Golfers are taught to maintain a consistent spine angle throughout the swing, referring to their forward tilt toward the ball. But there's another critically important spine angle to consider as well.
At address, the spine should actually be angled ever so slightly to your right (for a right-handed golfer) – about 5° of tilt is all it takes. Put another way, the right shoulder should be just a bit lower than the left.
This tilted spine is essential to allow the body to turn properly while transferring weight onto your right side on the backswing. Without this rightward lean, you're more likely to leave weight on the left side, or even tilt toward the target as the club goes back – a big no-no called a “reverse pivot.”
Your spine should tilt naturally to the right as you set up to the ball, because your right hand is lower than the left on the club. Thus, it's important not to exaggerate the sideways angle – too much rightward tilt will cause you to lose shots to the right.
Also, be mindful that your right hip doesn't dip with your spine. The hips should be level when you stand over the ball.
Focus on keeping this minute spine tilt throughout your swing, right into the finish.
THE FUNCTION OF SPINE TILT IN THE GOLF SWING
One of the most difficult fundamentals for amateur golfers to perform is getting into a good golf posture and then maintaining that posture throughout the swing. Even if a golfer is capable of getting into a good address position it doesn't guarantee that the player is able to sustain that good posture while they swing.
spine tilt occurs when the top of the spine bends to accommodate the lowering of the right shoulder at address. The right shoulder should drop down when the right hand grips the club lower than the left. On the downswing the right shoulder drops even more which creates a more obvious spine tilt to the right.
You can develop a golf swing that produces speed and power by creating a center line in your swing using the angle of your spine. By definition spine tilt is not what your back looks like as you bend over to touch your toes. Spine tilt means that you look as though one shoulder appears to be lower than the other. It's a fairly inconspicuous detail that is overlooked by many golfers.
The position that your spine is tilted (or not tilted) effects the angle at which you swing down to the ball and also your club face position at impact. In addition, you can create more power tilting away from the ball at impact since it is difficult to release the club with level shoulders.
In the golf swing the arms work around the trunk of the body. Arms use the upper body as a foundation and react directly to the position of the spine. It's nearly impossible for most players to have a fixed spine during the entire swing. Most of us would be making an appointment to see the chiropractor if we even attempted it. The idea is that the spine moves between the hips. When the spine is titled outside the parameter of the hips or base of the swing balance is disrupted. By the same token, when the spine is being forced to stay still it can actually cause a reverse tilt. Lack of flexibility and the desire to swing back too far will force the spine to tilt to the left.
For a right-handed golfer the spine needs to be tilted to the right at impact. In simple terms it is the most efficient way to apply force. Any time an athlete needs to apply force, like in tennis and baseball, the player's center of gravity should be behind the center of the body. The amount of tilt depends of the amount of force that is applied to the swing.
If you have ever watched a long drive contest you probably noticed that the player's body at impact seems almost contorted. The head is lower and further back than it was at address. There are two reasons for this. First, the amount of force that the player is creating requires a great deal of stability and balance from the body. In order to stay stable AND balanced, the center of gravity has to move back and behind the center of the body. Second, for every bit of energy the player creates to unload onto the golf ball at impact the line of stability needs to point towards the target. Think of a pitcher in baseball. The must lean back before they throw the ball forward.
If you are hitting a driver then the tilt in your spine will be more exaggerated than if you were hitting a nine iron. A nine iron doesn't require the same amount of force needed to hit a drive. Therefore, spine tilt is directly related to the amount of energy transferring from the club to the ball. There are not many exceptions to this rule in sports. Therefore, spine tilt is an important function of an effective golf swing.
SPINE TILT IN THE ADDRESS POSITION
The way you set up to the ball speaks volumes about what your swing will look like. It's counterproductive to neglect your set up and concentrate only on your swing. An element of the set up that is commonly overlooked is spine tilt. It's a subtle element but an important one because if you address the ball with your shoulders level, in order to hit a good shot you will need to create spine tilt on the downswing.
When a right-handed golfer grips the club the right hand is lower than the left. Therefore, the top part of the spine should tilt slightly to the right and the right shoulder should be lower than the left. Try this drill so that you can feel the correct spine tilt:
While in your address position take your right hand completely off of the club. Let your right hand and arm hang loosely. Now replace your right hand on the club in exactly the same position it was hanging. Even if you had initially set up with your shoulders even, they should now be slightly tilted to the right. By relaxing your arm and hand you allow the arm to lengthen and grip the club from underneath, below the left hand. If you have a driver in your hands, and therefore a wider stance, your spine tilt will feel more exaggerated than if you had a wedge and narrow stance.
