Ryuji Imada Swing Analysis 2008

Ryuji Imada won his first PGA Tour event with a play-off victory over Kenny Perry at the AT&T Classic.

Imada's strong suit is his putting. He is ranked #8 on tour this year.

His Achilles heel is driving. His average distance off the tee is 277 yards, which places him 153rd on tour.

It is tempting to think that his distance ranking is due to his size. He is 5' 8" and weighs only 150 lbs.

But we discovered some problems with his swing that are robbing him of club head speed and distance.

In addition, he hits only 61% of his fairways, which places him at 127th in accuracy, for a total driving ranking of 186.

As with many golfers, what he does to improve his accuracy is really only robbing him of distance. And what he is does to improve his distance is really only robbing him of accuracy.

We happen to be working with a young pro who, at 5'10" and 150 lbs., is about Ryuji's size. When we started working with Joe Dolby, his average drive was 275, a little less than Ryuji has now. After we improved Joe's flexibility, downswing sequence and hip speed, his average distance off the tee went to 290, and he is hitting his drives much straighter than ever before.

We thought it would be interesting to compare the two players.

Here is our analysis.

Address

Here are the two players at address.

Ryuji Address Joe Address

You can see that Imada tees up his ball way forward in his stance. Many golfers tee up forward in their stance to help improve their distance. Unfortunately, it has much more of an effect on accuracy--and not for the better.

When you tee up forward in your stance, you have to shift your whole body forward during your downswing in order to make contact with the ball. In essence, you are trying to hit the ball from a moving train. As your body hurtles toward the target, you try to hit the ball with the center of your club head. Not a recipe for successful ballstriking.

It is actually much easier to make good ball contact by teeing up just ahead of the center of your stance, as we recommend in our new book The Efficient Golfer, and as you see Joe doing above. You can dramatically improve your accuracy if the only difference between address and impact is that your hips are 60° more open. By keeping everything else the same, you make far fewer compensations during your downswing, and increase your chances of making good ball contact.

Does teeing up forward in your stance really add much distance?

Not really. But it feels better. It feels more aggressive. But it degrades accuracy. It is one of the reasons that long ball hitters are inaccurate. It's not because of the distance they hit the ball; its because they tee up so far forward.

When we had Joe move his ball back in his stance, his accuracy improved. He improved his distance by improving his downswing sequence and hip speed, as you will see below.

By teeing up so far forward, Ryuji is not adding much distance, but he is making it more difficult to keep his drives in the fairway.

Weight Distribution

Ryuji Address Weight Joe Address Weight

Ryuji stands at address with his weight on his forward leg in anticipation of what he will have to do at impact. Unfortunately, this is an inherently unstable position (it will get worse at impact), which leads to ballstriking errors.

By contrast, Joe has better Alignment. His weight is distributed symmetrically over the ball at address.

Again, shifting your weight toward the target feels inherently right. We often see baseball players ‘stepping into the ball', just as we see long distance drivers shift their weight into the ball. But baseball players and long distance drivers don't have to keep the ball in a narrow fairway.

In addition, shifting your weight does not really add that much to to ball speed. Imagine hanging a golf ball on a string in front of your forward hip and then hitting that ball by shifting your weight into it. The ball would not go very far or move very fast.

Now imagine tying that string to your belt and rotating your hips fast. Obviously, the ball would move a lot faster.

The same is true of the golf swing. You get much more distance by increasing the speed of your hip rotation than by shifting your hips toward the target.

Top of Backswing

Here are the two players at the top of their backswing.

Ryuji Top of Backswing Joe Top of Backswing

As you can see, we measure quite a few things on the backswing.

We are interested primarily in the number of degrees that a golfer turns away from the ball with his left arm, shoulders and hips. We call this Range, because we are measuring the range of motion on the backswing.

Range is important in the golf swing because (along with Sequence, Speed and Separation) it is one of the four determinants of distance. The farther you turn away from the ball, the longer you can hit it. This is because you are giving yourself more time and distance to get your hips, shoulders, arms and club head up to speed. If your backswing is short, you really have to torque your body in order to get decent club head speed. The more you strain your muscles and joints to overcome a short backswing, the more likely you will get injured, and the less likely you will be consistent in your ballstriking. We call this 'powerless effort'.

But with a bigger backswing, you have more time and distance to get up to speed. You can generate more club head speed with less effort. This is known as 'effortless power'.

Sam Snead, by the way, the golfer with the most professional wins in history, also had the biggest shoulder turn we have ever measured--142 degrees!

As you can see, Ryuji has only a 60° Arm Angle, a 95° Shoulder Turn Angle and a 45° Hip Turn Angle.

By contrast, Joe has an 80° Arm Angle, a 135° Shoulder Turn Angle and a 60° Hip Turn Angle.

