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12 EXPERTS AGREE ON TWO ASPECTS OF THE GOLF SWING: HEAD BACK AND MAINTAIN SPINE ANGLE

 

Golf historians have credited H.G. Farnie with the publication of the first ever golf instruction book in 1857 in Scotland. Since then, thousands of golf instruction books have been written by experts and touring PGA professionals, by Country Club professionals and by golf aficionados at all levels of expertise. Additionally, there have been hundreds of thousands of Golf Tips published in weekly, biweekly and monthly magazines, since their arrivals in the media in the 1930’s. And now with the Internet, such tips must number in the millions from e-mails, e-zines, blogs, forums and web sites. You might call me one of those aficionados. Over my 40+ years of playing -- or should I say, struggling-- with the game, I have read well over 100 such instruction books and thousands of printed and internet tips and techniques. Here is a shocking finding: for almost every tip that I have found in print or on the net, I have found a tip suggesting the exact opposite advice. George Knudson, author of The Natural Golf Swing, stated on page 118 in his book, that: “Golf instruction is full of misconceptions and misinformation, including good ideas that have been garbled and misinterpreted as they’ve come into common usage.”

 

Here is a good example of such a misconception or misinformation offered by none other than the great Jack Nicklaus, in his bestselling book Golf My Way. The title of Chapter 6 is: Golf’s One Unarguable, Universal Fundamental. Jack states that “I regard keeping the head very steady, if not absolutely stock still, throughout the swing as the bedrock fundamental of golf.” But informed golfers know that Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa, the top male and female golfers in the world in 2008, as well as other prominent touring professionals, move their heads during their swings and particularly on their downswings.

So what unequivocal advice is a golfer to follow if she or he wants to improve their game? The search for an answer to this question has uncovered that there are at least TWO aspects of the golf swing on which most, if not all experts will agree. They are:

          Aspect No. 1: Keep your head back and behind the ball through impact.

          Aspect No. 2: Maintain your spine angle.

The following pages will offer excerpts and actual quotes from twelve of the best golf instruction books ever published. The twelve experts and their golf instruction books, spanning a timeframe from 1927 to 2007, reviewed in this paper are:

 

1. Bobby Jones, The Best of Bobby Jones On Golf

2. Ben Hogan, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf

3. Harvey Penick, The Little Red Book

4. Ernest Jones, Swing the Clubhead

5. Tommy Armour, How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time

6. Percy Boomer, On Learning Golf

7. Jack Nicklaus, Golf My Way

8. Kellie Stenzel, The Women’s Guide to Golf

9. Tiger Woods, How I Play Golf

10. George Knudson, The Natural Golf Swing

11. Annika Sorenstam, Golf Annika’s Way

12. David Leadbetter, 100% Golf

 

Perhaps you already noticed in paragraph two above that, actual quotes from the authors are shown in bold print. Book titles are shown in bold italics. Page numbers from the actual version, edition, hardback or paperback of the book reviewed, are shown where useful. Such page numbers may be different from the page numbers in other versions or editions of the same book. Key points, words or phrases, as determined by this author/aficionado are underlined.

 

1. Bobby Jones, The Best of Bobby Jones On Golf

 

Bobby Jones first wrote about golf in the 1920’s in published newspaper columns. His grandson and Sidney Matthew compiled 50 of these columns in their book, The Best of Bobby Jones On Golf, published in 1996. Much of Jones’ writings focused on balance. Pictures of his swing not only showed his excellent balance but also showed his head back and behind the ball through impact.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. On Page 70, Jones writes: “Stay behind the ball” is a splendid maxim. Not because it is impossible to get the ball too far forward (at address), but because an error on that side makes itself felt at once, while a mistake in the other direction may be overlooked indefinitely.”

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. Back in the 20’s, little was written or discussed about spine angle. And no specific reference to spine angle could be found in his book. Jones’ swing however, was one of perfect balance. Balance cannot be achieved without maintaining a constant spine angle.

 

2. Ben Hogan, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf

 

To many golf professionals and instructors, Hogan’s book is regarded as the “Bible.” As the title suggests, Hogan spends considerable time on “fundamentals.” These include the Grip, Stance and Posture, The First Part of the Swing (Backswing) and The Second Part of the Swing (Downswing). In page 77, Hogan introduces his concept of plane by suggesting that it is “an immense pane of glass, resting on the golfer’s shoulders and extending to the ball. As the player stands before the ball at address, his head sticks out through a hole in this imaginary pane of glass. As the shoulders turn on the backswing, the top of the shoulders will continuously be brushing against the glass, thereby creating the backswing plane.” On the downswing, Hogan is actually teaching what today, experts refer to as the “Two plane swing.” Hogan teaches that the downswing plane is inclined at a shallower angle than the plane of the backswing, thereby ensuring an inside-out swing

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. Although Hogan does not specifically say so, in all the pictures shown in the chapters regarding the backswing and downswing, the golfer’s head is “fixed” inside the head opening in the pane of glass. The head cannot move forward of the ball through impact. It is (pretended to be) restrained within this hole in the glass. The head remains back of the ball.

