Necessary Adaptations for Shorter Golfers

By Burns, Bob | Palaestra, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview
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Necessary Adaptations for Shorter Golfers

Burns, Bob, Palaestra

Jason, one of my students, is a little person who has worked for Disney World as characters such as: Dopey, Daisy, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Jason stands at 4' 3" and is a sports enthusiast. He was never discouraged or shy about playing because of his stature or his limitations with equipment. Even though Jason has been unable to play sports throughout his life, he knew golf was one of the few sports he could take up and enjoy. When Jason took up the game, he purchased junior clubs due to length. He felt most comfortable with the length and was unaware that he had additional options. As it turned out, the junior clubs were far too light and flexible for his swing. In addition, the grips were too small, causing twisting and misshits. After volunteering to work with Jason, we discovered many options that would allow him to play better golf. First, we experimented with equipment, selecting the right length, shaft flex, lie angle, grips, and training aids.


Fitting the Swing and Equipment to the Physique

People of all sizes and shapes can and do play golf well, and what makes golf so great is, with the help of a PGA professional, each individual can develop to match his/her physique. In addition, the golf swing and equipment can be modified to match the individual without sacrificing distance or consistency.

The most immediate and obvious difference, if you look carefully, lies in the swing plane. You will notice shorter golfers normally have flatter swing planes, while taller golfers have steeper, more upright golf swings. As a result the shorter golfers also hit balls at lower trajectories, and taller golfers at higher ones. This is due to the natural arc of the golf swing.

For Shorter Golfers

Normally, shorter golfers have better balance than their taller counterparts, because the center of gravity is lower; therefore, uneven lies affect the shorter golfer less, providing greater freedom of movement in the swing. Because of a flatter swing, golfers may tend to draw or hook the ball (which can be used to advantage to gain distance). Since the flatter plane keeps the club directly in the line of ball flight for only a brief period, attend to what Ben Hogan called pronating; that means to avoid blocking shots (pushing them right as a way of avoiding a pull hook). You want to think of rotating your forearms in a counterclockwise direction through the impact area. If we label the bottom of the swing arc, that is, the ball, as six o clock, then the forearm rotation must take place between seven and five (as if your arms were the hands of the clock), so the golfer can square the clubface at contact and get the ball moving toward the target.

If you want extra distance in your shots, and you can control it, I sometimes recommend trying a longer and lighter club, which may also require a flatter lie angle. Each degree of adjustment in lie angle drops the hand position three quarters of an inch to an inch. You need to be careful to let your hands hang naturally, so you do not try to swing with the shoulders in a shrugging position--believe me, this is not easy. On the other hand, if the clubs are too long, you eventually reach the point of diminishing returns. If on the range you hit 10 balls, you might hit 1 or 2 balls 10 yards farther than your average; however, you will hit the majority 10 yards below your average, due to inconsistent ball striking. Overall, longer clubs yield a loss of control, limiting both accuracy and distance. Above all, try to avoid tensing up and over swinging: let your control, balance, and timing help you hit the ball farther.


Lie & Loft

Most manufactured clubs are built too upright for the average player's stature. As a result, most golfers unconsciously setup incorrectly. The golfer generally assumes the address position and then conforms to the lie angle of the club, which is too upright.

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