It’s often overlooked in the instructional manuals and magazines, but posture lies at the heart of power in the golf swing. It’s a sensitive issue since many of us remember our mothers and schoolmarms hammering us for slouching and shrinking, leading ultimately to lives of rounded shoulders and bad backs. As I’ve discovered at my most excellent gym run by a most excellent trainer/owner, Jeff, poor posture accounts for lack of progress, along with the bulk of injuries at the gym. Taking this knowledge to the range–Jeff is not a golfer–and setting my body in the proper posture at address, something I’d often ignored, I discovered an amazing revelation. My swing was naturally more upright, with the shaft more vertical at the top of the backswing, the swing stayed more connected throughout, and the swing remained more on plane through impact, resulting in more solid contact, a higher, more accurate trajectory, and more distance with driver, hybrids, and irons. Hallelujah, praise the lord, Eureka! Jeff, I bow to you in honor and humility.
My regular trainer, Forrest, who is a very good golfer, reinforced this posture deal by attending carefully to my positions on various Nautilus machines, kettle bells, flexibility belts, and balancing devices. I’ve played golf with this 23 year old, and his posture is impeccable as he launches the ball beautifully in a round full of regulation fairways and greens. Forrest just got his BA in kinestheology so he knows the science behind proper posture, but Jeff can really talk rings around the spine and all its permutations and combinations of sinews, ligaments, and core elements. Jeff talked about as far over my head as a satellite in orbit, but with such enthusiasm and passion that somehow I caught the gist of his instruction so was able to incorporate most of it. Forrest had had me simply stand against a wall, any wall will do, and have me begin to flatten out the rounding of my shoulders millimeter by millimeter. No braces or brawn needed here. Just the aware and discipline of taking time out and using the wall as my friend. One fellow gym rat, coming from a hard workout on the equipment, passed me one night on the way to the showers, smiling at me like he would someone a bit deranged. “I’m practicing for the firing squad,” I joked, and we both enjoyed a good laugh.
Now it’s easy in the gym to literally lose sight of, not your goals, but yourself, since you can’t always see yourself when you’re exercising. In hoisting the 8 pound kettle bell, for example, the weight of the bell was actually perpetuating my rounded shoulders as I bent over with it in hand. Not good, as Jeff pointed out. First, stand against the wall with no weight in tow and bend from the hips keeping the shoulders as square and flat as possible. Remember, this is a long process in slowly reversing problematic conditioning the body gets into over time–a lot of time. Then, when you’ve got that down, grab a light kettle bell and bend just slightly while keeping the back and shoulders as flat as possible. Good to have a trainer or buddy monitor the position of your shoulders to give you some feedback on your progress. By the way, you can do all this at home, during travel, or even at the office, if you have an aversion to gyms as I once did. In fact, I do it in the morning as I shower!
One caveat, and it’s an important one. Remember when Tiger was mocked for saying he couldn’t fire his glutes? Well, the ole guy was right. When you’re doing these posture exercises you have to remember to fire or engage your glutes, which essentially means tightening and strengthening your butt, which helps to stabilize your pelvis, which helps to insure a turning rather than a power-sapping sliding into impact. This helps with the posture improvement process and can be applied to proper sitting as well. It takes awareness to remember to do this but without firing the glutes, and the abdominals, they get lazy and disconnected from the muscles that stabilize the pelvis and ultimately the back and shoulder muscles. All of your muscles really are interconnected.
So once you establish this routine, take it to the range, establish the proper distance from the ball, stand straight, then tilt the hips, with your butt sticking out slightly. If you’re too far or too close to the ball, make the adjustment until the clubface’s sweet spot is flush to the ball. Your arms should fall straight down from your shoulders, with your forward arm relatively straight. You should now be in position to start the swing. It’s helpful here to have fairly strong abdominal muscles to help maintain your posture throughout the swing, keeping your butt in about the same position as address (that where firing the glutes comes into play), thus keeping the swing on plane. I have found that, after struggling for years with a back that sometimes goes out of kilter, stronger abdominals and glutes strengthen my lower back so I can swing without fear of pain or, even worse, throwing it into spasm.
From here, I take the club back in a connected “key move” fashion with my core, and find that it stays on plane without much fuss, bother, or thought–ideal for golf–and fully ready, at the top, for an aggressive move towards impact. With the core coiled and the body in proper posture, my only swing thought at this point, is to take a full, unencumbered swing. It really doesn’t matter what leads the way since the body, on its own, knows the right sequence of a swing. After all, human beings, and even our predecessors, have been swinging objects for eons. There’s nothing in a swing that requires much thought. In my own experiments, I’m hearing and seeing many more solid, soaring shots, especially with my irons and hybrids. It’s taking more time with the driver simply because it’s longer and harder to control. But even the driver is coming along with much more consistency than before. The key is your posture at address and throughout the swing.
Good posture, as Jeff always points out, is the engine that produces power and keeps the body aligned for all activity in life. It takes practice to reverse the habits we moderns get ourselves into. So you have to have the intention to improve–intention that can lead to motivation and action. When you start to see results, just like in the gym, persistence and discipline kick in, which keep the engine of the body humming. If pain arises, that’s often a signal our posture is slipping into old habitual positions. So…back to the drawing board…namely…a wall…any wall…and a mirror to see if those shoulders are any less rounded.
Pros who’ve got this posture thing figured out? Justin Thomas, who, at 145 lbs, can stripe it over 300 yards (and who just won two tournaments in a row, and broke the all-time scoring record, and shot 59: Congrats, Justin!); Rory McIlroy, whose core engine is well tuned and timed; Dustin Johnson; Henrik Stenson; Hideki Matsuyama; Brooke Henderson; Jason Day; Tiger Woods; Lexi Thompson; and Hogan, Snead, and Johnny Miller in their prime. These pros come to mind. There are many others. See if you can pick out the postures that perform, and use them as inspiration.