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Golf Today > Tuition > The Lost Fundamentals of Hogan


1. Introduction

2. The Grip

3. Optimum Swing Plane

4. Plane Shift

5. The Radial Ball Position

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Identifying the "Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane"

On Page 78 of Ben Hogan's book The Modern Fundamentals of Golf appears one of the most famous and influential images in the history of golf instruction. It shows Hogan addressing a driver with a huge pane of glass resting on his shoulders, his head poking through a hole in the glass.

This illustration, by Anthony Ravielli, was an image that was cutting-edge in its day and is still worthy of examination in this current era. It is a simple representation of the Swing Plane (as Hogan considered it), yet it contained far more information than may have at first appeared. Some 30 years earlier, Seymour Dunn had used a similar image in his Golf School in New York (pictured here, left); he too showed the Swing Plane by way of a huge board resting on the ball-to-target line but with a hole sufficiently large to allow him to swing his hickory shafted club.

Seymour Dunn's representation of the Swing Plane clearly shows an inclined plane resting in parallel with the ball-to-target line, bold pencil marks on the board itself indicating the elliptical nature of the clubhead's arc. Dunn's book was entitled The Golf Fundamentals and was first printed in 1920; hence Hogan's book had to carry the word 'Modern' in it's title to distinguish it as different. In this article I want to demonstrate that Ben Hogan's description of the swing plane was a tiny fraction out, a technical splitting of hairs I suspect can be attributed to the artistic license Hogan afforded his artist, Anthony Ravielli.

More importantly, I wish to show that Hogan's pane-of-glass image is still far better than the majority of confused doctrines that are published and taught today! We can kill and bury, once and for all, the misleading nonsense of 'Shaft Plane'. By examining Hogan's teachings thoroughly we will discover hidden truth in his words that will lead us to the most vital 'Lost Fundamental' of them all! And the name of this long lost fundamental? I call it the 'Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane'. This Fundamental is, I believe, the pivotal reference point of the entire golf swing. The 'Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane' is rather like the North Pole - i.e. it's a vital point of reference, but very few will ever go there! However, we who teach the game must know where it is; or else, like an explorer with no compass, we might get lost. Worse still, we might lead others in the wrong direction!

Identifying 'optimum plane'

A golfer could swing the club in an extremely 'flat' plane or, conversely, in a very 'upright' plane. I hope we can all agree on that. And surely it stands to reason that in between these two extremes lies the ideal, neutral swing plane. This is the 'Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane'; Ben Hogan knew where it was and, what's more, he used it! For the sake of simplicity, Hogan allowed Ravielli to superimpose the pane of glass resting on his shoulders; it served the purpose.

Hogan, a short man with long arms, could swing a driver very close to that imaginary sheet of glass. But it is my contention that, were he ever to have tried this for real, his left shoulder would have broken through the glass as he neared the top of his backswing (in a dynamic motion the shoulders twist, roll and lift during the backswing). His image on page 78 was out by some 4 to 6 inches; the pane of glass or 'swing plane' should run through the top of the sternum or breastbone. 'Then why didn't he say that?', you might ask. Well, he did. For if you look across to page 79 you will see Hogan, at the set-up, holding a board between his forearms that points directly at the ball. And the accompanying caption shouts out a vital truth: the 'Backswing Plane' runs through the shoulders! The pane of glass image was just that - an image. It was meant to convey a 'principle' and not a detailed 'law'. Hogan gave Ravielli artistic license on page 78 but specified the exact angle of the swing plane on page 79.

