2005: Extension accord

Bolingbrook, Ill.

An introduction to instructor Carl Rabito might start with extension in the golf swing.

Extension is a garden-variety buzzword used with both the backswing and through swing. Many contemporary golfers seem to be looking for more arm extension everywhere in the swing. They associate extension with added distance.

The popular phrase is “widen your swing” or “create more width.”

While most golfers may have accepted this as fact, Rabito says any fixation on extension can be a bad thing. Players who seek to exaggerate their extension are asking for trouble, Rabito says.

They actually can lose distance, he maintains.

Rabito is a different kind of teacher. Although he worries about being perceived as overbearing, he is soft-spoken, polite, articulate and painstakingly scientific in his presentation of the golf swing.

“When you say something that is different from what most people believe, you better have it right,” Rabito says, “because people will be challenging you all the time.”

Extension often is taught in conjunction with instructor Jim McLean’s X-Factor – the coiling of the upper body and the resistance of the lower body.

“I never want any resistance in the golf swing,” Rabito explains. “By definition, if you have to resist, something is pushing you out of position. If you adhere to the kinetic chain, if your body is working correctly, everything will stay in the proper place without trying. That’s the secret. I call it elegant strength.”

Rabito, a Master PGA teaching professional, says extension can impede a full turn on the backswing.

“One way to lose your ability to turn is to get your left arm extended or locked,” he says. “This can hinder your ability to turn your spine and prevent you from rotating your chest.”

Although some touring professionals have slim bodies that allow them to focus on extension (Davis Love III is the best example), Rabito says many pros have figured out that extension is not the answer.

“Look at the long-drive competitors,” Rabito says. “Nobody hits it farther than these guys, but very few of them have straight arms.

On the backswing, extension can impede a full turn.

“Then, if you try to extend through the shot, your body is going to stop working correctly. It will get locked up.”

In conjunction with a proper turn, Rabito teaches that the right shoulder, not the left, should start the backswing.

“This is how you get true extension,” he says. “You start the swing with the right shoulder, you make a full shoulder turn and that is extension. It will maintain your normal arm length.

“If you just move your left arm and left shoulder, you’re not going anywhere. It’s fake, and usually it doesn’t provide extension.”

Rabito, a strength and conditioning specialist, has been enlisted to help with a biomechanical research project at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The project will start with children who play baseball, then proceed to golf.

“We have kids whose bodies aren’t developed, but we’re teaching them adult motions,” Rabito claims. “In too many instances, we’re damaging these kids.”

Rabito advocates what often is considered a radical theory: Introducing children to golf at an early age, but not allowing them to play regularly until they are 11 or 12.

“I tell parents it is important to understand that a child’s body does not function like an adult body,” he says.

“The hips and other range of motion sites are not fully developed. They are not stable enough to handle the forces of a fundamentally correct golf swing. I advise them to spend more time on the short game until their children’s bodies are more developed.

“I know we’ve got little bitty kids out there playing all kinds of games, but my contention is they’ll still be that good if we wait. In fact, their golf swings will be better.”

Rabito has other opinions that may wake the howling dogs in some golfers.

“If you’re on the Tour, how do you separate yourself from the other 150 talented guys?” he asks. “You have to be smarter, and your mechanics have to be that much more repeatable.”

Rabito points to photos of Vijay Singh, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson. In each case, one hand is coming off the club at impact.

“How can that be a good thing?” he asks. “No, they don’t do it all the time. Even when they do, they usually get away with it. They have so much talent. My assessment is that they stay behind the ball too long, so something’s got to give. Sometimes the hand just comes off the club.”

In the world according to Rabito, all body parts function smoothly and in harmony. He calls it the domino effect.

“We’re dealing with absolutes when we deal with the human body,” he says. “I teach what I consider to be the right swing for the human body.

“The whole world seems to have bought into the theory, with golf instruction, that you have to get worse before you get better. This is insane. If you are my student and this happens, I would expect you to act very hostile to me and ask for a refund.”

Does this mean he guarantees success, or there is no fee? “Absolutely,” he answers.

Attacking what he considers to be another myth, Rabito says, “It is an anatomical impossibility to move in front of a golf ball before you hit it. I see golfers who slide their knees in front of it, which is bad, but the upper body cannot move in front of the ball before impact. It is not possible.

“Many (right-handed) golfers are afraid to get to the left side because they don’t want to move ahead of the ball. They are wrong. They will hit the ball more solidly and hit it farther when they learn how to transfer their weight correctly.”

Rabito frequently invokes his mantra: Structure governs function.

“When we understand how the body works, then we understand that there is an absolute optimal way to swing a golf club to maximize performance and all but eliminate injuries,” he says.

Rabito uses a series of images when he teaches. For example, to facilitate getting to the left side on the throughswing, Rabito asks his students to develop an image of the right shoulder replacing (finishing in the original position of) the left shoulder.

To understand the rotation of the thoracic spine (upper back), Rabito tells his pupils to envision a garden hose that runs from the top of the head through the center of the body to the ground. The idea is to avoid kinking the hose at any point in the golf swing.

“Some golfers are naturals,” he observes. “They can do almost anything during the swing and make it work. For most of us, though, a better swing means better results. Everything I teach is a reflection of that perfect swing.”

Rabito gives a sheepish look. “Do I sound too arrogant?” he asks.

“I don’t mean to. I just want to tell the truth about the golf swing, because that’s what will help golfers the most.”

– Rabito Golf is headquartered at two public golf facilities -- Diamond Players Club in Clermont, Fla., outside Orlando, and Bolingbrook (Ill.) Golf Club, south of Chicago.

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