A guitar teacher once showed me an easy way to switch from one chord to another by keeping as many fingers in place as possible. He called it economy of motion, and I feel it can be applied to the golf swing as well. For an action that contains as many moving parts as a golf swing must be as efficient as possible to prevent leaks in the overall energy outage of the swing. Another common expression in wide use is the Connected Swing. I find economy of motion a useful swing thought in making that connected swing happen.
So a golf swing is put into motion by an old-school technique called the waggle, a rhythmic dance-like moving of just about the entire body that gently transitions you from near stillness at the initial address position to the forcible swing itself. Everybody has a slightly different waggle, but I would suggest observing a wave about to break and you’ll get the idea of the essential ingredients. The swing begins at the transition at the very crest of the wave, a slight arching of the back of the wave just before it spills over into the explosion of power–that moment of inertia that continues onto the break, or, in golf, impact. Any additional thoughts at that point will sequester the flow. More ergs than the job needs means too much energy is expended to get the job done, leaving that much less energy for, in the case of golf, the next swing. So at the end of a couple of waggles, the swing
begins with the hips, torso, and shoulders rotating, using the old-school image of turning in a barrel. The head stays still as you turn, which, as you age, gets more and more difficult to do. My pro told me mine moves eight inches off center at the top of the backswing.
To correct my traveling head, I experimented with restricting my rotation to where my chin reaches only midway up my bicep instead of my shoulder, an economy of motion technique. Sure enough, watching my shadow, my head steadied, and contact became more solid. Distance remained about the same with the ball hitting the virtual screws, but accuracy was sharper–all in all a more satisfying golfing experience compared to when my head was heading down the block. Of course the closer your chin can come to your shoulder, and the more your back faces the target, the better, but only if the head can comfortably remain still. And this is not only for golf. I was watching a swimming event at the Olympics, and commentators where analyzing a competitor’s backstroke, asserting that the best strokes happen when the shoulders rotate around a still head–again economy of motion in action.
The next economy of motion transition occurs at the top of the backswing where the hips start their rotation slightly before the backswing finishes. There’s a slight whipping action happening here, which increases clubhead speed and, consequently, distance, if hit solidly. You’re still in the barrel here, so those hips can’t hit the staves as you turn. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the butt of the left hand pulls the club downward, but only in response to the turning hips. Picture a string between the hips and the hands, with the rotation of the hips pulling the hands
down, helping to retain the lag in the wrists. Economy of motion is obvious here with one part of the body bringing another part into position to enter the impact zone. Only one swing thought–the turning back of the hips–is needed. I would also suggest keeping your feet on the ground and not lifting your left heel at the top of the backswing as another way to economize. It’s one less movement you have to adjust for and consider in the transition into an accelerating downswing.
If all the parts of the swing’s motion are economized, the impact zone will be an explosion of hand-eye-body synchronization. Of course, the left arm must be relatively straight and the head must be steady to make sure the distance of the clubhead to the ball is the same as it was at address. This will insure the proper compression as you pinch the ball against the turf with an iron, where the ball is played mostly midway between the feet. With the ball moved more forward in the stance as with the driver, you’ll hit the ball on the upswing, getting it airborne
and increasing distance. When motion is economical, you’ll more likely hit the ball on the sweet spot, producing that wonderful sound you hear from the likes of Henrik Stenson and Ernie Els.
But the golfer who most exemplifies economy of motion with his swinging-in-a-barrel swing, in my opinion, is Zach Johnson. There is so little extraneous movement in his swing there are almost no leaks in his execution. It’s a simple, efficient attack on the golf ball. At 5’11”, 160 lbs, Zach is 154th in driving distance on Tour, with an average tee shot of 280.4 yards. Altogether, not too bad, I’d say. Especially since he’s won a total of 12 PGA Tour events, including two major championships. Zach’s mental approach to the game is impeccable as well, planning his season in advance with his team, keeping his pre-shot routine as grooved as his swing, and having a caddie, Damon Green, who knows the game inside and out, helping him settle his nerves during tournament play. But it’s mainly that simple, connected, economical swing that Zach can rely upon throughout the season.
So just like my guitar teacher of years ago showing me how to transition from a C chord to an A minor by moving only two fingers and leaving one in place, take inventory of your swing and see where economy of motion might help plug the leaks of power and consistency.
Under the category, Old Guys Rule, congratulations to 46 year old Jim Furyk for carding a record breaking 58 at The Travelers in Connecticut. Take away that helicopter action at the top of his swing and you’ve got a simple, old-school, economy-of-motion, turn-in-a-barrel swing (again, like Zach, he averages about 280). Well done, Jimmy!
If you’re up for a good golf read, check out The Mindful Golfer. Not that I have a vested interest or anything, but I wrote the book.
Check out my new post at www.golfwrx.com, “True or False: PEDs Cannot Improve a Golfer’s Game.”