Linear (Lateral) vs Rotational Golf Swing
- by Kelvin Miyahira
|Two Baseballs Swings At Impact
Baseball has had a long running debate over whether a linear or rotational hitting style is better. Golf is clearly entering this debate with virtually all instruction (and even training) pointing toward the linear or lateral or sliding movement methodology. But while the instruction points toward sliding, the best golf swings we see today and in yesteryear are or were not doing it this way.
So why is that? Is it that teachers clearly do not see with their eyes despite thousands of YouTube videos of great PGA tour golfers and golfing legends that are posted for free? Or do these teachers buy into a method and spread the scientology to everyone that they come in contact with? Let’s take a look at this debate with open eyes and see why everyone promotes what they do.
|Sean Foley showing PROPER LATERAL SHIFT
TWO GOOD REASONS FOR WANTING A SLIDE?
The promoters of lateral movement have a couple of very good reasons for wanting a slide in the downswing.
- First they believe that the bottom of the swing arc or low point control is dependent upon the positioning of the body (left shoulder joint in particular) at impact. If the body is shifted laterally or toward the target enough that will move the left shoulder in front of the ball and that would eliminate the chances of hitting a fat shot.
- Second, they believe that the worst shot golfers suffer from is a slice with the villain being rotation as the main cause of swinging over the top which then makes the downswing steep and the path to be directed too far left or out to in. So they recommend sliding laterally which will cause a secondary axis tilt. By getting the secondary axis tilt, this will cause a drop of the shoulders, tilt the spine away from target and then the club has to come from the inside. The right arm extension or “throwaway” this will enable the slicer flatten his/her plane thus enabling a more in to out path but it does so at the expense of holding lag.
No one wants to hit fat shots or slices. I can understand that.
I can see how sliding will fix a fat shot or help with slicing the ball. But is it the only way?
|Here’s a teacher showing how to keep hips closed while extending the right arm. Does it look like Hogan on the right?
BACKGROUND HISTORY OF THE LATERAL SLIDE
I started learning golf back in 1972 when Jack Nicklaus was still dominant. Much of what was taught was only simple things like “keep your left arm straight” and “keep your head still.” Bob Toski/Jim Flick were the biggest names in golf instruction. But the Nicklaus famous “reverse C” finish was the fad. Everyone copied Jack since he was clearly the best. Somewhere in the 80’s Jimmy Ballard became popular and he emphasized the huge weight shift to the right and then back to the left. That was probably way overdone. See Hal Sutton since he was probably best example of a Ballard swing.
Then in the late 80’s David Leadbetter comes along to argue against the excessive lateral shifting and emphasized trunk rotation as the way to hit the ball. “Use the big muscles” and “rotate the chest” were things taught to me along with the early wrist set and re-hinge on the follow through. He used vague term of “turning weight shift” which meant that the better players shifted slowly while rotating. These ideas certainly helped players like Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Dennis Watson, Ernie Els and others to achieve great things. But now, 25 years later, he’s teaching stay closed with body, swing the arms down and slide laterally.
Here’s Michelle Wie practicing a massive slide that’s meant to keep her from losing her spine angle. It’s interesting since people that slide more will tend to lose their spine angle more due to the fact that shifting in a purely lateral toward the target is virtually impossible. The lateral slide typically goes from right heel to left toes thus making the slide a bit toward the right of target and closer to the ball. Then this causes a jump and an early posterior pelvic tilt thrust that causes loss of spine angle. Hmmmmm, say one thing and do another??? Perhaps we should coin the term “contradictory instruction.” While Leadbetter claimed to have studied the great swings of the legends, how is it that his current teaching has strayed so far from what the legends did? Well people can say it is the evolution of a teacher. Okay but then the swings of the legends didn’t change so what caused the method to evolve?
The Golf Machine and it’s variations of Stack and Tilt
Not that there’s anything wrong with the Golf Machine by Homer Kelley but it was written in 1969 and has spawned teaching methods like Stack and Tilt, MORAD, Center pivot swings and many variations. It has helped thousands of golfers up to a point. Homer did the best job he could with the limited resources he had. He did not have access to the thousands of high speed videos that are available on YouTube. He did not have access to the huge amount of anatomical information that’s out on the internet either. So what he did was use physics and engineering concepts to describe what he thought was going on in the golf swing. While I am not a big fan of studying physics, I do understand enough to know that there are some curious and perhaps counterproductive concepts from Homer that can have you fighting your swing for the rest of your golfing career.
