The Rib Cage Crunch
by Geoff Mangum
In the backstroke, don't let your descending rib cage get shoved forward by the midriff and pelvis, as this twists the shoulderframe and throws the stroke path curling inside on the way back -- instead, AIM the bottom of the rib cage straight for the pelvis, and move the lead shoulder socket straight down at the balls of your lead foot to keep the shoulderframe "rock" within a straight vertical plane aimed parallel to the startline of the putt.
THE PROBLEM: One of the main reasons the putter path during the backstroke curls back inside for many people stems from basic anatomy. The rib cage gets in the way. What happens is that the left (lead) side of the torso goes down in the backstroke, and this brings the bottom of the rib cage in conflict with the tissues of the midriff and with the pelvic bones. In normal movement, something gives, and it's either the bottom of the left rib cage getting shoved outward over the lap or the pelvis-hips sliding laterally back. If the rib cage goes forward to clear the pelvis, the shoulderframe gets twisted, so the putter path going back curls inside. Looking down on the golfer from above, the lead shoulder twists forward (lapward) and the back shoulder twists backward in a clockwise rotation.
THE FIX: The aim of the "fix" is to keep the shoulderframe in the same vertical plane it starts in at address when the downstroke starts, without clockwise twisting. With a no-hands, no-arms pendulum stroke that "rocks the triangle" and "keeps the triangle intact" throughout the stroke, the ONLY way to keep the backstroke headed along a straight path is to keep the shoulderframe in the vertical plane it starts in, regardless of conflict between rib cage and pelvis-waist area.
So there are TWO physical ways to avoid shoulderframe twisting out of the vertical plane -- hips sliding straight and shoulder dropping straight.
1. Hip Putting: The first is to allow the hips to slide laterally in their vertical plane. To see how this works, set up over a line on the floor and rest your forearms on the hips as you place your hands together so that looking down over the thumbs you see the line on the floor. Then bend the torso sideways and allow the hips to shift laterally back in a line parallel to the floor line. Watching the thumbs, you will see they move straight along the line. Shifting the hips laterally forward retracing the same line, your hands will move straight along the floor line. If the shoulderframe remains in the same vertical plane it started in but the hips clear by sliding laterally back, golfers usually consider this too "weird" to accept. Some few people actually use so-called "hip putting" as a way to deal with the yips, but the technique is not really limited to such special cases.
An elaboration on this pattern is used by Ben Crenshaw. In moving the left shoulder down in the stroke, he allows some hips motion that starts straight and then, after some central distance is covered and the rib cage starts to conflict seriously with the midriff, he allows the shoulders to twist clockwise over the hips. This produces a tension in the trunk-lower body system that manifests itself as a slight knee bend in the right knee. The point is that there is a region in the central area of the stroke that is kept pretty straight with a little hip slide. When the upper torso makes the throughstroke, the same central region in the stroke is again kept straight by the knee-hip action. As the shoulderframe is moving through this critical area of the stroke, the shoulders are oriented in the same vertical plane they started in at address and are aimed as a pair parallel left with the putt line.
2. Straight Pendulum Stroke: The more accepted way today is the straight-back, straight-through pendulum stroke with arms, wrists, and hands in a set relation during the stroke and kept inactive. The key to keeping such a stroke pattern headed straight is to keep the shoulderframe in the same vertical plane it starts in at address aligned square, or parallel left, to the target -- as noted above. If the hips are NOT allowed to shift, then the rib cage must come into conflict in this pendulum backstroke. The conflict is positively desirable!
The way to make this conflict happen is to move the lead shoulder socket straight vertically downward at the start of the backstroke. Aim the shoulder socket for the balls of the left foot, which ought to be directly below the socket in a setup with the upper torso slightly bent forward and the eyes positioned above or just inside the ball. If the shoulder socket goes straight down, with no motion laterally back inside this plane, the whole upper torso bends left, including the head. This is the same as standing with feet slightly apart and with fists on the outsides of the thighs and then extending the fists further down the left thigh.
