You shouldn't go thinking that there haven't been any exciting breakthroughs in understanding the golf swing recently. Maybe you hadn't been thinking that, but if it was in your mind, you can let it go, that is, stop. What brings this not to mind is research by Professor Robin Sharp at the University of Surrey, which has revealed that the wrist isn't actually all that important to an effective golf swing.
The golf swing, in which the golf club is swung to move the golf ball to the golf hole, was invented by time-pressed Victorians around 1873 as a way of accelerating golf's pace. From 1456 till then golf had consisted of people standing around waiting for a ball to happen to roll into a hole. This wasn't the first accelerating of the game. In 1567 Mary, Queen of Scots, reportedly introduced the practice of bringing a ball to see roll in. In 1764 the golf course at Saint Andrews decided players may bring sticks to lean against, or to swing around in a jaunty fashion while pretending to dance, or just to whap Jacobites, so the change to swinging the club was in some ways overdue. In other ways, it hasn't been done, or we wouldn't still be discussing the issue.
The new breakthrough comes from finding skilled golfers, putting them in ``motion capture'' suits before they know what's happening, and having them swing. This is much better than the old method of studying how much the wrist affected the swing, which consisted of finding skilled golfers, removing their wrists, and making them play. By cutting out this cutting out process --- let me try that again --- by removing the removing --- that's not working either --- by not making people lose valuable joints researchers have an easier time getting volunteers. Or at least the skilled golfers they do get are a lot less upset when the experiments are over. And researchers feel like they've lost a lot less of their time when they get their test subject all set up and find out they haven't got a golfer after all, but just someone who likes standing around in case a ball should roll into a hole.
``Motion capture'' suits are themselves an interesting thingy. They're special suits which for the sake of computational ease have been carefully deprived of all dignity, so people must stand around in light blue vaguely plastic garments with bright white or green spots around key body points. Tracking has to be done in special enclosed rooms, with controlled entry access and no lines of sight from outside so that the poor soul in the motion capture outfit won't be seen by anybody. It used to be a fun prank around motion capture equipment to pull a false fire alarm and watch as the captured person has to decide between not risking horrible death by fire and being seen in public like that. They only stopped after discovering that nearly one in five such pranked people ran towards the fire, or started fires themselves. It was probably time to get back to work anyway.
As it all turns out while people thought the wrist was very important to getting an effective swing it actually doesn't matter at all. Much more important factors are the shoulders --- it turns out these it is useful to have, which again defies conventional wisdom --- and a good geographic sense so that you avoid the mistake of hitting the ball into a gigantic vertically suspended trampoline. It also helps to have a golf club long enough to reach from your hands all the way to the ball, or the ground, whichever comes first. This is my weakness, as the miniature golf folks never have putters long enough for me. I suppose I might bend over a little bit to make good for it, but I would never look dignified like that.
According to a confusing set of statistics at the end of the article I might not have made up about this, a roughly ten percent advantage in the swing can be achieved simply by being twenty-one percent more. And more what? Well, nobody ever said this research was completed.
Trivia: John Reid, a Scot who lived in Yonkers, New York, set up the first permanent golf course in the United States in 1888 in Ardsley, New York. Source: The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession, Virginia Scott Jenkins.
Currently Reading: To Rule The Waves: How The British Navy Shaped The Modern World, Arthur Herman.