Watching Rory McIlroy smash 340 yard drives down the middle time after time on his way to winning the 2014 WGC Bridgestone, got me wondering how he does it. He’s not a big guy. On the contrary. He’s not a macho muscular guy. Far from it. He’s not a super athletic guy. What Rory does, and does consistently, is take the club back as far as he possibly can while keeping his eye on the ball, his head still, his body in balance, and the club head under control through impact and into the follow through. You can see it in the creases of his shirt at the top of his backswing. They indicate a very full coiling of his shoulders and torso. He is one flexible fellow.
Can you or I emulate him? Not exactly. But we can to some degree, thus increasing our distance and accuracy. At the top, Rory’s back is facing the target. Most of us can’t do that without losing control of the clubhead. But all of us can bring our forward shoulder under our chin, touching the chin in the process. And that is the key backswing move that all of us can attain. Will we hit it as far and sure as Rory? No. But it’s a place to start in your quest for better golf tee to green. After the initial key move of keeping the arms connected to the torso, the backswing continues until the chin touches the left shoulder for righties and right shoulder for lefties. That is your cue to start the downswing. I suggest taking it back to that point fairly slowly, building momentum and speed as you approach impact on the way down. The hips will take care of themselves, as the torso uncoils into the downswing. The left arm maintains its straight, measured position at the top, with the arms remaining connected to the core at that maximum position. The right arm is bent with the elbow facing downward and relatively close to the body, working in unison with the left.
By touching the chin to the shoulder, the head stays steady and the spine angle maintains its position as you begin to pull the butt of the club down towards the ball. That keeps the swing on plane throughout. By drawing the club back fairly slowly you highlight the transition from backswing to forward or downswing (I like the use of the word forward swing very much since it emphasizes the movement of weight from back foot to forward foot.) When the shoulder reaches the chin, it’s an excellent cue to start the forward swing, with it’s increasing acceleration as the clubhead approaches the impact zone. The awareness of this transition focuses full mental attention at the dead middle of the swing’s action, blocking out all other distractions just before the downswing action that can quickly accelerate to the fastest fastball a major league pitcher can throw. In fact, I recommend you consider that touch point at mid swing as an object of meditation, as the Buddhists would call it. It is nothing to think about. Rather, it is something to notice, something to hang your hat of swing reality on, just before the start of a very aggressive action: the downward move towards the ball. This touching of the shoulder to the chin is the key backswing move. And the more your back can face the target at that key position, the more distance you will attain.
So find your flexibility limit and work on increasing that limit if your goal is more distance. Obviously, it’s what Rory has done. This has to be taken on with caution though. It’s easy to injure yourself trying to increase the limits of your body, particularly as you age. Rory is 25 years old. Can you do, at 35 or 45 or 55 or 65, what he has done? Ask Tiger. You have to proceed very gradually. Baby steps. Small increments in stretching, watching mindfully that you don’t stretch too much, too soon. This is where the mind enters physical exercise. You desire to hit the ball farther and improve your scores. You desire to outdrive your friends, or win your next tournament, or be known as a big hitter, or switch from the whites to the blues. The strength of that desire can make you overdo your next workout routine and injure your body. As the personal trainers in my gym tell me, it happens all too often. And the result is that when you are most hoping to gain ground on gravity’s effect on the body, you lose ground. Consequently, some even take performance enhancing drugs in an effort to compensate or speed up the process of muscle building, often running into a buzz-saw of unwanted consequences.
So, yes, have your golf goals, but watch the body and mind carefully, making certain to rein in any efforts that are overreaching the boundaries of body and age. In this process of improvement, you must, more than anything, have the wisdom to know when to tighten those reins and hold your horses. It’s not so much, No pain: No gain, but Pain: refrain. Opt for more accuracy than more distance. Rory has so far accomplished both, but that might not last if he too goes beyond his limits in his quest to get better. Again, Tiger is a good example when the desire to improve can lead to taxing the body beyond what it is capable of sustaining.
So again, find the limits of your backswing by paying close attention to the shoulder touching the chin while your eye can comfortably view the ball from the top of your swing to impact: that key backswing move. If your results are good, meaning adequate distance and accuracy, then stay at that spot. If you need more distance, take baby steps towards increasing your flexibility. If you need more accuracy, experiment with less coil on the backswing until you can square the clubhead at impact, thereby hitting straighter shots. Contrary to the way Brandel Chamblee describes golf swing mechanics, this not atomic science, folks. It’s trial. It’s error. It’s an ever-changing body that’s willing to listen to and pay attention to a hopefully wise mind.
I was getting worried about you! Interesting post on Rory’s swing and what we can take away from it. As much as it’s important for us to own our own swings, taking aspects of another swing and applying it to our own can be a very useful tool in making improvements.
Stephen Altschuler says
I draw so much inspiration from Rory’s swing, Josh. It’s just so free and unencumbered. No worries about me: I haven’t been blogging as much since signing a contract to write The Mindful Golfer, the book. Deadline approaches so I’m hard at work. Will keep y’all posted.
Thanks for commenting.
Good to hear, Stephen! Good luck with the rest of the book and let me know when it’s out, would love to have a read.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks so much, Josh. We’re looking at a spring 2015 publication date. Will keep you posted when the book appears.
In my humble opinion Rory predominately uses a massive right shoulder move that gives him right side width of arc,( Ive heard some pros call it the starting the lawnmower move), he learnt to do this as a young boy because his right side had the strength and co-ordination to move a heavy club and generate speed, he probably doesnt even feel hes doing this now its just natural!
Ken g says
In the quest for more distance as it relates to exercise and stretching, having someone stretch your body’s long muscles will go a long way to helping you reach your goals. For example, the back’s long muscles need to elongate freely to enable rotation in the backswing.
The old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is so true of flexibility. Flexibility allows fluidity which improves speed.
I understand I’ve just spoken to the choir so to speak. I appreciate being here, thanks.
Stephen Altschuler says
Well put, Ken. I agree wholeheartedly. Keeping our bodies well stretched as we age is, perhaps, the real key to distance and the ability to stay injury free, the latter being the most important.
Thanks so much for your input.
luckilyunlickily although im 60 yo i have naturally mobile joints and reasonably flexible muscles.But i have done a lot of strength/conditioning the last cpl of years,wont bore you but the usual stuff fore the core etc.
But I would recommend isolating/working on the rotator core, the throwing muscles as much for injury prevention as distance enhancing.
The one muscle group ive worked on and use in my swing a lot that i didnt expect to are the Pecs. But then looking at the change in shape of tour pros INC RORY! the last few years so have they!
Stephen Altschuler says
Hey Graham, send over some of those mobile joints and flexible muscles, and while you’re at it, throw in whatever pecs you can spare. I sure can use them.
Thanks, bud , for the comments.