A few years ago, two instructors made a large splash in the relatively small pond of golf instruction when they shared their thoughts on what was perceived by many to be a radical new way to swing the golf club.
Though Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett studied the moves of some of the greatest golfers in history, including Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and others, the The Stack and Tilt golf swing was rejected by virtually every known teacher as a fad. It was tarnished with "that's a reverse pivot" and "you'll hurt your back with that reverse C finish." Mudslinging, golfers discovered, wasn't just for politics anymore.
In the years since, the Stack and Tilt golf swing has gained a steady following on the PGA Tour. Some high-profile names "gave up" on the swing, but many more higher-profile players have joined the ranks as well. What's more, the violent reaction a lot of "traditional" instructors have had to the Stack and Tilt move has subsided and allowed for some real study, and many instructors who take the time to understand the swing have come to see that it's not as different as they once thought.
On October 15, 2009 we held a chat between Stack and Tilt instructor David Wedzik and The Sand Trap's own T.M. O'Connell, Swing Check columnist and author of "Golf's Not Hard." Dave Wedzik just opened the first Stack and Tilt certified academy. T.M. O'Connell is a proponent of what he calls the classic move with a "Power Pivot."
The chat was a revealing one, and given the popularity of The Sand Trap's lone article on S&T from 2007, I suspect a lot of you out there may benefit from reading it.
David Wedzik - Stack and Tilt
T.M. O'Connell - Classic "Power Pivot"
Erik J. Barzeski - Moderator
Erik J. Barzeski: We'll be getting started shortly.
David Wedzik: Hi - Glad to be here.
T.M. O'Connell: Hello.
David Wedzik: Hi T.M. - how are you?
T.M. O'Connell: Good, you. Heard lots of good things from Erik. Look forward to talking to you.
David Wedzik: Me too!
Erik J. Barzeski: OK, we'll get started now. I'll moderate questions from the crowd - and at the end we'll have an official Q&A session.
I figure we'll start things off by having each of you explain the basic theory of the golf swing, from your perspective. T.M., would you like to go first?
T.M. O'Connell: Sure no problem.
I would describe the core theory of my methodology as efficiency. Each of the pieces of the swing that I advocate are meant to create the most powerful swing possible with the simplest motion.
I think that is the briefest way I can describe it.
Some of the fundamentals which I advocate include: (a) treating the leading shoulder as the center of the swing, (b) taking the most efficient path both away from and through the ball, (c) using a pivot to maximize the use of the core muscles, and (d) further increasing the speed of the clubhead through the use of lag.
There are several other pieces to the swing but these are some of the more basic.
I think that should help give us something because we differ a bit on several of those principals.
David Wedzik: I'll go from there for a bit.
Interestingly enough I believe we will agree on most if not all things about the swing before we are done. I also think that efficiency is very important.
To keep things as simple as possible, if I were to define Stack and Tilt in two words it would be "weight forward." There is much more than that of course but in considering the main things that average golfers do wrong it is the most important one.
From there I think it is extremely important to understand that the shoulders turn in a circle around the spine and the spine changes flex to allow this to happen. I will elaborate more as we go.
I'm sure there are some things you have questions about regarding Stack and Tilt so shoot them at me when ready.
One thing I would like to ask about is what you mean by the leading shoulder being the "center" of the swing?
T.M. O'Connell: When I first started working with my teacher a number of years ago one of the first fights I had with him was my belief that the head and spine were the center of the swing. He showed me using biomechanics that treating the spine as the center prevents you from maximizing torque and creating a consistent impact position. It was hard for me to accept at first but I think that is going to be a major sticking point between us even with our commonalities.
Oh, and I have tons of questions too.
I suppose I am curious about why a stack and tilt swing is centered on the spine and how that uses the core muscles.
David Wedzik: I certainly believe that the lead shoulder sets the low point of the swing but the center of gravity can only really be at the center.
