Players often gain an intuitive understanding that they should be in balance throughout their swing. There are reasons why this is the case. But that is not our subject here. We want to talk about center of mass.
There is a fairly simple, but seldom discussed, concept in golf — center of mass. It happens that in order to get the most out of a given amount of energy expended in a swing, one wants the center of mass of one’s body to be exactly even with the ball at impact. If it is a tiny bit in front, one will hit a lower shot than otherwise would be the case, and it will not go as far for the same energy expended.
Likewise, if it is a tiny bit behind the ball, one will hit a higher shot than otherwise would be the case, and it will not go as far for the same energy expended. If your body’s center of mass is not exactly at the ball, one’s use of energy to hit the ball will be inefficient, in some sense.
Now the only reason to try to hit a golf ball is not to try to hit it as far as one can, given a fixed expenditure of energy. Sometimes we want to hit a low, boring shot. Any good golfer knows how to accomplish this — move the ball back in the stance. That is, move one’s center of gravity forward so that it will be in front of the ball at impact, to produce a lower shot. The converse is true with moving the ball forward and hitting a higher shot. (There is another important variable, spin on the ball, but we leave that aside to simplify understanding of the concept of “center of mass” at impact.)
Measuring where one’s center of mass lies during a swing — or “not measuring it”
One could try to measure this with instruments or some fancy video-computer set up to see if one were getting to the right point at the right time. Pshaw, I say! Pshaw!! Why? If it is so fundamental, why don’t we try to measure it?
Actually, that is not a bad idea. Golfers would improve their efficiency if they could get this concept down. I have seen a golfer, told about this principle, and not with the greatest swing in hand, but with a good deal of weight in their body, start hitting very very long balls, just by getting the timing down correctly — if you want to think of it as a timing problem.
However, the human body is a wonderful thing. It has a built-in mechanism for helping one measure where one’s center of mass is at all times. It is called the inner ears. The inner ear is responsible for a sense of equilibrium and, like the eyes, hands, and outer ears, it picks up very very fine differences in changes in our center of gravity. One can therefore truly measure one’s own center of gravity by trying to sense where one’s body is in relation to the ball at impact. Usually a feeling of being ever so slightly ahead of the ball is what most people like most, once told.
An exercise to help sense your center of gravity at impact
There is a simple exercise to help with both balance and feeling where one is at impact: Close your eyes and swing. Yes, close your eyes and swing. The eyes have a great ability to help but here they send too much added information to the brain.
The brain tries to process both the information from the inner ear and from the eyes, to determine where one’s center of gravity is. But the eyes are a poor (though necessary) component for measuring whether one is in balance. (The interaction between ears and eyes is what makes people motion sick, for example.) If one closes one’s eyes, and swings at the ball, or simply takes a practice swing and tries to imagine where impact would be, one gets the right sensations.
I recently watched a tour player do this exercise at one of the practice ranges of a TPC course. He did it over and over and over again. He constantly mis-hit the ball. He was doing it to improve his balance, but the more important reason to do it is to maximize one’s efficient use of the body’s power to strike the ball “purely.”
And who first taught us about center of mass?