If you took 20 random instruction articles from various golf publications, I would wager that at least 15 of them talk about things that happen before impact. The finish in golf is one of the least discussed topics of conversation and I’m not sure why.
One of the most common remarks I hear about the finish is that the ball is already gone, so why does it matter? Using that line of thinking, then why even do it at all? Just hit the ball and stop at impact. Yeah, I didn’t think you’d agree either.
The finish is truly the sum of all parts. Show me a golfer with a poor finish and I’ll soon show you the same golfer looking for their ball far away from their target. Having a defined finish gives you an exact location to move towards. Much like having an exact address gives your GPS coordinates to guide you towards, giving either a vague target range creates a large room for error.
In this article I’m going to go in depth on the science and the geometry of the finish and uncover why it just may be the piece that has been holding you back.
The first question we have to ask is, “what is the function of the finish?” What are we trying to do to the golf ball? How do we measure the pieces that go into a great finish? And lastly (and maybe most importantly) how can we use those pieces to problem solve an errant shot?
The primary function of the follow through is the braking of the club. No, I don’t mean tomahawking it in to the ground after hitting yet another ball in to the water, I mean the act of slowing the club down in a controlled manner.
TrackMan (a doppler radar unit used in golf to measure a number of club and ball parameters) measures swing speed just inches before impact. The average club head speed on the PGA Tour is 113 mph with a driver. The time from the top of the backswing to impact is .2 seconds. This means that in the matter of .2 seconds a PGA Tour player is swinging from 0-113 mph. Think about that.
It would make sense to infer then that all of that speed needs to be controlled in order to hit a functional shot. In order to do that, the golfer must utilize a number of muscle groups to effectively brake the speed of the club while maintaining orientation of their body to the ground.
In the golf swing of an average player, folding of the arms is the dominant piece that slows the club down. This is often the result of trying to keep the head down in the follow through, usually the advice provided by a well-meaning playing partner after hitting a poor shot. This advice is actually quite harmful for golfers of all skill levels, which I will explain in more detail below.
In the swing I’m describing, the re-hinging of the wrists is the piece that slows the speed of the club. What might surprise you is that the braking of the club actually begins with the pelvis slowing down coming in to impact, which accelerates the torso. The torso then slows down, which accelerates the arms. The arms slow down, which accelerates the club. It’s the extending of the arms (not the flexing or bending of the arms) that allow the wrists to re-hinge the club to brake the speed.
professionals vs amateurs
When comparing yourself to a professional golfer, it’s helpful to know what to look for. There are certain characteristics seen amongst the game’s best players regardless of their physical attributes. Below I have taken some frames from a Gears Golf 3D analysis of a professional golfer and an amateur golfer.
Evaluating two images for comparison is called spectruming, which establishes two ends of something. I’ve placed the two golfers together in the same image so we can compare the different pieces discussed above. When you train your eye to see the differences, you will begin to notice a pattern between accomplished players and novice players. This holds true in any endeavor.
Working from the ground up, I would say the professional golfer has his pressure more over his lead foot – seen by the ankle, knee and hip all being in alignment over the left foot. His hips have pushed more to the left (lateral flexion), he has raised the line of his belt (extension) and he is turned more degrees towards the target (rotation). These pieces all serve to move the low point of the swing forward and to hit the ball higher and straighter, all things the average player struggles to do.
Now looking at the image below, the professional has his right shoulder closer to the ground than his left, preserving the inclination to the ground he established at the set up by bending forward. His arms are much straighter, with his wrists hinging to slow the speed of the golf club. Notice as well how the club is finishing short of parallel, not crashing off of his back as we saw with the amateur golfer in the image above.
putting the moves together
When it comes time to put the three motions together, the cue necessary to have success will vary from player to player. As a starting point, simply doing each move on its own in succession is a great way to find the finishing point. In doing this drill, I am starting at address and building each piece in succession.
If you read my previous post about the backswing, you’ll recognize below the three-dimensional description of the swing that I built the article around. To get caught up, click here to get your backswing sorted.
The first of the three motions of the body is extension. This means to extend out of the forward bend, straightening the legs, pushing the pelvis forward and extending the spine all the way up to the neck. Golfers that hit the ball the highest and furthest do this move to a greater degree. You can over-do it, however, so don’t go jumping out of the ground just yet.
The second motion is side bend, or lateral flexion as it is known in bio-mechanical circles. Lateral flexion of the body is created by the pelvis moving to the left (for a right handed golfer) as the left knee flexes slightly. This movement serves a number of functions, the first being to move the low-point of the swing forward. In every effective golf swing, the ball is hit before the ground.
