The Myth of The Turn in the Golf Swing

Spine angle in golf swing

If there’s one position that golfers view as the way to produce more power it’s at the top of the backswing – or how far back you turn. This will result in more coil, therefore more power and distance.

The majority of golfers believe that if they turn their shoulders 90 degrees only positive things will happen. I for one, have been guilty in believing that the more I turn the farther I’ll hit it. OK guilty in probably watching Freddie Couple’s make that incredible turn and trying my hardest to somehow mimic that in my own body.

What I didn’t really understand was how trying to turn “even further” is just NOT in the best interest of your golf game and that turning less can provide more distance, better coil, and more solid contact (leading to more distance). I’m all for those!

Well, the reality is rather eye-opening (and I’ll give you a result of my own turning experiment a bit later) Did you know *most* average golfers can turn their shoulders far enough?

In fact, it’s not even 90 degrees but actually 117 degrees! That data was the average collected from a Taylormade MAT-T system of several hundred 15+ handicaps who slice the ball. Interestingly, they also turn their hips 56 degrees which is 7 degrees MORE than the average PGA Tour player.

So why do their tee shots travel almost a football field shorter than the PGA pros? Simple, there are things the Tour player does to maximize power while the average golfer does things to minimize that power (i.e. power leaks)

Part of this myth has been re-enforced by Jim McLean and his X-Factor theory which basically describes the differential between shoulder and hip turn. McLean discovered (after studying the great PGA ball strikers) that they turn their shoulders more than their hips at the top of their backswing.

The theory being – if you can increase this X-Factor you’ll generate more club head speed which will allow you the crush the ball with Bubba-like power and distance. However, this is ONLY true IF you maintain your original spine angle at address.

It really does no good to turn your shoulders 120 degrees and your hips 45 degrees if you come up and out of your spine angle. What you lose is that ability now to rotate solidly through the ball. You’ll also tend to bring the club off-plane most often resulting in a weak slice.

This is often the real cause of slicing as once you disrupt your spine angle you will (at some point) have to restore it to get to the ball often resulting in a throwing (or casting) the club head to catch up to the ball. The “casting” action forces your hips and shoulders to rotate to fast, out of sequence which halts your club head speed.

So you are FAR better off turning as much as you can WHILE maintaining your spine angle. That is MUCH more critical than trying to increase your X-Factor. If your flexibility only allows you to turn your shoulders 65 degrees and your hips 20 degrees then that is YOUR most efficient backswing (of course, working on your flexibility can be a big help here). You’ll hit the ball farther and make more solid contact.

Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with McLean’s X-Factor Theory it’s just the misunderstanding of just “how much” the shoulders should turn. A lot of folks (including me) were kind of bamboozled into thinking more turn = more coil which = more distance. Ha! In fact, it’s just the opposite (I just love the counter-intuitiveness of golf!)

Not only does it mess with the kinetic sequencing of the swing, it limits the torque and width you are trying so hard to build up. Take a look at the pic above. Justin Rose is on the left and an “average” golfer on the right. See how Justin has maintained his spine angle (a good yardstick for this is the hands “hide” the shoulders) and the other gentleman is coming out of it? Stick with Justin.

As I mentioned earlier this was exactly what I was doing. Again, I was thinking that I needed to increase my X-factor of getting my shoulders as far back as possible (and I consider myself fairly flexible at age 50) to increase my distance. Even friends would mention I would turn to the top and then try to turn even more – probably to try to get more oomph into the ball.

Then I decided (on the tee!) to try to make my swing more compact (a la Justin/Ken Duke) and keep my back elbow low and tight to my body (it was getting disengaged by trying to turn more) and have my hands “hide” my shoulder. It literally felt like I was taking a half-turn. Much to my surprise I started to absolutely stripe my tee shot. Solid and long. This started at 10 tee and went on throughout the round. It was literally like I found the Holy Grail of the golf swing.

So think about it if you are trying to turn too much. Your turn might not be as big as you like (who cares if you’re getting power and therefore distance!) but it will put your club in a much better position to swing the club down on a strong, powerful, inside path. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

  • Making a full shoulder turn is one of the most important fundamentals of the golf swing, yet most golfers fail to achieve it consistently…

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  • Great information in the post. I just found this site and I am devouring it. Great work!

    If you want to see how not to swing check this out. I am in tears watching it:

  • Diek

    Doug, couldn’t agree more with your post. Turning to a point where you change your spine angle KILLS the swing. You’re right that most amateurs suffer from this. I’ve also found that if you stop raising your arms too high in the backswing can help you turn and keep the spine angle. It’s difficult to master, but boy does it make a difference.

  • Yes, John, raising your arms too high in the backswing is something I was a PRO at. Now I feel much more compact now keeping the hands lower so from a backview the hands almost hide the back shoulder. It really feels like a half swing but ball is going about 15-20 yards longer – go figure! – Doug