Stack and Tilt really uses two centers of gravity - the first is the center of the hips (say the belt for simplicity) and the second is the center of the shoulders (say sternum for simplicity). By turning the shoulders around a fixed center point we get the greatest speed and most efficiency. I did initially assume here that you are referring to COG (mainly because of the mention of torque). In looking a bit closer I believe you may be referring to center of the arc - and if that is the case, I, do, completely agree that the lead shoulder sets the center of the arc.
Would you agree that the shoulders should turn at 90 degrees to the spine (or upper center)?
T.M. O'Connell: They should turn at or approximately at that angle in the golf swing, yes.
I suppose I am just confused on why the centers should be "in front of the ball" at impact. I saw that on your site and that threw me.
David Wedzik: I agree completely and this is where the Stack and Tilt makes more sense to me than any other way of swinging the golf club. Please know that my background was as a player and I had the chance to work with instructors such as Mike Bender, Fred Griffin, Robert Baker, and Randy Smith - all for more than a year. These great instructors who know the golf swing never explained to me properly how the shoulders turn 90° to the spine - on the golfer's tilted angle.
What is important to know here is that it can only be accomplished by the spine changing flex during the backswing.
Up until two years ago, because of my background with many great instructors I would have likely battled some of the S&T principles as well until I began to understand them fully first hand.
The lower center should be in front of the ball and is with all great players - the upper center is on the ball or slightly in front with an iron. With the driver the upper center is a bit more back. Honestly on the site where it says both centers in front of the ball is a bit misleading considering the driver. The main reason the upper center seems further back with the driver is that the ball position is much more forward.
T.M. O'Connell: I think that is why I would say approximately at 90. You can turn around your spine in a golf position and not result in a perfect 90 degree turn simply because of the pull of muscles. S&T does turn around 90 degrees but in doing so it seems to also create an undue stress on the lower back.
For instance, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan don't turn around their spine at 90 degrees.
I think whether we call the hips the center of the swing or not I don't think we dispute the position of the hips at impact. So score one for commonality.
David Wedzik: First - Tiger - I believe if he was to improve something it would be that. He should side tilt and extend his back a bit more in his backswing. This would allow his shoulders to turn 90 to the spine.
T.M. O'Connell: Interesting. I am a big fan of Tiger's shoulder position at the top of his swing since about 2005.
Just to be clear, what players - past or present - would you say have achieved that shoulder position?
David Wedzik: As far as players with shoulders 90 to the spine I would note Watson in his prime, Miller, Sergio, Player, Palmer came close - Charlie Wi of course and about 15 other tour players currently.
T.M. O'Connell: I am not sure about Sergio but I would think you would add Snead as well?
David Wedzik: I was thinking quick and adding players but Snead is a good one. Sergio definitely and Colin Montgomerie as well.
T.M. O'Connell: OK.
David Wedzik: Before, you made a comment about the lower back. I would say that the back issue is just the opposite of what many believe about S&T.
When a player side tilts and extends the back they are taking all compression out of the back. This is the best thing for your back. By staying in flexion your back is in compression and this is a bad thing. Nobody who has worked with Mike, Andy, etc. on S&T has ever had a back problem.
This is very important to note - S&T reduces compression and maximizes extension in these areas.
T.M. O'Connell: Interesting. Perhaps that is a misconception because the position at the top of the swing as well as the finish seem to actually create back problems. My concern would be not with bone issues but with muscular issues.
David Wedzik: I think it is VERY MUCH a misconception about the back.
There are many people that consider the Stack and Tilt finish a reverse C - I will address that briefly.
T.M. O'Connell: Go ahead.
David Wedzik: I think that is why the back issues come into play - In the S&T finish we teach our players to extend fully from the ground up - legs, knees, back, even the neck. Again… reducing all compression. The Reverse C put the back into a bit more of an arch and left the knees flexed instead of extended. It is the flexed knees and arching together that actually compressed the back in the Reverse C.
