Golf Performance

6 Key Swing Differences Between High and Low Handicap Golfers

There is no doubt that there are obvious differences between average golfers and PGA Tour players.  Distance, accuracy, putting, chipping, pitching, punch shots… they’re pretty much better at everything. Until recently, however, we did not have specific and measurable swing characteristic differences that we could quantify.

My philosophy, which was instilled to me by my mentors and other golf professionals, is that there is no single way to swing to a golf club. TPI states that there are infinite ways to swing a golf club, but each golfer has one swing that is most effective for their bodies capabilities. That being said, there are certain swing attributes that have been shown to be correlated to a golfers handicap.

In a massive study by Golftec, a leader in golf lessons, they analyzed thousands of swings by amateur (higher handicap) and professional golfers. They named this study the SwingTru Motion Study and found six key swing differences that were linearly related to handicap. They state that these swing characteristics directly relate to golf performance and skill level and are therefore the most crucial swing differences between amateur and professional golfers.

Check out the SwingTru Study in it’s entirety: Golftec SwingTru

SwingTru Motion Study:

The 6 Key Swing Differences from the Golftec SwingTru Study. Credit: Golftec

Key Backswing Positions

  1. Hip Sway
    • The lateral movement of the hips towards or away from the target in the backswing
      • Amateurs (HCP 30) averaged 2.5 degrees towards target
      • Professionals averaged 3.9 degrees towards target
    • What are the requirements to get into this position?
      • Trunk dissociation, allowing the upper body to rotate upon a stable lower body
      • Pressure shift towards the trail leg without shifting weight and leaning backwards
      • Hip rotational mobility to allow for lead hip external rotation and trail hip internal rotation
      • Shoulder mobility to allow for trail arm to externally rotate and elevate and lead arm to horizontally adduct
  2. Shoulder Tilt
    • The angle of the shoulders measured against a horizontal line parallel to the ground
      • Amateurs (HCP 30) averaged 29 degrees of left shoulder tilt
      • Professional averaged 36 degrees of left shoulder tilt
    • What are the requirements to get into this position?
      • Trunk dissociation, allowing the upper body to rotate upon a stable lower body
      • Adequate lumbo-pelvic mobility to achieve left lateral flexion
      • Adequate soft tissue flexibility of right side to allow for left lateral flexion
      • Shoulder mobility to allow for trail arm to externally rotate and elevate and lead arm to horizontally adduct

Key Impact Positions

  1. Hip Turn
    • The angle of hip rotation towards the target
      • Amateurs (HCP 30) averaged 19 degrees open towards the target
      • Professionals averaged 36 degrees open towards the target
    • What are the requirements to get into this position?
      • Rapid pressure shift from trail side to lead side through the downswing
      • Lead hip internal rotation mobility
      • Lumbopelvic control to posteriorly tilt the pelvis to allow for rotation
  2. Hip Sway
    • The lateral movement of the hips towards or away from the target
      • Amateurs (HCP 30)  averaged 0.4 degrees away from target
      • Professionals averaged 1.6 degrees toward target
    • What are the requirements to into this position?
      • Rapid pressure shift from the trail leg to the lead leg through the downswing
      • adequate lumbo-pelvic mobility to achieve right lateral flexion
      • Lead hip internal rotation mobility
  3. Shoulder Tilt
    • The angle of the shoulders measured against a horizontal line parallel to the ground
      • Amateurs (HCP 30)  averaged 27 degrees of right shoulder tilt
      • Professionals averaged 39 degrees of right shoulder tilt
    • What are the requirements to get into this position?
      • Adequate lumbo-pelvic mobility to achieve right lateral flexion
      • Lead hip internal rotation mobility
      • Rapid pressure shift from the trail leg to the lead leg through the downswing

Key Finish Positions

  1. Shoulder Bend
    • The backward or forward movement of the shoulders (amount of extension of the trunk)
      • Amateurs (HCP 30) averaged 3 degrees back
      • Professionals averaged 32 degrees back
    • What are the requirements to get into this position?
      • Hip extension mobility/hip flexor flexibility
      • Lead hip internal rotation mobility
      • Lumbo-pelvic and thoracic extension mobility
      • Shoulder mobility to allow for elevation

Why Do Amateurs Struggle to Get into These Positions?