Your club is going to follow the line of your eyes because your head is attached to the spine. The top part of your spine is built to bend and support your head. Therefore if your head is tilted slightly to the right then in turn the spine will tilt to the right to support it. If you tilt your head slightly to the left then the spine tilts to the left. If the spine is tilted left at address not much good can happen with your swing.
If the head is still tilting left while the club is taken back the angle will be much steeper than if your head were to tilt to the right. Swinging back down to the ball, if the head is tilted left then the angle will be even steeper because it will be coming down from the outside and across the ball. It would be difficult to hit good shots from this position.
Therefore in order to hit your shots consistently you need to set up with the right shoulder lower than the left and your eye line parallel to your shoulder line. Take care not to exaggerate the angle of your shoulders or your eyes. Having too much spine tilt either from a very low right shoulder or from your head tilting too much to the right will move your center of gravity at address markedly to the right. In theory, that might not be a terrible thing for your backswing but it could be disastrous when trying to get to your left side on the downswing and follow through.
If you find that you are not comfortable at address with your spine tilt or weight distribution then take a hard look at your ball position and your grip.
BALL POSITION- If your ball position is too far forward you could go two different routes with your spine tilt. The first would be to overstate the correct tilt to the right in order to reach the ball at address. Your weight will feel like it's on the right side and your right shoulder will be much lower than it should be. If your ball position is too far back you won't be able to create shoulder tilt. The shoulders will appear level.
GRIP- A weak grip pulls the right hand and shoulder up while forcing the left down slightly. You will have a reverse spine tilt at address. An overly strong grip will create too much spine tilt to the right.
Don't overlook the details concerning the amount of spine tilt you have at address. The amount of tilt at address can set you up for a great shot or it could make it difficult to hit even a solid shot. It would be like trying to hit a pitch shot with a 7-iron. It could be done but it's going to be difficult and look ugly.
SPINE TILT IN THE BACKSWING
Loss of posture in the backswing is one of the most common swing flaws for amateur golfers. Starting the swing with the right shoulder slightly lower than the left gets you into a semi-impact position. By over swinging and losing your spine tilt you will be left to create as much as twice the amount of spine tilt to the right on the downswing.
Spine tilt, in reference to golf, is really referencing the top part of your spine. If you are forced to manufacture a spine tilt to the right on the downswing then it's possible your spine tilt will aided by lower parts of the spine to get there. Unfortunately this is the cause for many back injuries in golf.
How do you know if you are over swinging? First, address the ball with your right hand placed below the left in a way that allows your spine to tilt and right shoulder to drop slightly. If you have an iron in your hand make sure that the heels of your feet are not wider than your hips (a wide stance can also cause a loss of posture!) Swing back slowly, first only with your arms. Slowly let your shoulders and trunk turn making sure that you are maintaining the shoulder tilt you had at address. When you reach the point where you can't go back any further with your upper body or arms without losing your spine angle, your club should be fully set. If it is not then chances are you have been over swinging.
Try the same drill and this time focus on letting your weight and your spine “float” to the right on the backswing so that you feel like your right hip is over your right heel. Set the club earlier this time so that when you reach the desired end of the backswing, your club is completely set. You should still have your right shoulder slightly lower than the left.
If your are having difficulty setting the club in time to reach the end of the backswing then you may want to start looking for flexibility issues or prior injuries. Tight muscles in the shoulders, back and down the hips can restrict your backswing. Prior knee or ankle injuries can prohibit weight transfer. Both can cause you to lose your spine angle too soon.
A quick remedy for these problems is to turn your toes on your right foot away from the ball. This will give you a little bit longer to set your club. If your are still having trouble getting the club set in time while maintaining your spine tilt then drop your right foot back a couple of inches, away from the target line. You should feel less resistance and it should give you enough room to set your club and keep your spine angle.
There should not be a lot of change in regards to the amount of spine angle you have in the backswing compared to how much you had at address. When your spine tilt changes in the backswing it directly effects how you will transfer the club to the downswing, your downswing itself and even your finish. If you have problems with your spine tilt changing during the backswing you need to work on setting the club earlier and taking care not to over swing.
SPINE TILT IN THE DOWNSWING
On average, professionals have at least twice as much spine tilt to the right at impact than they did at address. The spine needs to tilt away from the target on the downswing to move your center of gravity behind your impact, or release point. The longer the club you are using then the more spine tilt you will need to accomplish this.
A point to remember is that although you do want your center of gravity to be behind the ball on the downswing, you do not want it so far back that you cannot get through the ball to your right side efficiently. Excessive spine tilt to the right can cause this.
