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Mark Immelman’s On the Mark Podcast: Shawn Clement on Ground Reaction Force (GRF) in the Golf Swing
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Shawn Clement on Ground Reaction Force (GRF) in the Golf Swing
Episode Summary: Shawn Clement is a world-renowned Canadian PGA certified golf instructor. As a successful golf teacher he emphasizes the difference between Positional Teaching/Learning and his approach of “Task and Target-based Teaching and Learning.” Shawn talks with “On the Mark” about efficient use of the torso, hips, legs and feet in the golf swing. He dives into the subject of GRF (Ground Reaction Forces) and how you can swing well and use the ground to develop power and consistency as you swing the golf club.
Introduction with Mark Immelman
Bonjour from New Orleans! I’m Mark Immelman, host of this podcast. We are looking forward to some team golf here at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. I am down here for the Golf Channel/CBS broadcast of this years event. It is always fun to be in this vibrant city.
I have been looking forward to speaking with Shawn Clement for a long, long time.
The use of the ground is a big talking point in golf now, in this season of golf instruction. I’ve watched Shawn Clement, aka Wisdom in Golf, from afar for a long time. I finally got him on the phone to help make sense of how you use the ground appropriately, and still present the golf club as desired through contact to get the shot you are looking for at the right time. I’ve done a previous podcast with Jake Thurm about the use of the ground.
Here is the key (Understanding is crucial): The golf swing is paramount. No matter what you might be working on swing wise..the swing of the club, the presentation of the face…that’s what it is all about.
Introduction of Shawn Clement
Mark: Before we get into good leg and foot work, let’s get to know you.
Shawn: I grew up basically playing every sport in the book. I played a lot of hockey and did a lot of skiing, so I was already very ice and ground forces. Where I fell in love with how to teach the game was when my father sent me to the Canadian Ski Patrol at age 17. My father said, you are going to learn responsibility and leadership. Not only did I learn that, but I also fell in love with human anatomy. I was fascinated from the get go about how we were put together. From the start, I applied it to my golf teaching.
I started playing junior golf at age 12. With my sporting background, I was able to get pretty good pretty fast. I became one of the top juniors in the province of Quebec, then went up through the amateur ranks, and became a professional relatively early.
Hockey Parallels to Golf
Mark: I’m from South Africa, so no ice hockey down where we are. When I first became involved with Canadians looking to learn golf, I saw more of the hockey stick moving square to square. I thought more of the club face rotation, where the hockey stick doesn’t necessarily rotate. But the more I talked with guys like Graham DeLaet and company, the more they pointed out the error of my ways. All of them, especially Mike Weir, make me aware of this…. they would say, learning hockey was basically the origin of my power.
Obviously, putting the club face square on the ball is one thing, but a good fountain is important. Why don’t you start there.
Shawn: [Timestamp: 6:48] The main fundamental of the game is: put the ball at the target. The ball is not the target. The ball is just an intersection on the way to the target. Every instrument known to humanity, built by humans for humans, is designed with the hand leading the instrument in mind. Same thing for hockey. There is a reason a hockey stick has a very curved blade of it. The hands lead, you are collecting the puck from behind you and slinging the puck towards a target. That sling, depending on if you want low right corner or hold play and flip the puck over the board, would be very different from each other.
Mark: Ahh. I see where you are going now, Master! As you are saying this, my mind is beginning to think of the parallels between these two movements.
Shawn: They are massive parallels. A low release to right corner would be your low draw. Your high release to left corner would be your high fade.
Mark: And the one where you pop it over the guy’s head would be your love shot from green side?!
Ground Reaction Forces
Mark: Where are here to understand how the legs, the feet work. Nowadays, there has been a lot of talk about ground reaction forces. Give us your take on this.
Shawn: I was actually on of the early adopters of the dynamic balance machine. I bought that thing at Taboo Resort, at Mike Weir’s home course. That was back in 2003, that machine at the time was about 20k! It was force plates they used for NASA astronauts learning how to reacclimate themselves to earth’s gravity. Now it is a lot more modern, you just roll it out with a little mat and off you go.
Out of the “ground force reaction” word, reaction is the most key. There are basically two different ways you can go about your task when you are swinging a golf club.
If you were to swing a 6 pound sledgehammer like a chip swing, you would be reacting to the weight of the sledgehammer. You wouldn’t yank it around, you would let the sledgehammer pass you and get out of the way. Then you would let the sledgehammer pass you again and get out of the way.