Advocates of the methods will say that there are tour pros using the method and are very successful. I agree, but to what level? When Tiger Woods, the best golfer on the planet cannot make the variant of TGM work, how will the average Joes perform? And as I have always said, most great players of a “method” aren’t doing only what the teachers of the method are saying. They are adding moves to it that aren’t taught nor known to the teachers. Thus high level golf is unavailable to the great student that only does what is told. Tiger is one of those great students.
I digress. The most questionable concept of Homer is the “right arm extensor action.” It is this idea that the right arm should extend out at the start of the downswing. Supposedly to provide a structure to the golf swing. From a physics standpoint, I say it is going to increase the moment of inertia of the body therefore decrease the swing speed. This is the ice skater extending the arms out. It slows rotation thus swing speed.
But this action causes several more problems as well. If the right arm extends, it will trigger early wrist ulnar deviation as well or what we call “casting.” Advocates would say it will flatten and shallow out the plane. I agree but isn’t there a point where it can cause too much flattening/shallowing? Won’t that cause the low point or bottom of the swing arc to become too far behind the ball (causing fat shots)? Add to the mix that most amateurs will flip, that will cause even more problems with low point getting way behind the ball.
SLIDE AS THE SAVIOR?
Well, the advocates have a solution for that. It’s called the endless slide. If you slide enough, you can get your low point in front of the ball despite having an overly flat swing and an early casting of the wrists. So you see, this is how sliding is imperative and is the Savior. How else are you going to get 85-90% weight on left side at impact as they promote?
|Another interesting fundamental promoted by the advocates of this method is the left loading. This is where you use spine extension to keep your body leaning left on the backswing, then along with the slide will help you hit the ball cleaner (increased negative attack angle) with irons.
Is there a home run hitter in baseball left loading or having the weight on the front foot? So from a power standpoint, left loading or leaning the spine toward the target makes no athletic sense.
Also how does one hit a driver well with that idea? Well you slide left then create a “secondary axis tilt” that is comprised of a lateral slide, right pelvic tilt and having the upper body shift backwards away from the target.
Also, the advocates of this method do agree that if you slide long enough or have the endless slide, you will eventually rotate. Slide endlessly and you will rotate. Hmmm, is that logical? Doesn’t it matter when you rotate? If you slide endlessly then rotate post impact, the rotation contributes nothing to the speed of the club.
|A home run hitter in baseball rotates immediately after the step therefore the powerful rotation is used to create bat speed. There is no one at the MLB home run derby with a lateral slide and restriction of rotation. The chest and belt buckle are practically pointed at the pitcher at impact. Huge rotation.
SOME SCIENCE FICTION....
Like the movie “Perfect Storm” another weather system combines with the already huge storm to produce a catastrophic event. Science of golf and biomechanics has become the fad. Along with that comes truly unscientific or science fiction to those that love those thrillers. But this time the storm is created by the scientists. Despite having competing theories of human movement in the golf swing, virtually all scientists involved in golf have jumped on the kinetic/kinematic chain theory in the golf swing. How’s that for scientific behavior? Global warming is also a hot topic amongst scientists but at least you have an ongoing debate. In golf, it’s over. They believe it is so, so shall it be.
So if the kinetic/kinematic chain is to be believed, you want a large lateral slide (some say it is “imperative”) that decelerates your lower body/pelvis rotation to transfer its energy to the shoulders then out to the arms and eventually the club. If you rotate, “you will not be able to decelerate your pelvis therefore not be able to post up on the left side to transfer your energy in an efficient way” the scientists will say.
If that is all true, then why do the best long drive competitors continue to rotate rather than slide? Is it because they only listen if helps them hit it longer? In a sport where only the longest wins, the long drive competitors are truth detectors and can see through the marketing. If deceleration of their limbs made them hit it farther, you can bet they’d all be doing it. But if the idea doesn’t pan out in competition, forget it. They can’t afford to listen.
ROTATIONAL GOLF SWING
Here’s the rotational methodology side of the argument.
|Arnold Palmer, Kenny Perry and Mike Stanton
Contrasting the lateral shifting, rotational advocates (me, myself and I) believe that while there should be some right side loading or shift in the backswing and is some vertical drop and tiny lateral shift to start the downswing, the center of mass of the body should be close to 50/50 at impact. Iron shots can be about 60/40 and still hit the ball cleanly without the fat shots.
But if the weight and body isn’t forward at impact how does one achieve low point control? Holding lag long enough can do the trick. This means not extending right arm early, holding the left arm close to the chest until just before impact and holding radial deviation of wrists is key to holding lag or getting more shaft lean at impact.