Ryuji turns away from the ball a total of 200 degrees. Joe has a total of 275°, or 38% more than Ryuji.

Joe did not always turn so far away from the ball. We improved his flexibility far beyond what he was able to get from stretching with Microfiber Reduction, our very special form of connective tissue massage. By releasing microfibers (a mild form of scar tissue) that were binding his muscles together, we were able to help Joe generate a bigger turn and add more distance.

Joe recently went to the TaylorMade facility in Carlsbad to get fitted for new clubs. They measured his swing and found that he had a bigger X-factor than any of the tour players they have ever measured.

Ryuji may have a restricted backswing because of lack of flexibility, or he may be restricting his backswing in an effort to improve his accuracy. Unfortunately, Range has nothing to do with accuracy. Accuracy is determined by Alignment, the fifth factor we measure in the golf swing.

Many golfers try to improve their accuracy by restricting their backswing. Sometimes it works, but only if they inadvertently improve their Alignment in some way.

It is much better to mentally and physically separate Range (how far you turn away) and Alignment (the stability of your Spine Angle). They are two completely separate issues. Increasing your Range will increase your distance. Improving your Alignment will improve your accuracy. Decreasing your Range reduces distance, but it cannot, in and of itself, improve accuracy, unless you also improve Alignment.

Restricting your backswing mainly reduces club head speed. This requires more muscular effort on your part to get sufficient club head speed at impact. Anytime you increase effort, you reduce your consistency.

This is why we said above that what Ryuji is doing to increase his distance (teeing the ball forward) is only reducing his accuracy, while what he is doing to improve his accuracy (restricting his backswing) is only reducing his distance.

Sequence

When a golfer swings his club, he is essentially putting the club head (a small satellite) in an orbit around his body. We usually put satellites into orbit with a multi-stage rocket.

Here is a drawing that shows the golfer as a five-stage rocket.


'Rocket-Man' Ready To Launch

As with a rocket, the biggest, most powerful stages are at the bottom. The legs are stage 1, the hips stage 2, the trunk stage 3, the arms stage 4 and the hands stage 5.

Like a rocket, you get a much better launch if you fire your stages in the correct sequence, from the ground up, stages 1-5. If you worked for NASA and fired Stage 2 first, for instance, you probably would not be invited back to supervise another launch.

But many golfers do exactly this, mainly because of Ben Hogan. Over fifty years ago, Hogan recommended starting the downswing by shifting the hips (Stage 2) toward the target. This worked well for Hogan, who suffered from a bad hook. Shifting the hips toward the target forces your upper body to tilt back at impact, opening the club face, which pushes the ball to the right. For Hogan, this was a boon. For millions of golfers who don't hook, it is a nightmare. These golfers are always having to square up their club face with their hands. Sometimes they can do it and the ball goes straight. Other times they overdo it, and the ball goes left. And if they don't do it enough, the ball goes right.

Starting your downswing by shifting your hips toward the target is the main cause of driver accuracy problems in golf. It is precisely why Tiger Woods often hits his drives into the right rough.

Unfortunately, this is what Ryuji does during his downswing. In addition to starting his downswing with his hips, Ryuji gets the rest of his swing out of sequence. His downswing sequence is Stage 2 first, followed by 4 (arms), 3 (trunk), 5 (hands) and finally 1 (legs), or 2,4,3,5,1.

Joe's Sequence, by contrast, is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. It is one of the reasons he gets an extra 15 yards out of his 150 lbs.

Here are some photos that illustrate their Sequence.

Here is Ryuji at the top of his backswing, and then in the first phase of his downswing.

Ryuji Top of Backswing Ryuji Start of Downswing

By looking at the tree trunk behind him, you can see that Ryuji has shifted his hips toward the target. He has pulled his left arm (Stage 4) down 10°, and he has very little hip or shoulder rotation. He has rotated his shoulders only 5°. Most of his movement at this point is pulling down his arm and shifting his hips. His left knee (Stage 1) has hardly moved at all.

By contrast, here is Joe.

Joe Top of Backswing Joe Start of Downswing

Notice how much farther Joe has moved his left knee. While he has pulled his arm down 15°, he has rotated his hips 30° and he has rotated his shoulders 45°. All of these moves are indications of a much more efficient swing.

Joe is using all the mass of his body to generate club head speed. By being much more aggressive with his lower body, Joe is using not only his big leg and hip muscles, he is also utilizing their mass. Remember, Force = Mass X Acceleration. Golfers tend to think in terms of effort. They don't realize that they can generate more force by simply accelerating the more massive parts of their bodies. Since their biggest muscles are located in the most massive segments, this type of force-generation is experienced as ‘effortless power'.

Here is Ryuji's next frame on his downswing, compared to the same position for Joe.

