Three of the most polarizing words in the world of golf coaching and golf lessons are ‘Stack & Tilt’. Introduced in the June 2007 issue of Golf Digest, it instigated mixed responses from the golfing community. Advocates call it a game-changing approach to golf, while skeptics fear its potential impact on the artistic elements of their golf swing. Regardless of the opinions, Stack & Tilt took the PGA Tour by storm, resulting in 8 first-time winners and earning more than $50 million in prize money since 2005.
WHO CREATED STACK & TILT?
Credited to teaching professionals Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett, Stack & Tilt is deeply rooted in The Golfing Machine, an exhaustive golf instructional book by Boeing engineer Homer Kelley. Plummer and Bennett aimed to deliver smoothly consistent instructions, ensuring equally consistent results.
However, it’s crucial to understand that Stack & Tilt is not merely a fancy golf swing. It provides a systematic approach to understanding the game. This is, indeed, a system that categorizes critical game elements, aiding both the coach and player to measure the different elements of golf. It provides a model, thereby helping to troubleshoot issues in a consistent manner.
Many golfers who look to improve their game reach out to me on a regular basis. Despite facing some criticism from other coaches for the system’s perceived lack of depth, I often receive praise from learners who seek an organized approach to the game.
STACK & TILT – THREE FUNDAMENTALS
To establish a list of priorities in which to progress through our golf lessons, we need to first identify what the function of the swing is. Andy Plummer posits that “The swing cannot be understood without considering its function”. To plan how to proceed, we need to ascertain the purpose of the swing. While grip, alignment, stance, and posture are considered important by most golf instructors and are usually the first items to be addressed in a lesson, I argue that they aren’t fundamental. The best players worldwide have diverse stances, alignments, ball positions, and postures. If these were indeed the fundamentals, all the top players would adopt the same techniques.
The first fundamental would be the ability to hit the ground in the same place every time. In my work with average golfers, the resounding wish among them is to “be more consistent”. What they are referring to is the ability to strike the ball the same way every time.
In order to accomplish this task, minimizing the golfer’s lateral motion in the backswing is key. The more the golfer shifts away from the target in the backswing, the more distance the golfer must travel in the downswing towards the target.
The second piece that would have a great affect on controlling the low point would be the angle the wrists are set at address, at the top of the backswing and then at impact. Golfers who cast the club in the downswing are making the arc of the swing longer, where the club will strike the ground before the ball.
The second fundamental is the ability to hit the ball far enough to play the course. Note that this isn’t the ability to hit the ball as far as you can. There are three ways a golfer moves their body during the swing; flexing/extending, rotating left and right, and side-bending (tilting). It was the side-bending aspect that had never really been discussed in golf instruction, and had coaches around the game up in arms about potential back injuries.
The third fundamental is the ability to control the start direction, curve and trajectory of the golf ball. The golfers on the professional tours spend 90% of their time improving the third fundamental in their game. One of the things that I found the most interesting early on in my Stack & Tilt journey was the shot tree diagram, which outlines the three families of ball flights and how they are created.
The above diagram, from page 122 from Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett’s book The Stack & Tilt Swing, classifies the different shots a golfer can hit, grouping them into three distinct trees. The idea here is that for example, shots 1H and 3E look very similar, however are created in different manners. 1H pulls more than it curves, whereas 3E curves more than it pulls. If a coach saw 1H and gave them the 3E “fix”, that player will only make their issue much worse.
Now that we have addressed the three fundamentals of Stack & Tilt, let’s delve into the 10 word template that simplifies their understanding: Weight Forward, Shoulder Down, Hands In, Arms Straight, Tuck Hips.
To give golfers a starting point to improve their three fundamentals, the ten word template was created as a way to offer a framework. As discussed above, the fundamentals are to control the low-point, hit the ball far enough to play the course and to have a predictable, controllable curve of the golf ball.
This refers to the golfer’s weight at the setup. To achieve this, the golfer should bump their lead hip slightly towards the target, placing approximately 55% of their weight on their lead foot. At the highest levels of the game, players shift their pressure a small amount throughout the swing, depending on the club they are hitting. At the amateur level, I advocate a golfer shift as little as possible until they can control their low-point with great certainty.
Moving the lead shoulder is the key move in maintaining a stable axis to turn around. As seen in the left picture below, when the shoulder moves up or across instead of down, the head moves off the golf ball. Moving the lead ear towards the ground is a common cue that helps golfers feel the shoulder moving down.
Hands in has a two-pronged effect on the swing. First, power is created by moving the hands in an arc around the body rather than in a straight line. Second, moving the hands inwards in the backswing is a necessary step in being able to draw the ball.
Arms straight is a contact piece in most cases. In order for the club to strike the ground the same way each time, it needs to remain the same effective length. Golfers who bend the arms through impact hit the ball thin quite often.
Tucking the hips through the finish also has several benefits. From a power standpoint, extending the legs and the spine allows the golfer to maximize their vertical power. From a curve standpoint, tucking the hips keeps the golf club traveling on the same arc through the finish. When a golfer finishes the swing with forward flex, it shifts the swing direction excessively across the body, which can create steeper divots, high spin rates, pulls and slices.
The 10 words above are a simple framework to start from. You can find examples of great players from all eras exhibiting these moves. How much they do it and for how long will vary player to player, but the commonalities are there if you look for them.
HOW CAN STACK & TILT HELP ME?
As Plummer and Bennett said in The Stack & Tilt Swing, a player can use this information in a number of ways. They can learn the game using this framework, starting from the beginning. The other option is to use this information as a reference, incorporating fixes when necessary. More than anything, I feel as though Stack & Tilt is a system that organizes the game. It gives an assignment to each piece of the swing, a description of what it does, a measurement for how much is enough and a way to troubleshoot when it doesn’t perform properly.
In this information age that we live in, never before have we been so inundated with YouTube videos, Instagram videos, articles, tips and quick fixes. While some of this information might be accurate, what it lacks is context. You could pull a page out of one of Shakespeare’s novels, however without the proper context the meaning behind the words is lost. Stack & Tilt is built on a foundation of consistency and understanding, both for the player and the coach. It’s that consistency and understanding that you need to take your game to the next level.
Nick Adcock is a Senior Coach at Sean Foley Performance in Orlando, FL and an Authorized Stack & Tilt instructor. For more information on Nick or to book a lesson with him, you can visit his website at www.nickadcockgolf.com or connect with him on Skillest for online golf lessons.