The golf doctor
Cracking golf's kinematic code
Ernie Els, the Big Easy, will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this May. In my opinion, his swing ranks in the top 30 among his contemporaries. But while his record is good (3 majors/13 PGA wins/788 weeks in the World Top 10, the record), Els' swing looks better than it is because of his tempo. Tall at 6-foot-3, he has always been a leggy player who lays the club off when he goes off form.
For a few years, he was touted by the golf media as a member of the Big Five (Woods, Singh, Goosen, Mickelson and Els), four of whom offered just a tad of competition to Tiger, when Tiger had his C game. The big five have all struggled in recent years.
But what makes these players good even when they are off form? The answer is they have all cracked the code.
In all sports there is a code for transferring power ― a golden sequence that all the great players in that particular sport adhere to. They may have stumbled on it through solitary practice and experimentation, as Ben Hogan did, or through a teacher or trainer who guided their progress. Whatever the route, the prize goes to the athlete who finds the Rosetta Stone of his or her sport.
Usain Bolt takes 41 strides in the 100-meter dash; elite long-distance runner Alberto Salazar takes 180 steps per minute. There is an efficiency code for transferring energy and the best athletes crack the code.
In golf it's the kinematic sequence revealed over the last few years through the use of 3D motion analysis, where electronic signals record what is going on in key areas like the hips, shoulders, arms and clubhead. Watch any world-class player closely and you can see the sequence unfold:
First the hips reach their maximum rotational speed as the downswing begins. Then they slow and pass the energy to the shoulders, which peak a third of the way to the ball. Then the shoulders slow and pass power to the lead arm at the halfway point. Finally, the player allows his lead arm to slow, dumping its energy down the shaft and into the ball.
Speeding up and slowing down key body parts in sequence allows golfers like the Big Easy to generate big power. It's not a miracle; it's just physics.