The Physics of Ball Striking

December 17, 2012

Body rotation and soft grip pressure are vital to the golf swing. Not only do they help to create power, they can improve your ball striking mechanics as well. In order to understand why we need to review the basic physics in the golf swing. This might sound complicated but it’s not. In fact, applying physics to your swing will help simplify the movements. It will enrich your understanding of impact and also show you how to become a better ball striker.

The golfer is a Double Pendulum

(Cochran, Alastair & Stobbs, John, Search for the Perfect Swing, 1996)

Let’s briefly analyze the above diagram. There are a system of two levers, hinged in the middle. The upper level corresponds to the golfer’s arms and shoulders, while the lower lever corresponds to the club, and the hinge between them corresponds to the golfer’s wrists and hands. The fixed point, even though it doesn’t really stay fixed, is located in the middle of the golfer’s upper chest.

Why use a model to understand the golf swing?

Simplicity is vital to understanding and executing the golf swing. Trying to break down every component will not give us any chance of understanding the basic principles. Because of this its important to represent the golfer by a simple model. For the purpose of this article the model will be very effective.

We can imagine the top of our swing with the lower lever hinged at 90 degrees to the upper lever. As we begin our downswing with the help of centrifugal force, the lower lever is thrown outward so that it begins to catch up with the upper lever. In golf terms we call this “releasing the club.” Furthermore, when the lower level finally catches up with the upper lever and forms a straight line we call that the full release point. Clubhead speed will peak at this point as well. In a perfect world, we want this point at impact with a driver. With an iron, however, we want it after impact. That’s the key to ball striking with an iron.

Have you ever heard about the importance of a flat left wrist at impact? If you have not, take a look at the pictures below to understand the difference between a flat, bowed, and cupped left wrist.

Flat vs bowed vs cupped

In the picture on the left the left wrist is flat. This is how you want to strike the ball. It might even be bowed, which is noticeable in better players. But if your left wrist is cupped, the picture on the far right, then you will experience inconsistent results

So how do you prevent the cupped left wrist at impact?

This might sound strange, but don’t let your mind focus on the left wrist because that’s the effect. We don’t want to fix the effect. We want to fix the cause. To understand let’s go back to our model golf swing.

The physics of impact

(Cochran, Alastair & Stobbs, John, Search for the Perfect Swing, 1996)

In the above diagram are two examples. The one on the left is how your supposed to strike the ball. You can see at impact the lower lever is still in the process of catching up with the upper lever. The effect is a flat or bowed left wrist at impact and the results are consistent ball striking. In the example on the right however, you can see how the lower lever passed the upper level before impact. The effect is a cupped left wrist and the results are inconsistent ball striking.

So what should you focus on to prevent the diagram on the right?

You need to focus on accelerating the body’s rotation through impact while maintaining soft grip pressure. If you can do this, your lower lever (the club) will not catch up too early.

Here’s why rotation is the key.

When you deprive the downswing of body rotation, everything slows down while the clubhead speeds up. The clubhead takes all the momentum and quickly passes the hands, resulting in a cupped left wrist.

Why soft grip pressure is key.

When you increase grip pressure it activates muscles and tendons in the forearms which cause the club to release too early on the downswing. This can be a major cause of the lower lever (the club) catching up with the upper level (arms and shoulders) too early.

In summary, to be a good ball striker your need to understand the mechanics of impact. All great players strike the ball with a flat or bowed left wrist. To do this you need to focus on accelerating and completing the body’s rotation through impact while maintaining a soft grip pressure. This will delay the full release point until after impact.

Long and Straight,


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