So you've got a decent grasp on the whole swing plane thing. (Congratulations – it's one of golf's most misunderstood concepts.) But what determines a particular golfer's swing plane?
Perhaps the biggest factor is spine angle or posture. The tilt of your back as you set up to the ball influences everything that happens afterward.
In general, there's a direct relationship between spine angle and swing plane. If you stand upright and close to the ball, with little tilt in the spine, your swing plane will also be upright. If your back is tilted well forward in a more horizontal position, your swing plane will be more horizontal (flat) as well.
There are exceptions, of course, but these rules tend to hold true among amateurs.
It's important to note that there's no right or wrong swing plane. Jack Nicklaus and Fred Couples, for instance, were noted for very upright swings. Ben Hogan and Matt Kuchar are famous examples of flat-plane golfers.
Also, any change in posture during the swing can alter your plane. If your upper body rises or dips, the arms will be forced to adjust in order to strike the ball. That's why it's crucial to maintain a steady spine angle from start to finish.
Finally, the length of your clubs affects your setup. If they're too short, you'll either stand closer to the ball (more upright) or bend over farther (flatter) to reach it. If your clubs are too long, you may stand more upright or father away, depending on what's comfortable.
That's why a proper clubfitting is absolutely necessary to play your best. Thomas Golf (sponsor of golf-info-guide.com) offers free online fitting through its website,
Why Spine Angle Determines Your Swing Plane
The plane of your swing is one of the main determining factors in the eventual outcome of your shots. If you swing on a plane that matches up with the trajectory you are trying to create, the shot you are hitting will likely be a success. Of course, you probably won't be surprised to learn that most amateur golfers struggle to swing the club on a consistent plane – meaning they are unable to produce consistent shots over the course of 18 holes. Golf is all about consistency and achieving a predictable ball flight, so working on your swing plane can take you a long way toward reaching your goals.
When you start thinking about your swing plane and what you can do to improve it, your thoughts should quickly shift to your spine angle. The 'spine angle' you use in your golf swing is the angle that is formed by your back at address, as compared to the ground. Most of the time, you will view your swing from behind when reviewing your swing plane, either through the use of a mirror or video. Good players are able to establish a comfortable spine angle at address, and then maintain that angle all the way throughout the swing into the finish. If you allow your spine angle to move all around while swinging the club it will be nearly impossible to consistently swing down on the same plane. In many ways, your spine angle and your swing plane cannot be separated – one depends on the other.
In the content below, we are going to look at the connection between spine angle and swing plane so that you can understand why these points are important to your game. It is easy to get lost in a sea of golf instruction when you head to the range with the goal of improving your swing, which is why many golfers never get any better. If you are going to be one of the rare players who actually improves by spending time on the practice range, you need to know exactly what to work on – and how to work on it. Swing plane is always something that is worth practicing, and that practice is inevitably going to come back to your spine angle.
There is a bigger point within this topic that you can learn from as well – everything you do with your body in the swing has an effect on another part of your body, and the swing as a whole. For example, if you move something in your lower body in a certain way during the swing, that move is going to effect everything else that happens, including the way you strike the ball. It is your whole body that swings the club, not just your hands and arms, so you should respect the fact that you need to pay attention to every single moving part of your swing if you wish to refine your technique.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
At first blush, you might not think that there would be much of a connection between your spine angle and your swing plane. After all, the swing plane is a result of the way your arms swing the club back and through the shot, while your spine angle is simply determined by your stance. However, you can rest assured that these two swing elements are, in fact, very closely related. If you want to make a change to your swing plane, the best thing you can do is adjust your spine angle to match the desired plane. Unfortunately, many golfers swing along a plane that does not match up with their spine angle, and the results are disappointing as you might expect.
So why does the spine angle have so much to say about your swing plane? It's actually pretty simple when you stop and think about it for a moment. Let's work backwards through your swing in order to get down to the heart of the matter.
- At impact, the result of all of the hard work that you have done during your swing is paid off. The club head is directly behind the ball, your arms are fully extended down toward the ground, your chest is over the ball, and your hips have turned toward the target. The angle that is formed between your club shaft and the ground is an indication of your swing plane coming into impact – a steep angle indicates a steep plane, while a flatter angle indicates a shallow angle of attack.