T.M. O'Connell: When you are talking about compression you are referring to bone or muscular? I say that because I would think that biomechanics suggest that S&T is bad for muscles while Pivot can be bad for bones.
Erik J. Barzeski: T.M., what do you mean by muscular compression? I think everyone understands bones from a joint perspective - and that a back arched in the classic Reverse C is very compressed - but my understanding of muscles is that they simply contract when they do their jobs. What's "muscular compression?"
T.M. O'Connell: I got lectured on Monday about this by Titleist Performance Institute. Sore subject I suppose. Basically, when you arch your back the way that you advocate in S&T at the top, impact, or finish you are relieving tension on joints and you lesson your risk for spinal injury such as discs. However, you run a risk of pulling muscles in an awkward motion that can cause tears.
David Wedzik: It is just something I have never heard or seen - the muscular issue - I know the TPI guys take issue with S&T but I haven't seen data to back up the concerns. I think it is great though that they believe by extending the back the tension is relieved.
Now, I know you - and many other instructors teach a weight shift and a sort of Reverse K atthe top - can you tell me why this is better than being stacked and centered. I have seen my share of the poorest players with weight shift hitting across balls in a pull/slice pattern. This is one of the reasons S&T came to be.
T.M. O'Connell: As to the question of why I advocate a pivot, it is a primer of sorts. I agree that many players do keep their hips behind the ball but all too often they are anxious to move their shoulders too far forward. This is one of the most common problems I have seen in my experience - particularly with the driver…
The pivot primes a player to get back to return their leading shoulder to the proper position but also utilizes the core muscles - particularly the chest, abdominals, and upper legs - to create the majority of the power. No doubt, learning how to swing with a pivot can be difficult at first but it becomes second nature after practice as I am sure that a S&T swing does.
David Wedzik: One thing I can say for certain is that when classifying swings - the poorest players have their weight the furthest back and hit the most behind the ball. The most expert players have their weight the most forward and hit in front of the ball- this is one of the reasons S&T came to be.
Why not just leave the leading shoulder much closer to the proper position by turning around a fixed center - not have to worry about "returning" it so much?
T.M. O'Connell: In my mind the reasoning is that it does not utilize the core muscles nearly as much and despite the fact that it seems that swinging around a fixed center seems simple it may actually require your body to go against a unified motion of the body.
Behind the ball is an interesting term. I haven't seen a S&T player at impact so can we clarify that a bit. Let's use driver to be consistent.
Erik J. Barzeski: You haven't seen an S&T player at impact? What do you mean?
T.M. O'Connell: As in I haven't worked with a S&T player personally to be able to measure their weight distribution. Pictures are one thing but in person is a little different in my mind.
David Wedzik: As to the pivot - swinging around fixed center and your reply - This is why it is important to understand that the spine changes flex during the swing. Do you understand and agree that the spine should change flex during the swing?
Sorry, two things going at once now: let's quickly go to the behind the ball thing first.
T.M. O'Connell: OK, sounds good.
David Wedzik: I meant to say that they have their weight the most on their back foot and they hit the ground (with an iron) the furthest behind the ball. The most expert players hit the ground the most in front of the ball.
T.M. O'Connell: Center of hips would be at or approximately at your left heel at impact. Weight with lower body going towards target. I think we can agree on that.
David Wedzik: Yes - that is pretty much Stack and Tilt 101 - and very few players know to get their belt/tailbone that far forward at that point.
Good point T.M. - for those out there the lower body center is hugely important.
T.M. O'Connell: Upper body is where the rub may be. The Pivot has a player shift their upper body behind the ball and then turn through the ball with their head staying at or very near where they pivoted to.
Just to be clear, especially for those reading, lower body is INCREDIBLY important to creating power in both a classic and S&T swing. It is a major component I feel many, many players are missing.
David Wedzik: This is because the pivot teacher believes the golfer should stay in their "spine angle" throughout the swing. The only way to accomplish that and turn the shoulders is to stay in flexion and that gets the golfer into the reverse K look with upper center translated to the right.
