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Monday, November 23, 2009

Golf Digest's Lesson of the Day

By Jim McLean
With Pete McDaniel
Photos by Stephen Szurlej October 2009

Widen Your V-Gap For Power
Hitting with a flat left wrist is the great ball-striker's secret

One of the fundamentals I've taught over the years is that all better players make a wider back swing than downswing. In other words, if you were facing the golfer, the arc of the club coming down would be inside the arc going back. I've recently done some research on this topic with one of my lead instructors, Michael Hunt, and we've identified the power source produced by this move from backswing to downswing.

We call it the V-Gap, which measures the angle of the shaft at halfway down compared to where it was at halfway back -- in both cases measured when the left arm is parallel to the ground. Picture those two shaft angles forming a "V" (above). Our V-Gap study of tour players proves the correlation between the gap and power. I'll show you how to increase your V-Gap and maximize your distance.

CHECK YOUR 'V' (PHOTO ABOVE): Wrist hinge is a big factor in the V-Gap, which compares the shaft at halfway down to halfway back.


The takeaway is critical because it establishes tempo, width and the proper sequence of movements in the swing. Historically, the game's longest hitters, like Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, have delayed the wrist hinge in the takeaway. This promotes freedom of motion in the backswing and creates a wide move off the ball and a longer swing arc.

Shorter hitters tend to set their wrists early in the takeaway and make a much narrower backswing, where the right elbow bends too soon and the club gets vertical very quickly.

NO: Hinging the wrists from the start decreases width in the backswing. The V-Gap and power will be limited.

SPLIT GRIP FOR A WIDE START: This drill will give you the correct feeling of a long right arm in the takeaway. Set your right hand on the grip farther down than normal -- like you're gripping a hockey stick. Then swing the club into the takeaway, feeling the width you create. You should get the sensation of reaching to your right. Your right arm should be extended but not completely straight; you want it to feel long but supple, not rigid. Width in the takeaway translates into a powerful position at the top, setting up a huge V-Gap coming down.



A wide takeaway puts you in position at the top to make a powerful move coming down. But you need other swing fundamentals to promote the V-Gap. It's particularly important to create a good coil through proper transfer of weight into your right side. Turn your shoulders against the resistance of your hips as you swing to the top and your weight moves to your right heel.

A big rotation stores energy and also plays a role in narrowing the downswing. From a full coil, when the body shifts forward, the right elbow lowers and the V-Gap is established.

NO: A restricted shoulder turn and weak coil cause the arms to collapse at the top, which drains power.

CHECK YOUR PIVOT POINTS: Make sure your lower body is dynamic, not frozen. Stick a shaft in the ground directly between your feet, pointing straight out. Swing back, and make sure your left knee shifts back and points at the shaft's grip. Feel weight in the left instep. Swing down, and your right knee should kick in and point at the grip. You're pivoting correctly.



The lower body shifting left is the force that starts the downswing. That force is immediately relayed to the upper body, which starts to turn back to the ball. A good feeling to strive for is your core shifting laterally or your hips starting to unwind.

The hands and arms should be passive -- put in motion by the weight shift and body rotation. Along with the club, the hands and arms lag behind, which narrows the arc. The difference in the angle of the shaft at halfway down compared to halfway back forms the "V" in the V-Gap.

NO: A poor shift to the left leads to an early uncoiling and release. See how the left arm hides the right elbow.

THE KNEE HITS THE SHAFT: A shaft stuck in the ground two inches in front of your front foot is a great prop for measuring the amount of lateral shift in your downswing. When the club approaches impact, your left knee should have moved laterally so it bumps into the shaft. It's not a swaying motion but a powerful forward leg drive combined with lower-body rotation.



Just as you should delay your wrist hinge to create width in the takeaway, you should hold that hinge well into the delivery position to properly release stored energy. Your right elbow should drop into a position in front of your right hip. At this point in the downswing, the shaft should be parallel to the target line from the downtarget view.

By holding your wrist hinge, you keep the club in position to deliver a powerful blow to the ball as the clubhead is released through impact. That's the power payoff of the V-Gap.

NO: A lack of leg action and an early release of the club wastes any power stored -- and negates the V-Gap.

MISS THE BAG ON DOWNSWING: Proper sequencing of body movement is essential to maximizing your V-Gap. Use this bag drill to make sure you start the downswing with the lateral shift of the lower body. Place your golf bag behind you so your clubhead just misses it at full stretch in the backswing. Then swing back and down, stopping when the club reaches the same position in the downswing. The clubhead should be eight to 10 inches inside the bag.

If you start down by casting the clubhead, you'll lose your V-Gap and crash into the bag.

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