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How to get On Path in Plane
Jim Christine

From the moment you set-up to the ball, golf is all about swinging the club along a natural path and keeping it on a good 'plane' (or angle) as the wrists cock and un-cock to translate that movement into clubhead speed.

As a coach, the challenge is getting this message across as simply as possible, and the clubs that you see placed here on the ground make for a series of very useful checkpoints.

The fact is, while the golf swing is by definition a rotary motion controlled by the turning of the body, parallel lines relating to the target confirm some of the vital checkpoints that we look for along the way.

Get the club on plane and swing in the right direction and you will find that you match a number of those parallel lines with the clubshaft - hence the value of placing clubs on the ground when you practise.

Let me take you through the key checkpoints to look for.

Use these early checkpoints to get your swing started on track

From the set-up, the first move away from the ball is one that gets the unit of the club, hands, arms and shoulders moving 'together' to create some early momentum.

You don't want any independent movement here, which is why this exercise is so beneficial, because with the club fed up through your hands until the butt-end of the shaft rests in your middle, you get a real sense of turning everything away together.

Create your set-up, and simply work on grooving this move -the club, hands, arms and torso turning as one.

Repeat that moveaway exercise for a couple of minutes, then return to a regular stance, regular grip, and take things a stage further. As you build on that early momentum - and at about the time the hands reach the right foot - the right elbow and wrist begin to fold and 'set'.

The checkpoint we are looking for here is that as the shaft reaches horizontal with the ground, it is also parallel to the ball-to-target line (as confirmed by the clubs we have laid on the ground).

Setting the wrist on a safe plane

Moving up to the three-quarter position, the idea is that the shaft has got to look like it is giving you a reasonable opportunity to get back to the ball.

If it is pointing straight down to the ground, or over the top of the ball (for me the least desirable of all), then your swing is out of plane and you are going to struggle to return it with any sort of consistency in the downswing.

Ideally, you want to get the butt-end of the club pointing into this safe zone that we have shaded here. And you do have some room to play with. Anywhere between the ball-to-target line and a point midway between the ball and your feet is perfectly OK.

Some players are more naturally inclined to swing on a more upright plane, others swing a little flatter. That's all down to a play-er's height and build and natural instinct. But anywhere within this shaded area and you are swinging the club on a good plane.

Shape, not length, is key

The length of the backswing is not of great importance to me; it's the shape that I am most concerned with. And as you can see, if you can get into a good position at halfway back, with the club on a decent plane, you have more or less cracked the code as far as attaining a good backswing position.

That the hands arrive above the tip of the right shoulder is not only a good swing thought but a useful checkpoint to look for as you reach the top. A little daylight should be visible, but don't worry if you are unable to extend high into a Davis Love-like position - few players can. A compact three-quarter length arm swing, with a good wrist set, makes for a very solid and playable position.

It all depends on body shape and athletic ability. Let's not kid ourselves that we all have the talent of a Tiger Woods.

I teach a lot of mid- and higher handicap golfers who cannot physically get back any further than this but shape is good and they still return club to the ball effectively.

Rotation is the key to a correct on-line release

Too many golfers get 'target-orientated' coming through the ball, as a result of which they often end up trying to steer the club straight down the target line. We've all been guilty of that from time to time, and it's a horrible feeling, as you know that you are failing to release the club at your maximum speed.

The idea of me placing these clubs on the ground -and I hope you try this when you next have the opportunity to practise - is that you learn to understand that the golf swing is a rotary motion controlled largely by the turning of the body and that the clubhead traces a natural arc. The clubface is on line for just a fraction of a second through impact - long enough to strike the ball towards the target - before the rotation of the body swings the hands, arms and the club itself inside once again on the way to the finish.

Think of it this way. A good swing is a mirror image: the hands, arms and the club are encouraged to swing up and around the body on the way back, returning to square momentarily at impact before swinging around and up again into the follow-through, the hands this time heading up and over the left shoulder.

The swing is a rotary motion, the clubface on line for just a fraction of a second before the continuing rotation of the body pulls the arms, hands and the club to a finish.

People mistakenly talk of the release as being all about hand action, but the correct release does not involve any 'flipping' of the wrists through the ball. It is a natural release of the centrifugal forces that have been generated by the body, the energy that is stored in the wrists finally released on the ball as the body unwinds towards the target. The right hand and fore-arm cannot help but overtake their left-side counter-parts, finally doing so at about waist high as the club shaft once again swings up on a good plane. The clubface is at all times neutral to your body turn - the same as it was to start with.

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