2016-06 : Face Angle? - And Survey of Major Winners Clubface Angle at the top of backswing
- by Kelvin Miyahira
There are many unsubstantiated ideas floating around the golf instruction world and one of them is the idea that if you have a closed clubface at the top of the backswing, it will be closed at impact. This is vastly oversimplified and wholly untrue. The promoters of this idea have no proof except the typical anecdotal sayings of other teachers that preceded them. But in today’s information age (video counts as information) we have so many Youtube videos to verify your theory if you’ll just do a search. So before you encourage a student/golfer/child to buy into this concept take some time to examine the proof before you damage their swing or in some cases ruin a career.
First, what we call a closed clubface is not really closed or even square to the path of the club during the backswing. It is just LESS open. There’s still some closing of the clubface that needs to occur on the downswing in order to hit the ball straight, just LESS than from what the golf industry calls “square.”
Those prompting the closed clubface player to open the clubface aren’t necessarily shooting for square. Square would be fine if they stopped there. But in the end they often go overboard and downright open the clubface (toe of club pointing down vertically). Little do they know (or do they care since they bought the Kool Aid already, might as well drink it) that they are just making their students close the clubface MORE to hit it straight thus increasing the difficulty, increasing dependence on perfect timing and increasing the rate of closure (ROC).
As an example of this, here’s the infamous Ian Baker-Finch tee shot that went perhaps 120 yards left on his tee shot at St. Andrews.
How did this ball go so far left with the clubface that open at the top of his backswing?
Perhaps back in the early 1990’s high speed cameras were way too expensive. But in 2016, there are many affordable cameras that could give you an idea of why.
Back to US Open 2016 and Dustin Johnson. What’s so cool is that Dustin learned to hit a small fade out of the same position at the top of his backswing (pictured is the last frame we can actually see his clubface since he swings beyond parallel) to win the 2016 US Open. By getting more rotation and decreasing his right lateral bend he got his swing more “on plane” and path more to the left along with the same drive/hold release and hit a small fade throughout the week at the US Open.
He didn’t have to open his clubface (unlike Jordan) in order to hit it straighter. That’s key.
When you think about, let’s say a tour pro hitting a tiny draw might have face angle square while path 1 degree right. To fade it, wouldn’t he have to change by just two degrees more open (then face angle 2 degrees open while path is still 1 degree to the right. This would be a small push fade already. Why are people opening the clubface by 20 degrees or so on the backswing just to stop a hook? To me, this points toward another variable that might be the problem. Thus clubface at the top is not the problem. More likely it’s a change in the release pattern that causes the problem. It brings new meaning to the phrase, “He got quick on that one.” Yes he got quick in a faster roll of forearms or he flip/rolled it and there’s your hook.
But even a change from Dustin Johnson closed (bottom line of club is parallel to ground) to “industry standard square” could force a player to adjust 52 degrees. Imagine having to close the clubface 52 degrees more than what you’re used to? Before you could drive/hold but now must flip/roll to get it 52 degrees more closed. How’s that going to work? Oh, you don’t look at the release pattern you say. All releases are the same right? HUH?
Or let’s take a less extreme example. Suppose you had someone that had a slightly closed clubface at the top and they hit the ball pretty straight except for the one or two big hooks per round. Then you “adjust” his/her clubface by 10 degrees more open at the top of the backswing to get to the “perfect” square position, all things being equal this will ONLY help with the one or two big hooks per round. What about the other 98% of the shots? Doesn’t that mean that the student has to adjust his/her swing for all the other shots except for hooks? Won’t this mean that they will hit the ball to the right unless they adjust their swing to increase the amount of roll or possibly flip/roll?
Wouldn’t it be better to find out what’s going on during the 1 or 2 bad hooks per round instead of automatically assuming that it’s the top of the backswing clubface position? Then ruining the 98% to worry about the 2%. This is insane.
Opening and Closing Moves
I’ve gone over these moves before but here they are in a table.