Now, the ground forces. If you have ever played horseshoes, when you are tossing horseshoes (it is a bit like bowling) you’re heaving it a certain distance. If you wanted to heave it farther, you wouldn’t use the arm, you would use a push on the ground. Much like a kid on a swing. If a kid is on the swing and wants to go higher, he would pump the swing at a very opportune moment in order to get himself more height. If he hears the dinner bell, he can use his legs to interrupt that momentum too and bring that swing to a screeching halt very quickly.
Mark: When I’ve spoken to great golf instructors, the legs and use of the ground is always spoken of in isolation. For the first time, I am having someone describe to me the entire movement from a fine motor movement like putting to a big powerful tee shot. I love the way you have described this entire mechanism.
Shawn: It is something we are so wired to do. I keep telling my students that you are Pinocchio without the strings. We need to give you a task that is going to allow you to bring about this beautiful movement.
How Shawn Clement Sees Leg and Foot Work
Mark: Let’s describe how Shawn Clement sees leg and foot work, and use of the ground for a medium iron strike from the fairway.
Shawn: It is actually from putting all the way to the driver. It is just different variations and different intensities of the same movement.
Let’s go back to the sledgehammer for a second. If you have that 6 pound sledgehammer hanging from your shoulders, you would basically be letting the sledgehammer swing in both directions. You wouldn’t manipulate it.
So, for a 200 pound person, one arm is about 9% of your body weight. That is 40 pounds of arms plus a putter swinging under your shoulders. That is a considerable amount of weight that you can feel if you know how to tune into it.
If you swing a sledgehammer back and forth you are using the weight of the sledgehammer to roll the ball into the picture that you set forth.
If you want it to go further, you would let the sledgehammer swing back farther and you would have to turn your body out of the way. Most people think the turn of the body and the arm swing are influenced, but they actually go in opposite directions.
Your rib cage and your pelvis work together. For years and years we heard, resist with the lower body and coil upper against lower. I really went in the opposite direction 25 years ago, because that really doesn’t jive with human anatomy.
The fact that Harvey Penick used to teach with a grass whip was genius. When you are cutting through grass, your brain sees continuity. It sees cutting through something. Most people look down at a golf ball and see the ball as their target, and they are hitting AT something.
Mark: I am putting myself in the shoes of the listener. Someone may have gone for a lesson with their PGA professional, and they are the individual that hangs back. They don’t get moving forward. Their sequence is off, to use the correct term. Then all of a sudden, it becomes a conscious forward movement or conscious backward movement (whatever the case may be). They begin to think about hip rotation, how the knees work, how the feet work, and all of a sudden you are in to action and removed from this continuous swinging action that your body moves and supports.
Can It Be That Easy?!
Shawn: Exactly. When someone says, I have a chicken wing and can’t shift my weight and I don’t clear my hips. The first question I ask is “What are you trying to do when you’re at address?” Well….I’m trying to hit the ball. I say, good swing. Good shot. Your body is moving exactly the way it is supposed to IF the ball is your target.
If you take a golf club and swing it like a golf swing in order for you to throw the club down range toward the target, you would always shift and always clear to get that target. But if you take that club and address the ball and throw the club AT the BALL there is no need to shift weight or clear the hips because you are already facing your target.
Grass Whip Drill
If I put a grass whip in someones hands and say “cut through the grass” . The brain uses the lead leg to use the ground to get the body out of the way so you can cut all the way through the blades of grass.
Let’s say you put a tee in the ground and cut through the tee with a grass whip. Your brain sees the tee and sees that the tee can never stop the swing, so it automatically senses continuity beyond the tee. It is going to get you out of the way so you don’t hurt yourself.
Now put a ball on the tee and cut through the tee. The ball will simply fall to the ground.
Shorten the tee, put your ball on it, and take your 7 iron out. As you put the 7 iron behind the ball, put your eyes on the grass between the club and the ball. Have your mind see the sole of the club cut through the tee, the same way you just cut through it with the grass whip. You cut through the tee with the sole of the club, the ball meets the face, explodes into the air.
If you were to get that on tape, you would see you shifted your weight! You cleared your hips!
Lumberjack Camp You Say!
Mark: Everyone is born of habits and you make a valid point where folks can be into hitting golf balls and not making swings through the contact zone. What you you say the individual to get the swing starting on the way back, as opposed to just thinking on the way through?