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. In a manner similar to restraining any golfer’s head movement, by “brushing the glass,” the golfer maintains the spine angle on the backswing. On the downswing, the plane may be shallower, but the spine angle is still maintained. “Most poor players stop their hip rotation and force the whole upper part of their body outside the proper line.” They are coming up and out of their shots. They do not maintain their spine angles.

 

3. Harvey Penick, The Little Red Book

 

Harvey Penick offers 103 “lessons and teachings” about golf and the golf swing in his bestseller, The Little Red Book, published in 1992.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. Page 75 is entitled “Stay Behind the Ball.” “All great golfers move their head slightly backward before and during impact, never forward. A golfer must stay behind the ball. I mean set up with your head behind the ball and keep your head behind the ball. If you move your head forward during your downswing or through impact, you will hit a wee, ugly shot, probably a pulled slice.” Harvey quotes a Lee Trevino golf tip: “Don’t move your head forward. A positive way to put his tip is: stay behind the ball.”

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. Nothing could be found in Penick’s book that touches on this aspect of the swing.

 

4. Ernest Jones, Swing the Clubhead

 

Ernest Jones’ original golf instruction book was entitled Swinging Into Golf, and was published in 1937. It was revised and retitled in 2003. In the Introduction to his book, Jones writes: “I read books by the leading professionals, and many others besides, but I am frank to confess that with a single exception, these, instead of helping me, merely added to my confusion, because of their many contradictions.” (That single exception was The Art of Golf, a book now out of print.)

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. Jones focuses his instruction on the “feeling of the swing” and intentionally stays away from any specific mechanics of the swing. Absolutely no mention is made of the golfer’s head or where it should be at any point in the swing. Pages 52-53 however, show 18 sketches of a golfer’s swing, from address to follow through. Seventeen of the 18 sketches clearly show the head to be back of the ball. Sketch 17, depicting the golfer’s swing somewhat after impact, shows the head to be well back and behind the ball through impact. Only in sketch 18, fully after the completion of the swing, is the golfer’s head in front of the ball position at address. In the next to the last page of his book, Jones states: “There remains however, just one further consideration, involving one bit of advice that is impressed on every golfer-Keep Your Eye on the Ball. To be sure, you look at the ball…….Like other attendant actions, the practice of looking at the ball will become entirely responsive, once the player has developed the routine of making a smooth, rhythmic swing.” This was the only mention found regarding the head or the eye in Jones’ book.

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. On page 40, Jones writes: “It has been suggested above than a slight bend at the waist is necessary to permit the player to take a starting position for the stroke. The prevailing error is toward bending over too much. The body ought to be kept reasonably erect, and, once the position is established, it should be maintained throughout the swing. Straightening up or bending lower cannot but destroy the effectiveness of the stroke.” Golfers will not maintain their spine angles if they straighten up or bend lower at any time after setting up or during their swings.

 

5. Tommy Armour, How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time

 

In the Introduction to Armour’s book, Grantland Rice wrote: “Tommy Armour, a transplanted Scot, has been a brilliant tournament golfer and is one of the keenest instructors golf has today.” Here is what Armour wrote about the two aspects.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. On page 70, Armour shows an excellent drawing that is entitled: IMPACT ON THE LONG IRON SHOT. It clearly pictures a golfer striking a ball with a long iron and with his head back, and behind the ball after impact. In the hardback edition, dated 1953, Tommy Armour uses red type to make key points. Page 79 emphasizes: “The cardinal principle of all golf shot-making is that if you move your head, you ruin body action.” Although Armour does not specifically say to keep your head back, by not moving one’s head, a head back position is implied. Armour summarizes his entire book on page 151, entitled “The simple routine of an orderly golf shot.” Here he lists 12 key points, covering all aspects of the swing. Key points No. 5, 10 and 12 are totally repetitive and simply state: “Keep your head steady.” Again Armour does not specifically say to keep your head back. But by keeping your head steady, and particularly as it is shown behind the ball in the drawing on page 70 mentioned above, he implies a head back through impact. Nothing in Armour’s book contradicts aspect no.1, that of keeping your head back and behind the ball through impact.

