.
In terms of explaining the result, the practice session occurred later in the day than normal, after a day that was busier than normal. Swing speeds seemed fast, despite efforts to slow down. The suspected problem was in the transition phase, where the back swing ended prematurely with the fast start of the downswing. In the few instances when the transition was managed such that the back swing finished before the downswing started, the swing speeds seemed higher.
Next time out, the focus should be on managing the transition from back swing to downswing. Two experiments seem warranted. The first is to hit a number of balls with a slow downswing, say one that is a low percentage of the normal speed. This was a swing tip offered a few years ago, and never fully tested. These slow swings are a challenge, because the instinct at the top of the back swing is to hammer the ball. This instinct needs to be tamed. The second is to follow an Annika Sorenstam technique of altering driver shots with iron shots. In theory, both swings should be equally hard, but mentally, the iron shot mentality is to focus on rhythm and control, and to not hammer the ball. Alternating the clubs (which mimics on course conditions), the iron shot mentality could become absorbed into the driver swing.
The plan for the day was to practice swinging at slower speeds, with a view of getting a more effective transition from back swing to downswing. The goal was to find the secret or secrets that would produce a swing speed in the low 100 mph from the current average of about 93 mph.
Of the two approaches outlined under Day Twenty-Five, the focus was on swinging at less than full speed; for example, swinging at 75 percent of normal. The result not unexpectedly was slower swing speeds, starting in the low 80 mph range, and increasing to an average around 90 mph. The swings felt good and controlled. Surprisingly, a small number of swings produced speeds of 95 mph or more, with the peak speeds of 104 and 105 mph. How one gets record high swing speeds, albeit occasionally, while trying to swing slowly, is a mystery. There is a hint that good technique triumphs over brute force, but the details of "good technique" are subject to further study.
Today, the focus was on swinging at what felt like "half speed". Of course, "half speed" felt slow, but actually swing speeds were about 80 to 90 percent of normal. These "half speed" swings in the early warm-up did help with swing tempo at the transition point throughout the day. That was the lesson learned for the day.
Results for the day were below expectations, in the 85 to 90 mph range (despite swings that felt good), except for the last hit, which was 100 mph. The major difference between the bulk of the hits and the last hit was positioning of the radar device. While the device was 7 or 8 inches in front but slightly off the target line from the ball for most of the day, on the last hit it was about 12 inches away and also slightly off the target line. On this day, the usual spot at the driving range was occupied on arrival. The spot used for the early part of the session was different from the normal spot, with the difference encouraging a closer positioning of the device to the ball. In the next session, experimentation with positioning will occur. If distance from the ball makes a difference, accurate distance measurement will be necessary to use the device effectively to compare performance one day to the next.
There were three lessons from this day.
First, make sure the device is in a safe place for your first swings. On this day, the first swing was a miss-hit that struck the device, and distributed the batteries, battery cover and device in various directions. Luckily, all parts of the device were unharmed.
Second, the idea that the advantages of easy swings in terms of timing and transition could overcome the negative effects of less effort in making the club go fast seems misguided. Swing speeds based on easy swings and good timing were below speeds on previous days. At the same time, easy swings did seem to lead to good transitions and timing, so it is probably worthwhile to incorporate easy swings into practice routines.
Third, there may be some potential in trying to get more hip rotation in the back swing. The trick is to get the rotation while keeping the weight on the instep of the trailing foot.
Swing speeds were in the 88 to 92 mph range. These speeds were down from speeds achieved several days ago, but in line with most recent swing speeds. The question is: what has been happening recently to lowet swing speeds.
A theory, to be tested next time, is to focus on the trailing elbow, and to make sure the trailing upper arm is rotated fully inward within the shoulder socket. This inward rotation can be achieved at setup, or during the swing. Setup is best, because it reduces movements during the swing. The inward rotation keeps the trailing elbow from flying outward at the top of the back swing. When the trailing elbow rotates outward, it nullifies the rotation of the lead upper arm in the shoulder socket and the forearms, leading to an overall loss of swing speed.
This was an area of focus around Day Sixteen, when results were relatively good. Recently, the swing thought has not been present. Other ideas, while useful in their own right, may have pushed this fundamental idea out of consideration.