Thanks to the SwingTru Motion Study, we now have a picture of the main differences between high and low handicap golfers swing. So why do amateurs struggle to get into these positions which have been shown to be linked so closely to handicap and golf performance? Here’s my take on the top 3 reasons why high handicappers display these swing differences:

Mobility Requirements

The swing of professional golfers is as much a show of incredible mobility as it is a testiment of skill. Some individuals tend to be more hypermobile or “loose jointed” and therefore can more easily get into the desired positions of a professional swing. The first example that pops into my mind is Dustin Johnson. It is clear by watching him swing that he is naturally hypermobile and that is part of the reason he has such a massive shoulder turn and crushes the ball.

On the flip side, the average high handicap golfer tends to be less hypermobile in my experience. They may have physical restrictions that do not allow their body to meet the specific swing requirements mentioned above. For these golfers, it is very difficult and often counter-productive to coach them into these positions. They typically require specific and targeted mobility and stability drills to improve their physical restrictions in conjunction with golf lessons to see the most improvement in their swing.

Kinematic Sequencing

The kinematic sequence of the golf swing is a way to describe the swings efficiency in terms of joint movements. An efficient and powerful golf swing has been shown to have a specific sequence of movement that originates at the hips and ends at the hands. To keep it simple, an ideal kinematic sequence from the top of the back swing looks like this:

  1. Hips (pelvis) begin to rotate to the target first (x-factor)
  2. Trunk begins to rotate toward the target next
  3. Arms begin to move into the downswing after trunk rotation
  4. Club head is the final aspect to move towards target

    Kinematic Sequence courtesy of TPI

An issue in the kinematic sequence of the swing can lead to a golfer getting into poor positions OR making it nearly impossible to get into good positions that SwingTru describes. For example, a golfer may begin their downswing with their arms first, hips second, trunk third and club last. This is a suboptimal sequence that may make achieving 36 degrees of hip turn towards the target at impact very hard. This is because the hips had a late start in rotation and are lagging behind. The same can be said for shoulder tilt at impact.

Achieving a proper kinematic sequence is something that a bunch of amateur golfers may struggle with.  This may be because they have never been assessed (this typically requires expensive equipment) and coached in this manner. It may also be related to mobility restrictions and technical swing faults.

Center of Pressure Shift

I have written a more in-depth article on the importance of pressure shifts in the golf swing previously. I would check out that article to get more details on what pressure shift is, how we measure it, and it’s importance to your swing.

In my mind, pressure shifts can be directly related to at least 3 of the key swing differences above, but definitely plays a key role in all 6. The 3 that are most closely related in my opinion are hip sway in the backswing, hip turn at impact, and hip sway in the follow through. If a golfer isn’t shifting their pressure properly (or at all) throughout the swing, they may struggle to generate rotational power through their lower half and will, therefore, not be able to achieve the same swing positions that professionals golfers can.

Center of Pressure shift during the golf swing. Credit: Boditrak

 

Why This Matters

Credit: Golftec

Should every amateur golfer strive to have their swing meet the specs of the Golftec SwingTru study? Will swinging the golf club with all of these technical attributes make you a pro golfer? The answer is probably no for both of those questions. There is so much that goes into lowering your scores and your handicap that it really isn’t this simple.

But, the SwingTru Study can provide us with useful data points for comparison and a measure of progress when a golfer is working on their game. The study provides golf coaches specific metrics to use as a guideline when instructing their players.

This data can also be extremely useful for Physical Therapists and Strength Coaches alike. One of the best ways to create buy-in from an athlete is to show them that your work in the clinic or the gym has paid dividends in their golf swing.

Overall, this study has been very useful in my understanding of the golf swing and the key differences between pro and amateur golfers. It has also helped me to narrow down my focus in physical therapy treatments that can impact the ability of a golfer to get into these positions.

My recommendation, as always, is to work with a qualified team of individuals that can help you take your game to the next level.