Controversy: Golf Swing Mechanics Interaction with PGA Teaching Professional

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This past week we had a lot of interaction from a well respected PGA professional Preston Combs. Preston is the assistant golf professional at the esteemed Valhalla Golf Club, site of the famous 2008 Ryder Cup come back.

In this article, we will address some of the view points, questions and challenges that Preston offered regarding the Age Defying Golf Program including trail leg knee position in the backswing, weight distribution in the backswing, and golf spine angle movement.

I will address and give you my thinking on the swing mechanics that I prefer, but it does not necessarily mean that the Age Defying Golf methodology is better. You will find many different swing methodologies used on tour. For example, Tiger Woods alone has changed his swing 4 times.

In addition, a specific golf swing will probably not work on every golfer. We are built differently, with different proportions and movement angles that may make one method safer and/or more effective for your body.

Golf Swing Methodology

Swing methodology is a highly charged and debated topics these days so it is ultimately up to the end user, you, to determine what is best for your golf body. We are here to offer the best resources that we can.

Question: “Why is knee extension in the trail leg a swing fault…it allows a greater hip turn…”

First off, I want to mention that I feel there was a miss communication in terms and I need to clear it up on my end. Admittedly, I have not been clear enough in my view that the knee moving in some extension is good for the golf swing. In my past few articles, I have focused on not allowing the knee to go into too much extension because this is more of an issue with golfers over 50 who have limited hip mobility.

Even so, I continue to believe that the amount of knee extension needs to be controlled.

Knee flexion in golf backswing

Also, keep in mind that while the golfer is taking the backswing, the left knee is flexing forwards. Since the left knee is bending more, it makes it appear that the right knee is extending much more than it actually is!  So don’t get caught in the trap of comparing the position of the right and left knee to each other.  Instead, evaluate the position of just one knee as it moves on its own.  Tiger has 22-26degrees of knee flexion at the top of the backswing, that’s a lot!

If you extend your knee too much, you will have a difficult time loading the gluteus muscle which helps keep the golf swing stable and decrease extraneous movements.

Extra movement in the golf swing is almost always bad and leads to poor consistency in your game.

This has generally been thought of as a swing fault but some methodologies teach that you should allow the knee to extend (albeit not fully) in the backswing. The stack and tilt swing method teaches that you should allow your trail knee to extend and keep your bodyweight on your front foot in the backswing instead of allowing it to transfer to the back foot. Several pros on the golf tour use the stack and tilt method including Charlie Wi.

Keeping the weight on the front foot during your backswing works very well for short irons. However, may players struggle to hit mid/long irons and the driver with this method because the ball launches on a much lower trajectory. For golfers with slower swing speeds, lower trajectory on mid irons and the driver will cost you distance and make it more difficult to hold the greens with your approach shots.

Furthermore, there is evidence that straightening your knee for the purpose of increasing your hip turn will result in lost power. Top golf instructor Jim McLean advises golfers to limit hip rotation because power lies not in how much you turn your hips, but in how big a difference you can achieve between your shoulder turn and hip turn. The greater the difference the greater the power.

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If you turn your hips too much, there is no difference and it is more difficult to produce torque. (Having said that, I realize that the importance of the X-Factor is the difference in rotation at the point of impact and not at the top of the backswing. However, I feel that being in the correct position at the top of the backswing, precludes proper position at the point of impact).

There continues to be a lot of debate about which swing method is best and nobody seems to be winning the argument so far. In fact there are several different golf swing theories currently circulating the market and it is very difficult to determine how these methods will affect the body over a 5-10 year span. For me, the best method is to determine which methods stand the test of time before I experiment with major swing changes with unknown consequences.

Question: “Additionally, what evidence do you have to confidently state that turning away from the target, a translation behind the golf ball marked by shifting your weight to your back foot is part of a good swing?”

The golf swing is an athletic delivery of power translating to the golf ball. In all sports that involve an athletic delivery of power, the weight is shifted to the back foot first, and then to the front foot as the power is delivered.

Has anybody heard of a power baseball hitter who keeps their weight on their front foot? How well could you throw a baseball if you did not shift your weight to the back foot first? Try it for yourself and see which one delivers better.

In addition, for consistent ball contact (and to reduce injuries) you want to load your weight on the biggest and strongest muscle that you can and onto the muscles that are built to stabilize a rotation force. The gluteus(butt) muscles are perfectly suited for this task and do an excellent job.

If you do not allow your body weight to shift to the back foot, coupled with too much knee extension, you will not be able to use the gluteus muscles. Instead, this technique activates the quadriceps muscles on the left leg which are terrible rotation stabilizers. In fact the real muscles that have to stabilize this motion are the Sartorius muscle and the Popliteal muscle…not exactly the powerhouse you need to stabilize a dynamic backswing torsion force.

Keep in mind that these types of swing motions have not been studied over a long enough time period to be able to draw reliable conclusions. These statements are conjecture based on the functional science of the body and studying computer simulations. I’m just not personally willing to take that risk with golfers that put their trust in me.

Clearing Up Correct Golf Weight Shift in the Backswing

I have previously written instructional articles concerning the correct weight shift in the backswing. However, in light of current comments, I feel that I need to clear up some confusion.

At the top of your backswing, approximately 65-70% of your weight should be over the inside of your right foot. In addition, of the weight on your right foot, slightly greater than half of that weight should be on the inside of your right heel.

How Golf Weight Shifting Should Be Done

When you are actively turning in your backswing, you should not be actively shifting your weight onto your back foot. You should be turning nearly in place. However, since your arms and the golf club are now on the right side of the body, more of your body weight will naturally be on your right side.

Why Do We Prefer Greater Weight on the Heel
We prefer slightly more weight over your right heel for the same reason that we do not want you to extend your knee too much: in order to make full use of and load your right gluteus muscle for swing stabilization.

golf weight distribution in the backswing

If your hips are too tight and restricted you will struggle with 2 things. You will have a difficult time controlling an appropriate amount of knee flex and your weight will shift more over your toes instead of your heels and you will not be able to load the hip.  Shifting weight on your toes entails a lot of problems including coming over the top of the ball, loss of power, etc.

I am going to stop there for this article because it is already the longest article I have posted.  If you would like further information, please leave comment in the comment box at the bottom of this page.

In our next article, we will address another point given by Preston Combs. Preston states, and correctly so, that the primary spine angle in professional golfers shifts during the swing. The question we will try to answer is: is this good thing for amateur golfers…tune in.

Thanks for reading!!

Dr. Ryan York, DPT CGS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Golf Performance Specialist

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