Science and the Golf Swing

Math and the Golf Swing

Do you have a beautiful ‘finish’? That move where you turn your entire torso to face target and come up off your trail (usually right) heel?

Did it ever strike you, that as you ‘stand up and turn’ to make this ‘finish’ you are only applying a fraction of the force you intend to apply to the ball, and the rest is leaking away somewhere (into the ground or air around the ball, depending on your quality of impact).

Let’s say you plan to put in a certain amount of force into your ball, a quantity we shall call ‘x’. As you ‘stand and turn’ to make your finish, your club travels along the red dotted line, making only a glancing blow at the ball, with only a fraction of the total force ‘x’ actually being transferred to the ball!

The amount of force that goes into the ball?

cosine x (ie a fraction of, instead of, ‘x’)

Basic high-school trigonometry. (The green, blue and dotted red lines form a triangle. The red line should be straight, but is curved to show that you’re ‘missing out’ in two directions as you stand and turn – horizontal as you ‘turn’ and vertical as you ‘stand’.)

The MGS swing requires you to keep your back-facing-target twist of address and your right heel planted for as long as possible, during the downswing, thus actively preventing you from ‘standing and turning’ until well past impact. The result – you put all the power you intended to – ‘x’ – into the ball!

PS: If you must ‘stand and finish’ to ‘look good’ at the end, try to delay that move for as long as possible, it’s merely cosmetic, and often results in over-the-top or falling back on the back-leg instead.

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Physics and the Golf Swing

Force: a PUSH or PULL acting upon an object (when you hit the golf ball you push it – in a good way, in this case, ie. not out to the right!)

Work: is said to be done when the point of application of a force (the golf ball) moves, in the direction of the force (hopefully targetward!)

Power: is the rate of doing work. So, if ‘work’ is done to propel the golf ball towards the target as a faster rate, more power has been used.

Does it become increasingly clear from these three simple definitions that the power must be applied at exactly the right point and in exactly the right direction to maximize distance and produce straighter direction?

The MGSS actually restricts all excess and/or inappropriate motion to such an extent that the club drops right down to the bottom of the ball, as it approaches from an inside path! Therefore the point of application of the force is ideal, and maximizes whatever energy a golfer is able to impart to the ball.

Energy? What’s that? That was not discussed earlier?

Energy: the ability to do work (true in real life too). It has the same units as ‘work’

With respect to the recent Long Driver post, each of them has a lot of ‘energy’, can do a lot of ‘work’, and with a lot of ‘power’ (rate of doing the work), but sadly, the point of application of the force is often not the bottom right (or left, if you’re left-handed) part of the ball!

Next post: basic trigonometry for the golf swing.

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The FAIRGROUND that is MGS

Getting you here was a way to trick you into taking a simple anatomy lesson!                                                                                  (If only the science text books would keep it as simple as this lesson is, everyone would love science.)

If you stand upright with your toes pointed forward and your palms facing forward too, you will be in anatomical position.

Next, imagine a line running vertically down through you nose and belly button. That line is termed the mid-line of the body.

Two lines which all golfers are familiar with, will help to simplify things further. The target line is an imaginary line  connecting the ball to the target. A line through the body, parallel to the target line, can be termed the body line.

Any movement which is made towards the target line or away from it, can be thought of as taking place in the ‘sagittal plane’ (it lies perpendicular to the body line). For instance, as you walk, your legs move in the sagittal plane.

Any movement taking place along the body line is a frontal/coronal plane movement. If you lie in the snow and make snow-angels, or do jumping-jacks, you are making a mostly frontal plane move.

A movement in which the body twists around a vertical line such as the mid-line, is termed a transverse-plane movement. This is a movement best reserved for ballet-dancers or figure-skaters but being forced upon us golfers!

Any human movement is actually a combination of movement at various joints, and all joints are only capable of moving in certain fixed planes of motion – the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes (or a combination of these).

In an ideal (or MGS) world, during the downswing, the arms should only be moving on a (fairly) frontal plane (ie. ferris-wheel), and the body can be most efficient if it is able to make a purely transverse plane movement (ie. merry-go-round).

What prevents the arms from swinging ferris-wheel and the body from swinging merry-go-round during the downswing? A backswing which moves the arms in the sagittal or transverse planes, or the body in the sagittal or frontal planes.

The ARMS’ FERRIS-WHEEL: Is obstructed by left trunk bend, backward wrist bend, too much elbow bend, forearm twist and chest twist (see a new ‘myth buster’ about thoracic rotation coming soon).

The BODY MERRY-GO-ROUND is obstructed by lead-side trunk, knee or ankle bend, and whole-body translation side-to-side or up-and-downward.

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Anatomy Trains

Recently read a book by Thomas Myers, called ‘Anatomy Trains’. It talks about ‘myofascial meridians’, which in simple terms means specific lines along which the ‘fascia’ which surround our muscles and soft-tissue lie. ‘Fascia’ is basically connective tissue which binds many structures of the body together, and ‘myo’ implies fascia connected to the muscles. ‘Myofascia’ is best visualized as a spider’s web surrounding all the bundles of muscles, and, according to Mr Myers (and his having seen this on scores of cadavers and studied the subject in detail), myofascia arranges itself along specific lines (‘meridians’) which run through the body.

Of the many meridians Mr Myers describes, two fit in very well with the MGS concept. What follows is a highly simplistic explanation:

When the meridians remain connected through any movement, they lend power to the movement (via a stretch-shortening cycle) as well as allow more efficient movement of the muscles.

One meridian is termed the  deep back arm line, going approximately from the fingers of one hand to the fingers of the other, through the two shoulder blades (scapulae). As MGS keeps both arms working together from address to finish, the deep back arm line of fascia would not be broken as it would with independent movements of the shoulders, elbows, forearms and wrists. The unbroken fascia would then help to keep the arms system together, and encourage a purely frontal-plane (ie ferris-wheel) movement of the arms complex.