One idea may have been problematic. This idea was to move the lead arm across the body (but not upward) and rotate the lead upper arm in the shoulder socket so that the elbow points outward at the same time. At the gym, cable weights were used to ingrain the movement and strengthen the relevant muscles. Little attention was paid to keeping the trailing upper arm rotated inward, on the assumption that this would be addressed by the rotation of the lead upper arm. On reflection, it is possible to rotate the lead upper arm so the lead elbow is pointed outward, while the trailing upper arm is rotated so the trailing elbow is pointed outward as well. These are two independent movements.
This was a decidedly unsuccessful day. Swing speeds were in the high 80 mph range. Nothing could elevate the speeds. Perhaps there has been too much thinking going on.
Swing speeds were in the low 90 mph range.
A morning session at the gym provided a reminder that the range of movement in twisting the spine gets better with practice and a warm up. The day's practice started with a warm-up, and the day's hitting focused on a full twist of the spine in the swing. Ensuring a full twist of the spine on the back swing helps ensure that the downswing does not start early, thereby shortening the back swing.
The focus of the day was to ensure the spine was adequately warmed up prior to hitting balls, and then ensure there was a full rotation of the spine in the back swing. In the downswing, the focus was on executing the push and clear effectively, by using the lead ankle to push the lead hip joint backward in the back swing, and by using the trailing ankle to push the trailing hip forward in the downswing. Both movements have the effect of speeding up the rotation of the hips.
Swing speeds were in the 92 to 94 mph range again. There were no swings with high speeds. The focus was on effective use of the ankles/legs, using the push and clear method i.e. not moving the trailing leg/ankle on the back swing, then pushing it on the downswing, while focusing on clearing the lead leg on the downswing. These movements did not have a big positive impact on swing speeds, perhaps because hip rotation speed is a relatively unimportant factor in swing speed, because the hip rotation, although the foundation in the swing, contributes a relatively ineffective swing plane and other rotations take less time, because they delay relative to the hips.
Thoughts for next time are to go back to those swing elements that were previously associated with higher swing speeds. These elements include device positioning in front and about 12 inches ahead of the ball, a focus on full rotation, less attention on keeping the head still, lead arm away from the body, and swings that feel flat.
The thought for the day was to try to get the body rotation in the downswing started slowly before the arms and wrists move, and then speed up. The idea is to get the body moving before the arms and wrists, with the hope that the arms and wrists will rotate faster to catch up. Since the arms and the wrists are more directly connected to the club, the effect of their faster rotation will be greater than the effect of slowing the body rotation due to the slow speed.
The approach was not successful. Speeds remained in the low 90 mph, with no swing much higher than the low 90 mph.
Since swing speeds have not been improving lately, and are stuck at the levels of a few sessions ago, the thought for the day was to try to ensure the wrists were fully cocked in the back swing by starting the back swing with a full wrist cock. Since the wrist movements are the ones most closely connected to the club, these movements have the most direct effect on club speeds.
A full cocking of the wrist does not necessarily occur automatically; one can easily forget to do it. When left to the end of the back swing, the downswing can start before the wrists are fully cocked, particularly if one has a fast transition from back swing to downswing. By doing the cocking of the wrists at the start of the back swing, one's transitions from back to downswing can be faster. An old British study of the science of golf noted that the longest hitters surveyed in the study tended to start the lower body rotation in the downswing before the upper body had completed its rotation. This action caused a whip-like action leading to extra speed.
The results were much better, with speeds typically around 93 mph, but with one reaching 104 mph and several others in the 95 to 100 mph range.
Swing speeds were in the low 90s, with a number of swings in the range 93 to 97 mph. The focus of the day was cocking the wrists early in the swing to ensure that they were incorporated into the back swing. With a speedy back swing and transition from back to downswing, sometimes the cocking of the wrists is missed or less than optimal. It is worth noting that the traditional teaching was to cock the wrists at the top of the back swing - a practice which puts one of the most powerful movements in the swing at risk of incomplete execution.
In addition to cocking the wrists at the start of the back swing, the focus was on cocking the wrists properly, specifically on using the back and front of the forearm, and not the top.