Right external rotation
Right internal rotation
Left internal rotation
Left external rotation
Lack of rotation
Wrist (in general)
To further complicate matters more, this is a mix ‘n match situation. Rarely is someone going to do all closing or all opening moves or they will be consistent slicers or hookers. The timing of these moves is also critical and the bottom line is that the sum of all these moves gives you an idea of what the clubface will be doing at impact. All you need is a camera to shoot at a high enough frame rate and high shutter speed in order to start looking the impact movements (No computer or 3D software is going to do it for you).
What you don’t realize is that right shoulder external rotation (when you’re losing at arm wrestling) will automatically open the clubface even more than it is at the top of the backswing. An improper downswing could begin with early right shoulder internal rotation (winning at arm wrestling) and closing the clubface early but that would steepen the downswing plane and likely lead to an over the top downswing. Also, if early right shoulder IR occurs, it will quickly run out of its range of motion thereby leaving only the opposite movement or ER to occur in impact zone. Generally this is what slicers do and cannot overcome the powerful “opening of the clubface” shoulder movements with just a hand/forearm movement. Shoulders are bigger, stronger and faster than the hand/forearm movements.
As I have stated before, the right shoulder external rotation and transverse adduction are part of a great golf swing that you see virtually all tour pros use. Amateurs are lucky if they have learned it. So it’s a given that where the clubface is at the top is not necessarily where it will be at impact. Add in that there are numerous downswing release moves that occur and now you’ve got this incredibly complicated series of possibilities. One can roll, flip/roll, underflip, slice release and everything under the sun and do one release sometimes and other releases other times. This can make you hook then slice on consecutive swings. So to say that where the ball flies is only controlled by one position, clubface angle at the top of the backswing, is just incorrect, ignorant and not helping the student.
The general consensus of the instruction world is that if the bottom line of the clubface at the top of the backswing is parallel to your left forearm, it is considered square. If the clubface is pointed more toward the sky (bottom line more horizontal) then it is considered closed. Conversely if the clubface is pointed more horizontally (bottom line more vertical), then it is thought to be open.
The reality is that no one really knows what this means because there’s no way the clubface is square to the path or plane if you go by the current definition. But since we don’t have any better way of doing this, we’re just going to go along with it because it does give you an indication of how closed or open it is relative to other swings.
David Duval had the most closed clubface and Angel Cabrera had the most open clubface and the difference between the two is almost 90 degrees! So there’s a huge potential for differences.
One other problem is that in some cases the clubhead will disappear from view if the backswing is longer than parallel. So we have to assume that where the clubface is where we can last see it before it dips below parallel is where it is going to be at the very end of the backswing (though it may change). Also, some are with irons and some with woods. Just have to do the best we can with the videos that are available.
How did David Duval become #1 in the world with a closed clubface then?
Duval uses left wrist slight extension, left shoulder IR, left forearm slight pronation, rotates well, right forearm supination, right wrist moves toward flexion, holds right shoulder ER till just before impact then uses IR. The result is a stable release pattern that is repeatable. So he uses 5 out of 7 moves to hold off release since he’s a bit closed at the top of the backswing and only two, right shoulder IR and body rotation to close the clubface. The sum of all the parts = a very repeatable fade.
But if you have a golfer with a closed clubface at the top AND a flip/roll release (all closing moves) that’s a big hook waiting to happen.
Given the lack of technology, frame rates and the utter lack of interest or ability in diagnosing golfers’ release patterns by instructors, the low hanging fruit is the top of the backswing. It is easy enough to spot with your eyes.
Opening the clubface
So the recipe for disaster is to think simple. An intermittent hook causes a teacher to assume that the face angle is too closed at the top and must be opened. Sound familiar? Jordan Spieth is most recent convert from slightly closed clubface at the top to now slightly open. Cam McCormick, who vowed not to ruin Jordan, late last year began to point at the bowed wrist at the top and closed clubface therefore promoted fanning the clubface open (with slight cupping of left wrist and rolling left forearm with pronation) to reduce the intermittent hooks.
To make matters worse, he’s getting Jordan flatter and deeper on the backswing which all things being equal will shift his path more to the right thus inviting even more hooks.
