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The lower-body secret to 20 more yards

The force is strong with you. But which one? Thanks to new research, we have the answer.

Teaming with biomechanist Scott Lynn, Ph.D., an associate professor at California State University, Fullerton and research director at force plate pioneer Swing Catalyst, we’ve spent the last three years measuring the way golfers—touring pros and players just like you—use the ground to create power on the downswing. With the help of Swing Catalyst’s 3-D Motion Plate, a sensor that can measure force in three directions, we’ve gathered data from thousands of swings that proves what instructors have always sensed: Golfers create speed in varying ways. The core foundation of our research is that every player uses some combination of horizontal, rotational and vertical force (in that order from the top of the backswing) to deliver the club into impact. Depending on your body type and athletic ability, however, you’re likely to prefer one force over the others, and building a swing around your natural “power source” can dramatically increase your swing speed (up to 25 mph in some cases).

We call players who emphasize linear force at the start of the downswing over the other two forces “gliders.” On Tour, 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley is a classic study in gliding. Notice in the sequence below (control Keegan’s swing with your mouse or finger) how a glider maximizes right-to-left linear force (purple peak) as the club starts down from the top. (Bradley also demonstrates a fair amount of spin later in the downswing. He’s technically a glider-spinner. Combos are common).[gallery:13862891]

Players who emphasize rotational force are known as “spinners.” The best example of using primarily spin to create power and speed on Tour is seven-time winner Matt Kuchar. You can easily see in the sequence below how a spinner rotates (yellow peak) far more than he or she glides or launches.[gallery:13862858]

A “launcher” tends to tap vertical force to max out speed, usually near impact. Lexi Thompson and Bubba Watson (sequence below) are classic launchers, accelerating their bodies upward late in the downswing (blue peak) to produce forces approximately twice their body weight. Keep in mind that while a launcher primarily uses vertical forces to hit shots, he or she also glides and spins before turning on the thrust.[gallery:13862679]

Which Force is Right For You?

You can copy your favorite Tour player, but you may not be suited to optimize his or her preferred force. Our advice? Get to know your body. In addition to performing this research, we’ve developed a series of five tests that provide the clues you need to determine if you’re built for gliding, spinning, launching—and unlocking the power hitter within. It takes about 10 minutes to perform all five screens. We suggest you do it with a buddy or a family member, as some of the screens require a helping hand. Before you begin, however, download and print the grid below (click here). You’ll need it to keep track of your results. Mark a “1” in the appropriate grid box depending on whether you test out for glide, spin or launch during each screen. After you complete all five tests, add up the “1s” to determine your preferred power source, then click the matching link for the moves, swing thoughts and drills to maximize it.

Class is in session. Meet the new and improved you.


Mike Adams (@MikeAdamsGolf) is based at Medalist G.C. in Hobe Sound, Fla. and Hamilton Farm G.C. in Gladstone, N.J. Bernie Najar (@BernieNajarGolf) teaches at Caves Valley G.C. in Owings Mills, Md.