My last point is why it is so important to know that the spine changes flex in the backswing - it is by knowing and doing this that the shoulders can turn 90 to the spine and stay centered.
T.M. O'Connell: David, I wouldn't argue with the statement about the reverse K. That is a major part of what creates the muscle tension to snap you through the ball in my mind.
David Wedzik: I would say that the Reverse K actually reduces torque and reduces speed - when the golfer stays in flexion it is the slowest possible swing.
T.M. O'Connell: Can you point to a player on tour that produces the power of a classic swing though? I know Charlie Wi is a major player for S&T. His driving average was 285 this year if I am not mistaken. That's great for amateurs but even on the long drive you rarely see an S&T player.
David Wedzik: Sean O'Hair would be a good one - Sergio another - these guys are not in the S&T camp but certainly hit it a long way and display the principles.
Also, Charlie Wi was not any longer (in fact he was a bit shorter with his "classic swing") before he stared working with Mike and Andy on Stack and Tilt.
T.M. O'Connell: Interesting. Would you advocate S&T for a baseball player or a hockey player. I ask because both of those sports supply power through a pivot as well.
Erik J. Barzeski: T.M., a good hockey player can hit a slap shot with his back foot off the ground from the moment he starts down. One of the biggest flaws in a slap shot is to get your weight too far back. That's how you slam the stick into the ice well behind the puck. Plus a slap shot tends to be a slice swing in golf (if for no other reason than that the hands are so far apart on the hockey stick).
David Wedzik: Good question - baseball has plenty of forward motion but there is not the issue with the spin being put on the ball - S&T very much takes into consideration the fact that we can't hit across the ball or we slice it. The weight forward and center more forward puts the ball, effectively, further back on the swing circle. Making it easier to hit out at it
I actually teach some hockey players and they are the most forward players I work with. The hockey player is pushing into the ice under his front leg very much.
If the weight is at all too far back the ball is effectively further forward on the circle and the golfer will hit across it more (out to in).
T.M. O'Connell: I don't play like you Pennsylvanians.
David Wedzik: I think it is important to go back to the spine changing flex - can we do that?
T.M. O'Connell: Fine with me. Can I make a brief point?
David Wedzik: Sure, of course.
T.M. O'Connell: I just like commonalities. One of the things that always makes me laugh is how despite our differences in ideologies that the proper impact position always seems to look the same. Ball position can change that a lot but as far as the position of the body it looks nearly identical.
David Wedzik: I agree for the most part and I also like commonalities. That is why everything about S&T came from classifying and finding those commonalities and differences.
T.M. O'Connell: I think the key is that we have different ways to approach that impact position that we see as either more efficient or simple.
David Wedzik: One of the first things we discuss when doing a school is how the fundamentals in golf are not what people believe them to be.
Back to spine flexion - this is a very important component that ALL great players display to some extent.
I just think that when the golfer understands how the spine changes flex and how they can turn their shoulders 90 with the most torque and do that being centered… it makes it much easier to arrive at the proper impact position. Takes out a lot of the movement back and forth.
David Wedzik: To go back briefly to the fundamentals, most instructors dive right into grip, alignment, posture, etc. and though these are important there are no commonalities amongst the greatest players in history in these areas, but there are commonalities regarding where the great players hit the ground (in front of ball) as well as a couple other things.
T.M. O'Connell: Does posture need a commonality though? I think that video and study of how muscles work should dictate proper posture above all else. I wouldn't advocate swinging like Vardon even though he won a million British Opens.
David Wedzik: Yes… for the most part - but I think a player could be in even more trouble in some ways if they try and be to "erect" and chin up - this can create tension and other issues.
Posture needs to be "correct" within a range but there is no commonality - there are many different postures out there. Guys who bend over more… guys who stand tall… guys with open hips, closed shoulders, etc.
T.M. O'Connell: You would stress that a player should not be slumped over at set up though right? Open hips, closed shoulders, and things like that can be based on the golfers range of motion and body type.