Shawn: Let’s say you are a lumberjack and you approach a tree with your ax. You’ve got your split hand grip, because an ax is heavy and you’ve got to support it with your trail hand. You are getting ready to heave the ax into the backswing. Would you ever have the think about what body part to use to start the ax back?
So if we went to a lumberjack camp for a month, and the instructor says “Do like my seasoned veteran over there. Just do what he does.” That’s the first thing we do….we take a look at what he’s doing. He takes the ax to the side of the tree. So…that’s what you do…. off you go for the first couple of days. Because you are doing it so inefficiently at first, you are going to be very sore. It is going to be difficult.
By day three, you can’t go at it the same way anymore. You’ve got to take it easy. Then you realize that your yield was every bit as good on day three. You begin to understand, you can start to use the weight of the instrument to do the work!
If I am standing at the ball, and getting ready to place the club on the ball my body is going to freeze. I wonder, “Why is my body freezing?” I am trying to figure out how to move my body. You can’t go about it by putting the strings on Pinocchio. There are hundreds of scientific studies that have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we suck at body part positioning.
Thoughts On Triggers
Mark: You are getting me thinking. I love your thought about sensing the weight of the implement because so many folks that I see tug on a golf club. They don’t swing the mass.
Many of the great swingers are sequenced very well had beautiful rhythm and tempo, and everything matched up so well. There was some sort of a golf trigger for them; something I learned from Gary Player.
What are your thoughts on triggers?
Shawn: Let’s say I am a crane operator with my big wrecking ball. The crane operator has to get that big ball started, so he is going to nudge it forward. Then rock it back. Then nudge it forward a little bit more….and on and on. So he is using momentum to crash the wall down.
That’s why you see the good players have a little forward press, a little forward movement.
The grass whip teeth on both sides of the blade, so that you can cut in both directions. If you are swinging that grass whip back and through without stopping. On the way back your right leg would use the ground to get you out of the way so could sling that grass whip through the grass. Then your left leg would go to the ground and move you out of the way so you can whip through the grass in the other direction.
For me at address if I am using the weight of the instrument, I am talking about arms and club as a unit, I have to rock it forward so I can heave the arm-club unit back.
Look at Phyllis Meti down the line and you will notice that her initial move is an extension of both legs. You can see how she heaves the arm-club unit into the backswing and then arm levitate backwards into the backswing. Then you see Phyllis squatting back down to get to the ground and then the delivery is so deep toward that target it’s unbelievable.
Catching that Kinetic Chain
Mark: One of the drills I do with my clients of all skill levels is to swing the club back and forth, almost like your grass whip, and clip the turf.
As the arms are levitating, you said that it is brought down by your legs, as opposed to your arms or a big heave of the upper body/shoulders/arms.
Shawn: Yep, you are catching the kinetic chain. A great way to feel that (but you have to be safe about it) if throwing the club.
Let’s say you are throwing a baseball. You are at the pitcher’s mound and throwing it to home plate nice a smooth.
Now I give you a 12 pound shot put. Could you throw that the same way as a baseball? NO! You would rip your arm apart.
Now you have to go to the shot putter’s technique and heave it to home plate.
As soon as you get ready to throw something, you brain tunes into the weight of the instrument instantly.
In a golf swing, the peak speed is not in the bottom where the ball is. You are collecting the ball and releasing it toward the target. Peak speed would be a couple of feet past that impact point.
Heel of the Club Contact
Mark: [Timestamp: 32:14] I was watching a golfer today who was struggling with contact, especially towards the heel, and that softness you describe in the arms was something that was not prevalent whatsoever. The first thing that stood out to me was how hard and vigorous the upper body looked. Where as the legs and the movement underneath they were not creating any sort of harmony.
Shawn: That’s exactly it. They were freezing so they could throw everything at the target that is right in front of them. It is a different motion. That heel contact, for people who shank the ball, there is a big difference in the distance between you and the ball. For a person who is ready to swing to a target, the distance between them and the ball is closer than if you were getting ready to swing at the ball.
If your extension is toward the target, the ball has to be closer to you so you can collect the ball from beside you and deliver it out toward the target.
Toe of the Club Contact
Mark: Ok with that said, what abut the people who hit the ball out of the toe of the club? What do they need to be thinking in terms of correct body movement?
Anybody who is looking to get rid of a chicken wing or get more follow through, all you have to do is throw the energy at the target instead of at the ball.
