Flat Planes vs Steep Planes & “Flying Elbows,” “Across The Line”

Jason posted an excellent comment & query in the previous posting, where he made the connection to the things I’ve been changing in my own MCS Golf Swing to closer match the theoretical model.

He talked about Ben Hogan’s thoughts on the wrist action in the back swing affecting shot-shaping, and although I’ve been focused on Hogan’s pivot action, I found this interesting.

In the comment, Jason said:

… I believe Hogan mentioned this in that Life Magazine article. He said he didn’t consciously cup his wrists as much when he wanted to produce a draw action.

The funny thing is, I was discussing this very thing with David D at the range yesterday while working on my own top position and club shaft angle, and the reasoning is very simple:

DJ Discusses The “Flying Elbow” & Wrist Angles W/David D

You can have a “flying elbow” and still be mechanically-sound in your swing, as well as being across the line with the club shaft.

You’re not going to risk injury simply by having a “flying elbow” or being “across the line” in your golf swing, and one thing doesn’t cause the other, as Jack Nicklaus had a pretty standard shaft position at the top even with the flying elbow.

The greatest major winner of all time, Mr. Jack Nicklaus, had a “flying elbow” and still won 18 majors and over 70 Tour events:

Bobby Jones, considered to be the greatest amateur golfers of all time and one of the greatest ever, pro or amateur, had a very “across the line” shaft position at the top:

Neither elbow position nor shaft angle are fatal, they’re simply something that could be not optimal, meaning if you changed either, you might have greater consistency in your ball-striking, which is why I decided to make changes.

I have always been a fade hitter, as was Nicklaus with his “flying elbow,” and for me, it was both the elbow position and the wrist cock:

By lowering my right elbow or making it “tighter” to the body and by flattening my left wrist, I can change the above shaft position to the one below, and by a pretty big degree:

The point here is that having a mechanically-correct or sound swing isn’t going to make it perfect.

Having a flatter plane makes it easier to hit draws, and the poster-child is obviously Ben Hogan, who fought a hook much of his career:

Hogan kept the flat plane even when he began playing a fade as you can see above, but he accomplished that, as Jason mentions above, by changing his wrist position at the top to a flatter one,

And of course Nicklaus played a fade with his “flying elbow,” but wasn’t across the line because of his wrist position at the top.

Making your swing mechanically-sound means swinging in a manner that the body is designed to move, but if you follow the logic that the shoulders and wrists have a wide range of motion, you can have big differences in swings that are still mechanically-sound.

The big no-no in the Modern Golf Swing is the restricting of the hip action and legs on the back pivot and twisting the lower back, which is not the way the body naturally moves to swing an object.

But things like the elbow position and wrist angles – both are variable actions and so, while you won’t necessarily be risking injury doing it one way over another, you will have positions that are optimal versus not, and that means you can always improve a mechanically-correct swing!

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6 thoughts on “Flat Planes vs Steep Planes & “Flying Elbows,” “Across The Line”

  1. Jason

    Thanks for the shout-out DJ – it’s really great having someone with your depth of swing knowledge to communicate with.

    Some further thoughts:

    – Mickey Wright used to comment that the position of the right wrist (for the right-handed golfer) was like carrying a pizza. Nice and flat. I’ve always found that quite useful as an analogy (Mickey Wright was just great in general and my sister found a copy of her out-of-print book and gifted me a copy!)

    – I had looked quite exhaustively for that Ben Hogan Life magazine article (which everyone mentions) to no avail. My lovely (and ever-resourceful) girl Leslie somehow found it for me a few years ago. Happy to share it with everyone now:


    – I was slightly mistaken in my reference to Ben Hogan’s life magazine comment. While Hogan did always keep a cupped right wrist, his ‘secret’ was about cupping the left wrist – which he would adjust according to whether he wanted to play a fade or draw. This is quite interesting because if you follow what Hogan prescribes, in some ways, the wrists are sort of cupped in opposite directions, almost as if the left wrist was acting as a control against the right wrist (and the right wrist a governor for the left) – interesting idea right?

    – Finally, just wanted to say your one video about shanking was a God-send! I had just had a session where I had the more the occasional shank and couldn’t figure out what I had been doing wrong. After I read your post, it seemed so obvious. Really great work DJ! I looked at some swings afterwards and it made me think about something Jack Nicklaus wrote about in “Golf My Way” which was a problem he had developed about his shoulder alignment and how he had had a ‘devil of a time’ discovering the fix, which was to do his forward press not just straight, but to the left of his target – thereby getting into the ‘biased’ position that you talk about before starting his backswing (I’m a lefty golfer as you know, so I hope I’ve kept my left and rights straight in translating for a righty golfer).

    – This made me think of this video as well:

    The kid mentions “shift left to right and then back to the left”. This had previously confused me – i think I mentioned to you in a comment long ago. I didn’t understand the first shift to the left until I realized that the first shift to the left is a ‘forward press’ movement – the first shift to the left is the same as Jack’s forward press and starting from a biased position.

    It’s really humbling how such a thing can make such a big difference. Your words: “the better your mechanics on the back swing and down swing, the more likely you are to have something go wrong at impact” made me feel less discouraged. Thanks for your time and dedication to creating this fantastic platform DJ.

    – Finally, are you currently trying to keep your right elbow in, DJ? Or are you looking for a balance between letting a bit of elbow come out for a bit more power? What is ideal? If you’re trying to still flatten out your swing even more, Ben Hogan mentioned he pressed his upper arms tightly against his body and that it would take a good amount of force to separate them. I’ve found if I do that, I will have much better elbow control, but my swing will feel flatter and shorter. I completely agree with what you said about a swing being mcs, but not ‘optimal’ – but I guess you also pointed out that your mcs model can work with many types of variations, so what does ‘optimal’ mean? A balance of power and control?

    1. D Watts Post author

      Good points, Jason. As to your last paragraph:

      Finally, are you currently trying to keep your right elbow in, DJ? Or are you looking for a balance between letting a bit of elbow come out for a bit more power? What is ideal?

      Stay tuned for the answers to these very shortly! 🙂

  2. Jason

    Makes me think of Jimmy Bruen’s swing.

    Mechanically correct in movement, maybe sub-optimal in terms of upper body govenors that would have made him even more consistent (not to mention putting less wear and tear on that wrist), but grooved his swing to the point where he was legitimately great. I wouldn’t swing this way, but I think it has a really wild and funky kind of beauty to it. Your thoughts DJ?

    1. D Watts Post author

      It certainly was funky, Jason! But looking at it, you can see that it was still mechanically-sound, so he wasn’t going to injure himself swinging that way. Could it have been better? Sure!

      But a grooved “funky” swing can still be as good as a better swing, because at the end of the day, the score is what counts.

  3. casualgolfersunited

    I have the same issue. When I keep my elbow tucked in, my fade fades away. Just another swing element to focus on.

    1. D Watts Post author

      Just an FYI, CGU – you don’t have to actually focus on the elbow or arm action if you improve your setup. I’m working on showing that next! 🙂

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