As a golf instructor I can see no reason why golfers should not adopt an upright swing plane regardless of their physique or flexibility.
Yet, if you go online to search “golf swing plane” you will see multiple explanations about the subject and just as many differing versions about what is correct and what is not correct.
As I will show shortly from a purely mechanics and physics point of view, the benefits in distance and accuracy far outweigh those of a flatter swing plane and for those reasons alone I recommend and teach the concepts of adopting a more upright swing for all my students.
Swing plane angles are usually associated with a golfer’s height.
Golfers who are shorter in height are said to have a flatter swing plane.
It is also common to see golfers adopt a flat swing motion due to characteristics of their physique that limit the range of their swing flexibility, such as their chest and mid section size.
On the other hand taller golfers naturally swing with a more upright swing plane simply because of the increased height of their shoulders from the ground.
But, the physical characteristics of a golfer are not the only things that govern their swing plane angle.
What also determines swing plane is how they position themselves in their setup, and how they rotate their shoulders on the backswing…
Swing Plane Angle
Before I get into the specifics of an upright swing let me first define how the angle of the swing plane is often understood.
I say that because I am sure like most passionate golfers you have read Ben Hogan’s book “Five lessons. The modern fundamentals of golf” and his explanation of swing plane is probably one that is stuck firmly in your mind.
Here is his explanation…
Try to image a golfer forming a right angled triangle in their setup position.
The vertical side of the triangle is formed from the top of their shoulders/neck to the ground around their feet position. The horizontal side is formed from the club head and ball position to that point on the ground that meets the vertical side of the triangle.
The hypotenuse, or long side of the triangle, is determined from the club head to the point on their shoulders.
The classic understanding of the angle of the swing plane is that it is the angle between the hypotenuse and the horizontal side of this triangle. (Remember the plate of glass illustration in Hogan’s book resting on the golfers shoulder…)
You can now imagine how this angle would increase or decrease due to the height of the golfer and why swing plane is often associated with the golfers shoulder height.
The reason why I say this is how swing plane angle is often determined is that there is a big assumption with this theory that is incorrect most of the time…
What it assumes is that the club head swing path follows this same angle throughout the backswing so that the high point of the swing lies on an extended line that is drawn from the ball through the top of the shoulders to the hands at the top of the swing…
The reality is that the angle at which the swing “actually” rotates can be totally different resulting in the hands reaching the top point of the swing either below or above the point of the “Hogan plate glass definition.”
The reason for this is that the swing plane angle is not only influenced by your setup, it is mostly determined by the plane around which your shoulders rotate.
Your setup might show one swing plane angle that may be entirely different from the actual plane of rotation of your shoulders.
Rotational Planes of your Shoulders
To understand your shoulder rotation motion, stand upright in front of a mirror. Hold your arms out straight from each side. You can rotate your shoulders in a horizontal plane around the axis of your spine… which is easy to do.
Now try and rotate your shoulders in a vertical plane by lifting your right arm and dropping your left arm so that you maintain a straight line from hand to hand across your shoulders. The axis of rotation in this plane is a point on your chest just below your chin….this motion is not very easy to execute.
The reality of your shoulder turn on the backswing is that it is operating in a combination of both vertical and horizontal motion.
As you would expect, a shoulder turn that is moving more in the horizontal plane will create a flatter swing plane.
One that is operating more in a vertical plane will produce a more upright swing plane.
So when we go back to the classic Hogan explanation of the swing plane being governed by the setup and height of the golfer, the only way that a golfer will be on that same plane at the top of their swing is if the combined horizontal and vertical movements of their shoulder turn happens to match that angle.
This seldom occurs…
Having this understanding that swing plane is affected more by your shoulder rotation than your setup and height allows you to make adjustments to your backswing to gain some of the benefits from an upright swing path.
Here are some of the key reasons why I always recommend a more upright swing plane that are based on the mechanics and physics of the swing.
Improved Consistency of your Swing Accuracy
The first reason affects the accuracy and ball flight path of your shot.
If you have ever reviewed my free video on the “Understanding the mechanics of common swing faults” where I outline the physics of why your shots “fly” in the manner the do , the outcome of all your golf shots boils down to two major factors:
o The direction your shoulders are aiming at the point of contact with the ball
o The orientation of your club head face at the point of contact with the ball
The flatter your swing plane the more your shoulders are moving in the horizontal plane.
This means they are only “aiming” at the target at a point just before contact and shortly after contact. That is because the club head motion is moving more “across” the target line like a baseball swing rather than towards the target line like a putting swing.
Outside of this very small region the direction your shoulders are aiming is further to the right of the target on the down swing and further to the left of the target on the follow through (opposite for lefties).
The success of a flatter swing plane requires a high degree of “timing” and balance in the swing through the contact point since there is very little margin for error.
The level of “ball spin” generated by a poorly timed swing also determines the accuracy of the shot.
The relative difference between the shoulder swing plane and the orientation of the club face at the point of contact determines the amount of spin generated on the ball.