Ryuji Downswing Joe Downswing

Here you can see how much more aggressive Joe is with his lower body than Ryuji. His left knee is far outside the red box, while Ryuji's knee is not even to the center. Joe is wringing every ounce of force out of every one of his 150 lbs. Joe was not always so aggressive with his lower body. Like many golfers, his hip rotation muscles were weak. When we tested his hip rotators (www.hiptest.info), Joe was unable to bring his feet together. Fortunately, he was able to increase his hip strength and speed with the Somax Power Hip Trainer. By rotating his hips against resistance, he was able to get a feel for engaging the muscles of his legs and hips. As his hip strength increased, so did his distance off the tee.

Ryuji, unfortunately, is mainly using his upper body to propel his drive. At the level he is playing on tour, he cannot afford to discard half his body mass at the tee box. He has to make up for it by tremendous muscular effort in his arms and trunk—and effort is the enemy of consistency in golf.

Before Hogan became so overwhelmingly popular, the best golfers (Jones, Nelson, Snead—and later Palmer and Nicklaus) all started their downswing with their left knee. Sadly, most golfers now start their downswing with their left hip. We find that as our golfers start with their left knee (Stage 1), their game becomes more consistent.

The only tour golfer who starts his downswing with his left knee is Jim Furyk, who, year after year, plays at a very high level, despite problems with his alignment.

Cast Point

The Cast Point on the downswing is when the golfer's lead arm is 45° below the horizontal, or approximately at the top of his hips. Here are the two golfers at the Cast Point.

Ryuji Cast Point Joe Cast Point

This point on the downswing provides a good indication of how much the golfer is casting or lagging his club.

Again, you can see that Ryuji gets most of his distance from his upper body. He is lagging his club 15°, which is excellent. However, his hips are only square, which shows that his hips are slow. You can also see how much he has shifted his hips. If you draw an imaginary line from the inside of his left heel, you can see that his left hip is well outside of that line. This, of course, is a very unstable position.

We could not get a picture of Joe exactly at his Cast Point. As you can see, Joe is deeper in his swing, and is casting his club 15°. We would guess that a few degrees earlier, he is not casting at all at his Cast Point. In this regard, he is very close to Ryuji.

On the other hand, Joe's hips are now 45° open. Since they were 60° closed at the top of his backswing, Joe has rotated his hips a total of 105° by the time his hands arrive a little beyond the Cast Point. By contrast, Ryuji has rotated his hips only 45° from the top of his backswing, or just 43% of what Joe has done.

Joe is also more stable at this point in his swing. If you draw a vertical line from his left heel, you can see that his left hip is inside that line. This is one of the reasons that Joe can hit his drives so straight.

These measurements demonstrate again that Joe is using his whole body to drive the ball, while Ryuji is relying on his upper body. When Ryuji gets his lower body into his swing, he should be able to average about 295 yards on his drives, which would rank him 18th on tour, a considerable improvement over his current ranking of 153. As soon as he stops teeing up forward and shifting his hips, his accuracy will improve as well.

Impact

Finally, we get to the moment of truth.

Here are both golfers as close to impact as we could get them.

Ryuji Impact Joe Impact

As must happen to all golfers who tee up forward in their stance and start their downswing by shifting their hips, Ryuji has had to increase his Front Spine Angle to 25° at impact. Increasing your Front Spine Angle like this opens your club face, which pushes the ball to the right. Golfers try to square their club face with their hands, but it is a difficult to do. After all, the club is traveling at more than 100 mph and pulling away with 100 lbs. of force.

It is much easier to tee up in the center of your stance, start your downswing with your left knee and rotate your hips. In this way, you can maintain your Front Spine Angle as vertical as possible, which requires little or no compensation with the hands.

Ryuji Impact Weight Joe Impact Weight

You can see, in the photos above, how Ryuji has shifted his weight way forward over his left leg. He is essentially hitting his drives while standing on one leg—not a recipe for keeping the ball in the fairway. In addition, his hips are only 35° open, not a recipe for generating distance. Accuracy and distance are the two problems that Ryuji has with his drives.

Joe, on the other hand, keeps his left hip inside his left heel, and his hips are now aggressively 60° open. These strategies foster accuracy and distance. Bigger players are unsettled when Joe blows by them on the fairway. Ryuji will have a similar effect on his fellow Tour players when he starts engaging his lower body to drive the ball.

Conclusion

Ryuji Imada is obviously a very talented golfer, given that he is playing golf with just the upper half of his body. Once he learns to be more aggressive with his lower body and tees up his ball in the center of his stance, he will easily add 20 yards to his drives and keep them in the fairway. An average driving distance of 295 yards would place him at #18 on tour. Coupled with his excellent skills on the greens, he will be able to win many more tournaments.