Interestingly, the highest swing speeds seemed correlated to shots that went to the right, somewhat toward the direction of the device. Ideally, the device should be placed in the path of the ball, but this puts the device in danger of a direct hit. Further research on radar devices led to information on the "cosine effect error", an issue that has risen to prominence with traffic speed radar devices. The essential point is that when the detection device is 20 degrees from the target line, a measured speed of 93 mph understates the actual speed, which is 99 mph. When 25 percent, a measured speed of 93 mph understates the actual speed of 102.6 mph. Thus, while the device is useful in measuring swing speeds within a practice session, it may be less useful in tracking speeds from session to session, unless it is placed exactly in the same position each time relative to the target line.
The "cosine effect error" would also occur in the vertical plane. The device should be pointed at the vertical plane of the club as it strikes the ball.
The "cosine effect error" essentially transforms a wimpy seniors' swing into something more robust.
Initially, the device was placed in its normal position relative to the tee/ball. The angle between the target line and the tee/ball to device line was 25 degrees, so measured club speeds to date need to be increased by about 10.32 percent to determine actual club speeds.
Ideally, one would put the device directly on the target line, but this puts the device at risk of being hit by the ball. For the sake of caution, the manufacturer recommended the device be placed about 8 to 10 inches from the ball, perpendicular to it, and facing 45 degrees to the ball. This would be safe. The device would be measuring club speed about 6 to 10 inches behind the ball, and since the club should be accelerating, this would understate the actual speed at impact. In addition, while the club is likely to following a circular path, it is not obvious that the device would capture the club head on, so again because of the cosine effect, there is a risk of getting a measurement speed under the actual speed.
There is no simple solution to the problem. My solution is to use a ruler and protractor to place the device about a foot from the ball at an angle of 25 degrees from the target line, so measured speeds can be tracked from one day to the next, and scaled up by 10.32 percent if necessary.
During the session, pull hits generally recorded lower swing speeds, while pushes generated higher speeds. This is what one would expect with cosine angles.
Apart from technical stuff, the swing results on the day were interesting. Late in the day, attention turned to set up, and particularly to standing further away from the ball, bending over further so the angle between the body and the lead arm increases, bending the knees to further increase the angle, and adopting an overall posture that sticks the butt out. This setup position gives the lead arm more room to move across the body without the body getting in the way. The results were impressive, with 3 hits in a row around 98 mph.
The device was set up a foot from the ball and 25 degrees off the target line, so measured speeds would be need to be scaled up by 10.32 percent.
On the day, measured speeds were around 90 mph with balls hit on line. Shots to the right recorded higher measured speeds.
The focus of the day was to stand further from the ball, bend the knees, and have the butt sticking out; to move the lead arm across the body and prevent the club from moving up.
The day was like Day Thirty-Five, with the primary difference being to make sure the wrist cock involves the muscles at the back and from of the forearm, and not the top. Emphasis was on as much knee bend as seemed reasonable.
The results were good. Swing speeds were a little faster than the previous day, in the low 90 mphs. Shots to the right continued to have higher measured speeds (around 100 mph or more). These speeds would include a substantially lower cosine correction error. Actual speeds were therefore likely in the 100 mph range, good for carry distance in the 210 to 230 yard range.
Noteworthy was the feeling of power in the legs from the significant knee bend. The deep knee bend increases the angle between the arms and the spine, enabling the lead arm to move further across the body and get a greater range of motion. The knee bend also enables a greater push from straightening the back leg.
As the knee bend and the ball placement away from the body are unusual, tension seems to be higher, so there is a need to focus on staying relaxed.
The focus for the day was swing posture, specifically bending the knees more, leaning over more, getting the lead arm away from the body, and standing further from the ball. As part of this, there was a focus on relaxing the arms, legs, grip, etc.
The results were puzzling. The five iron warm-ups produced speeds around 80 mph. The initial swings with the driver produced measured speeds in the low 90 mphs. As the day progressed, the speeds dropped. The most likely explanation is that as one gets into the rhythm of hitting drivers, one's swing speeds up. When swings get faster, the transition from back swing to downswing becomes flawed, with some back swing movements left incomplete and perhaps there is a forward movement of the head at the transition point, rather than a rotation around a still head. The bent knees provide the opportunity to increase hip movement through the straightening of the legs, and there could be complications in this. The plan for next time is to alternative swings between the five iron and the driver, and to pay attention to the transition from back swing to downswing.
