The 3rd Key To Consistency: Spine Angle
Maintaining your spine angle throughout the swing is one of the most important ways to improve your consistency – primarily because it will help you to deliver the club face square to the ball at impact. On the other hand, changes in your spine angle during the swing can result in both thin shots and fat shots, and can make you miss to either the left or to the right.
Most of the golf swing is an exercise in figuring out how to deliver the club face squarely to the back of the ball at the moment of impact – and at high speed. A squarely-struck ball will travel straighter to the target, on a better trajectory, and will travel farther. Plus, it just feels good to hit a solid shot.
The whole idea of keeping your spine angle consistent is that it will help you to keep the “shape” of your swing consistent. When the shape of your swing is consistent, it is much easier to deliver the club face in a square position at impact.
In addition, a consistent spine angle will keep your club on plane. More specifically, it will keep your shoulders on the same plane – a lesson Tom Watson said he wished he’d learned earlier in his career.
Here’s why. During the swing you rotate around your spine. Your spine is your “axis” of rotation. When you were first learning golf you probably heard advice like “keep your head down” or “keep your eyes on the ball.” These and similar adages are just simplified instructions designed to help you maintain your spine angle. It’s not so much that “keeping your head down” will improve your ball striking, but that the “effect” of keeping your head down will allow you to maintain your spine angle — and the result will be more solid contact.
There are several areas you can focus on in your pre-shot routine that will improve your ability to maintain spine angle. Two of the most important are Good Posture and Good Balance.
Good posture starts with keeping your back straight and bending from the hips (not the waist) to address the ball. If you bend from the waist instead of the hips – as too many high-handicappers do – your back will be round at address. When your back is round – particularly the thoracic or middle and upper part of the back – you limit your body’s ability to rotate.
On full swings, especially with the driver, the consequence of limiting your rotation is that your spine will straighten on the back swing. When that happens, your head comes up and you’ve effectively moved “away” from the ball. Somewhere on the downswing you then have to move “back” down to the ball. If your timing is just right, you’ll return to your original angle and make a nice shot (by hinnant). But if you over-do the move back you’ll hit it fat or sky your driver, and if you don’t “move back” enough you’ll top it or hit a slice.
Good balance is another way to help maintain spine angle. I define good balance as “Athletic Balance”, where your weight is centered over the balls of your feet and you are athletically “ready”, capable of moving in any direction. You can check your athletic balance during your pre-shot routine by using the “Happy Toes” drill. If you start in good, athletic balance, it is much easier to maintain balance throughout the swing and the shape of your swing will be more consistent, resulting in more consistently solid shots.
If, on the other hand, you start your swing out of balance your body will compensate during the swing, usually by changing your spine angle. The vast majority of golfers I see are out of balance at address. They have their weight (center of mass) too far out over their toes. The most common consequence is that the hips move in toward the ball on the downswing, causing the head to move up and a topped shot, or causing the arms to shorten and shoulders pull up, leaving the club face open and causing a slice. Worse yet. when the hips move in to the ball they stop rotating, causing an early release, which means lag is lost too early, which means the club head isn’t traveling as fast at impact, which means you lose distance.
The next time you watch golf on TV, pay attention to the way the pros maintain their spine angle. Once they set their forward bend at address there is very little deviation from that angle throughout the swing until well after impact when they turn to face the target. You’ll also notice that there are almost no “rounded” backs on the tour, and all of the pros finish their swing in perfect balance.
A little time spent during your pre-shot routing on getting into good posture and good balance will pay off with a lot more consistent ball-striking. If you want to improve your consistency, improve the consistency of your spine angle.
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What’s your experience been with maintaining spine angle? Why not leave a comment below.
Play Consistent Golf Part 5: Tempo
Play Consistent Golf Part 4: Athletic Balance
Play Consistent Golf Part 2: Set-Up
I still have a hard time getting too vertical at the top of my swing. I get about 90 precent, then it moves. Also, since I have a large chest, I have a tendency to fold my left arm on the takeaway.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Thanks for the question on the vertical shaft at the top. It’s a challenging one to answer without seeing your swing, but I can point you toward a couple of things to try. First, from your description of the bent left arm, I’d consider going with a shorter swing. With a large chest it doesn’t do you any good to try to get a bigger back swing if the left arm breaks down. Bending the left arm actually shortens the width of your swing, which results in less club head speed. Second, develop some awareness around your grip pressure at the top. If your right hand tightens, that can also move the shaft vertical. Keep a firmer grip with the last three fingers of the left hand and keep the right hand and right wrist soft at the top. Third, try working on making a bigger core rotation on the back swing. Get your left shoulder behind the ball. You may find that it will help to lift the heel of your left foot to facilitate more rotation. That will help with the shaft plane as well as the bent arm issue. Lastly, work on keeping the right forearm vertical at the top, rather than horizontal. In other words, make sure you don’t have a flying elbow at the top. Keep the right elbow tucked in on the backswing. It may help to start your address position with the crease of your right arm pointed directly out from your body, instead of turned toward the target. That allows the elbow to fold correctly on the back swing. Hope these suggestions help!
Just read your spine angle instructional. My problem is during the downswing i have a tendency
of slightly (increasing) the spine angle as i hit down on the ball. this causes my drive to have a higher trtajectory thus loosing the carry and the extra roll i can get from my drives. Do you have any suggestion? Would appreciate your advise.
Hi Julius, Thanks for the question on Spine Angle. You’ve made the first step, which is developing your awareness: if you can’t feel it you can’t change it. The interesting thing is that the spine angle change is a symptom, not a root cause. So you’ll have to dig deeper and spend a bit of time just observing parts of your swing to get at the cause. There are two places I’d start. First is to observe what your hips do during the swing. If your left hip dips down toward the ball on the back swing it will almost always do the reverse on the down swing and go up, so that at impact your left hip will be well above your right hip. Action => Reaction. That will tilt your spine back at impact. You address this issue by keeping the hips on a flatter plane throughout the swing (see Annika Sorenstam’s swing).
The second place I’d look would be the shoulder plane. Similar issue to the hips. If your left shoulder dips down too much toward the ball on the back swing it will tend to go up on the down swing. This can also happen if you are not getting enough upper body rotation on the back swing. To address this issue work on keeping the shoulders on plane throughout the swing, and possibly increasing your upper body rotation so that your left shoulder gets behind the ball at the top of your backswing.
Hope this helps!
The best explanation I have read anywhere about why I top the ball and never knew why other than coming up. Why I was coming up was never explained to me. Hips being too close to the ball and this is related to set up, balance throughout, and spine angle throughout the swingspine angle.
Can you explain the role of the right elbow movement in maintaining spine angles- both forward bend and lateral bend.
excellent point and very well described. So easy to understand without the usual rubbish thrown in to make it longer.
One more very lucid instruction.
Personally I have a tendency to straighten my back in my backswing. I am working in keeping my left arm staight and focusing in the swing plane.
Thank you Eric,
I believe you addressed my thin iron shot problem.