Most golfers who are initially introduced to this shoulder-movement pattern in a pendulum stroke feel the head "sway" and don't like it and then reject the pendulum stroke. What they need to be taught additionally is how to make the shoulder movement straight down without the head sway. All that is required is to combine a movement of the shoulder socket straight at the balls of the feet TO START WITH while also allowing the shoulder socket to shift laterally back in plane at the same time. The difference is seen in the following:
Head Sway: stand bent slightly as at address with both arms hanging straight and both hands pointing at the balls of your feet. Move the left shoulder socket straight down and extend the left hand straight at the balls of the left feet, allowing the right shoulder to rise a commensurate distance. With head sway, you two eyes' separate fields of vision will "rock" and your view of the ground will shift back and then forward. Hip motion is probably present, and the top of your head may or may not shift laterally forward and then back as well.
No Head Sway: stand bent slightly as at address with both arms hanging straight but this time with the hands meeting above the center of your stance and the right hand cupped to hold the left fist. This time, when you move the left shoulder socket vertically down, the hands will only move laterally back in the vertical plane and will not drop closer to the ground. While there might still be some hip movement, the head and eyes are much steadier if not completely still. The pivot of the stroke in the center base of the neck is stable directly above the center of the stance and remains here throughout the stroke.
WHAT THIS TEACHES: The above discussion teaches that a reliable way to make a straight stroke is to move the shoulderframe in the vertical plane down at the balls of the feet to start with, as this moves the two hands on the grip straight back and moves the putterface straight back on the putt's start line. The rib cage will come more and more into conflict as the backstroke length increases, but for the critical central area of the stroke, the conflict is not great and the vertical direction of the shoulder socket is more important than the conflict. So AIM for the conflict and keep the motion vertical.
Letting the shoulder socket move back inside the plane as the shoulderframe "rocks" beneath a still pivot (like a coathanger rocking below the closet rod) allows the pivot, head, and eyes to remain still in the setup during the stroke. The main point is keep the shoulderframe inside the vertical plane and avoid the built-in tendency for the torso to twist out of plane due to the rib cage-pelvis conflict. The other lesson is that the stroke really doesn't need to stay headed straight except for that central region of the stroke. The wider you can keep this central part of the stroke straight, the better, but don't sweat it so long as the stroke is straight in the foot directly behind the ball and for a nice distance past the ball (over six inches). And a subtle lesson is that a little head (and eye) sway is not fatal, so long as the shoulders stay in the vertical plane in the central area of the stroke and the pivot is where it started when impact occurs. This is not to say head sway should be encouraged; just don't get fixated on it at the expense of the shoulder motion.
And finally, in this technique, it is vital that you mean business about "no hands." Keeping the shoulders in plane and the stroke path on line is plenty to deal with. As soon as you allow ANY hand, wrist, or finger activity during the stroke, you're headed for trouble. So relax. It's just a matter of dropping the lead shoulder four or five inches straight at the balls of your foot under a still pivot and then come back up, with good tempo. A downstroke, an upstroke.
MAKE THIS PART OF YOUR GAME: To learn to trust this action, set up a straight putt in the 4 to 6 foot range. Square the putterface, then square your feet and shoulders to the putterface. Then forget everything except dropping the shoulder socket straight at your foot three or four inches and then rocking the shoulderframe back up, going up an extra three or four inches from the starting height. You should see a very straight, no-hands stroke beneath a nice still pivot, head and eyes. Do this as many repititions as you can and watch for the hands to try to get in the act and spoil the stroke, so you understand the importance of moving ONLY the shoulderframe while everything else stays motionless (or nearly so). Then start moving back for longer putts. Eventually, you will see how the central region of straightness makes itself clearer as the rib cage starts to conflict more with the waist area. Go for this conflict -- while keeping a good tempo, quiet hands, and a stable pivot!
For more tips and information on putting, including a free 10,000+ database of putting lore and the Web's only newsletter on putting (also free), visit Geoff's website at http://www.puttingzone.com, or email him directly at email@example.com.