In our prior lesson, we talked about the positions of the club relative to the body that allow one to build up the most energy or speed or what-you-would-like-to-call-it, in the swing. Here we discuss a subject that really precedes that discussion — the two key elements of power in a swing.
Building Up Power
The first aspect of applying energy to the ball is building up power. A professor friend uses the analogy, in his sport of choice, of taking spoon fulls of water, one by one, carrying them up a hill, and putting them into a reservoir that is dammed. This is a form of storing potential energy, for when the dam is opened and the water falls back down, a tremendous amount of energy is released. (If you want proof, stand at the bottom of a dam when 100,000 gallons of water comes out all at once. I am guessing you’d be crushed – literally.)
This phenomenon occurs all the time around us. We push back a spring. All that effort was to store the energy in the spring. When it is released, a powerful force is let go.
The storing of “potential energy” takes on many forms. In golf, that energy is built up when the clubhead is pulled down from the top of the backswing to the point of release or letting the wrists unhinge. (Note: “Letting” may not be exactly the correct word, since in general most golfers have build up so much energy in the clubhead rotating around the body that their wrists will be forced to unhinge. However, if you can hold back on the unhinging, and then “release” the wrists, you will get more power delivered to the ball, as we shall see below.)
This picture of Sergio just before release is a still shot of a golfer in a position where the clubhead has a tremendous amount of energy built up. In fact, something around 85% of clubhead speed is generated by this point, which is a topic for another time. The faster one can get the clubhead moving up to this point, the greater the energy that will be delivered to the ball, all other things being equal.
If one were to look at the picture above from a different angle, one would see that Sergio’s hands are nearly even with the ball (looked at face-on). This means that his hands will travel a very short distance from here on, and the clubhead will travel a great distance. Why? Because he is going to stop his hands, in effect, and let his wrists give up their hold back on the club, which will cause the club head to, in some sense, snap into the ball.
There are two points to this action. It is useful to separate them out.
One is that Sergio has a tremendous amount of energy in his rotating body. If he stops it (posts up his leg, stops his hands), then that energy (momentum in fact) must go somewhere, and it will go into the clubhead. This adds some power (momentum) to the clubhead. As we said above, the clubhead reaches about 85% of its maximum speed by this point in the downswing. This action is how it gains additional speed. Some people call this conservation of angular momentum. In short, the whole system (club + hands + arms + body) has momentum, and it must stay constant. If the body + hands + arms stop suddenly (posting up, stopping the hands), that momentum has to go somewhere. It goes to the club.
The other thing that will increase the power (momentum) of the clubhead is the time over which this action occurs. It relates to an equation in physics that relates time, power, and work. If one release energy over a shorter amount of time, says this equation, you will get more power.
In golf lingo, the longer you can delay the release, and the quicker you can transfer the energy into the clubhead (the more abruptly you stop the body), the more energy you will get into the ball. (There are other constraints, such as applying the clubhead squarely to the ball that limit how fast one can do this advisedly … but otherwise one wants to make this release as quick as possible.) Pull down hard, then snap the wrists, in some sense.
To see that this is true, consider the opposite. Imagine someone very lazily letting the club release. Well, one can do that, and knows that you will not get the same “pop” at the moment of impact. The more time you take to release your built-up energy, the less you will increase the power of the clubhead.
Both are important
As this discussion should make clear, it is not one or the other that maximizes the delivery of power (momentum) to the ball. It is both. Take an extreme example. Move the club back two inches, and cock it. Then pull back down two inches and “release.” Well, of course, since one has not built up all that “potential energy” anyone knows that the power you can deliver to the ball is minimal. Just as, noted in the preceding paragraph, anyone knows that a lazy release of the clubhead will not result in a long ball flight.
We will try to understand these ideas a bit better in future discussions. For now, however, it is important to understand this is what is at work, and it is all that is at work. Failing to understand these two basic parts of getting power into the ball leads to all kinds of confusion – confusion which results in all kinds of swing faults because people are trying to hit the ball as far as they can without really understanding what it is that maximizes the speed of the clubhead at impact. If you don’t know, it’s going to be very hard to get the most out of your swing — except by luck and then one will never have the foundation upon which to build and understand and make corrections when things have seemed to go awry.
1. One should understand that, while we discuss here the general outline of how power is created in the golf swing in its essential parts, some variables are excluded that would have an impact on the speed imparted to a golf ball, for example, how squarely contact is made. One therefore should understand the discussion as part of an overall discussion of the swing and not as advice on the mechanics of how to swing a club.
2. There are some fine points one could discuss. The discussion above is, however, the heart of the matter. Please feel free to email any questions. We will come back to the subject again.