The more the shoulders are moving “across” the target line the greater the ball spin created leading to exaggerated hooks or slices.
On the other hand an upright swing is produced by the shoulders moving more in the vertical plane which means the time the shoulders are moving down the target line is a lot longer during the swing.
The result is that the club head moves down the target line over a larger region of the swing giving a higher margin of error for timing and balance problems.
The impact on ball spin is also reduced, because the shoulders swing less “across” the target line at contact for a poorly timed shot.
In both cases the consistency of your swing accuracy will improve the more upright your swing plane angle…
Higher Swing Power and Distance
Observe all of the big hitters on tour and one of the common features you will notice is most adopt an upright swing.
I wrote about this in a previous Turnberry newsletter but it is worth reviewing the reasons why an upright swing plane generates more power for the swing:
o The hands and club head will be higher off the ground at the top of the swing generating more “potential energy” for the swing. When you think of the energy that can be created by hoisting a 20-30lb weight above your shoulders and dropping it, you will understand where increased energy comes for the swing. That weight being the combined weight of your club and arms.
o You use your powerful muscles down your right side and the top of your left shoulder which can generate more power for the swing than using the power of your lower back muscles rotating around the base of your spine in a flatter swing.
Your balance during the backswing and downswing is affected by the centrifical force of rotating the club head as it is in motion and on what angle that force is acting on your trunk.
The centrifical force generated by the club head moving in a circular path acts to pull your shoulders forward toward the ball which can affect the stability of your trunk during your swing.
To give you and exaggerated example of the effect this might have on your balance, try to imagine the action of an athlete throwing the hammer.
In this case the athlete has to overcome the enormous centrifical force needed to rotate the hammer by “leaning back” in order to stay balanced during the spin.
A flatter swing plane has a similar impact on the balance of the golfer who has to counter the effect of the centrifical force need to rotate the club head with the lower back muscles in order to hold the trunk in position during the swing.
During an upright swing this centrifical force is being generated more up through the trunk and legs from the ground generating less effect on your lower back muscles allowing your trunk to remain more stable.
How to Generate an Upright Swing
As much as you might expect your setup to impact the plane angle, it impacted more by your shoulder rotation.
I encourage you to start your swing with a “downward rotation” of your left shoulder…
Many golfers initiate their swing by moving their hands.
For golfers who may be stiff in their trunk flexibility, shoulders or may have a few inches more around their mid section than they would like, starting the swing with their hands encourages them to “wrap” their swing around their body causing a flat swing plane.
That is because their shoulders are moving more in the horizontal plane.
The net swing results can be excessive slicing, with the ball starting the flight path heavily to the left, or pushing the ball to the right.
This is because the region where the club head is moving down the target line is very small lowering the margin of error for accuracy in the swing as I covered earlier.
Start your swing by a downward movement of the left shoulder and you will counter this problem.
It ensures your swing begins with more of a vertical rotation of the shoulders. By doing so your shoulders will be rotating more down the target line.
Mirror Exercise for Correct Setup
The other area that will affect your swing plane is your setup.
I encourage you to practice this swing initiation drill with your left shoulder turn in front of a mirror at home.
As you turn watch your hand motion. Adjust your setup in order to make it easier to turn vertically and move your hands along a more upright swing plane.
Here are a few pointers to help you:
o Let your arms hang vertically down in the stance with your hands positioned no more than six inches away from your leg
o Keep your back straight from the hips up. Do not let your shoulder hunch forward
o If you are large chested you may want to lean forward more in the stance to give your arms more clearance to move straight back rather than wrap around your body
As you go through this routine you are likely to feel muscle stiffness in the back swing that you are not used to…especially in your left shoulder.
That is because it is much easier to rotate your shoulders horizontally around your spine than to rotate them vertically.
This is normal since the motion in the vertical plane uses different muscles in your golf swing.
Many golfers are just too stiff in the shoulders to do this effectively and when they first try an upright swing plane on the range they find the results disappointing.
Should this occur, shorten your backswing considerably because the stiffness of your golf muscles in the upright swing plane is causing other areas of your swing to breakdown.
Caution: Never allow your left elbow to break when trying to swing more upright. You will defeat the purpose of the adjustment to a higher swing plane and only cause yourself more timing problems.
An exercise I recommend to improve shoulder flexibility in the vertical plane is to take a broom handle and place it across your shoulders and then wrap your elbows and arms over the top of the handle.
For some people this may be a stretching exercise in itself, so do it gently without stressing the shoulder muscles.
Now move the handle straight down one side as far as you can go, and hold for 60 seconds. As you hold the stretch, do not allow your hips to move sideways in the opposite direction as this will counter the stretch.
Likewise keep your trunk upright and straight as much as possible during the stretch.
Now do the same motion in the opposite direction.
After a few days of this stretch, you will find your distance on the range will improve as you begin to extend your backswing more. However, you should see marked improvement your accuracy consistency right from the start the more you swing down the target line.