- Going back up to the top of the swing, you can see early indications at this point as to what kind of swing plane is in play. If you were to pause a video of your swing right at the top, what would you see? If your left arm was in a vertical position with the club well above your head, you would be on a steep plane. Of course, if your left arm was flatter and the club was around your back, a shallow swing would be at hand. The shape of your backswing has determined how the swing is going to look at the top, and therefore, what plane will be used on the way into the ball.
- Backing up even further, we get back to the address position with your body standing over the ball in a comfortable manner. What do we look at before the swing has started to get an indication of swing plane? The spine angle, of course. As your swing starts and your shoulders rotate to the right, they are going to be turning around your spine at whatever angle you have set in your stance. Therefore, if you are standing mostly upright with very little tilt forward over the ball, you are going to wind up creating a flat swing plane. On the other hand, a player who leans out well over the ball with a significant bend from the hips is going to move the club steeply into the air in the backswing. In essence, the spine angle that you set at address is going to have an inverse relationship with the swing you ultimately make. In other words, a player who stands vertically is going to have a flat swing plane (usually), while a player with a great deal of spine tilt is going to wind up with a steep swing (again, usually).
It really all comes down to the turn of your shoulders. When you rotate your shoulders away from the target to move the club back, they naturally turn around your spine. With that in mind, there is no way to separate out the plane of the swing from the angle of your spine. As long as your shoulders are driving the backswing – and they should be – you will be swinging along the plane that has been established by your spine.
The information included above should be of great help when you think about how to connect your spine angle to your swing plane. It should be noted, however, that these rules are not hard and fast, and some golfers will deviate from them quite dramatically. For instance, some players who stand vertically with very little tilt from the hips will still make an upright swing, due to extra hand and wrist action in the backswing. Or, a player with a lot of spine tilt over the ball could manage to make a flat swing by taking the wrists and hands almost completely out of the equation. In golf, there are always going to be exceptions to swing 'rules', so keep that in mind as you are working on your own technique.
What Swing Plane Do You Desire?
Swing plane is one of those things in golf that tends to bring out a lot of opinions. If you bring up this topic in a room full of serious players, you are bound to inevitably start an argument about which technique is best – an upright, 'two plane' swing, or a flatter, 'one plane' swing. This is a debate that can rage on and on with no end in sight, in large part due to the fact that neither group is wrong. You can find great players at the top of the game using an upright swing plane, and you can find just as many players using a flatter plane. There is no right or wrong on this point – the game can be played successfully with either method.
Since either option is a viable one for your game moving forward, you will need to decide for yourself whether you are going to swing the club on a flat or steep plane. The points below should help you make that choice.
- Short or tall? One of the first things you need to think about is your own height. Taller players tend to success with swings that fall into the upright category, while shorter players are more prone to success on a flatter plane. That is not a hard and fast rule, of course, so you are welcome to go the other way if you would prefer. However, from a general point of view, the pattern of tall players with steep swings and short players with flat ones frequently holds true across the game.
- Draw or fade? This is another point that isn't a hard and fast rule, but is a pretty prevalent pattern in golf. If you are a player who prefers to use a draw to make your way around the course, an upright swing plane is probably going to be your best bet. On the other hand, playing a fade is going to come more natural if you are swinging on a flat plane. When you try to cross this pattern and go the other way, you will often run the risk of hitting dramatic curves in one direction or the other. For instance, if you are a flat swing player who is trying to hit a draw, you may always be susceptible to hitting a quick hook – which is never a good thing.
- Pick or dig? In golf, a 'picker' is someone who likes to clip the ball right off the top of the turf without taking much of a divot at all. A good picker will be able to wipe the ball from the top of the grass while barely leaving a mark – even with a mid or short iron. On the other hand, a 'digger' is a player who goes down into the turf and takes a large divot on a majority of his or her shots. A digger will usually hit the ball higher and with more spin, meaning they can stop the ball quicker, but also may struggle in windy conditions. You can play good golf either way, but you need to know which path is the right one for you. If you would like to pick the ball off of the grass, a flatter swing plane is certainly the way to go. Obviously then, a player who wants to dig into the turf is going to be best served by a steeper swing plane.