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. On page 63, Armour writes: “An ordinary error of players is to bend over too much at the address. Then, they straighten up as they swing, and after they’ve topped the ball, they think they’ve looked up. Of course what happened is that they stood up as they should have done at the start when they were positioning the club. “Straighten up” or “stood up,” is another way of saying that the golfer did not maintain her/his spine angle. One cannot straighten up and still maintain one’s spine angle at any point during the swing.

 

6. Percy Boomer, On Learning Golf

 

Of all the books reviewed, Percy Boomer’s book was the most difficult within which to find specific relevant passages about the two aspects, “head back and spine angle.” Published in 1946, Boomer’s usage of the English language is faultless. And he states that his book focuses on “learning golf” and not on the science or mechanics of golf. None the less, Boomer does not disagree with the two aspects.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back and Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. On page 62, Boomer ties together both aspects as he writes: “We can only keep the shoulder movement in a fixed groove and make it repeatable time after time, by keeping the shoulders at the limit of upness in whatever position the turn from the hips may have placed them. Any excess of upness (that is, actual shoulder lift) will result in the ball being lost sight of.” Keeping the shoulders in a fixed groove, no doubt is Boomer’s way of saying to maintain the spine angle. Any shoulder lift would not be maintaining the spine angle. And a shoulder lift, particularly on the downswing, would result in losing sight of the ball. The head did not stay back and/or behind the ball.

 

Aspect No. 1. On page 132, Boomer writes: “The upwards brace holds you in such a position and condition that you feel you are ‘inwards and behind the back of the ball.” Head is held back and behind the ball.

 

Aspect No. 2. On page 139, Boomer states: “Both hips and shoulders are held up and braced, and they move in the same circular path.” Such maintains the spine angle.

 

7. Jack Nicklaus, Golf My Way

 

Of all the authors quoted and referenced in this paper, Jack Nicklaus devotes more time to the golfer’s head than any other author.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. Chapter 6 of Jack’s book is entitled: “Golf’s One Unarguable, Universal Fundamental.” Here are some exact quotes: “I regard keeping the head very steady, if not absolutely stock still, throughout the swing as the bedrock fundamental of golf. If you are hoping to improve your game through these pages, but can’t or won’t learn to keep your head steady throughout the swing, read no further. There is nothing I - or anyone else- can do for your golf game.” The reasons the head must stay steady are: 1. The head, or at least the neck or the top of the spine, is the fulcrum or hub or axis of the swing. As such, and shifting of it up, down or sideways must inhibit or weaken the spring like coiling of the body on the backswing that is so essential to the swing. 2 Any shifting of the head, at any point from address to impact, will alter the arc and plane of the swing, which, if not a totally destructive factor, is certainly a complicating one. 3. Movement of the head changes the line of view and it tends to force the eyes to alter their image or focus. It is very difficult to hit any object you are not looking at. 4. As the heaviest part of the body, relative to its size, the head has a strong influence on balance. Few people are agile enough to retain their full balance during the exertion of a full golf swing if their head moves.”

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. On page 154, Jack states: “Collapsing the left side at impact is a common fault of middle- and high-handicap golfers. The body sags at the waist,…..” The golfer does not maintain the spine angle. “At impact, I am ‘down’ on the shot.” Jack does not come up or out of his shot. By staying down, he maintains his spine angle.

 

8. Kellie Stenzel, The Women’s Guide to Golf

 

Kellie Stenzel’s book is a well written and easy to understand golf instruction book for women who are new to the game. Stenzel purposely avoids the technical aspects of the swing and the game, focusing more on basic skills and fundamentals.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. There are over 70 photos, several of which show her swing and her head back and behind the ball at impact.

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. On Page 83, Stenzel introduces one of her cardinal points of the swing: “Centered rotation about the spine.” “The torso should rotate around the spine. The shoulders should turn away from the target on the backswing and toward the target on the forward swing, and turn 90 degrees on the backswing and 180 degrees from that position to face the target on the forward swing. The shoulders should neither dip nor tilt.” Here, Stenzel is saying that the angle of the spine must be maintained.

