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Handicap Index

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  1. The Definition I think there's a misconception out there that "staying connected" means that you keep your arms (or your elbows) very close to you throughout the swing. This often manifests in a golf swing where the trail elbow stays very close to the ribs, pulls "around" the body toward or past the shirt seam, and the lead arm has a good bit of adduction, resulting in a narrow angle between the collarbones and the arm. This is not a bad literal interpretation of "staying connected." What could be more "connected" than keeping your trail elbow almost attached to your rib cage and your lead arm nearly touching your collarbones? If you ask me, though, I think the actual definition of "staying connected" is about synchronization, or sequencing, and not about keeping various body parts physically close. Think about other sports for a second: in no other sport do you really want to stay "connected" as in "close." In tennis or baseball, players talk about "extension" and being able to get their arms off or away from their bodies. While outside pitches can be tough to catch up to and pull as a hitter, inside pitches "jam" you. Being "jammed" is not a recipe for power or speed, and yet golfers do this all the time to themselves. Why? For "consistency"? In my experience, requiring your trail elbow to go around your body is one of the least consistent things a golfer can do. Lead Arm Adduction First… huh? Basically, it's moving your left arm toward (and possibly past) the center of your body, like this: In the golf swing, your lead arm starts hanging down almost vertically and almost 90° to your collarbones, and then you move it across your body slightly throughout the backswing, then increase that angle again throughout the downswing and into the follow-through. Good players tend to have less lead arm adduction than poorer players. The Roles of the Body Parts A golf swing goes back, up, and in. Let's isolate those dimensions: Back - What's responsible for swinging the arms back? Sure, from setup, you could adduct your lead arm and your hands would go back, but in a good player's swing, the primary driver of this motion is the rotation of the body. From face-on, if you keep both arms straight and only turn back, your arms swing back quite a ways. Ergo, the body is mostly responsible for this motion. In - Once again, the body's pivot is almost entirely responsible here. At address, your arms are hanging beneath the buttons or placket on your shirt. If you turn your torso 90°, and do nothing with your arms, they'll have gained 12-18" of depth, purely via the turn. (More on this in the topic linked below his bullet list.) Up - Though a backswing pivot will make your hands go up a few inches, this is by far the primary responsibility of the arms. The trail elbow will fold and lift off the ribs a bit, and the lead arm will also (mostly because of what the trail arm is doing) rise up in front of the chest, too. The trail elbow folding is what is mostly responsible for pulling the lead arm into adduction, as you can try this out for yourself: hold your arms straight out in front of you, gripping an imaginary club, and then bend your trail elbow 80° (creating a 100° angle or so). Notice how your lead arm adducts slightly. This topic highlights how the pivot or turn is largely responsible for the back and in parts, while the trail elbow bending and coming away from the ribs is responsible for the "up" portion. Do what I said again in the "up" part: Find a wall and stand close to the wall with your trail shoulder, hip, and foot closest and your lead shoulder, hip, and foot farthest from the wall (so that you're "perpendicular" to the wall). Hold your arms out horizontally away from you with your hands gripping an imaginary club. Bend your trail elbow to about 100°. Notice that your hands, which started out roughly in the middle of your chest off your sternum and well away from the wall, have moved slightly toward the trail side (where the wall is), but not so much that they're pushing through or even really touching the wall. If you'd like, let the trail elbow move up and away from your ribs, carrying the lead arm up or down with it. This demonstrates how the trail elbow tends to work in the golf swings of good golfers (some golfers go into more internal rotation during the backswing, with the elbow kicking out toward the wall a bit, but the hands tend to stay relatively central). Keeping Your Hands In Front of You Your hands moving slightly across your chest toward the trail side does help add a little "depth" to the hands, but it's not much. The turn is still the primary driver of depth. This is why you'll sometimes hear instructors or players say that they're "keeping their hands in front of themselves." Bad golfers get into a lot of trouble when they don't "keep their hands in front of their chest." They get into trouble when their hands (and the trail elbow in particular) get too far "around" their body, toward the "shirt seam." Proper Sequencing I said above that "staying connected" is more, to me, a matter of sequencing or synchronization. What do I mean by that? Well, it's simple: At setup, your arms hang just in front of the center of your chest. Throughout the backswing, the arms (and hands) move slightly toward the trail side of your chest as your trail elbow folds and your lead arm adducts slightly. The angle between the lead arm and the collarbones gets a bit smaller (by about 15-20°). Throughout the downswing and into the early follow-through, the arms abduct and the angle between the lead arm and the collarbones widens out again, getting even a bit wider than it was at setup (20-25° of abduction from A4 is not uncommon). That's about it - the arms move across your chest relatively little. They'll go up (trail elbow folds, comes off the ribs), they'll go in (a little of the adduction, mostly the body pivoting), and they'll go back (almost entirely turning). In other words, except for a little motion back across your chest and then forward across your chest, for the bulk of the backswing and early downswing, your hands travel pretty much in sync with your chest. This is what I take "staying connected" to mean. A golfer who isn't "connected" likely moves his hands and arms well across his chest and around his body too much, where they often lag behind and get "trapped" or "stuck" around behind the body, so the chest is rotating through much earlier than the arms. The average golfer will then do one of two things: Stall the body so the arms can catch up and fly past, resulting in a flippy, rolling club face. Keep pivoting and the arms get dragged behind, late, by the lead shoulder and chest turning through. The latter