Please note that at no time did Hogan choose to mention the angle or nature of the 'shaft plane'. Why would he? The shaft is obviously in one plane at the set up, rises to a different plane during the backswing and might then appear in yet another plane through impact, according to the club or shot in question. (So what if, at some time during the journey, it's in a parallel plane to that of address, what has that got do with anything?) Do you not think that if the shaft plane were relevant Ben Hogan would have mentioned it? If Hogan has not stated it directly, then please allow me: "using shaft plane as a teaching and/or swing reference point is about as much use as a handbrake in a canoe!" Why worry about the shaft plane? We don't hit the ball with the shaft. We hit the ball with the clubhead. If you were hammering in a nail, where would your focus be? On the head of the nail or the head of the hammer? Surely your attention would be focused on the nail? The target. You might possibly be aware of the hammer head, but the last thing you would be worrying about would be the handle (or shaft) of the hammer! So why, in golf, would we want to waste time and energy concerning ourselves with the journey taken by the clubshaft? Ben Hogan - quite rightly - was far more interested in the movement of the body and the journey of the clubhead. He knew (even though he may not have described it thus) that the ideal Swing Plane ran from the ball at address to the top of the sternum. The pane of glass rested on his shoulders, but his statement on page 79 categorically defines the Swing Plane as running through the shoulders. More precisely, the top of the sternum is the true 'hub' of the golf swing; an axis of rotation around that hub is a far more constant point than that provided by the continually coiling, twisting rotation of the fickle 'Shoulder Plane'.

The law is 'plane' - so let's nail it

The concept or application of a swing plane is indeed a 'Principle' . A man striking a fence post into the ground will swing the hammer up and down in a vertical or perpendicular 'plane'. He can choose to address or stand around the post in any one of 360 degrees - that is his 'Preference' . If he strikes the post with a glancing blow then he is inaccurate and, consequently, less powerful. When the hammer is swung up and down in a vertical 'swing plane' that blow is the most accurate, the most powerful and the most efficient. When the head of the hammer strikes the post centrally and downwards in that vertical plane it is functioning in its Optimum Swing Plane - that is a 'Law' ! We can utilise the Swing Plane as we choose, or as our talent permits. As necessary, we can alter the angle or direction of our swing plane according to our 'preference' or need. But, be it fence post or golf ball there is always the potential to swing the hammerhead or clubhead in an Optimum Plane - it's a physical law.

The choice is 'plane'

One the right are pictures of me using a hammer to strike a fence post into the ground; ideally I want to swing the hammer-head up and down in a constant plane - one that delivers the most efficient transfer of energy.

'ROBOT' PLANE - the Constant Optimum Plane

Sequence A: Straight up, straight down. A true vertical plane - the simplest and most efficient transfer of energy in this case. The most accurate blow is also the most powerful blow, but in golf this template is impossible for the human body to utilise. Sorry, Homer Kelly fans - I'm a man, not a machine!

THE 'FURYK' PLANE: Erratic, all over the place

Sequence B: The hammer is swinging up in various random planes before - with great flair - shifting to the ideal plane through impact. Worldranked No.4 Jim Furyk is perhaps the most obvious example of a player who displays this type of swing plane. Other great players in this bracket would be Eamon Darcy and Ray Floyd.

THE 'HOGAN PLANE': Up in plane, then a shift to a glancing plane

Sequence C: This is what Ben Hogan advocated with his pane of glass theory - the idea that you swing back in plane, and then shift to a shallower delivery plane in the downswing. In other words, a 'plane shift' to the inside path which, as Hogan concedes, delivers a glancing blow that would send the ball to the right of the intended initial line of flight. This is what Hogan felt but not what he did in reality...

What Hogan really did - Shift to the Optimum BioMechanical Swing Plane

To make short work of hammering in that post, it is plain to see that the hammer needs to live close to the ideal line of strike and be dead on it at impact. Not quite so clear - but equally true - is the concept that the ideal Swing Plane for the golfer is one inclined at an angle to the ball. To support this we also have the benefit of hindsight; by looking at images of golfers throughout history we can discern that the 'Lost Fundamental' has been under our noses (literally!) for decades. While the golf ball and clubs have changed dramatically, and differing techniques have come and gone, the human body has not changed during the few centuries that golf has been played.