 

9. Tiger Woods, How I Play Golf

 

Published in 2007, Tiger Woods’ book already has become a bestseller. Woods covers many aspects of the swing as well as all types of shots, the mental game, nutrition and even training.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back and Aspect No. 2 Maintain Spine Angle. On page 153, Woods nicely summarizes both the aspects of this paper. “Impact should look like address. My spine angle is the same and my head is in virtually the same spot. It proves how uncomplicated the golf swing can be.” Actually, a study of pictures and videos of Tiger’s swing shows that his head moves slightly down on the downswing (still virtually the same spot) but it is well back and behind the ball until well after impact.

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. The caption in a picture on page 203 states: “My head is still down (also back) a sign that I’ve stayed with the shot, instead of bailing out with my upper body.” Such a “bail out” as Woods calls it is another way of saying “not maintaining one’s spine angle.”

 

10. George Knudson, The Natural Golf Swing

 

In his bestselling book, The Natural Golf Swing, George Knudsen emphasizes balance, created by a rotary motion of the hands, arms and clubhead around the trunk. “The essence of the natural golf swing entails connecting a starting position to a finishing position. This connection is best achieved through weight transfer and rotation around the trunk.”

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. Knudsen does not say very much about the golfer’s head in his book. On Page 123 however, he does state: “We see a golfer’s head behind the ball at impact, as an effect of a free and natural swing, in motion and in balance.” In this statement, Knudson agrees that the golfer’s head is in fact behind the ball at impact, as a result of a “natural swing.” On the lower right corner of pages 51 to 149, there are pictures which can be flicked, to show Knudsen’s entire natural swing. Two-thirds of the pictures in the animation show a swing with the head back and behind the ball until well after the impact zone. Pictures from pages 123 to 149 show the swing after impact and into a full follow through. They show the head following the ball toward the target.

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. “The most effective swing is one which produces consistency and power in balance. Consistency depends on a pure plane, the path the clubhead travels relative to a target. His posture is good, with his spine straight, and will remain so through a full finish. Knudson says that by keeping the spine straight throughout the swing, to a full finish, consistency and power are produced in balance. Here, Knudson is agreeing with aspect No. 2. There is little doubt that by maintaining one’s spine angle, one will also maintain balance.

 

11. Annika Sorenstam, Golf Annika’s Way

 

Annika, the one and only Annika, is one of the most successful golfers ever. Having won over 90 International Tour events during her illustrious career, Annika Sorenstam was named female golfer of the year, a record eight times. She officially retired in 2008. Her book, published in 2005, offers priceless advice from a champion’s view.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. The series of pictures of Annika’s full swing on pages 65 - 68, clearly show that her head is indeed back and behind the ball at impact. Unlike many other top male and female golfers however, her head moves more quickly as it “follows the ball to the target after impact.” Such has become her signature move, which she learned as a youngster to eliminate her 8 reverse “C” finish. Sequential pictures on pages 142 to 143 again show her head to be behind the ball at impact.

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. Annika writes very little about the spine angle. However, the series of pictures that show Annika’s swing from behind her right shoulder clearly depict how she maintains her spine angle well into the follow through.

 

12. David Leadbetter, 100% Golf

 

David Leadbetter is the golf pro who teaches golf pros. Drawing on his lifetime of playing and teaching golf, Leadbetter has developed the ability to translate difficult swing concepts into words that can be understood by the amateur. Here is what he writes about the two aspects.

 

Aspect No. 1. Head Back. The caption for the picture shown on page 81 states: “The head and upper body stay behind the ball as you unswing and accelerate into impact.”

 

Aspect No. 2. Maintain Spine Angle. On page 53, Leadbetter writes: “The body angles that are created at the set up are maintained right up to the point of impact. On page 59, Leadbetter states: “Turn and shift your weight about the axis created by your spine angle. Try to maintain that angle from the set up all the way to the moment of impact and don’t worry if your head has to move a little. Virtually every dynamic swing features lateral head movement. Back and behind the ball.

 

Conclusion

 

It is fitting to conclude this white paper with one quote from David Leadbetter, which says it all in one sentence: “Your spine angle at impact is identical to the angle at which you set up at address. Your head and spine are behind the ball at impact.”

 

This paper was written by Bob Doyle, President and founder of Forever Better Golf Inc. Bob has struggled with the game most of his life, playing to around an 18 handicap. A serious and avid golfer, he has been researching the golf swing for over thirty years. As stated in this paper he found many interpretations, misconceptions and contradictions about the swing, coming from numerous experts. By focusing on the two aspects, about which there were no contradictions, Bob invented the PRO-HEAD Trainer, a full swing training aid that does in fact, help the golfer to keep the head back and behind the ball through impact and to maintain the spine angle. The training aid helped Bob to break 80 for the first time in his life at age 65. He has done it several times since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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