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The Illusion of the Club

As funny looking as a golf club is, it is perfectly designed for propelling a small ball a distance commensurate with the club's loft and length. It is this awkward appearance that fools people into believing that the golf swing is an unnatural event. But quite to the contrary, swing itself is a natural event. Whether we are holding a bat, a Frisbee, a ping pong paddle or nothing at all(as in the martial artist), swing itself is natural. As wonderful an instrument the club is though, it can only reflect the action of the person wielding it. Technology has vastly improved the club over the years. The advent of high tech materials and precision manufacturing has surely put a consistently higher quality product in the hands of the swinger. But common sense tells us that the greater variable in shot making is the manner in which the swinger wields the club. After all, the club is still no less crooked than it ever was. The technical properties of the club itself (regardless of the manufacturer's claims) is a smaller variable mostly limited to what can only be called "the feel of the club". No club can exhibit its feel when it is being used in the context of disharmonious movement. The choosing of clubs, however, is not the subject here. Right now all we need to talk about is the properties of all clubs, regardless of stiffness, kickpoints and all the other whiz bang words.

That the golf swing is a pendulum movement is a given. But why is it so difficult to translate the nature of the pendulum to the act of the golf swing? Well let's go to the meat of it. The main problem is that we are sensory beings. When the pendulum works through the whole body, we find it difficult to refrain from taking some action that will prove we are in control of the motion of pendulum. These issues will be dealt with in the other elements of Waking. Outside of our senses, a large part of the problem is the nature of the matter that the pendulum action is working through. On one hand, a pendulum could be a pocket watch, swinging on the end of a flexible chain. Then again, it could be the stiff weighted arm of a grandfather clock. Because of the unique shape the golf club it exhibits both properties.

A simple demonstration may be helpful here.

Take any iron and hold it upside down securing the club at the crook of the clubhead. Hold it lightly with the thumb and forefinger with the club head sitting comfortably in the palm of the hand. (see photo 1)

Now rap the end of the shaft on the floor to make the club vibrate. (see photo 2) The trick here is to let the club begin to dangle from the forefinger as soon as the butt end raps the floor. Hold the club to eye level, with the face of the club facing you, and notice the fuzzy quality of the shaft as it vibrates from side to side.

Now turn on your television or computer and do the same exercise. Hold the vibrating club in front of the illuminated screen with the face of the club head facing you. Now you will notice the snaking vibration moving in waves up and down the shaft. (see photo 3)

Rap the club on the floor again. This time hold the vibrating club with the toe of the club pointing at the television or computer screen. (see photo 4)

Huh? The club no longer exhibits the snaking motion. Interesting, isn't it? Note that these qualities of vibration are not inherent in the shaft itself but result from the distribution of clubhead mass ( The USGA requires that the shaft bend in a uniform manner). It is the shape of the club that does these funny things to the shaft. What it means is this: Because of the relationship of the club head's mass to its shaft, the shaft will be more prone to exhibit rope-like qualities along the plane of the squared face and rigid qualities along the plane perpendicular to the clubface. At every immeasurable instant of the club's movement during swing, its qualities are in some form of transition.

There is another property of the club we must understand concerning its reaction to swing. The club truly does want to spin around the axis of its shaft. Take the club in your hand again and suspend it by the crook of the club head. Now let the shaft swing freely. You will notice that the club head flip flops back and forth, back and forth. So many training devices are marketed to get us to "turn our hands over". In fact it is only our illusion of control that prevents the club from reacting naturally. Another way to understand this property is to take a practice swing with a lofted club (a sand wedge works well) and let go of it when it hits the ground. The club, for the right handed golfer, will spin over and over in a counter-clockwise fashion. It is actually possible to hit fine shots while letting go of the club at impact. Of course caution should be taken when doing this exercise. Be sure to have good clearance in front of you and I don't recommend doing this on a crowded practice green.

Over and over again we hear those words "Let the club do the work". Unless we find a way to trust that the club will react properly, the words remain empty. These properties, as illustrated above are severely dampened in the face of tension. Since we are thinking animals, we always want to take some action to gain control. Yet our readiness to act innervates the muscles and actually interferes with the natural tendency of the club to spin and bend.

When wielded with the correct and stable motion of waning in the backswing, the club exhibits the stiffness of its motionless state. But as the club moves toward parallel to the target line at the classical "top" of the swing, the club exhibits the rope-like qualities we observed in the first experiment. As the movement of "to" is changing to "fro," the club is essentially a rope. As the clubface is squaring in the downswing, the shaft is stiffening in reaction to the spinning mass of the clubhead. This is why leverage does not work. Any leverage applied to the club causes it to "wrap" around. This leverage may occur not only in the overly momentous swing but also in the uninspired "building block" style of attempting swing.

There is a useful experiment we may try. Make for yourself a pendulum. A washer tied to the end of a shoestring works very well. I suggest a length of about thirty inches. This length will allow it to be used in other pendulum experiments later on. If you are right-handed gather up some of the excess string into the left hand and pinch the string between the left thumb and forefinger. Now bring the left hand to eye level and swing the pendulum back and forth until you have a good rhythm established. As the pendulum begins its journey back to the right, place your right forefinger in the path of the string fairly close to the weighted end. Notice how the weight wraps around your finger destroying the possibility of a timely return to the left.

The same holds true for the golf swing. When the swing is overly momentous the hands become a point of leverage, a new center of movement, and the club "wraps" so to speak. Whenever the movement is not committed to the center of balance, any point outside "true center" will attempt to exert influence. (See Demos #2 and #5 )These false centers are created when the mind attends to any one of the bodily components in motion. Its like dipping a branch into a smooth but swiftly moving stream. We will examine the "true center" more extensively in another article. For now, let's focus on this "dipping branch" . . . that is, the mind in search of sensation.

Go to "The Greatest Illusion in Golf."



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