Luke Donald's Wandering Spine Angle

We had the opportunity to measure Luke Donald's swing recently. Luke Donald is one of many young promising golfers who never seem to fulfill their potential. Most observers ascribe this to some mental defect (lack of will to win), but we found otherwise.

Here is what we found.


This is Luke at address with his driver. The first hint of any problem is his Spine Angle. The tour norm at address is 25-30°. Luke has a Spine Angle of 38°, which is 27% outside of the norm.

Top of Backswing

Here you can see that Luke has made an abrupt change in his Spine Angle at the top of his backswing. He has cut it in half-- from 38° to just 19°. This takes the record away from Phil Mickelson (another player in the category of ‘why doesn't he win more tournaments?'), who changed his Spine Angle by 18° between address and the top of his backswing.

Why is this important?

Your alignment is what produces accuracy in your swing. There are three components to alignment:

1. Spine Angle
2. Swing Plane
3. Weight shift

The more constant your Spine Angle, the more your club is on plane, and the less you shift your weight, the more accurately you can hit your clubs.

Imagine, for instance, that you had to design a machine to hit golf balls. Would you design one that had the same Spine Angle throughout the swing, or one that changed it Spine Angle by 50%?

You would design one with a constant Spine Angle, as did the engineers who designed Iron Byron, the ball-hitting robot. Here is what it looks like.

Notice that this robot has exactly the same Spine Angle at address and at the top of the backswing. Why is that?

It is designed this way so that the club head returns to exactly the same position at impact as it was at address. If the Spine Angle changed at all during the swing, contacting the ball with the center of the club face would be almost impossible.

Iron Byron hit 280-yard drives all day long into a circle with a 10-yard radius. Not because it was a machine, but because it was designed with a constant Spine Angle, with the club and swing arm always on plane. Any other design would have been less accurate.

Every player ‘designs' his swing. Do you want to design a swing like the most accurate ballstriker of all time, or do you want to take your chances with a wandering Spine Angle?


Here is Luke during his downswing.

You can see that Luke is WAY under plane on his downswing, which means that he will have to find the ball with his hands. Relying on your hands to guide your club to the ball is tricky. After all, the club head is traveling at 100 mph on the downswing, and pulling away from you with 100 lbs. of force. If you have very good hand-eye co-ordination, you can get away with it—sometimes. But if you add in the pressure of a major tournament or a close finish, your hands can fail you. After all, you are trying to manipulate what is essentially a 100 lb. object, traveling at 100 mph, with just your forearm muscles. Do you really want your career riding on just the muscles in your forearms?

Here is Iron Byron at downswing and impact.

Notice how the club and swing arm are ALWAYS on plane.


Here is Luke at impact. He has now changed his Spine Angle to just 15°!

This is a 60% change from what it was at address. Imagine if you had a car that changed its alignment by 60%. It would be very hard to keep your car on the road.

This is exactly Luke's problem -- keeping his drives in the fairway. At #125 on tour in driving accuracy, he hits less that 60% of his fairways. While he can drive the ball an average of 281 yards, this only places him #102 on tour in distance. His total driving is a dismal #142.

So you can see the extreme change in his Spine Angle between address and impact, we present both side by side.

Follow through

Finally, here are Luke and Iron Byron after hitting the ball.

Notice that Luke is very close to his swing plane, and Iron Byron is exactly on his swing plane.

While we think it is a good idea to always be on plane during the swing (because it requires less compensation with the hands), the ball, by this time, is long gone.

To be on plane at the finish, and so far off plane during the downswing, with a Spine Angle wandering all over the planet, means that this is a golfer who has been taught cosmetics instead of mechanics.

If you built a robot like Luke Donald, it would never even make ball contact.

What can be done to salvage Luke's swing? He is obviously a talented golfer, and certainly deserves a better, more efficient swing.

We think the problem is his address position. Here is Luke and IB at address.

Notice how much Luke drops his hands at address. Notice that Iron Byron does not. Iron Byron's club and swing arm are ALWAYS on plane. He never has to compensate with his hands (actually, he has only one ‘hand') for any change in Spine Angle or swing plane, because there are no changes.

Luke, on the other hand, HAS to change his Spine Angle because he lets his club and arms ‘go ballistic' on his downswing, letting centrifugal force extend them into a straight line. This extension increases the distance between his club head and shoulders by 7 inches. If he did not ‘stand up' prior to impact, his driver would be 7 inches underground at impact. In other words, if he maintained his 38° address Spine Angle throughout his swing, he would break the shaft of his driver by hitting the ground with the club head while it was going 100 mph.

Luke could easily improve the accuracy of all his clubs just by bringing his hands up to his swing plane at address, as we describe in our new book The Efficient Golfer. He would not lose any distance, but he would gain in accuracy. In addition, bringing his hands up to his swing plane at address would reduce his Spine Angle at address so that it was within the tour norm of 25-30°.

Some would argue that Luke should not let his arms and driver extend. Some very good golfers like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino have tried this, but they all ended their careers with the yips because of the enormous strain on their forearms. Sergio and Vijay are two current golfers who fight centrifugal force with their drivers—and both already have putting problems. Fighting physical forces is not a recipe for long-term success. It is far better to just bring the hands up to the swing plane and ‘go ballistic'.

Once he makes this one change, Luke will be able to reach his potential in golf, and easily challenge Tiger.