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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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Plane Shift - Shifting to the Plane at Impact - Not Below It

Fine-tuning a classic image

You will recall that I identified a 'Lost Fundamental' that I termed the 'Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane'. This is without doubt the most significant of my findings in over 30 years studying Ben Hogan's writing in his ground-breaking book The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Every student of the game will be familiar with 'the pane of glass' illustration that appeared in Hogan's book (page 78) - perhaps the most influential instructional image of all time. Hogan's artist, Anthony Ravielli, depicted Hogan at address with a driver and with a huge pane of glass resting on his shoulders. This indelible image has affected people's thinking on the swing plane for five decades now, and yet I believe that it was a couple of inches out - in pure terms - by suggesting that the swing plane ran from the ball to rest on top of Hogan's shoulder line.

As I demonstrated in Part 2: at address, the ideal swing plane runs from the ball through the upper sternum. This is what I have termed the 'Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane'. If you observe any golfer of note at the top of his or her backswing, you will find that if you draw a line from the butt-end of the club to the ball, it will always run through the upper sternum. From Bobby Jones right through to Tiger Woods this principle holds true. Any variance or idiosyncrasy caused by differing eras, methods or equipment are encompassed in a narrow, 2-inch band either side of the axis of rotation at the top of the sternum (on the illustration of the Vitruvian Man, above, the star on the sternum is the optimum crossing point).

The vital point every golfer must understand is that it is the path of the clubhead that determines the swing plane. For it is the clubhead that strikes the ball, not the shaft or the handle of the club.

Every time I travel to America and talk to teaching pro's and amateur enthusiasts, they all seem obsessed with 'plane shift' during the downswing and follow-through. On page 88 of the The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Hogan explains that he swings back under the pane of glass. Then, on the downswing, he says that he felt that he would shift to a flatter, 'in-to out' plane for the impact and follow-through.

If we think about that statement for a moment, it should occur to us that to swing back in the correct plane and then shift to a shallower plane would cause a blow delivered from in-to-out. Consequently, the ball would start a little right of target. Hogan concedes that the shallower downswing would be aligned to the right of target in the diagram of 'Red Plane' and 'Black Plane' (again on page 88).

I believe that Hogan (like most great players) did shift plane in the downswing - but he did so with one vital amendment: HOGAN SHIFTED TO THE PLANE AT IMPACT AND NOT BELOW IT .
Hogan swung the clubhead back a little above his Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane (OBSP - i.e. a line drawn from the ball up through the sternum, as you see above) and then shifted to the OBSP as he reversed the gears into the downswing to strike the ball. As is so often the case in golf, what Hogan felt he did and what he actually did were two different things.
(Having said that, I firmly believe that his simple explanation of the correct Swing Plane is still far better than most of today's muddled doctrine.)

So, yes, there is a 'Plane Shift' in the golf swing, but that shift is ideally from above the OBSP in the backswing and then to the ideal plane at impact.

What Hogan thought he did would be akin to you hitting a fence post by swinging a hammer up in line with the post and then shifting to a different, glancing plane on the downswing. It is far better to go up a little off the ideal plane and then shift to the pure, optimum plane coming down (as I have demonstrated here - right). Do that and you discover that the most accurate blow coincides with the most powerful blow.

The Post and Peg Drill - Nailing the Plane

Back in 1993 I made this simple teaching prop to explain why golfers of differing heights swing the club in differing planes. I glued some golf balls onto wooden pegs to create some large 'nails'. One such nail was at ground level and represented a golf ball resting on its target line. My golf swing could then demonstrate the feeling of sending a ball towards the target in an ideal plane at impact. No matter what height you are, your golf swing needs to utilise a swing plane that delivers the sweetspot of the clubhead to the ball at impact. It is also preferable to ensure that that swing plane utilised by the clubhead should be aligned to the intended line of flight (call me old fashioned).

1 - Here I am addressing a golf ball glued to a wooden peg, as though I were to drive a large nail into a wall. My swing thus has to function in a perfectly horizontal plane - but here's the key: as per the hammer illustration on the previous page, the clubhead will swing back slightly above the plane before shifting TO the ideal horizontal plane for its journey to impact. This picture - effectively the set-up position - clearly demonstrates that the butt-end of the clubshaft is at least 10 or 12 inches below the intended line of strike!