David Wedzik: Yes - they could be but my point is that posture is not a true fundamental or commonality of all great players. Neither is grip or so many others.
T.M. O'Connell: I agree completely on grip.
Do you want your players to achieve lag. I just know lots of people love talking about lag and those that know me know I love lag.
David Wedzik: Yes - lag is extremely important!!! We teach it a TON!!! Proper mechanics and motion help the golfer create lag naturally. By doing the things we prescribe such as keeping the weight forward, and swinging the arms correctly S&T makes this much easier. There are also drills we use to teach lag and maintaining the flying wedge and they go hand in hand with these other procedures.
T.M. O'Connell: Good. Love hearing it because I feel like that is one of the more misunderstood parts of the game and the more teachers that "get it" the better.
David Wedzik: I still feel this is important to go over as it leads to the main thing I think you disagree with about stack and tilt - do you realize and agree that the spine changes from flexion to extension during the backswing? And then again into impact and the follow through?
S&T isn't just a "reverse weight shift" you know. (Said tongue very much in cheek of course.)
I'm very much enjoying this by the way - the best part is that I think too many golfers out there believe S&T is this ultra radical method - it is very rooted in classic mechanics displayed by the greatest players of all time.
T.M. O'Connell: Can you clarify flexion and extension for me here? Curious as to the importance.
David Wedzik: Sure. Flexion would be defined as the "bend" from the waist at address - as the backswing progresses the golfer tilts their shoulder to the left and extends (the extension part) their back to straight (it feels like they are standing up).
T.M. O'Connell: I would say that I roughly agree then.
David Wedzik: It is the tilt to the left and the extension of the back that 1) allows the shoulders to turn 90° to the spine and 2) keeps the golfer inclined to the ground in what "appears" to be the same posture as address.
T.M. O'Connell: I agree with the second point, but on the 90° shoulder turn, I think we could go for days on that.
David Wedzik: Actually you did say you agree that the shoulders should turn at 90 to the spine - I'm just saying that it is by going from flexion to extension (with side tilt) that makes this possible.
Erik J. Barzeski: Are you both ready to take some questions?
T.M. O'Connell: Sure.
David Wedzik: Yes.
Erik J. Barzeski: OK, we'll open it up to any questions now. We have three in the queue plus I have one which I'll start off with…
It seems to me and perhaps to others watching that the reverse K involves a shift or a sway of the sternum, shoulders, head - whatever upper-body part you want to pick - away from the ball, while S&T advocates leaving them there ("stacked"). Doesn't this "sway" introduce a point of failure in timing the move back to the ball, while that point of failure is lessened or removed in S&T?
T.M. O'Connell: Point of failure is a tricky term. I would absolutely say that in principle an S&T swing seems simpler but I think that both take an immense amount of practice to achieve the proper impact position. I would say that the amount of practice required would be comparable in either method.
Oh, and sway is a dirty word for me. Sway in my mind implies your hips are moving back. I would absolutely not want to have the hips move back during the back swing. That would lesson the power of a pivot and would create inconsistency.
Erik J. Barzeski: OK, we'll move on to a question from John.
[Comment From John Orr]
David Wedzik mentions Stack & Tilt has a trade-off between less danger of back injury, but danger of muscle tear. Does this imply a particular conditioning program to prepare the muscles for Stack and Tilt? I'm 58 years old, and want to make sure the "S&T" swing won't put me in a stretcher.
David Wedzik: Hi John. Actually - I did not mention any muscle issues AT ALL. In fact I said I had never heard of anything like that. There is no conditioning needed to do Stack and Tilt properly. If you can tilt (shrug your front shoulder towards the ground). Extend your back to straight and push your hips forward a few inches you should have no problem. Andy Plummer jokes with Mike Bennett often about how he eats Twinkies to prepare to demonstrate for students. Most TPI guys might not agree but I have seen first hand Stack and Tilt work just fine with "not so" athletically inclined golfers.
