Cink Goes Ballistic

Unlike most golfers who try to control their short clubs, Stewart Cink went 'ballistic' at the British Open and scored a win.

To 'go ballistic' means to let centrifugal force pull the club and your arms into a straight line on the downswing. It means 'going with the (centrifugal) force' instead of fighting it.

Most golfers are afraid that if they don't grip their short clubs tightly and return them to the same position they were at impact, that they won't be able to control the ball.

Cink has proven them wrong. This wedge shot landed within a few feet of the final hole during the playoff at this year's British Open, helping Cink cinch the title. You can see that at impact, Cink's hand are closer to his swing plane than at address, showing that he let centrifugal force extend his arms and club shaft almost to a straight line.

Cink at Address Cink at Impact

Here is another example from the same playoff, this time with an iron.

Cink at Address Cink at Impact

Spine Angle

The only problem with Cink's swing design down the line is that he has to make massive changes in his Spine Angle during his downswing.

Every golfer designs his swing. Most golfers are constrained in their design by convention and lack of flexibility. The most common design convention that gets golfers in trouble is dropping the hands at address, which is what Cink does. There is no rule in golf that you have to do this. It is purely convention. There is no advantage to it, except that it feels 'natural' or 'relaxed'.

Unfortunately, it is a poor design choice. Changing the Spine Angle from address to impact makes it very difficult to make good ball contact. Just a small mistake in Spine Angle and you hit the ball fat or thin. Changing the Spine Angle between address and impact is why golfers have to practice so much. You can't see your Spine Angle during your swing. You have to go by feel, making sure that you change it enough to make ball contact, but not a degree more or less if you want to strike the ball with the center of the clubface.

Here we have measured Cink's change in Spine Angle on his wedge.

Cink Spine Angle at Address Cink Spine Angle at Impact

Cink changes his Spine Angle from address to impact a phenomenal 18°, the biggest change in Spine Angle we have ever measured! This may be the reason Cink has not played up to his potential during his career. Cink almost cuts his Spine Angle in half during his swing. We can't think of anything that would make ball striking harder--except maybe cutting your height or strength in half between address and impact.

As his swing is now, Cink is way out of the norm for a Spine Angle at address. The tour norm is 25-30°. If Cink simply moved his hands up to his swing plane at address, his Spine Angle would be more normal, and his ball striking would improve.

Cink repeats this mistaken design with all his clubs. Here is his change in Spine Angle with an iron.

Cink Spine Angle at Address Cink Spine Angle at Impact

Because his hands are just a little higher at address with his iron than his wedge, his Spine Angle is closer to the tour norm, and his change in Spine Angle is now 11° instead of 18°.

Cink is consistent. He keeps his unique swing design with his woods, as you can see here.

Cink Spine Angle at Address Cink Spine Angle at Impact

With his metal wood, Cink changes his Spine Angle 13° from address to impact-way too much to generate consistent ball contact.

An Alternative Swing Design

There is no rule in golf that you have to drop your hands at address. It is purely a convention-and a poor one at that.

When engineers designed a machine to hit golf balls, they didn't drop its hand at address. Instead, being engineers instead of golfers, they put the hand at address, so the arm and club shaft were in a straight line. They did this to simplify their design and assure that the center of the clubface would contact the ball at impact. They knew that the centrifugal force generated by a club going around 100 mph is 100 lbs. of force. This is the same force required to lift a 100 lb. of cement, except it lasts for only a fraction of a second around impact, and most golfers do not feel the extent of it.

One hundred pounds of force tends to straighten out the arm and club shaft, if you let it, as Cink does. But this increases the distance between the shoulders and club head by 6-7". If you don't reduce your Spine Angle by standing up during your downswing, your club head will be that same distance underground at impact.

So the engineers who designed Iron Byron, the ball-hitting machine, put its hand on the swing plane at address, knowing that centrifugal force would put it there at impact. So the address and impact position were identical, as you can see here. As a result, the Spine Angle was also identical. No change in Spine Angle, no change in club position: the perfect recipe for deadly accurate drives.

Iron Byron at Address Iron Byron at Impact

Iron Byron achieved a degree of accuracy that human golfers can only dream of:280-yard drives that all landed within a 10-yard circle. It was able to do this because of its design, not because it was a machine.

Here is what a golfer looks like when his swing is designed to be efficient.