2 - See how I have created power by coiling my upper body fully; there can be no doubt that the butt of the club has risen to the same height as the nail. It is crystal clear that the whole of the clubshaft is now at the same height as my upper sternum. In other words, it has risen to coincide with my 'Horizontal Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane'.

3 - Here, I am mimicking my intended movement at impact; the clubshaft has dropped below the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane. This posed picture cannot imitate the dynamic nature of a real shot; however, it does show that the butt-end of the club has returned to a lower point. Vitally, the clubface (ideally the sweetspot) has met the ball in the Optimum Biomechanical Plane!

It is a question of need or choice that allows the shaft to function in a variety of planes according to need or choice. All things being equal, the shaft is generally lower at impact for a fade, whereas the shaft would rise if the golfer were trying to draw the ball. 'Why?'I hear you ask! All will be explained at a later date.

4 - In the follow-through it is unmistakable that the whole club (i.e. butt, shaft and clubhead) has returned to the perfectly horizontal plane. They say, "Originality is the art of revealing one's source". Those of you familiar with the legendary teacher, Seymour Dunn, will know that he understood this fundamental in 1920! Note: In the actual swing the shaft generally leaves that plane, due mainly to the momentum of the swing. This occurs well after the ball has left the clubface. Dunn was aware of this principle some 30 years before Hogan's Modern Fundamentals.

Plane Trip: Understanding the clubshaft's journey

Now we understand that the butt of the club rises and falls during the entire swing. The moment the shoulders start to coil, the butt starts to rise to a higher plane; this proves two things:

1. The plane of the shaft rises as soon as the backswing gets underway!

2. Dolly Parton could play golf if she wanted to!

Steady lads, hold that image! There are two training aids that do harm to a golfer's swing plane: Shaft plane boards and straps that hold the upper arms to a golfer's ribcage. If a golfer swings the club back trying to keep the club in its original, address plane he cannot possibly get the butt of the club into his OBSP at the top of the backswing. He will either over-rotate the forearms and swing the club back in a rolling, flattish takeaway (and then lift into his ideal plane), or he will swing back in a way that steepens the shaft plane causing the clubface to close.

[Here too, incidentally, are the origins of a tilt in the backswing. For, if the upper left arm does not lift off the ribcage during the takeaway, the golfer cannot coil properly and transfer some weight onto his right foot. Instead he will tilt, leaving too much weight on his left foot.]
Half-swing plane boards and 'golf training bras' are sold and used worldwide. Like any medicine they should be used advisedly! For if, in a desire to create so-called 'connection' in the backswing, the left arm is not allowed to rise off the ribcage going back, it will be impossible to find the ideal backswing plane in one flowing movement.

If Dolly Parton did play golf and insisted on keeping her arms 'connected' to her ribcage, she would probably end up with two black eyes. The left arm should swing over 'em and the right arm should fold under 'em! Throughout golf history great golfers get their left shoulder to their throat. If you took Ben Hogan's top-of-the-backswing position and then forced his upper left arm to return and rest on his ribcage, one thing is for sure, the clubshaft and head would burst through the pane of glass.

The Horizontal Baseball Drill (above) educates us with two key principles:

- The butt of the club rises TO the OBSP during the backswing.
- Ben Hogan's left shoulder would lift and break through the pane of glass at the top of his backswing!

So, let's accept that the shaft plane rises early in the backswing. Oh! By the way, if you are one of those golfers that hates playing in a waterproof jacket and would rather get wet, because you hate the feeling of restriction. Then you probably have your no space under your left armpit at the top of your backswing. Just thought I'd mention it.

Plane, butt attractive - Lets Nail the Ball

1 - Here is a down-the-line view of me addressing the same nail (as featured on the previous spread) in a horizontal plane. The thin white line that we have drawn across the images is my Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane (OBSP), running from the ball to the top of my sternum and on to infinity. Again, please pay special attention to the fact that the butt of the club is well below that line at the set-up.

2 - Now at the completion of the backswing the whole club is in my Horizontal OBSP. The little red rainbow line that runs from the ball to the clubhead is there to illustrate the way in which the sweetspot of the clubhead travels back above the Horizontal OBSP. It then drops to that plane about three-quarters of the way through the backswing. In short, the clubhead rises above the ideal plane and shallows to it during the last quarter of the backswing.

3 - Again, I have simulated the movement to impact. The clubhead has met the ball in perfect plane whilst the butt of the club is a little higher than it was at the set-up position. The flat green line shows the journey of the clubhead from the top of the backswing to the golf ball. Here is another clear demonstration that the clubhead has travelled above plane going back before shallowing TO the ideal plane at impact!

