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Swing Principle #4: Relaxation Part I

This article is about the fourth Concept Golf swing principle, relaxation. This principle and the weight transfer principle are completely intertwined. If the shoulders are relaxed, weight transfer must take place. And if weight transfer takes place, the shoulders can be totally relaxed.

Relaxation seems to be the principle that golfers are the least receptive to. As you read the following explanation you will understand why. But once the trust and understanding of what the principle is and how to accomplish it are in place, the resulting shots are breathtaking. There are only five principles, and all five need to be understood to be accepted by your body and "system."

Read the following with the realization that relaxation is a major key to the great golf shots you want. Be open and receptive and you will have the relaxed shoulders your need for the shots you want.

What is Relaxation?

Complete relaxation in your shoulders during the swing is your key to long, straight shots. Your arms can move at their greatest possible speed only when your shoulders are completely relaxed. Proper weight transfer allows for complete relaxation.

With your body moving to the right foot and then back to the left foot, your legs are doing the work. Your feet and legs create the movement of the trunk of your body. The arms are attached at the shoulders, so now you can relax your shoulders and arms and they will follow the body (just as with the baseball pitcher).

The muscles in your arms never help your arms move in an effective athletic motion. They are always relaxed followers. To get an idea of how much relaxation you need, bend forward and let your arms hang until it feels as though your arms are falling out of their sockets. All the muscles around your shoulder joints must be completely relaxed.

Now, address the ball and let your shoulders go completely limp. Please take note here that I am not talking about relaxing your hands. You can hold the club gently firm in your hands and still keep your shoulders completely relaxed. Occasionally students will relax their grip to the point their hands will come off the club during the swing. Overly relaxed hands do not create relaxed shoulders.

For the club to move as quickly as possible, your arms must be followers of the body. It's exactly the same as when you throw a ball or make a tennis stroke. For maximum club speed and consistency, your shoulders must be completely relaxed throughout the entire swing. Complete shoulder relaxation is critical as you reverse the swing from the backswing to the swing through the ball. If your shoulders tighten as you start the downswing, you have just caused a great loss of power and have most likely caused a poor shot.

I usually get lots of questions at this point about whether this relaxed-shoulder swing actually works. "With my shoulders this relaxed, how do I make a backswing?" "How do I even start the backswing?", "I feel that I am losing control of the club and the swing," "I can't get any power this way," "There's no way for the club to get back to the ball and for the face to be square at impact," "How do I get on the right plane?", "This feels funny, don't I look stupid?", and so on.

The Backswing Redefined

How can you possibly make a backswing with such relaxed shoulders? Most golfers are used to calling it the "take-away" rather than a back swing. "Take-away" describes a manipulated motion that would force the arms to take the club to some specified spot. This creates tense and independent arms rather than arms that are relaxed because they are dependent on the moving body for their movement. A backswing with relaxed shoulders (as opposed to a "take-away") is likely to be a big change in your concept of the swing.

It is important that you understand what the backswing is and how it is created. The golfer's backswing and the baseball pitcher's windup are the same motion. The pitcher doesn't use the muscles of his arm to make his arm go to the right spot during the wind-up. He uses the motion of the body to cause the arm to be swung away.

The golfer's backswing is truly a swinging motion away from the ball. You need to be relaxed in the shoulders to let the motion of the body cause the arms to be flung away. Because your shoulders are completely relaxed, something other than the arms must cause the backswing. Creating the backswing is the job of the feet and legs. As you transfer your weight to your right foot, your body moves to the right and your arms will be dragged along. As you move more quickly to the right, the club and arms will be flung or swung to the top of the backswing in exactly the right plane and perfect position without you thinking about it or trying consciously to create it with the arms. This is the "one-piece" backswing that we hear so much about. Interesting, isn't it? The arms are made to move when the body moves.

Trust versus Control

Complete shoulder relaxation may give you the sense that the club and arms are out of control. You may feel like the club and arms are going wherever they want and like you have no chance to deliver the club to the ball. Your sense of having no control of the club or swing is correct -- and is exactly as it should be!

If you sense that you are in control of the club and your swing, you are in control of the wrong thing. You never want to feel like you have control of the club or the swing. If that is the case, you have lost control of the shot. It does require trust to simply allow the club and arms to go where they want. When you relax and allow the arms and club to follow their natural path your swing will improve dramatically.

You don't consciously control your arm when you throw a ball to a target; it moves freely and naturally. When you accept the concept of relaxation and trust that your arms will move correctly when they swing freely, you will quit trying to control the club or the swing. In an attempt to control the shot, golfers often grab the club tightly, creating a swing that only a mother could love. The more relaxed you get with your arms and shoulders during the whole swing, the longer and straighter you will hit shots. I promise!!

The Misconception of Tension

If you have any doubt about the effectiveness of relaxation, pick up a ball and prepare to throw it as far as possible. In order to throw it a long way and control where it goes, tighten your grip and shoulder. Now you are set to throw it far and accurately, right? Not a chance! You have no chance to throw it anywhere but short and crooked. Now try the same exercise with a club. Hold the club tightly and tighten your shoulders before you swing. Can you create maximum club speed with that tightness? The answer is no... tension is obviously not good for your swing.

Practice this relaxed swing at home, out of sight of your friends, until you get a sense that this swing is all right and you really don't look ridiculous. You may want to videotape a few swings at this time so that you can see yourself making a good-looking swing even though it "feels" so out of control.

One of the big misconceptions is that a relaxed swing will not hit the ball as far as you want. Distance is one of the most important aspects of a good golf game. It's important for scoring and the enjoyment of the game. With a relaxed swing, you feel like you've lost any chance to hit 300 yard drives. While nothing could be further from the truth, your instincts tell you otherwise. Proper relaxation will allow you to finally create effortless power rather than the powerless effort you are used to. You will start hitting shots farther with much less effort.

To be continued...

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