The Violence which is Golf

When one thinks of golf, generally the last thing he or she thinks of is an act of violence. Now, unless your name is Happy Gilmore, golf is normally thought of as a quiet, passive activity, where an all over hush descends upon the crowd as an athlete takes his swing. Of course, most people are not into physics, so looking at something like golf can take on an entirely new meaning; when mechanics are brought into the discussion, the idea of golf as a violent activity is easily understood. We are not going to delve into the intricacies, such as cocking the wrists, but focus instead on the major movements.

To initiate the motion, the club is pulled behind the body by the powerful upper back muscles. Like loading a spring by pushing down on it before letting it go, the back muscles force the muscles which will pull the club forward (i.e., shoulders, chest, trunk) to stretch and load themselves with energy. It’s the same principle of crouching down slightly before trying to jump.

Now moving on to the mightiest of muscle groups… As the swing begins, the hip cradle and legs use their massive amounts of muscles fibers to generate a tremendous amount of force into the trunk by pushing against the earth. As this force comes up from the lower body, it meets in the trunk with the force generated from the upper body. There they combine, and begin to form the massive amount of torque (twisting force) which will swing the club.

Speaking of the club, let’s look at the role of it and the arms in this movement. The club acts as a lever, and when it is gripped by the hands, adds to their over all length. Why is this important? In simplest terms, the longer the lever, the more force it can transfer from one end to the other. Think of a crow bar: if you were trying to pry open a car door, which size lever would you want – one that is 6 inches long, or one that is 3 feet long? In regards to swinging a golf club, it is considered a Class Three Lever, where the load (point of contact with the ball) is at one end, the effort (arms) is in the middle, and the fulcrum/pivot point (waist) is at the other end.

When the club finally makes contact with the ball, the arm/club unit is basically a straight line. Now all of the forces generated by the upper and lower body movements combined are transferred down this long lever, which is made up of the club and arms. Put another way: the forces generated from the lower body are combined with the forces generated fro the upper body, and then are amplified by the arms and club acting like a long lever. This has the potential of creating a club speed as much as 100 miles per hour! This all means a huge amount of horrendous force being generated in a very short period of time. Add to that all of this energy is being directed at an object with a surface area of only 1.68 inches wide, and a weight of only 1.62 ounces; that is, the standard American golf ball.

Amazingly enough, this amazing sequence of events can create golf ball speeds right after being hit exceeding 200 mph. Destructive, brutal, ludicrous, yes, even violent… adjectives which pop into my head when explaining the basic mechanics of a golf swing.

Mike Palmieri

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