Much of current popular golf instruction seems to be focused on rotation. Golfers are told to turn more as a remedy for nearly every flaw in the golf swing — from stopping a slice to hitting it farther, they are instructed to turn the shoulders more in the backswing and/or “clear the hips” as fast as they can in the downswing, meaning rotate as fast as possible to allow the arms to swing through.
In some cases, these cues MIGHT help the golfer improve. However, often times rotating the incorrect amount during a poor swing sequence is only part of the problem. This article will focus on the forward and backward bending motion of the spine, combined with rotating and tilting, that allow the golfer to make an effective motion that advances the ball consistently toward the target. The goal is to show you how the movement in the golf swing goes beyond just rotation so you can understand your swing and improve more quickly.
Golf is, by design, difficult. A golfer stands to the side of a ball that sits on the ground, bent forward some number of degrees, and swings an angled club around their body in an arc that hopefully bottoms out somewhere around the ball. Nothing about this motion is natural human movement. To make things simpler in diagnosing areas of the swing to work on, we use a motion measurement system to provide a 3-dimensional definition of the body’s movement. There are primary dimensions of motion: turning, tilting, and bending. We measure the amount of bend with 2 different sensors on the golfer’s back, one on the shoulders and one on the belt line.
To define what the motion of bending is for each golfer, we start by calibrating the sensors with the golfer standing straight up. As you would expect at this point, you can see the golfer has no bends, forward or backward (image 1 below). When the golfer sets up to the shot, they must bend forward (toward the ground) a certain number of degrees to allow them to hit the ground. Our Tour Average Database of swing measurements indicates that the average Tour player bends forward 41º at the shoulder sensor and about 16º at the hip sensor (image 2). Some golfers demonstrate more or less bend at setup, but all bend forward to some degree.
Understanding how the body bends forward and backward, in conjunction with tilting and turning, is extremely important for every golfer. It’s a major factor in three areas of the swing: generating speed (or more speed), controlling your ball flight, and determining where and how you hit the ground. The longest drivers typically have the most and the fastest rates of extension and flexion in their golf swings to aid in their distance. Golfer’s who stay in flexion with the knees and spine in the backswing will have a head that sways too far behind the golf ball when they just “turn,” and will in general have the shortest backswings and clubhead speeds. We measure the amount of forward and backward bend at GolfTEC to ensure our students don’t over or under-do the motions. As a coach, I want to help my students score better and enjoy the game more, and working on bends to hit the ball far enough to make the game easier is a key area to success.
Throughout the golf swing, the expert player will flex and extend the spine to help maintain inclination to the ground, make the swing longer or shorter, and add club head speed. They do this in conjunction with tilting and rotating to help create the synchronized and fluid motions that look so effortless to the observer. By understanding the swing is more than just rotation, you can start to improve faster and self-correct easier.
Talk to a GolfTEC Coach to measure your bends today!