4 - Here is my set-up looking down-the-line with the longest club in the bag, a driver. The club is actually a persimmon Hogan driver from the early sixties, complete with 'Speed Slot' in the toe of the head. The white OBSP line is drawn in anticipation of the next photograph.

5 - Correctly, the club has been swung to the top of the backswing so that the butt of the club hits the OBSP line perfectly. Ben Hogan's takeaway was very wide for a man of his stature. I believe that he swept the clubhead back and, in so doing, the sweetspot of the clubface described by the gentle red 'rainbow' travels back slightly above his ideal plane, only to meet it about 3/4 of the way back.

6 - The limitation of a 2-dimensional image only allows us to depict the downward journey of the clubhead as a straight line. Nonetheless, it gives us the concept of the clubhead sweeping down to impact on a shallower, more direct plane than it did going back. Here again is confirmation that we should not shallow below the plane, but we must shallow TO the plane at impact!

Shaft Plane as a Reference Point - What a Load of Shift

Christopher Columbus sailed around the world in 1492, thus proving the earth was a sphere. So it's surprising to learn that the 'Flat Earth Society' still meet annually, undeterred by contemporary scientific evidence that the world is round.

In the same way, teachers who extol the virtue of the shaft plane at address as a valuable reference point fly in the face of science and common sense. The behaviour of the clubshaft is a most fickle and volatile movement. Here is a list of its erratic behaviour:

1. The shaft is in one plane at address.

2. The shaft rises into a completely different plane at the top of the backswing. So what if it is in a parallel plane? What has that got to do with anything. (If one recognises that the top of the backswing is parallel to that at address, then it stands to reason that the butt of the club must have made a journey between those two planes). If someone cannot accept it, they are probably from a 'parallel' universe!

3. The shaft moves to yet a third plane at impact according to preference or need. Yes, it can return to the address plane at impact if necessary or it can rise or fall below it.

4. David Leadbetter advocated a return to the address plane at impact in the late 1980s. This method won Faldo six majors but caused him not to hit the ball that far for a man of his considerable physique. It was not wrong, merely a style of technique. Check out Tiger Woods' shaft plane at impact and see if it matches his shaft plane at address!

5. The shaft plane will, all things being equal, stay lower through impact for fade shots, yet the shaft plane will rise during impact for draw shots. This is not a law, but it is a likelihood (and more on that in a future issue).

6. The shaft plane shifts and rises to the OBSP at varying rates according to the club being used. For example the flatter swing plane of the driver will cause the shaft to rise to plane quickest whilst the shorter, more upright swing of a wedge will cause the shaft to rise to plane slowest. This is because shoulder coil and forearm rotation is greatest with a long-shafted club, whereas the shorter shaft of a wedge delays forearm rotation in favour of more wrist hinge.

The case for the prosecution of shaft plane rests.

Showing a golfer his shaft plane at address and then asking him to repeat the same position at impact is like putting red spots on his face and saying he's got measles! No he hasn't, he just has the appearance of measles! There was not a 'position' in golf instruction until someone photographed a swing 'movement'.

Hogan - The High Plane Shifter

Our third 'Lost Fundamental'

On Page 82 of The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Hogan advocates swinging back and forth with the arms held snugly to his chest. This exercise was only to be used as a half-swing drill. The benefits of 'connection', created by the 'Long Narrow Triangle' of recent parlance, should not be sustained in a full backswing and through-swing. Hogan's teaching on the pane of glass clearly shows that there is space under his armpit at the top of his backswing.

Further confirmation is then demonstrated by the first drawing on page 98 of Hogan's book. Creating an artificial 'connection'of arms and body has some benefit for the longer-shafted clubs but will wreak havoc amongst the shorter irons. The clubmaker has specifically created the wedges to have an upright lie to actively promote separation of arms and chest! This causes the left arm to lift away from the ribcage during the backswing. The last thing we need is a flat, roly and 'connected'takeaway with a wedge.

Finally, the very fact that Hogan has space under his armpit at the top of his backswing, and no space at impact, is conclusive proof that the butt of the clubshaft rises to plane going back and then falls during the downswing and follow-through. So here is my third of Hogan's 'lost' fundamentals: Yes, there is a plane shift during the downswing, but that shift is made by the clubhead from slightly above plane TO the Optimum Biomechanical Swing Plane at impact!

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