As planned, the initial focus of the day was to alternate five iron shots with driver shots, in an effort to get better swing tempo. During the day, it became apparent that cocking and uncocking the wrists was the central issue, so the focus shifted to doing this first, to ensure it happened.
Another focus was swing posture, with substantial knee bend, standing further from the ball, bending forward further at the hips, and getting the lead arm away from the body. Many hits were behind the ball, indicating the low point in the swing was approximately in the middle of the stance. The focus on posture led to weight equally balanced between the two feet. As the ball was positioned well forward, the weight needs to be predominantly on the front foot. In addition, with the substantial bend forward at the hips, the weight will inevitably shift to the back foot, unless there is spinal tilting toward the front foot to counter. When these two factors were addressed, the hits were better.
Toward the end of the session, the movement of the lead arm across the body was shortened. The result was four hits in the low 100 mphs, about 8 mphs above the norm for the day. The substantial increase was probably due to two factors: (a) reducing the inefficiencies when the lead arm moves across the body and then upward, and (b) faster speed generated by the cocking and uncocking of the wrists, since in the short swing, they uncock in less time and consequently impart more speed to the club head.
This was a breakthrough day, where almost all of the last ten hits had measured speeds in the 100 mph plus range, and actual speeds about 10 percent more.
The focus of the day began with (a) shortening the lead arm movement in the back swing to simply moving it across the body and not moving it upward and (b) bending the knees, leaning forward more, and standing further from the ball to allow the lead arm to move across the body with less obstruction from the body.
One problem with shortening the lead arm movement is the tendency to shorten other movements as well. The trick is to shorten this one movement without shortening other movements. To ensure the critical cocking of the wrists was not reduced with the shortened lead arm movement, the next idea was to ensure the cocking of the wrists in the back swing occurred at the start of the back swing.
One problem with bending the knees more is that it can lead to reduced hip rotation on the back swing. The solution to this problem is to make a point of rotating the hips with the knees bent by moving the lead leg forward and inward.
Bending forward causes the head and weight to shift backward more on the back swing with rotation. The amount of movement backward is directly related to the amount of hip rotation. Shifting the head and weight backward makes it more difficult to generate power on the downswing. The solution to this problem is lateral side bending toward the target on the back swing, keeping the head still and the weight forward despite the forward bend and the increased hip rotation. This movement is a power generator, albeit a mild one.
When everything is done - shortening the lead arm movement across the body and not upward in the back swing, bending the knees more at setup, bending forward more from the waist at setup, getting the lead arm away from the body at setup so the body does not obstruct its movement across the body on the back swing, cocking the wrists as the first movement in the back swing, making sure the hips rotate despite bent knees, and doing lateral side bending toward the target to keep the head and weight forward while the hips are rotating in the back swing, the result is swings with measured swings of 100 mph plus.
This was a "return to normal" day. Swing thoughts continued from the previous outing, with lots of knee bend, lots of forward bend at the hips, maximum angle between the spine and the lead arm, wrist cocking early in the swing to make sure it occurred, and short movement of the lead arm across the body (and not up) on the back swing. Warm up swings with the five iron were in the low 80 mph range. Movement up to the driver led to swing speeds around 90 mph. Today, the timing in the swing was off; there were a number of off line and miss-hit shots.
The swing thoughts for the day continued from the previous day. The results were in line with the previous day. The warm up swings were promising, with results in the low 80 mph range. When the driver came out, the speeds were in the low 90 mph range. However, unlike the previous day, many ball strikes were good, with online shots, good altitude, and lots of ball time in the air.
The swing thought for the day was to make sure the wrists cock, with the best way to do this being to cock the wrists at the start of the swing. The results were about a 5 mph increase in swing speeds, with speeds reaching about 95 mph.
This day was spent at the local golf retailer, testing the latest drivers against my existing driver (a G5 which has been extended by about 1.5 inches).
