Gene Littler, winner of the 1961 United States Open and 28 other PGA tournaments, and owner of the smoothest swing in the game during his prime, died on February 16 at the age of 88.
I was talking with my son last week about golf and his problem hitting the ball straight.
My son said he could hit the ball straight sometimes, but too often hit a huge banana slice, and the conversation went from there straight into talking about lag.
Lag is the Holy Grail of recreational golf. The more the better. Get that clubhead way behind you and whip it into the ball and your tee shot will go for miles.
I’m a right-to-left player, and when I hit a huge slice it’s because I forget myself and do what I just described. Only when I do it, my body gets way ahead of my hands and arms and the clubhead gets left too far behind. It has no chance to square up and comes into the ball wide open. Hello, adjoining fairway.
You see, when you TRY to create lag, creating it artificially, bad things can happen.
Lag is created by the hinging of your wrists, and the flexibility of your wrists in the process.
You want all the lag you can get at the top of the backswing, and maybe starting down. But once your hands get to about hip height on the way into the ball, the lag starts disappearing NATURALLY and the hands lead the clubhead by a few inches.
Trying to hold on to your lag for too long doesn’t work.
Many of today’s touring pros have with their body way out in front at impact, but they get away with it, because they don’t out-swing their arms. We’re not them and we can’t get away with it.
Forget about lag. Just pretend you never heard the word. If you hit the ball with the hands leading the clubhead in the way this drill teaches you , you will have all the lag you need and can use.
Last week a new paper was published describing the effects of the modern golf swing on the lumbar spine. The effects are not good.
The article states that professional golfers generate “about 7500 N compressive on the spine during the downswing.” One N (newton) is the amount of force needed to move one kilogram at an acceleration of one meter per second per second.
No one’s back is designed to stand up to 7500 of those.
Then the article takes on the X-factor, without mentioning Jim McLean. But I will. The greater the angle between the hip line and the shoulder line at the end of the backswing, the more power can be generated on the downswing.
However, this position sets up the golfer to deliver a huge load of lateral bending and torsional axial moments (twisting of the spine) right before impact.
More distance = more back damage. Thanks, Jim.
Exercising the core muscles, and muscles in the back that support the spine, which golfers are told to do, do not help matters. Stronger muscles create stronger swings, which place more force on the spine, not less.
If you read the article, which you should absolutely do, there are some technical terms in it. This little glossary should help with a few of them.
acromion – a bony process (portrusion) on the shoulder blade that hooks over the front to make a joint with the collar bone.
facet joint – joints that allow vertebrae to slide over each other when the back goes through various movements.
spinal erector muscles – a set of long muscles that surround the spine and govern certain movements of the back. When these muscles are engaged they exert longitudinal compression on the spine which raises intradiscal pressure.
disc annulus – the outer portion of the pulpy mass between the bony vertebral bodies.
So. What does this mean for you?
First of all, study Justin Thomas’s swing carefully. then do not do what he does. He is a case study of the scary swing identified in this article.
Second, remember that the pros need all the distance they can get to be competitive. You don’t if you play from the appropriate tees.
Again, though the X-factor that Jim McLean identified might well be true in terms of hitting the ball farther, it is murder on a golfer’s back. Don’t go there. Don’t force your backswing. Get your distance from hitting the ball on the center of the clubface.
Fourth, do the things I mentioned in this post about building a back-friendly golf swing.
Seven years ago to this day, I was in my living room in a hospital bed we had rented for me to stay in following back surgery I had had two days earlier. Since I wasn’t going anywhere soon, I watched a lot of television.
I watched all the Dollar westerns, and Once Upon a Time In the West.
I also watched a lot of golf, including the Waste Management Open, the very one being played this weekend. All four rounds.
When you have nothing else you can do but watch, you can’t get up and wander into the kitchen to get a snack, for example, you really watch.
This is what I saw.
Whenever a player played a chip or a short pitch, they ROLLED the ball up to the hole. There was no flying the ball up the hole and making it stop on a dime.
Now that’s a spectacular shot, and it has its place, but it rarely ever gets done what a touring pro wants to get done—put the ball in the hole.
You see, the pros aren’t trying to get these shots close. They’re trying to sink them. It’s a rolling ball that will go in.
I had never noticed that until I saw a steady diet of it over four days.
The next weekend I was still housebound and I saw it again at the next tournament, the AT&T at Pebble Beach.
Roll the ball to the hole, don’t fly it there.
So when I was able to get up and around, but not able to swing a golf club, I had a lesson on chipping. From the ground up, learning how to roll the ball.
That, and lots of practice, changed me from an indifferent chipper into a very good chipper. Chipping is one of the strengths of my game.
So when you practice around the green, if you’re not doing so already, practice that way. Roll it.
The January 2019 edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book is now online.
The new text is in blue, though there isn’t much of that this month. I hope you like it.