How do you put the ball in the way of that? There is 1 of 4 things that can be out of place. One of those is Distance to the ball . If you throw the club at the target and see where the club wants to pass, the blur of the club in front of you, as you thrown the club toward the target is very important.
You need that reference. When you see the club pass in front of you, note the about the point the club is passing. If I put a tee there and throw the club at the target the club is passing through the tee. Then I put a ball down, I must thrown the club at the target in order for me to have decent contact with the ball. If I forget about the target and deliver toward the ball I am going to hit it in the heel or shank it or stick it in the ground or pull it left.
Intermediate Reference Points
Another thing we suck at is the way we see things from our side vision. Your “binocular” vision is your true vision, thats why you stand behind the ball, you pick your flight plan to the target, and then you pick an intermediate point right in front of the ball, only a foot out. Then you use that intermediate point, not only to line up, but to deliver the action.
If you have blind shots, you need something to deliver to, so that intermediate spot becomes very handy. If you are hitting a draw, you would release at the right edge of that, going back behind it. If you are hitting at fake you would line up a little left of it and release at the left edge and fade it back to your target.
The problem is if I am facing you (face to face) and I make a golf swing, wouldn’t my golf swing go 90 degrees left of you?
The way my brain want to see the target is with my binocular vision. So I’m looking toward the ball, swinging toward the target, my brain is trying to face the target. My head will move forward, and I will pull the shot 30 yards left. That is why everyone has issues with the pull or the slice. It has a lot to do with the way we see the target.
Think about ax throwing. If you were to throw an ax overhead, you would be very precise, because you are facing your target.
But if you turn like a golfer, and ask someone to throw the club at the target 99.9% of my students will throw the club left by at least 30 yards…and they are all surprised. The eyes are giving them the wrong information.
Once they get that corrected, then I put an intermediary point in front of them and tell them to stay a little right of that point, now they’ve got it on target all the time.
Ground Force Reactions
Mark: The use of the ground, the lowering of the legs, the plugging into the turf, the push up and the rotation through contact. We have been seeing this a lot, especially on social media, there has been some video of Francesco Molinari doing this.
I think too many people are trying to use the jump and turn, but they are not getting into the ground enough as they transition. What are your throughs?
Shawn: If you have a 10 pound kettlebell and you hold it in a golfers position in front of you and rock the kettlebell back and forth. You can only do a long chip swing with it because you don’t want your arms folding. You are just going to make a long chip swing in both directions. Now imagine you are heaving a kettlebell toward a target, l like a distant tree. You are gathering in the backswing and getting ready to heave it towards that tree.
**Check out this YouTube video to see Shawn demonstrate throwing the club** You will see a very defined move to the ground, which I am completely not thinking about. It is built inside us.
Mark: Thought on foot work and heel raising. I know there has been many thoughts on this through the years.
Shawn: **Check out Shawn’s video on Weight Shift Walking** This will help you with your timing and rhythm. Go back to cutting the grass with the grass whip. Cut the grass back and forth without stopping, see where the blade is passing in front of you, and now you want to go cut the next row. If you think about letting the weight of the arms cut the next row your brain will figure out when to lift the heel, when to step forward, when to reapply to the ground, and how to use the ground to move you out of the way to cut that grass. As you arms are on the left side you have unweighted your right foot, and now the right foot can now make a step forward.
When and where the heels come up and go down is none of your conscious mind’s business!
Perpetual Motion Drill
What you do next is you line up tees the width of a club head, and you cut through your tees like they are dandelions. **Check out Shawn’s Perpetual Motion Drill** You want through a nice row of tees, then you put wiffle balls on your tees, then cut through the tees, always cutting through the tees, never trying to hit the ball. You are just letting the weight of those arms cut through those tees and off those wiffle balls go.
Don’t let the mind go to the ball. Simply stay on task and allow the weight of your arms to cut through the tee, the same way you have been cutting your rows of grass. You will be amazed at how well you strike the ball.
Wrap up with Mark Immelman
Something I do with my clients is: no club in the hand, have them wind up and have them feel like they are going to squat down almost like you are going to sit on a toilet, and then from there jump and twist in the air, so they are facing in the opposite direction. When you twist around, if your arms hanging by your side or out in front of you like you would when you are holding a golf club you will get a sense of how they sweep around in front of the pivot.
Then you get a decent hold on the club and you understand how the wrist operates.
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