Saturday, January 4, 2014

Left Shoulder Lag Secret

Flipping. Casting. Club head throwaway. The opposites of lag. Not fun. Flipping ruins a good backswing and adds loft to clubs when we don't want to add loft; thus, we lose distance. The pros don't flip or cast; some of them look like they're barely swinging and hit a 7-iron 170 yards or more (think of languid, slow-rhythmed Freddy Couples and his Boom-Boom distance). They achieve this through physics...not strength or necessarily through some exclusive ability. The lagging club head is the key to effortless power. How does one stop the club head from catching up with the hands too early? For us amateur golfers, a little lag can go a long way, especially when we haven't had any.

The club head naturally wants to extend out to the furthest point from where it's being swung--the left shoulder. Yes, some instructors (e.g., Shawn Clement) argue that the swing center is the notch above the sternum, but when you're coming into impact, the right arm is still bent while the left is straight, so the club wants to seek an alignment with the left arm and left shoulder (i.e., the fulcrum of the club is actually the right wrist). For most hacker golfers like myself, this occurs too early--way behind the ball. We come through with the club head passing the hands to one extent or another (the more the flip, the worse the shot). So, we have been taught any number of silly things to counteract this--hold the lag, drag the mop, aiming point, etc.

Torso in the Downswing
Torso in the Downswing

For an industry that's struggling to grow, the Jedi Masters of the game need to stop holding back information, if they are, in fact, doing that on purpose. If hackers could learn the correct movements, they would all start lagging the club and handicaps would drop. But so would the number of lessons taken. It's not in a teaching professional's interest to give it all away early; one wonders if they don't have a need to keep things esoteric, vague, and mysterious--slowly giving up the real game-changing information, once a regular student has forked over enough dough. But I digress...forgive my conspiracy theorizing.

When the club head reaches the point where it is aligned with the left arm and left shoulder, the club head is moving its fastest; from that point onward, the club head is slowing down, no matter how hard you push with the right hand. For the flip to occur, something else must be slowing down too much. And I believe that's the left shoulder for most (i.e., the torso rotation is slowing or pausing). If the left shoulder keeps turning up and back before and after impact, and forward flexion over the ball is maintained, the club head CANNOT pass the hands early. Or, it's, at least, a lot harder to achieve.

Still images of pro swings fool us a bit; we usually only see these great swings from two views: DTL (down-the-line) or FO (face-on). We rarely see them from the target's perspective, and usually never from above, back-on, or from other angles. And swing sequences in magazines often omit images between "positions" that relay useful information, simply because they don't have the print space to show it all. There's a lot of missing information from which the careful observer could learn. At impact, we see a still image of shoulders that appear square to the target line, but that's just a brief moment located within the space of a second; the camera captures that moment, but we don't see that the shoulders (actually, the torso turning the shoulders), which began rotating briefly after the hips in the downswing, continue turning all the way through and past impact. They shouldn't tilt backwards. They shouldn't stop or slow down to stay parallel to the target line, forcing the arms out "to right field."

Slow motion video has, fortunately, removed some of the mystery, for those who observe closely. You will notice that the left shoulder keeps turning up and back, without pausing, though impact, when looking at the swing of a touring or good teaching professional. As the torso continues turning, there is a moment after impact when both shoulders are perpendicular to the target line, with the right shoulder lower than the left. Continuing the rotation into the finish position, the entire left side of the body is facing away from the target, with the left shoulder back towards the right foot, and the right shoulder is pointing target-ward and over the left foot. And the great player maintains their posture (forward flexion or "spine angle") over the ball into the finish--torso flexed towards the target line; they don't stand up out of their swing (i.e., sometimes distastefully called "goat humping").

Lightbulb! This is where you've heard the vague advice to move the left shoulder away from the chin as quickly as possible. It's one of those little tidbits that gets a brief mention but is never expounded upon very much. Sometimes it's those little tips or advice that are glossed over that have the biggest impact on changing your golf swing for the better.

This is also useful for chipping, as a chip is a smaller version of a pitch, which is a smaller version of the full swing; even the putting stroke has a minute bit of this movement. To keep the club head from passing the hands (i.e., flipping), the torso must continue turning while staying in forward flexion. Many chunked and thinned chips are caused by swinging the arms at the ball, overusing the wrists and elbows, and trying to keep the shoulders parallel to the target line through impact, which is what intuition tells you to do. Intuition and instinct in golf are usually wrong!

Now there's an inverse to this, obviously, since we're bilateral human beings. Just as the left shoulder continuously rotates counter-clockwise and up during the downswing, the right shoulder continuously rotates counter-clockwise and down--the reverse of the torso's backswing movement. After all, the torso is actually doing the turning, with the shoulders merely following. This is what teachers refer to as "firing the right side through," which is the antithesis of "clearing the left side."

Whether you think of it as continuously "clearing the left side" or continuously "firing the right side through," you must be shifted first into your left leg, left knee aligned over the left ankle. And you MUST maintain your posture (i.e., forward flexion) throughout--no standing up! See which swing thought gets you through the most and practice that one; you should immediately notice a more piercing ball flight, and your finish will have your shoulder line roughly parallel with the target line but mostly facing away from the target line!

The "feeling" of extending the left side of the body and elevating the left shoulder has been described by Brian Manzella (New Orleans golf instructor) as a "throwing a drunk off one's back" maneuver. Imagine being at a party and having a drunk partygoer draping himself over your left shoulder, and imagine the "feeling" of "throwing the drunk off one's back" by abruptly elevating the left shoulder in a sudden left shoulder shrug maneuver. If that left shoulder shrug maneuver is incorporated in a smooth manner into one's swing action, then it can produce smooth parametric acceleration of the hands/club without any need to "jump-up" after impact, and without any need to elevate the upper swing center.

Learning to perfect the i) timing of left shoulder socket elevation and ii) also the exact amount of upward movement of the left shoulder socket during the late downswing is an absolute requirement if a golfer wants to consistently strike the ball solidly with the sweetspot of the clubface.


A golfer should ingrain the "feel" that the right shoulder is moving [down plane] at the same speed as the right elbow/RFFW (right forearm flying wedge) in the early downswing.

How to maximize wrist lag

The sustained rotation of the left shoulder is critical to squaring off the clubface at impact. [T]he beauty is you don’t have to think about pulling the grip up through impact. Swinging to a properly architected and balanced finish is the most simple and best means to keep the left shoulder ["to" removed] moving upward and rearward.

[In a balanced finish,] [t]he left shoulder should compress back towards the right heel and settle directly over the right heel.

WaddenGolf - Why the Finish to the Golf Swing is so Important

Here’s a secret golf tip Ernie El’s gives about the shoulders in the golf swing. At the start of your downswing, get the left shoulder moving away from your chin as soon as possible.

Perfect Golf Impact Position


1 comment:

  1. Makes sense to me . The positions in space plus also relative positions of the left shoulder socket and wrists (as they release the lag) need to be perfect. Almost an impossibility for amateurs and even incredibly difficult for the pros (even after hitting millions of golf balls since their childhood). Pros can get close to these perfect positions and therefore reduce the likelihood of really bad errant shots. Even more depressing is the fact that you are trying to reach these 2 ideal positions in space while also trying to keep the clubhead moving on the correct path and clubface on the ideal plane orientation. I think Ben Hogan summed it up nicely by saying golf is a game of misses and the one who misses the best wins.