December 18, 2018- by Steven E. Greer, MD
I have admittedly been a flip-flopper on fundamental ideas about how to swing a golf club. However, I think that I am finally settling on the correct answers to the riddles.
Over the last two golf seasons, since beginning the Golf Project, I have taken a scientific experimental approach to learning the swing. Many of those experiments have failed, but they taught me a lot. I know what does not work, which is as important as knowing what does work.
The first big problem I had to address was my atrocious, panic-inducing, backswing. No golf teacher could tell me how to start the swing and which muscles to use. I tried using the hands, then only the core trunk muscles with dead hands, then turning only with the hip muscles, etc. I now have a pretty darn good backswing, and I visualize the hands.
Since October, I have been mostly indoors doing intense swing thoughts and air-swings. I have started to make exponential progress.
As my swing gets better, I am now fine tuning the transition to get that super-elite throwing motion of the elbow that Brooks Koepka and others achieve. I was looking from the front at my swing compared to Koepka’s and realized that he completely flattens the left hand so that the back of the hand is almost horizontal and pointing to the sky (i.e. he pronates the left wrist and supinates the right wrist). He achieves the freakish elbow position not by moving the elbow, per se, but rather by working his hands.
If one flattens the hands, then the elbow automatically gets into position. I tried this indoors and immediately knew that I had finally found the solution to this trickiest move of the swing.
On my first attempt with real golf balls (below), I made a lot of progress with the elbow by visualize the immediate hand and shaft flattening to start the transition. I had tried to do this for months by thinking about the elbow and it simply did not work.
I this video, I try out for the first time the drill of visualizing flattening the hands and shaft to start the transition. After months of struggling, trying this by controlling the elbow to no avail, I finally was able to make progress when I switched to controlling it all with my hands.
However, the bigger lesson here is that I am now certain that the key to the golf swing is to have mental images related to the hands and forearms. The entire torso and lower body will automatically make miraculous moves due to our complex neurocircuitry found in the spinal cord within the vestibular system, in the inner ear for balance, and also in the cerebellum.
Why are the hands King? Why do mental images of the swing involving a throwing motion with the hands work so well? One needs only to look at the mapping of the cortex of the brain.
The homunculus is this funny looking creature that represents by size the areas of the sensory and motor cortex that are nerves devoted to certain body parts. Humans have evolved into the most powerful species by having extremely skillful fingers. We can use tools. Our ancestors could throw weapons and kill animals for food. This allowed us to migrate farther north into Europe, Asia, then North America.
I now believe that the key to achieving the ideal swing is to use the hands to slowly start the backswing on the proper arc or plane. Then, use the hands to flatten the shaft in the transition, which gets the elbow into a position to throw the club. Then, accelerate and throw the club down the target line.
I have tried using mental thoughts that controlled my hips and legs in the downswing. With great effort, I got them to work, but the swing was never natural. The upper body lagged and was out of sync.
In stark contrast, the swing I have now that uses mental images of the hands is so natural and so effective. When I simply started to visualize throwing the club, all of my center of gravity issues resolved. My head automatically stabilized and did not fall to the right. That is because my lower body made complex moves to shift the weight, but I had no conscious control of that.
We are all born knowing how to swing a club well. It is part of our wiring. We just have to get the proper mental images working. One is not swinging at the golf ball. That is the root of all evil. Rather, one is throwing a club 100-yards toward the green.
A great football throwing motion and great golf swing have much in common, starting with the hands and elbow.
(Footnote: The start of the backswing is not natural to us and does require a conscious effort to get going on the proper plane. However, plenty of professional golfers start the swing on wrong plane and still recover in the downswing using good hands.)