When describing the shortest distance between two points, a straight line is the shortest. But in the case of the golf swing, the widest distance of the arc is also where the low point of the arc is. This happens to occur where the left arm/forearm lines up straight with the shaft.
But what happens when your typical recreational golfer hits the ball? Well, if they release lag too early, their left arm matches the shaft way before impact. Thus the arc is widest before the ball and this makes for a lot of fat shots. As we can see, this golfer is trying to compensate for early release or casting by moving the ball farther behind in his stance. The lateral motion advocates believe that if the left shoulder got more in front of the ball that would create better low point control. Clearly, it might help, but his left shoulder is way in front the ball and he still hits it fat. Is the lateral shift the answer?
ROTATION AS A SAVIOR
If we define the problem as early release or lack of lag then we must solve for that.
Lateral shift promoters see the problem/solution as:
Release early >> low point will be behind ball >> shift far enough left >> maybe even stack on the left on the backswing >> if still hit fat >> shift even more left = low point control
The lateral shift advocates are assuming everyone will cast and lose lag early. Or is that because they are teaching to cast (right arm extensor action)?
Rotational advocate sees the problem this way:
Releasing early is to be avoided >> hold lag >> in order to hold lag powerful rotation must dominate the swing >> shifting laterally inhibits rotation and will trigger early release >> thus slide less while rotating more = low point control.
There you have it. The answers or solutions to the problem by both sides is completely different. But as I have said, if 99.9% of all golf instructors believe in the lateral shift, then it MUST be true. World is flat. Argumentum ad populum.
CURE FOR SLICING??
Another huge debate involves the never ending cure for the slice.
Let’s start with the lateral shift advocates’ theory and then get the rotational cure for the slice.
Lateral Shift Advocate's Cure For The Slice
Rotation, in their eyes is the evil that causes the nasty slice. They believe that the spinning of hips and shoulders causes the over the top move, steep downswing and the path swung so far left that it creates the banana ball slice that we often see a beginner struggle with. That is understandable.
So logically the fix for them is:
Don’t rotate hips + extend right arm to flatten + secondary axis tilt or spine falls away from target + early UD (via lag pressure) + right pelvic tilt = flat plane and in-to-out path + flip/roll release = push draw.
(For slicers that have sought traditional golf instruction, do teachers know how to square the club face and get it stable? Or were you taught to just flip/roll the as fast as you can till you had a massive hooking problem?)
“I am stuck on Band Aid brand cuz Band Aid’s stuck on me…………………..”
Rotational Advocate's Cure For The Slice
Ben Hogan was a major proponent of “clearing the hips.” He used the analogy of a rubber band tied to the left hip and pulling the hip back immediately to start the downswing. Are the lateral shift advocates saying he’s wrong? Notice that Ben also has his right arm under his left arm in the picture on the right and along with the tilted shoulders, he’s showing a right lateral bend.
For the rotational advocate, since the spine is viewed as bendable rather than a straight, stiff rod, the lack of right lateral bend and loss of lordosis is the root cause of slicing. More importantly, there are movements in the right shoulder like early protraction (rather than moving toward depression/dig), internal rotation (instead of ER), incorrect scapula movements, ab crunching and spine flexion (instead of retaining lordosis) that can contribute to the slice swing. Rotation is encouraged but not only with the pelvis or only shoulders but a coordinated whole body rotational effort via lateral bend and lordosis.
So the cure for slicing by the rotational advocate looks more like this:
Right lateral bend + lordosis + increase/hold external rotation of right shoulder + right shoulder transverse adduction + maintaining radial deviation + left supination/flexion = square clubface at impact + better rotation thus more speed and longer shots.
It seems that the issue of slicing is far more complicated than rotational vs linear/lateral but with a poor understanding of the human body, the solution becomes too superficial and limiting. By teaching sliding closed with the body and firing the arms, the lateral shift advocates will severely reduce their students’ power and therefore driving distance. Given that the average golfer hits it around 220 yards, they cannot afford to lose any more distance.
So that’s the debate. Clearly we must continue to understand the movements of the body and how we can attack swing flaws at the root rather than giving a quick fix. Trading one swing flaw for a lesser swing flaw does make some sense, but then how does the student progress in the long run? The Rotational method will allow you to develop more clubhead speed and better ball contact/compression by creating/retaining more lag. And if you can develop a better rotational swing, you can ultimately learn to drive/hold and hit it straighter than ever.
No more Band Aids!