If I need to strike the ground in front of where I set up, then there has to be a movement of the body towards the target to move that low-point forward. For the beginner golfer, this is the most important of the three movements, as the lack of control of the low-point is the defining characteristic of poor play.
The third motion in the swing, mentioned earlier, is rotation of the body toward the target. In elementary descriptions of the golf swing, it is described as “a turn and a turn”. I think we can agree after the backswing article that the turn description is lacking a few important details. I find I am rarely asking a golfer to turn more, it’s more often adding the extension piece or the lateral flexion piece.
Some cues to use in this frame would include weight forward, (trail) shoulder down, arms straight and hips tucked. Again, different golfers will need different points of focus.
The mark of every great swing is a relatively equal amount of all three motions, which is what preserves the geometry of the stroke. When you have too much of one piece, it will create a specific kind of outcome. Quite often with a brand new golfer, I will teach them the set up first and then go right to teaching them the finish. This will eliminate a lot of the possible ways that they could arrive there, minimizing the number of issues we might encounter in the backswing and downswing.
A question that often arises is “why doesn’t the golfer’s head raise up when they extend?”. The answer is that in a great swing, the golfer is extending the same amount they are side bending, so in a visual sense they remain the same height. It’s when the golfer does one of the motions more than the other two that you see movement in the head. This was very controversial 15 years ago, but is now accepted as correct, thanks to 3D motion capture programs.
Both coaches and players alike are forever trouble shooting golf swings, always evaluating patterns and making corrections. I’m going to go over some examples of patterns you would see in the ball flight with too much of the motions I described above.
Too Much ExtensioN
Often called “early extension,” is when a golfer stands up too much in the downswing or follow through. When done, you can expect the ball to be hit thin, push too far to the right or curve too far to the left depending on the angle of the club face. Golfers who are trying to add distance to their shots often look here first in an effort to maximize the resultant force they get from pushing into the ground. Like anything, this has it’s trade-offs, though, as a miss-hit on the ball is usually more punishing than the gain created by extra force.
Too Much Tilt
Normally a better player’s problem, golfers will over-do the tilting away from the target to create more of a draw. Like any corrective measure in golf, the cure can also become the cancer. The most common issue is created when, rather than using the lower body pushing forward, the golfer tilts backwards with the upper body. This creates a low-point that is behind the golf ball, meaning fat or thin shots – depending on the extension of the arms and the movement of the wrists. With this issue you would also expect to see balls that start too much to the right and curve too much to the left.
Too Much ROtation
If the golfer rotates excessively in the follow through, you can expect to see a higher than normal amount of left tilt in their finish. This would have the trail shoulder higher than the lead shoulder and the hips behind the shoulders. The chest would be pointing more than 45 degrees left of the target (for a right handed golfer) and the golfer would struggle to brake the club effectively.
This would create shots that have a thin hit on the ball (club not striking the ground) and starting direction more to the left.
The Finish On Tour
After diving into the mechanics of the amateur’s swing a bit more, let’s take a look back to a professional comparison. It’s hard to argue that anyone on Tour these days has a more polished golf swing than Tommy Fleetwood. “Fairway Jesus” as he is known as has been traveling the world with his incredible golf swing for the last 5 years. He has been the subject for many instruction articles, most notably a multi-page feature in the April 2018 Golf Digest Magazine. The photo below is taken from the article, a perfect example of a model finish with a short iron.
The finish is not the same with all clubs however, simply because of the speed each club travels at is different. It would be difficult to slow the driver down at the same rate we slow a wedge.
In the above image, Tommy is hitting a wedge, a short iron, a long iron, a fairway wood and a driver. The easiest difference to spot is the distance the club travels, however I want to focus your attention on the similarities.
In all five swings, the weight is on the left foot, the right knee, hip and shoulder have all turned 90 degrees, the right shoulder is below the left, the right arm is straight and the left arm is folded just slightly as it orbits the torso.
The finish is often studied in a visual sense, however I am always striving to communicate to golfers the run on effects the finish has on the ball flight. The finish is a means to an end, not a statue that we pose for pictures.
A golfer needs to extend in order to shallow their divot and use the vertical force of the swing. They need to side bend to move their low point of the swing forward, use the catapult affect created by the change in lateral flexion (left tilt in the backswing, right tilt in the downswing) and shift the path of the swing outward. Finally, the golfer needs to rotate to keep the swing direction pointed at the target and use the rotational force of the swing.
In great golfers you will see many similarities, not because they are trying to look the same way, but because they all hit great shots. You will also see many similarities in poorer golfers as they all hit bad shots. Knowing the differences will help you hit great shots and look better while doing it.
Have a question about your finish? Get a complimentary swing analysis from Nick by following him on the Skillest app. Click here.