is common among juniors with thin arms, undeveloped chests, and massive flexibility who can adduct their lead arm so much that it's almost touching both collarbones, and whose hands seem to ride their trail hip the whole downswing. Picture Time! I shot some pictures in my back yard that I'll walk through. Quite often, I pair a "bad" swing (too much adduction, with the lead arm getting too far "across" the chest and the trail elbow too far "around" the body) on the left with a "good" swing on the right. Though, the first one is just the early stages of someone getting off on the wrong foot: In photo 1, my elbow has started to rotate around my body a bit too much early in the swing, and then at the top, my trail elbow is around the shirt seam and pointing straight camera left, basically. My lead arm is tight against my chest with a very narrow angle between it and my collarbones. Not shown here, but commonly seen among golfers: rolled forearms that roll the clubhead well inside. In photo 2, I take the "top" position from the first image and simply move my trail elbow around back "in front" of my chest. This is an exaggerated move, as Jason Dufner (freak that he is) barely gets this much external rotation of the trail shoulder at the top of his backswing. This position on the right isn't so much to demonstrate anything other than the extreme ends of the range while keeping the elbow just two inches from my rib cage. The third image is a bit more realistic for a golf swing on the right, and even more exaggerated of a "bad" position on the left, with the trail elbow WAY around behind me. My hands are almost completely off my right side and not at all "in front of my chest," like they are on the right. The fourth image is my attempt at re-creating the third image — really far around me on the left, in front of my chest on the right — while elevating my elbow well off my rib cage. My torso/shoulders are still turned about the same amount, though on the right it will appear as though I've turned less from this angle due to the way my trail shoulder and shirt look. When my trail shoulder pulls really far around me, it stretches out my shirt a bit and gives the appearance of more turn. A face-on look at some extreme examples: note the relative position of the trail elbow and the shirt seam. On the left, you can see my elbow on the "target" side of my body. On the right, it's well away from the target. My trail "upper arm" is pointing away from the ball on the left, and away from the target on the right. Almost a 90° difference. The sixth image is a lot like the first, except with a high trail elbow. Again, because of how my shoulders move my shirt, it will appear as though I've turned quite a bit more on the left when, if you look at my body (especially my hips, etc.) you'll see I haven't turned much more at all. Starting down in photo 7 here. On the left, the trail elbow is still stuck or trapped around behind my hips and the shirt seam, with a small angle between my collarbones and lead arm. On the right, a larger angle and a trail elbow that has time and space to get in front of the trail hip. On the left, my hands are still off to the trail side of my chest, while on the right they're still "in front of my chest." Photo 8 gives us a 45° look at the downswing, and is almost the same pose as photo 7. Notice how my lead arm is still pinned against my chest on the left, and has space and room on the right. Photo 9 are both "bad" versions of a trail elbow that's gone too far "around" me — both with very little elevation off the ribs and a lot of elevation off the ribs. The final photo shows a "better" position with my hands more "in front of my chest" with both low and high elevation off the rib cage. A few PGA Tour Pros Let's go from "lowest" to "highest." First, Matt Kuchar: No doubt, Kuchar lets his elbow get "around" him a little bit. You're going to tend to have to if you swing at this angle, particularly if you don't let your hips turn a bit more than Matt has done here. But, look at this face-on view, and consider where his trail elbow is relative to his shirt seam. Look at how wide the angle is between his lead arm and collarbones late in the downswing, compared to the "bad" photos up above. The angle continues to increase throughout the downswing, and though Matt's chest doesn't turn through as hard as some, the angle is well over 90° by this point. Rory McIlroy is up next: Mid-backswing on the left, top of the swing on the right. His elbow is nowhere near his "shirt seam" (which the yellow line kind of indicates - under the arm pit of his sweater). The lead arm increases the angle as the trail elbow is allowed to and has room to get in front of the body again, because the hands are essentially "in front of his chest." Hands in front of the chest at impact (just forward of center), and still in front of his chest (a bit more forward of center) mid-follow-through. Finally, Justin Thomas: Much higher hands, with more trail elbow elevation, but the arms are still saying "in front of his chest." If Justin Thomas was standing with his trail shoulder against a wall, his hands would barely be brushing that wall. Justin turns as hard as anyone, but still fights and pulls the lead arm across the chest throughout the downswing. Is it toward the front side of his chest, like some others? No. JT gets more of his speed from rotation than some others, but the hands are still in front of him, not dragging behind behind the trail pocket. What's the Point? Done right, "staying connected" is a great thing. But done incorrectly, or with the wrong idea, "staying connected" can lead to a "jammed" feeling that lacks freedom and speed and athleticism. It can lead to a swing where the lead arm adducts too much, the trail elbow swings around your body too much, and you struggle with both contact and path issues. Your arms primarily elevate the hands up in front of your chest (and slightly across your chest), while your body's pivot is largely responsible for getting your hands deeper (inward) and back. You know how you see beginning junior players almost "picking the club up and chopping down on the ball"? Well, it turns out they're not too far off from a good action: they just need to turn more! 😄 BTW, I think AMG has another good video somewhere on YouTube on this, but I haven't found it yet. Before you click play, too, look at the poster image here: Notice that the PGA Tour player's lead arm adducts only about 18°, keeping the hands in front of himself, while the amateur's adducts 43°, moving the hands well across the chest. The way I define things, the amateur is "disconnected" even though he might be able to, say, keep a towel or a tee in his trail armpit more so than the professional on the left.
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