Erik J. Barzeski: The next question comes from a guest…
[Comment From Guest]
Who does not use a stack and tilt swing on the PGA Tour now?
T.M. O'Connell: Dave you can correct me on this if I am wrong but numbers 1-123 on the world rankings but I'm not sure other than Charlie Wi. Tiger Woods is a pivot man though for sure since 2004-2005.
David Wedzik: Well - to go through the 140 or so players by name would be tough but a couple points…
1) Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer are teaching about 15 players on Tour currently - this is without a doubt the highest percentage out there and these are players who only get paid if they play well. I think this speaks highly of S&T in general… 2) Of the players who are not in the S&T camp the HUGE majority display a HUGE number of S&T characteristics - things like side tilt, spine extension, belt forward and to the sky, pelvic release to allow the hips to keep turning, etc.
Tiger included… he displays so many ofthe principles well - for sure with the irons - not so much with the Driver. Which is why he hits about 27% of his fairways when hitting driver.
T.M. O'Connell: I would associate Tiger's problems with other things but I think we differ there as well.
David Wedzik: To the players who use S&T… J.J. Henry, Joe Ogilvie, Fredrik Jacobsen, Troy Matteson - many more
O'Hair could be on the S&T DVDs - he does it better than almost anyone and works with Sean Foley who teaches straight off of the Stack and Tilt DVDs (fact). If you look at this article I sent to Erik a few days ago, you'll see what I mean. Sean doesn't "know" he's learning Stack and Tilt, but his terminology gives him away.
But anyway, there are plenty of players in Top 100. Mike and Andy don't start with the ones that are great to begin with - anyone here can "teach" Tiger or Phil and they will win a bunch.
T.M. O'Connell: O'Hair is a curious one. His swing from the beginning of the year to the Presidents Cup has changed a bit.
David Wedzik: For sure - pretty much all S&T stuff in his swing. Again, check out the S&T verbage in the linked article above. Funny part is how Johnny Miller calls his swing the best in golf.
T.M. O'Connell: Johnny Miller… not much else needed to be said though huh?
Erik J. Barzeski: Next question comes from Ted.
[Comment From Ted]
I tried "Stack N Tilt" once before. Every shot I hit was a long straight push. It felt difficult to turn on the ball. Any ideas? Thanks.
David Wedzik: Could be a few things but here is a good thing to work on - on the backswing tilt your left shoulder to the ground more (at a spot outside your front foot… this is the tilt) so as not to translate your shoulders to the back foot so much - generally if you are seeing a straight push the shoulder center and axis is too much back with too much tilt away from the target - also - be sure that it is not a cut or fade you are describing - I am giving you input for a straight push.
Erik J. Barzeski: David has our last two questions of the evening - I'll post this as an article and you can ask questions of Dave and T.M. there too. But here's David's first one…
[Comment From David]
From impact to follow threw would it be like the backswing… axis tilt created by hips moving forward and an extension of the back?
David Wedzik: Yes - the hips move forward and this puts in the final tilt (this time on your right or back side) - at the same time the belt is raising and the back is extending. This acts to shallow the swing out and creates a great amount of speed through the extension and "catapult" effect.
Erik J. Barzeski: And David again asks this:
[Comment From David]
With S&T are the arms every swinging or they just glued to the body as mentioned in the DVDs?
David Wedzik: The arms are swinging but with connection to the body - there is less "swinging" on the backswing as they are carried more by the torso. However… as the forward push happens in the lower center on the downswing the power accumulators kick in through the arms. This is where the left (lead) arm moves down away from the right shoulder and right arms straightens almost as fast as possible (straightens at the elbow not the wrist joints).
Erik J. Barzeski: That concludes this evening's chat. I'd like to thanks David Wedzik, T.M. O'Connell, and all of our visitors.
If you have a question, please leave them in the comments here. I'll let Dave and T.M. know to expect them, and they can answer them when they have a moment.