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The difference between professionals and amateurs is in the ground

Thursday, May 1, 2014 8:35 am

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Ok, the difference between amateur and professionals isn’t necessarily in the ground. It’s more about how you use it.

We all enjoy watching the beautiful swings of the best players in the world and often wonder, “Why can’t I swing it like that?” They swing with great tempo, sequence and power, allowing them to hit the ball a long way with a high level of accuracy. Most professionals swing differently, but they all do one thing similar. They use the ground properly throughout their swing, providing great balance and sequencing.

I can tell you this because it has been proven through recent technology in the form of force or balance plates. These plates provide between 400 and 3000 high-resolution sensors that measure a player’s Center of Pressure (COP), Center of Pressure Trace (motion of pressure during swing) and foot pressure (where weight is).

At one point or another, all golfers have been told to set-up to the golf ball at address with their weight distributed 50/50, but technology has showed us that it’s virtually impossible. Everyone will have more weight on either their left or right foot at address, even if they feel like they are evenly distributed. Here’s what has been discovered by using force plate technology.

Average Amateur Set-Up

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PGA Tour Player Set-Up

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Above is a visual comparing the average amateur golfer set-up compared to the touring professional. You can see the percentages under each foot and the colors represent where the pressure is located. The red would indicate the most pressure.

On average, the amateur player does two things at setup with their pressure. They have more pressure on the trail foot with the weight back in the heels. Tour players do the opposite. They have more weight on the front foot with the pressure between the ball of the foot and the toe at address.

The white dot represents where the center of pressure (COP) starts at setup. A tour players COP starts centered between the two feet, and because of their pressure the amateur is typically closer to the trail foot. This has a large effect on the efficiency of the backswing. When watching PGA Tour coverage, you will see the players don’t move much off of the golf ball in the backswing. If you go to the local range and watch players hit balls you will see the opposite.

The great thing that has been found through this technology is that it doesn’t matter what swing theory or method a player uses. The pressure from each player is very similar. To the human eye it may not look close, but that’s why this technology is so powerful.

Once the tour player reaches the top of the backswing, they will have between 70 and 80 percent of their pressure in the trail leg. This holds true for players that practice a one-post or stack-and-tilt move as well. What gives the professional a big advantage over the amateur golfer is what they do immediately into their transition or start of the downswing. Below you will see another graph comparing a professional and amateur from the start of the transition.

PGA Tour Player (left) and Average Amateur Golfer (right)

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The tour player shows an immediate transition in pressure moving forward. This player went from close to 80 percent pressure to 52 percent pressure on the trail leg in the first move in the downswing. You can see the pressure is moving forward and towards the ball of the front foot. You can see the amateur on the right still has too much weight on the trail foot. This affects a player’s balance, sequencing and power, which transfers into inconsistent face and path alignments at impact.

What you will also notice when looking at these pictures is the COP trace line. The tour player on the left has a smooth line that started centered at set-up, then smoothly moved into the back foot. As the player is moving closer to impact, the trace is smooth running towards the ball of the front foot. The amateur player on the right has a trace line that is all over the place. This means the pressure has inconsistent movement and the pressure has moved both back and forward in their feet.

Due to what the amateur golfer has done with their pressure at this point, they are going to have a very difficult time creating the proper impact angles. We call impact the “moment of truth,” because it’s really all that matters. The only problem is if the player is doing things poorly from the start it makes it that much more difficult to put the club into the impact position they are looking for.

The best players in the world have been found to all deliver the club into the impact position very similarly no matter what their swing may look like. It has been found through these force plates that at impact these professionals have between 75 and 90 percent of their pressure on their front foot. That number goes to 98-to-100 percent into their finish position. Below is another comparison between the tour player (left) and the amateur golfer (right). These number represent where the player is at just after impact.

PGA Tour Player (left) and Amatuer Golfer (right)

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Right after impact, the professional already has 87 percent of pressure on their front foot with the weight between the ball of the foot and toe. When looking at the average amateur golfer on the right, you can see a big discrepancy. This golfer still has more weight on the back foot and you can continue to see the issue with the player’s COP Trace moving all over the place.

Tour players will have a simple, clear pattern and amateur golfers will not. They will show unnecessary movements and abrupt changes in direction. Every player will have their own “fingerprint,” however, because no one swings exactly alike. But ball flight is hugely influenced by what your COP is doing during your golf swing.

That being said, there are a few drills I prescribe to help amateur golfers improve their COP, COP Trace and foot pressure. This can help the player improve their balance, sequencing and overall power. These three things have a large effect on a player ball flight and overall consistency.

The first drill I recommend will help the player with their COP and foot pressure at the set-up position. It will also help with the COP Trace throughout the player’s swing. You will need to find a downhill lie with the ball slightly below your feet. This drill should be done using half-swings.

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This lie will force the COP to be centered with the pressure moving between the ball of the foot and toe at set-up. It will then help the player improve their initial move in the transition to begin the downswing. It improves the kinematic sequence and provides more pressure earlier, setting up the impact position.

The second drill will help the player establish a better relationship with their feet and the ground. You want to do this drill in your bare feet. The player should feel almost as if they are in a sand bunker feeling like they grab the ground with their feet. This helps create friction with the ground, allowing the player to create ground reaction forces. This can help the player with the sequencing and acceleration and deceleration of the kinematic sequence.

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Hitting balls barefoot will give the player a great sense of balance and help them understand how their body should move in the golf swing. If done improperly, the player will lose balance and not create the right amount of pressure. The great Sam Snead practiced much of his young life in his bare feet, this provided a great action later in his life providing a very powerful golf swing.