The technology used by the local golf retailer is to monitor ball flight in the first inches of the hit. This amount is used to calculate club speed. It would be interesting to know the basis of the calculation. One noticeable effect occurred with miss-hits. The radar technology measures club speed, and whether the ball is struck in the middle of the club, the toe, the heel, thin or under the ball does not matter. With the golf retailer's technology, miss-hits slow ball speed off the club. In addition, with radar technology, the line of flight matters, with balls heading toward the device recording much higher measured speeds than balls hit away from the device, due to the radar correction error. With the golf retailer's technology, direction does not seem to matter that much.
During the session, swing speeds for good hits were around 86 mph, with speeds accelerating toward the end to 89 mph, probably the result of a focus on pushing off the back foot at the start of the downswing.
The modern golf clubs did not have a substantial increase in overall club speed over my current club. However, the modern clubs, which are presumably lighter in weight, are about one inch shorter, and should be slightly more accurate. Perhaps a change in clubs is warranted, but the performance of the different clubs does not warrant the cost.
Following on the findings from the previous day, the focus was on pushing off the back foot at the start of the downswing, in addition to all the other ideas that seem to work well (bend knees at set up to accentuate the push, cock wrists early in the back swing, move the lead arm across the body and not up, keeping the weight forward by tilting the upper body toward the target on the back swing). Results were in the low 90s mph, with a few offering measured speeds of over 100 mph. These were probably miss-hit pushes that went toward the device.
The one innovative thought involved the speed at which the wrist are cocks are the start of the swing. Because cocking the wrists can be done simply and quickly, my tendency is to do them quickly. The innovation for the day was to do the wrist cocking very slowly. This sets the pace for a swing with a good tempo.
Here are some ideas I will be working on in the future.
Conversely, some things did not seem to work. A modern driver did not seem to be a worthwhile investment, despite the hype around "new" technologies; better technique is more effective than better technology. Long and short driver shafts do not seem to make much difference. Forearm rotation and rotation of the lead arm in the back swing did not seem to make much difference in swing speed. Efforts to rotate the torso faster did not seem to matter. Efforts to rotate the torso more and consequently to increase shoulder rotation did not seem to make much difference. Pushing off the back foot in the downswing often had the perverse effect of causing the initiation of the back swing too quickly before completion of other movements; it produced erratic results without increasing and sometimes decreasing swing speed. Focusing on the transition point seems to be more effective than trying to swing slower on the back swing, although there is nothing wrong per se with a slow back swing.
Swing speed monitoring is a good practice method. The beauty in the method is its objective character. You can see the results directly in the device's screen. It is surprising how one can slip into unproductive techniques from day to day. It is also surprising how speeds can vary within a practice session when one is supposedly trying to groove techniques that work. The golf swing is fluid. It is also somewhat surprising which techniques increase swing speed and which do not have much effect.
Once concern is that the focus on swing speed will distract from making solid hits and hitting the ball straight. The experience was that swings that produced good swing speeds generally were centre hits that went straight.
The device was excellent in comparing swing speeds within a practice session when the device was positioned in one place and the ball placed in a consistent position relative to the device. One could confidently compare one hit against another using the readings from the device.
Problems arise when one wants to get estimates of club speed in miles per hour. These estimates are useful when one wants to compare swing speeds between sessions, or even within a session.
The device needs to be positioned optimally relative to the impact point. It needs to be aimed at the impact point so the reading is at the club at impact and not before or after, and not for the ball in flight. Finally, the readings need to be corrected if the club and ball are not moving straight at the device.
Getting the optimal position is a challenge, but a trial and error process can lead to a solution. The optimal position is one that gives the highest readings for a given club speed. Aiming the device at the impact point involves getting the correct direction and elevation. I assume I got it right. Finally, one is not going to place the device directly at the path of the club, because a miss-hit ball is likely to clobber the device. The device will be set to the side in a position that will not get hit by the ball. The amount of the set-aside will depend on the player's ability to hit the ball straight. Typically, I set the device at about 70 degrees to the target direction. At this position, readings need to be increased by about 10 percent to be accurate.
The essential point is that the device is not easy to use. Someday, someone will design a better one with easy and consistent positioning, an accurate aiming mechanism, and safe positioning in the target line to obviate the need for corrections.