Little does he know, he’s slowly going to force Jordan to change a lot of the opening/closing movements in his swing (asking the genius to make the swing changes work) AND the one thing that matters most, rate of closure will be higher now. But what happens when under pressure? The slightly closed clubface of a drive/holder that requires more tension in his/her normal swing (anti-rolling) can work to his/her advantage under pressure. More tension and tightness in hands/forearms = more stable at impact. This is another way of saying that drive/holders have a built-in way of dealing with pressure and tension.
Contrast, if Jordan has the clubface more open than normal (the past 10 years or so) and you have more tension in the hands/arms (yet need more relaxed arms to roll faster), it will yield a weak push fade. Hmmmmm, 12th hole at Augusta??? See how this can totally affect a great player? All of a sudden the tension is their enemy not their friend.
Thus besides the idea of having to change all of these release moves, under pressure tightening reaction must be monitored and stopped. Soon he’ll be seeing a psychologist. That’s a whole new can of worms to have to deal with and if Jordan has been playing with his old swing for over a decade, what makes you think you can change this reaction to pressure so easily? He knows what the “go to” swing is but now it won’t work with a different swing.
Of course I could be wrong. But it is painful to watch the slow deterioration of a great player. Shall I list a few #1 in the world players that have gone through this?
Lydia Ko (slowly changing toward A Swing)
These are the high profile ones that we know of. There are probably hundreds more of these players that make this change, never to be heard from again.
Danny Willett Jordan Spieth 2014 Spieth at ATT 2 weeks ago
Jason Day Zach Johnson
Martin Kaymer Bubba Watson
Adam Scott Justin Rose
Webb Simpson Jason Dufner
Keegan Bradley Ernie Els
Charl Schwartzel Darren Clarke
Graeme MacDowell Angel Cabrera
Louis OosthuizenMartin Kaymer Lucas GloverStewart Cink
YE Yang Padraig Harrington when winning
Geoff Ogilvy Michael Campbell
Tiger Woods 1997 Phil Mickelson Retief Goosen Todd Hamilton
Ben Curtis Mike Weir
Jim Furyk David Duval
David Toms Rich Beem
Jose Maria Olazabal Payne Stewart
Paul Lawrie Lee Janzen
Mark O’Meara Justin leonard Davis Love III Tom Lehman
Special Women’s Edition
Square and no one messed with that swing.
Yani Tseng when dominating on the left. For some reason, she felt the need to improve. So open that clubface at the top and lose your game. Now she struggles to make cuts.
On the left is Michelle Wie at 14 years old, slightly closed clubface and bombing 300 yard drives. Now barely making cuts. On the right, when you don’t see the clubface it is because it is rotated so open that the face is hiding behind the neck of the club.
Karrie Webb, Hall of Famer went down this road after dominating with the closed clubface angle at the top of her backswing in her early years. After her original teacher passed away, she got new coach, new swing with open clubface and went downhill.
Suzann Pettersen before was a bit laid off, flat but with a closed clubface. Just as MW, she has the clubface so open we can’t see it at the top.
This is a bit of a side note. Nancy Lopez showing cross the line and closed clubface at the top. Luckily no video cameras were around in her era so she could dominate without all the whispers about her closed clubface position and her crossing the line too much. But check out her impact position. Tremendous rotation!
The “A Swing” of Lydia Ko has really changed the look of her swing. Flashy paint job but luckily her clubface is still much like her old swing (left). It’s square to just slightly closed and luck for her her release hasn’t changed (middle and right pic). Still drive/holding instead of rehinging fast with the patented Leadbetter flip.
So the numbers went like this. 27 of 44 or 60% major winners in the last 20 years had a closed clubface by the industry’s standard. 10 of 44 or 23% were square and only 7 of 44 or 16% of the major winners had an open face. Do ya really want to open that clubface at the top of the backswing?
It is interesting also that this sort of follows the strong grip survey. It’s logical that if they tour guys have stronger grips in general that they should also have a more closed clubface at the top. Meanwhile amateurs are taught the weak grip and open clubface at the top. No wonder amateurs hit it short and crooked. So let’s stop the madness and not let any flipper teacher open your clubface ever again.