Is your ball striking inconsistent?
Does it feel like you chop down on the ball?
Are you swinging hard but your drives are going nowhere?
If so, check to see if your spine angle is becoming more upright during your swing. This is also called the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic.
A flat shoulder plane can cause the club to be out of position during the backswing changing your swing plane. In order to get the clubhead back to the ball square, you’ll have to make compensations during the downswing.
As you can imagine, it is hard to hit the ball consistently with all of this movement. From swing to swing the ball will have different flight paths and you’ll hit the ball off the toe, the heel, as well as the top of the clubface.
In this article, I’ll explain in more detail what flat shoulder plane is, how to identify it, and discuss corrections to reduce or eliminate it.
As a bonus, I’ve also created a Free Guide that lists exercises you can perform to correct the physical limitations that cause the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic.
The exercises included in the guide are linked to the Titleist Performance Insitute (TPI) video library so you can see how to perform each exercise.
If you have or think you have, the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic, this free guide contains exercises that will help you eliminate this fault. Get rid of the swing fault so you can hit the ball straighter and more consistently.
What is the Flat Shoulder Plane Swing Characteristic?
As with most of the of the swing characteristics, the name is very descriptive.
You have a flat shoulder plane when at the top of your backswing your spine angle has become more upright than it was at address. When you draw a line across your shoulders it appears nearly parallel with the ground.
You know you have a flat shoulder plane swing characteristic when you loop a video of your swing and it looks like one of those drinking bird toys.
It is hard to hit the ball consistently with all that motion.
How Prevalent is Flat Shoulder Plane?
The flat shoulder plane swing characteristic is very common among amateur golfers. Data from Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) reveals that 45.2% of golfers have this swing characteristic.
There are quite a few reasons why golfers swing like this. I will go over the physical causes below, but the most common cause is that golfers feel like they can get more shoulder turn and a longer backswing by standing up out of their address position.
Other reasons are:
- Your arms move too far away from your body during the backswing.
- You rotate your arms too early during the backswing.
- Your hips over-rotate as you take the club back.
- Maybe your clubs are too long.
As you see there are many possible causes and we haven’t even touched the physical causes.
Percentage of Amateur Golfers with Flat Shoulder Plane
How To Tell If You Have Flat Shoulder Plane
The best way to tell is by looking at a video of your swing from the down the line view.
For tips on how to take video of your golf swing visit my article How to Video Your Golf Swing.
Remember to use a tripod so the camera doesn’t move; aim and focus the camera on the hands at the address position.
Below you will see a photograph of me at my address position. I have drawn a line along my spine and another line perpendicular to the spine angle and at shoulder height.
For the lines, I have a software program that will do this.
There are some freeware versions on the internet, but they are not as functional as the commercial software. I do have a service where you send me a front on view and a down-the-line view video and I will mark it up for you.
The purpose is to see if you have any of the 12 most common swing characteristics.
For this service see the Swing Assessment Program Heading near the bottom of the page.
What You Should Notice
As you see, the line is drawn from the middle of my neck to my tailbone. Don’t worry about any back curvature.
Another line is drawn perpendicular to the spine angle at the top of the shoulders. Notice that it points to the ground a couple of feet in front of the golf ball.
Where this line points will change slightly depending on the club you are using and your setup position. I recommend using a 6-iron in all of your swing videos used to evaluate swing characteristics.
Remember that your driver swing should be different than your iron swing since you want to sweep or hitting up on the ball with the driver.
So using an iron in the swing video, the shoulder line should point to the ground somewhere between the ball and 4-feet in front of the ball.
Advance the Video to the Top of the Backswing
In the photo below I have advanced the video to the top of my backswing and repeated drawing the lines as I did in the setup position.
Now that I’ve rotated my shoulders back, I draw a line across the top of the left and right shoulder.
The line drawn down the spine isn’t’ necessary, I added it to show how much more vertical my spine is compared to the address position.
It’s obvious that my upper body has become more upright. Ideally, during the golf swing, the spine angle remains the same, and the shoulders rotate around a stable spine.
The flat shoulder plane doesn’t always need to be caused by the upper body becoming more upright. If my spine stayed at the same angle, but I bend my knees, the resultant shoulder plane would also flatten out. A combination of more knee bend and some upright movement can also cause flat shoulder plane.
Summary to Identify FSP
To tell if you have the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic, draw a line across the top of the shoulders at the top of the backswing and extend the line forward.
If it points further than 4-feet in front of the golf ball, it is likely that you have the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic.
As you see in the photo, the long blue line off the top of my shoulders is pointing way more than 4-ft in front of the ball.
For this swing, I exhibit the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic.
Physical Causes Of Flat Shoulder Plane
I have already discussed the non-physical causes and the swing results of the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic. These can also occur with one or more of the following physical limitations.
If the range of motion of the shoulders is limited, or there is a tightness in the lats, the typical result is a flatter swing plane. As a golfer, you know you need to increase the length of the backswing to hit the ball farther. If the shoulders can’t turn, the body makes up for this lack of rotation by becoming more upright so the hips and lower back can rotate easier.
As with the shoulders, if the upper (thoracic) spine has mobility issues the arms have to do more of the work leading to a flat shoulder turn.
If a golfer has a limited separation between the upper and lower body, the golf swing forces the golfer to stand up instead of rotating their upper body around a stable lower body. The golfer turns more with their hips and legs, and this causes the golfer to rise out of their address position and into a flat shoulder plane swing characteristic.
To narrow down the physical cause, you should perform the following TPI physical screens.
The 90/90 test evaluates shoulder mobility. If your shoulders don’t allow you to get your hands back, it will be hard to keep your spine at the address angle.
The Lat Length Test evaluates the ability of your lats to allow your shoulder full range of motion.
Once you’ve identified possible physical causes for the flat shoulder plane swing characteristic you can develop a golf conditioning program to eliminate the mobility restrictions causing the swing fault.
Swing Assessment Program
Are you slicing or hooking the golf ball? Do you think your swing is costing you distance? Are the common swing faults, like early extension, over the top, and loss of posture costing you frustration and strokes?
Did you know that your golf swing can provide clues to swing faults?
Using two videos of your golf swing recorded with your smartphone, I can identify which of the swing characteristics you may possess.
I have developed a Swing Assessment Program to assist in determining swing faults. Correct swing faults with simple corrective exercises.
Use the buttons below to learn more.
The "Learn More" button will take you to a page on this website that describes the program in detail.
The "Visit Course Website" button will take you to the area of my website where I host my golf conditioning programs.
If you a flat shoulder plane swing characteristic, don’t worry.
There are exercises that will increase the mobility of your shoulders and upper back and make it easier for the upper body to rotate around the lower body while it remains stable.
I have prepared a free guide to help you.
The guide lists the exercises that will help you correct limitations causing you to flatten out your swing plane.
Each exercise is linked to a video to show you how to do the exercise correctly.
Click the button below and enter your first name and e-mail address so I can e-mail you the free Exercise Guide!
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