When it comes to improving your swing, there are many areas where physical conditioning is at least as important as a sound concept of technique.
So-called early extension is a great example. We can think of early extension as ‘standing up’ through the ball, a move that changes your body angles and compromises the delivery of the club.
In this article you’ll learn how it happens, why it matters, and what you can do about it. As so often in the golf swing, a little extra mobility in the right areas can make a massive difference to your game… and your scores.
What is ‘early extension’?
At address we create body angles that give us the space and opportunity to move the club freely around us on a good plane. If those angles change excessively during the swing, the path and angle of the club changes, and that creates problems with strike and accuracy.
One key set-up angle is pelvic bend, which you can picture as the tilt of your belt. In elite players, this is usually around 20º. During the downswing, the sheer act of hitting the ball hard causes this angle to flatten – in other words, your belt line becomes more horizontal. In elite players, this angle typically flattens to around 5º at impact.
Why early extension is so common
The problem here is that we need this pelvic angle to flatten without the head and upper body lifting up… and that demands a certain degree of flexibility in the lower and mid spine. If you are too stiff through this area, your upper body will simply lift as your pelvis becomes more horizontal. Often the hips and pelvis move in towards the ball, causing heel strikes, and the lower body struggles to rotate.
Ahead of the curve
The elite golfer has enough flexibility in his mid back to allow that pelvic angle to flatten without his head and shoulders lifting up – a move that puts a certain amount of curve through the spine. If you can work developing similar mobility, your problems with early extension will ease.
Drill 1: Mobility
Your first step to improving that important mid-spine flexibility is a simple mobility drill. It works in two stages:
Assume your regular 5-iron golf posture, your hands outstretched and leaning on the head of your driver as shown. If you have alignment canes, stick one through your belt loop to accentuate your pelvic tilt. Now, without changing your shoulder and head position, tilt your pelvis back as far as possible. This is the move that rounds your back and makes the cane (belt) horizontal.
Now go as far as you can the other way. Tilt your pelvis forward, the move that arches your back and creates more angle in the cane (belt). Repeat these two extremes in a slow and controlled manner, focusing on creating as much forward and backward tilt as possible. In doing this, you will slowly but surely increase your mid/lower back mobility.
Drill 2: Tell tail sign
Perhaps the surest indicator of early extension is when your rear and tailbone are closer to the ball at impact than they are at address. You can use a cane or old shaft to check this, and also improve your ability to retain your address angles through the swing.
Stick a cane or old shaft into the ground behind your lead heel. Angle it so that, at address, it is around a hand’s width away from your lead glute. In transition, as you move forward, feel your pelvis rotate to allow your rear to touch the cane. Your lead glute should retain contact all the way to the finish. Work on this both as a check, and as a drill to encourage the correct motion.
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