Golf’s Golden Gift – The Kinematic Sequence
by Dr. TJ Tomasi, College of Golf Senior Faculty and Director of Research
In all sports there is a sequence of motion that maximizes performance better than any other – a golden sequence that all the great players in that sport adhere to. They may have stumbled on it through solitary practice and experimentation as Ben Hogan described in his famous statement ‘you learn this game in the dirt.’ Or perhaps they chose a good coach who guided their progress; but whatever the route, the prize goes to the athlete who finds the Rosetta Stone of performance, and, in the case of golf, that is the Kinematic Sequence.
The Kinematic Sequence is the mechanism by which power is transferred to the golf ball. Phil Cheetham, Ph.D. in biomechanics, says: ‘It describes the proximal-to-distal sequencing of the rotation speeds of the body segments. Each body segment (pelvis, ribcage, and arms) sequentially accelerates, then decelerates before impact.’ Cheetham uses 3D motion analysis, where electronic sensors record what is going on in key areas like the hips, shoulders, arms, and clubhead. The information is translated into charts and graphs that describe energy transfers radiating outward from the golfer’s core through the upper torso, along the arms, down the shaft, and finally into the ball.
The graph included shows how the segments of your body, each in their turn, should accelerate during the downswing, then progressively slow in order to pass their energy to the segment waiting immediately ahead until, by impact, the strike motion has accumulated a majority of the energy of the entire system concentrated in one small area, i.e., the clubhead. The system (the body, your club, and the ground) is demonstrating a law of physics called the Conservation of Momentum (CoM), but in this case, a better name for it might be the Collection of Energy, for that is the end result.
Golf’s Golden Sequence is as follows: Starting back to the ball on the downswing, the golfer’s core (hips/pelvis) accelerates, then slows quickly as the shoulders reach their peak rotational speed. As the shoulders slow, their energy flows into the front arm, which, because of this new infusion of energy, speeds up until it reaches its maximum, then in turn slows just before impact, emptying its power down the shaft and into the ball.
Notice how the energy produced through coil radiates out from the center of the golfer’s body to the outermost point of the orbit – the clubhead. Every player’s numbers are a bit different, but every good players uses the same template – the Kinematic Sequence.
In an efficient swing, the energy peaks at impact. Note how each dot represents a body section that maxes out its rotational speed, then declines.
Note the soft bow in the shaft that indicates the majority of energy is currently located in the lead arm. To make good contact our model must rely on the KS to move the energy from his arm into the clubhead – a process that involves his arms slowing down. Arms that don’t slow down keep their energy so it’s not available to the ball.
While some of the bow in the shaft is due to camera artifact, a significant portion is due to energy migration.
You can see now how important your time IQ is [TIQ = how you handle time during the swing]. Your best golf is not only a matter of what you do but when you do it. The downswing for a good player lasts about .330 ms – less than half a second – so with all the split second slowing and speeding up that is necessary for both max power and a correct clubface at impact, if you get involved in your downswing, it will ruin your game.
Takeaway: To recalibrate your Time IQ, start by changing your image of what happens in the T (transition) zone at the top of your swing, an area that entices manipulation from even the most well-intentioned golfers. Implant the image of starting the downswing like a 747 taxing down the runway, gaining speed and power gradually rather than a dragster squealing away.
To Wit: Never force the club from the top. Give yourself the gift of time, a gift that will allow Golf’s Golden Sequence to be your friend.