Jim Suttie: How to stay within your spine angle

How many times have you said to yourself “Oops, I looked up!” after you hit a thin or topped shot?

This sounds right, but it probably has nothing to do with your bad shot. Generally, when you top a shot, hit a shot thin, or hit the ball off the toe of the club, you have pulled out of your spine angle and pulled your arms inward toward your body.

We can define your spine angle as the amount of forward bend toward the ball that you establish at address. This forward bend at address should be between 25 and 35 degrees depending on the size of your chest and the length of your arms.

The hard part, of course, is staying in this spine angle or posture as you rotate your body to the right on the backswing and to the left on the forward swing. To be a consistent striker of the ball we have to keep the spine relatively still as we swing the golf club. This means no movement upward and no movement sideways.

This allows us to create a true circular motion with the clubhead, which will help us with our consistency. In addition to this, many golfers are looking for more distance. If you have looked at your physics book lately, I think it says a swinging object swings fastest when that object is swung at right angles to its center. In this case, the spine is the center of the swing, and we are trying to keep our posture (spine angle) as we swing the club.

Amateurs lose their spine angle at impact for many reasons. Most amateurs pull their upper bodies away from the ball on the downswing because they are using their arms too much and neglecting the use of their body. Many amateurs have such upright swings that they are forced to pull away from the ball in the impact area just to make room for the arms to get by the body. To fix this, just try to get a slightly flatter swing.

Another way to lose your spine angle at impact is by crowding the ball at address. To fix this error, just bend forward more from the hips and stand farther from the ball. Swaying to the right on the backswing and to the left on the forward swing is yet another way to lose your spine angle.

Once your head gets in front of the ball at impact the only thing you can do to get your arms to catch up to your swaying upper body is to straighten up your body and pull away from the ball at impact. The result is usually a topped ball.

Even the low handicap player fights this pulling out of their spine angle at impact. The low handicap player tends to swing “too inside-outside” through the impact area. When this happens, the arms get trapped behind the body. Tiger Woods fought this one for a while. The only way for the arms to catch up is by standing up and pulling out of the spine angle.

You can work on maintaining your spine angle by simply putting your head on a wall while taking practice swings. So the next time you top the ball or hit the ball off the toe of the club try to keep your original posture, and stay in that spine angle until well after impact.

Jim Suttie gives instruction to members and public at TwinEagles Country Club in Naples on Immokalee Road and Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, Ill., in summer. Dr. Suttie was the 2000 National PGA Teacher of the Year; is a Golf Digest 50 Best Teachers in America and a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher. For instruction, and availability call 800-765-3838 or email jmsuttie@aol.com. Website is www.jimsuttie.com, www.facebook.com/jimsuttie; Twitter@docsuttie.

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