Spine tilt on the downswing is increased when the lower body begins to turn toward the target and the upper body is still in the process of finishing the backswing. The key is to make sure that the spine tilts only to the right. The shoulders should be tilting on a line roughly parallel to the target line. A backward or forward tilt of the spine will effect the path of the club.
A good drill to ensure that you have proper spine tilt is to use an impact bag or a pile of towels. Set up to the bag with the right shoulder slightly lower than the left. While in your address position take your right hand completely off of the club. Let your right hand and arm hang loosely. Now replace your right hand on the club in exactly the same position it was hanging. Even if you had initially set up with your shoulders even, they should now be slightly tilted to the right.
Take a backswing ensuring that you keep a consistent posture and spine tilt. Start to clear your lower body. At this point you will feel your shoulders start to lean more to the right and therefore your head will lower slightly. Stop your swing at the impact bag and hold your position.
First, look to see that the club face is solidly against the impact bag. If it is not you should look at your posture and spine angle. If the toe is touching the bag and the heel is not check your shoulder alignment. If your shoulders are pointing left of the target line then lower your right shoulder slightly and this should square the club up with the impact bag.
If the bottom edge of your club is touching the bag in an upward angle then you should make sure that you do not have your spine tilted too much to the right. Your center of gravity should be no further back than your right foot. Take another swing and preserve your posture on the downswing restricting the amount the spine tilts to the right. Let your arms swing down to the ball instead of backing out with your body. This is an exaggeration but will help you resist lowering the right shoulder too much on the downswing.
Most long drivers of the ball will find they have more spine tilt to the right than the average player. They swing more forcefully than an average golfer and therefore need to move the center of gravity in their body further back in order to transfer as much energy as they can to the golf ball. Tilting the spine to the right on the downswing will help the average golfer in the same way, but it needs to be in proportion to the amount of force you can create.
SPINE TILT AT THE FINISH OF THE SWING
It is often said that the follow through is a direct result of the swing up to that point. In terms of the angle of your spine this is absolutely true. A balance needs to be struck between the upper and lower body in order to maintain stability and transfer of power. A player needs to be “stacked” with the upper body on top of the lower body to get the most out of his/her swing.
On the downswing the lower body, or the base of the body, turns toward the target. The weight should then be shifting towards the target and once impact occurs, the weight transfer is completed quickly. As the swing nears its finish the line of gravity needs to shift outside the base of your lower body which means the spine should straighten on the follow through. If the spine stays tilted to the right then the center of gravity stays to the right and the transfer of power is diminished and balance disrupted.
One of the main reasons that golfers are taught to let the spine straighten through the shot is to eliminate the incredible force that is transferred to the spine one the downswing and follow through. By letting the lower body shift towards the target and restricting the upper body from doing the same it creates a twisting effect that ravages the lower back.
In the 70's the “reverse C” finish was very popular. The lower body still turned towards the target on the downswing, but instead of the spine straightening it would maintain its tilt to the right. It was used to allow the left wrist to stay in a straight position down and through the shot. It was learned as these players aged that the reverse C was the cause of many back and hip injuries. Too much force was being directed on some very vulnerable areas of the body, areas that are not made to withstand such forces in a consistent manner.
All of this is not to say that there isn't some tilt in the spine at the finish of the swing. The fact is that when you address the ball your spine is bent over 30 degrees and your right shoulder should be 3-4 degrees lower than the left. If you were to finish standing straight up with level shoulders then there is a good chance that you came over the top on the downswing to get to that position.
If the sequence and timing of the downswing is off, it's possible that the upper body will turn faster than the lower body. In this case the upper body crosses over the lower body and does not stay stacked over it. spine tilt is effected by this flaw. If the hips slide instead of turn the amount of spine tilt is increased. If the lower body turns to its finish too soon the shoulders will level out. It can benefit your timing by hitting a few shots taking care to simply maintain your spine angle. This will greatly influence the length of your back swing in the beginning because you will be limited to swing back only as far at your body position will allow. After a few swings you will find your timing is better and then you can start to loosen up your upper body.
If you are into taking video of your swing spend some time looking at your finish. Is your upper and lower body stacked? Are you balanced? Are your shoulders level or do they appear to be tilted too much? All of these indicators are related to spine tilt. If you notice any of them on your video then go back to the basics at address.
The right hand is lower on the club. The right shoulder is tilted slightly down and the head is tilted slightly to the right. The amount of tilt should remain constant until you begin the downswing where your tilt will increase. After impact, when you begin your follow through, your spine should straighten but there should remain the small tilt to the right.
Your swing is built around a center line and your spine is the center of your body. Although there are variations in spine tilt from start to finish, the amount of spine tilt you have as you follow through is a great indicator of what went right and what went wrong with your swing.