Spine Angle at Address Spine Angle at Impact

By placing the hands on his swing plane at address, our golfer obviates any need to change his Spine Angle during his swing. This greatly increases his chances of making good ball contact during his swing, because his club is in exactly the same position it was at address.

Another Poor Design

A number of famous golfers tried to solve the centrifugal force problem (pulling the arms and hands into a straight line at impact and thereby increasing the distance from the shoulders to club head by 6-7") by gripping their clubs so hard that they prevented any extension. In other words, they fought centrifugal force every time they swung a club.

Here are few of the well-known golfers who took on centrifugal force and lost.

Snead at Address Snead at Impact

Hogan at Address Hogan at Impact

Trevino at Address Trevino at Impact

The reason we say they 'lost' is that all these golfers developed the yips that ended their careers. By over-gripping their driver, they repeated strained their forearm muscles. As we know, when you over-use muscles you tear some of the tens of thousands of individual muscle fibers that make up each muscle. If you look at your forearm muscles, you can see they were never designed to repeatedly lift 100 lb. sacks of cement or resist 100 lbs. of centrifugal force.

When you tear muscle fibers, they do repair and get stronger. But part of the healing process is that your body also creates scar tissue (microfibrosis) in and around the muscles as an internal cast. Unfortunately, once the tiny muscle fibers have been repaired, this scar tissue does not go away. In fact, it accumulates over time, making your forearms stiffer with age.

Normally, the connective tissue membranes (white) between the muscles (red) are smooth. They allow the muscles to slide past each other, which they have to do in order to stretch.

But when you have even a mild injury (falls on court), overuse (lifting weights, running) or stress , microfibers form as part of the healing process to immobilize the area. Microfibers are nature’s internal cast.

Unfortunately, once the area has healed, the microfibers not only do not go away, they tend to accumulate over time, making athletes stiffer with age.

The scar tissue that forms in and around the forearm muscles from over-gripping the driver and woods also locks tension into place. This tension, like the scar tissue, also accumulates over time. When the golfer then has to lightly grip the putter, the forearm muscles spasm and he yips his putt.

A modern-day golfer who uses the over-grip swing design is Sergio Garcia, who has already had his share of putting woes.

Sergio at Address Sergio at Impact

The Other Spine Angle

We not only measure the Spine Angle from down the line, but also from the front. As with the Spine Angle, you want to keep your Front Spine Angle constant from address to impact for maximum accuracy. When you increase your Front Spine Angle, it opens the clubface, which will push the ball to the right. Golfers then compensate with their hands to square up the clubface prior to impact. Sometimes they get it right, and the ball goes straight. Sometimes they are too late, and the ball goes right (which is Tiger Woods' problem off the tee). But sometimes they overcook and the ball goes left, which is what happened to Tom Watson during the British Open playoff. This drive off the tee went left into the rough and it took two strokes to get out. This, along with some missed putts, cost Tom Watson the British Open crown-a high price to pay for a conventional swing design.

Watson at Address Watson at Impact

Watson starts his downswing in a conventional manner by shifting his hips to his left. You can see the result of his hip shift by looking at his photo at impact. His hips are way to his left, and, as a result, he increases his Front Spine Angle from 1-2° at address to 27° at impact. Starting your downswing with your hips also robs you of hip rotation speed. You can see that Watsonís hips are only 40° open at impact.

Here are some illustrations showing the effect of increasing your Front Spine Angle on your clubface. It is an experiment you can do at home in front of a mirror. Just grasp your driver in your normal manner and tilt your upper body to your right. You will see the clubface open.

Clubface Square at Address Clubface Open at Impact

Here is a photo of one of our golfers who learned a more efficient swing by starting his downswing with his left knee (instead of his left hip), avoiding shifting as much as possible, and rotating his hips as fast as possible. He is now able to maintain his Front Spine Angle at only 8° and to hit 350-yard drives that stay in the fairway. Compare his impact position to Watson.

Somax Golfer at Address Somax Golfer at Impact

Conclusion

We are all free to design our own golf swing. Unfortunately, most golfers choose to imitate golfers from 50 years ago or more in the belief that they knew more about the golf swing than anyone since then.

Golf is one of the few areas of life that is so backward looking. We don't, for instance, design buildings, cars, or airplanes the way we did 50 years ago. To do so would be laughable. But to this day, golfers design a golf swing that incorporates dropped hands at address and starting the downswing by shifting the hips to the left--two moves that guarantee they will have problems with accuracy.