Plane history

If we look at any golfer of note (in any era, with any club, any shot), the down-the-line view at the very top of the backswing reveals one defining point. If you draw a line from the ball to the butt-end of the club, that line will always run through the top of the sternum (or the 'hub' of the human 'wheel') to within an inch or so. Despite the difference of plane between, say, Bobby Jones' upright swing with a hickory wedge to Ian Woosnam's swing with a driver, the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane (OBSP) can be tracked through this same point every time. It is a very narrow band because a shifting of the club to various planes will only create a tiny variance compared to the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane's hub. To clarify, any golfer's swing will vary its plane in sympathy with the length of the club; naturally, a driver will demand a flattish swing plane while a wedge dictates a more upright one. So, the angle of the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane will vary from person to person and from club to club. However, the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane (OBSP) will always run from the ball to the butt of the club at the top of the backswing. Study the sequence above. The butt of the club is clearly below the OBSP at address. During the backswing the clubhead tracks the OBSP and gradually the butt of the club raises to lie in that plane at the top of the backswing. The golfer then delivers the clubhead to the ball, whereafter (ideally) the clubhead continues to track the ideal swing-plane. During the downswing and impact the butt of the club can live between the original shaft plane at address or it might rise to meet the OBSP. Then, for a nano second, the butt of the clubhead might be pulled back to the OBSP in the follow through (which you will see more clearly overleaf...).

The Explanar

Over the last 10 years or so I have developed the Explanar Golf Training and Fitness System. This came about after I saw instructors using white plastic hoops in America nearly 25 years ago, as it was apparent to me that no one really seemed to know the angle at which the hoop should be set.

My 33-year study of the golf swing and its biomechanical relationship with the Ball Flight Laws led me to discover what I have introduced to you as the 'Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane', and now, thanks to this piece of aparatus, what the great Ben Hogan had advocated with twodimensional drawings can - for the golfer - become a three-dimensional reality!
In other words, the significance of the pane of glass image can now be experienced, and by tweaking the plane to run through the upper sternum (i.e. the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane, rather than lie on top of the shoulders), I was able to distil the complexity of the swing into a training system that encourages one free-flowing movement.

Rather than a golf club, I designed a weighted 'Power Roller' to rest on the hoop throughout the course of the swing. By moving and swinging the Power Roller continually back and forth the pupil very quickly begins to feel a continuous movement - as opposed to being asked to work through a series of staccato swing 'positions'.

As you can see in these down-the-line images of me using the Explanar (above), both the shaft and the butt-end of the club are situated below the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane at the set-up. As the backswing is then initiated, the butt-end of the club and shaft then gradually rise until they lie in the ideal plane at the top of the backswing. It is at this point that the 'Plane Fin' on the Explanar comes into its own, enabling the golfer to feel whether or not they are in plane at the top of the backswing. At first glance you might think the Explanar teaches a golfer a one-plane swing movement, but this is not the case at all. Notice that the tip of the Power Roller is above the plane of the hoop in the initial few feet of the takeaway, but then falls into plane at the top of the backswing.

If the Power Roller is then swung through a little quicker in the downswing, the tip of the Power Roller returns to the impact zone on a more direct, shallower route. In other words, the Explanar Golf Training System encourages you to swing back a little above plane before shifting to the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane through impact! Plane balance When a child learns to ride a bicycle we give them stabilisers, or training wheels. We know that the perfect point of balance is upright or perpendicular; but wouldn't it be crazy to expect a child to ride around in perfect balance without wobbling at all? Even Lance Armstrong could not do that! So, even if your pro knows where the Swing Plane is, you cannot be expected to live in perfect plane throughout the swing. Even Tiger Woods can't do that!

So, the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane can only ever be a point of reference. We need to swing the clubhead as close as possible to that plane but with sufficient freedom to 'wobble' a tiny bit as we swing back and through. Hopefully, we can then shift instinctively to the ideal plane through impact.

Can I urge you, the reader, to understand the concept of the Swing Plane and study it carefully? Then forget about it when you go to the course! Like Hogan did, focus on the shot in hand and try to execute it. If your preparation is sound and you succeed in hitting the shot you wanted, you will discover that the ideal Swing Plane is the result of a good shot and not the cause.

As I said earlier, the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane is like the North Pole - we should know where it is, but we don't necessarily need to go there.

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