It cannot be stressed enough that this is a personal decision. You don't have to copy the swing plane of anyone else, or even follow along with the guidelines set out above. You are free to play the game your own way, using whatever swing plane you see fit. However, it is important that you pick a style and then design the rest of your swing mechanics to match. Specifically, you want to ensure that you are using a spine angle which suits the type of swing you hope to make. With all of your fundamentals pointing in the same direction, the game should suddenly become quite a bit easier.
How to Set – and Hold – Your Spine Angle
Now that you have decided on what kind of swing plane you are going to use in your swing, you should know what kind of spine angle you need to match. No matter what kind of spine angle you are going to use, there is a specific way that you should go about creating that angle in order to prepare your body to swing the club successfully. A great stance is one of the underrated keys to hitting good golf shots – start from a solid address position and everything else is likely to fall into place.
To build a proper stance with a solid spine angle, and to hold that spine angle throughout your swing, follow the steps below.
- As you step up to the ball to take your stance, you want to focus on getting your feet into the right position before you settle the rest of your body into place. After the club head has been placed down on the ground and is aimed correctly, move your feet into place to form the base of your stance.
- With your feet set and the club behind the ball, you will now get the rest of your body positioned to start the swing. To do so, start by bending from the knees slightly until your lower body feels engaged. You should feel like the muscles in your legs are 'active' and ready to do the work that is required to support the swing. Also, you are going to bend from the hips while keeping your back straight in order to establish your spine angle. It is absolutely essential that you bend from the hips instead of simply hunching over from your lower back. You need the spine to remain as straight as possible from your waist up into your neck if you are going to make a great turn away from the ball.
- Now that you have your stance completed and your spine angle is set, you can go ahead and get your swing started. Unfortunately, many players who do a great job of setting up their spine angle at address will go on to waste it later in the swing by moving all around unnecessarily. In order to make sure your spine angle holds steady throughout the backswing, the best thing you can do is maintain the flex in your knees. It is usually the lower body that is at fault when the spine angle is lost, so focus your efforts in the backswing on keeping your legs engaged and active. As long as your legs are doing a good job of supporting the swing, you shouldn't have any problems with losing your spine angle.
There is one other point that needs to be made in relation to the spine angle during the golf swing – you need to keep your eyes down on the ball. Players who fall into the habit of looking up before they have actually hit the ball will be prone to coming up out of their spine angle, leading to all kinds of problems with the swing. By having enough discipline to keep your head and eyes down on the ball until after it is gone, you will be giving your swing the best possible chance of success.
Spine Angle Matters in the Short Game
Even if you are only hitting the ball a few yards onto the edge of the green instead of hundreds of yards from the tee, you still need to worry about your spine angle. A good spine angle is just as important in the short game as it is in the long game, as it will help you to make clean contact time after time. Most players think about hitting the swing spot as something they have to do when making a full swing, but it is actually even more important when you are chipping and putting. Short game shots are all about distance control, and the best way to control your distance successfully is to make sure you hit the ball perfectly in the center of the club face.
Your swing in the short game isn't really long enough to have much of a plane, but the way you set your stance and your spine still have an effect on the path of the club through the ball. When putting, make sure to use plenty of spine tilt in order to allow your shoulders to do the work of rocking the club back and forth with ease. You can use a little bit less spine tilt while chipping the ball, but you still want to make sure you are out over the ball far enough in order to create the right angle for hitting down through the shot at impact.
It is easy to get lazy when it comes to your stance in the short game. Since you are only hitting the ball a short distance, you might be tempted to simply stand up next the ball and hit the shot without giving much thought to your stance. This, of course, would be a mistake. Attention to detail is what will allow you to become a quality golfer, so don't fall into the trap of taking shortcuts even when the shot at hand seems simple and straightforward. Stick with your fundamentals and prepare for each shot with the same attention to detail – this is the best path toward success in the game.
Your spine angle and your swing plane are forever going to be linked within your golf swing. Of course, there are many other elements to your swing that will have something to do with the ball flight that you ultimately produce, but these are two of the most important factors. Learn how to create a spine angle that will help lead you to your desired swing plane and your game will suddenly become far more consistent and reliable. Spine angle isn't something that you want to be consciously thinking about on the course, so spend some time on this point in practice and go out onto the course confident in the work that you have done.