Another meridian of interest in MGS is the front functional line. There are two of these, but the one of specific interest is the one that runs from trail mid-thigh (back of femur), through the inner thigh (adductor longus), the middle of the hipbone (symphysis pubis), the front of the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus), the middle of the chest (pectoralis major) and the middle of the upper-arm (humerus).

With the MGS, as the lead arm drops, at the start of the downswing, and ‘over-the-top’ becomes difficult, the lead arm and trail arm drop down in synchrony, and this is followed by the hips (pelvis) rotating, and last of all, allowing the trail shoulder as it passes the ball. This myofascial linkage of lead arm to trail foot encourages power production (via stretched muscle and accompanying fascia contracting at impact).


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How you can either ‘fix’ your faults by improving your flexibility and strength and working out a lot OR you can use MGS to cure TPI’s 4 most commonly seen swing-faults.

Early Extension: if the left side (for a right-handed golfer) of the body (trunk, and, usually, with it, knee) dip down, naturally the right side must somehow become lower than the left at impact. Hence the reason most people ‘early extend’.

But is there any GOOD reason for the left shoulder to tilt ground-ward during the backswing in the first place? After all, the right hand is place lower than the left at address and is positioned the same way at impact. What sense does it make to have what ‘they’ (many authorities on golf) term a deep shoulder tilt of the left shoulder at the top of the backswing?

The MAGIC MOVE of the MGS is to keep the right trunk/upper body/shoulder lower than the left all through the backswing – voila – NO EARLY EXTENSION during the downswing!

S or C posture: Now obviously MGS cannot sort postural problems, but the main reason S or C are not good are because they prevent ‘external rotation’ of the right shoulder. ‘External rotation’ is absent if your right elbow points backwards and is present if it points downwards.

However, the MGS is able to reduce the amount the right elbow points backwards, simply by requiring the right trunk to stay lower than the left and by requiring the right hand, elbow and shoulder to be LOOSE all through the backswing.

Over-the-top (OTT) and Early Release/Casting It truly is amazing how many ‘faults’ are blamed on what your body is not capable of doing, AFTER putting you into positions unsuited to human joint-design IN THE FIRST PLACE!

A simple example. Stand upright, then with any one arm hanging by your side, make a fist and the make a bicep curl. Chances are you made this movement in front of your body, in what is technically termed in a ‘sagittal plane’.

Now hang the arm down again and make a fist once more. This time make a bicep curl while keeping the palm facing the body, and the forearm bending in line with the body (on a frontal/coronal plane). Not possible? The point being, your elbow is designed to be flexed (bent) ONLY in the sagittal plane. It will bend in the frontal plane if required to do so, but must first rotate the entire upper-arm

If every joint involved has to similarly reposition itself (as the talented pros are able to do after years of repeating the movement), imagine how likely they are to do so. With poor timing, the brain simply follows the ‘path of least resistance’ and makes the simplest move – over the top (and casting is included in that general move)!

Once again, because the MGS moves the right shoulder out of the way, and keeps the right side and right arm lower than the left all through the backswing, OTT becomes practically impossible.

Sway Similarly, a sway of the lower body during the backswing is less likely with MGS just because of the way the right side is positioned at address – behind and below the left.

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The WSCG Program

There were oral presentations (based on scientific research); symposia where topics of interest were explained by proponents and were then discussed by qualified discussants; and workshops that gave information of practical value to attending golf instructors and golfers.

A quick survey of the collection of abstracts of all presentations show that the numbers of each were:
Mental-mind/motor learning and performance  35

Swing Biomechanics  22

Putting  10

Fitness/Injury  10

Miscellaneous  10

Equipment – Club, ball, launch-monitor or other equipment  7

Golf Course  6

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One of the best speakers at any conference, with highly-visual, wonderfully simple slides is Greg Rose. At the WSCG he spoke about the 5 most frequently seen body-swing connections (based on a survey of 20,000 golfers). They are:

  1. Early extension (where the body moves forwards of the ‘butt’line’ during the downswing. ‘Butt-line meaning a vertical line drawn through the most posterior part of player’s body at address). 78% of the population does this
  2. S or C posture 53% of the population have one of these
  3. Over-the-top (right upper-body and arm or thorax move forward early in the downswing or before the pelvis) 48% of the population do this
  4. Early-release/casting (the angle between the wrists and club-shaft is lost early in the downswing) 48% of the population do this
  5. Sway (happens in the backswing when any part of the lower body moves outside a line connecting the trail foot and the top of the hip) 34% of the population do this

(Coming soon: How MGS can cure all the swing faults above)

Some amazing oral presentations from Prof. Kwon of Texas Woman’s University and Matthew Sweeney of ACU, Australia, debunked many of the ‘givens’ of golf. They include, in random order, and according to my understanding of what they said:

  1. Planar swing is a myth
  2. Stretch-shorten cycle as seen from half-way down during downswing to past impact is an illusion based on a 2-dimensional view
  3. Maximum velocity of various body parts at impact is wrists followed by pelvis, NOT trunk
  4. The triple pendulum model of the golf swing (lead-clavicle, lead arm and lead wrist) is problematic and should more correctly include a line from golfer’s COG to hands, and the wrists
  5. At impact there IS extension of lead wrist and flexion of trail one
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March 12-16, 2012, Embassy Suites/Stonecreek Golf Club, Phoenix, AZ

Monday 12th March – Correct use of joints for maximizing ball flight efficiency.

Basically, suit your swing to joint design/constraints, don’t make your joints fit into swing design!

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