The situation: You’re on the range hitting balls, extremely off line and not very solid, with only 10 minutes remaining before your assigned tee time. The remedy: W.O.O.D.—quick adjustments that Work Only One Day, otherwise known as the “quick fix.” These “Band-Aids” are a necessary part of the game and come in handy when you don’t have time to seek out a long-term correction from your teaching pro. The key is knowing what needs adjusting. If you choose the wrong adjustment, things could get worse.
Instead of guessing what could work, let’s look at the basic essentials in the order that will help you find your swing fast and get you back on the right path. Check your aim, posture and balance in the setup. If these are good, move on to the backswing to make sure you’re in position to solidly transition to the downswing. If this component feels right, focus on the downswing sequence of motion, clubhead path and face position at impact. If adjustments in these areas don’t put you back on track, play simple, high-percentage shots that day and seek out your pro as soon as possible.
Change One: Aim Check your shoulders and hips
Like you see so many golfers do at the range, take one of your long irons from your bag and line up the shaft at a target, with the butt of the grip positioned where you normally play the ball in your stance. Assume your setup with another club. Align your body parallel to the shaft on the ground without looking at your target. If you feel any awkwardness at all, then it’s time to work on your aim.
One of the most common alignment mistakes is poor shoulder and hip positioning, specifically, setting up with shoulders and hips that are open, or to the left, of the target line. Use the club on the ground to set your shoulders and hips parallel to the target line. Once you have this feel, move the shaft three feet forward down the target line and practice hitting shots over the shaft. If this fix works, align to an intermediate target three feet in front of the ball to maintain this feel during your round.
Increase the chance of a solid, on-line shot by setting up with feet, knees, hips and shoulders parallel to the target line. It’s quite easy to allow the shoulders to rotate open at address, so use a club as a guide.
Change Two: Posture Set your spine correctly and keep it there throughout your swing
Posture errors force compensations, which can wreak havoc on your swing. Check to make sure you’re balanced and in an athletic posture. Most recreational golfers have either too much knee flex or too much curvature in the spine, which makes it extremely difficult to execute a good pivot and maintain spine tilt through impact.
Bad Hunch Too much knee flex or too much curvature in the spine at address can wreak havoc on your swing by forcing you to make compensations that are difficult to time.
!@#$% Too much spine tilt at address typically results in the golfer rising up through the impact zone, simply because the hunched-over posture doesn’t create the room for the hands, arms and club to swing under the shoulders. Expect the gamut of poor shots.
Posture Perfect A solid posture at address features slightly flexed knees and a straight spine. Tilt at your hip joint to bring your arms down and the clubhead to the golf ball without curving your spine.
A solid posture at address features slightly flexed knees and a straight spine. Tilt at your hip joint to bring your arms down and the clubhead to the golf ball without curving your spine.
Posture Fix Set up to the ball with your feet together and your legs straight. Tilt from your hips, allowing your arms to naturally hang, and set the club behind the ball. As you do this, keep your spine straight. Next, set your feet apart and flex your knees slightly. You should feel very balanced.
Perform the drill again, but this time keep your feet together and make a few swings. This is done to promote balance and rotation in your golf swing. Next, hit some balls with your heels about six inches apart. If your ballstriking improves, this is your drill for the day. Hit every other ball on the range in this manner and use it as your practice swing on the course.
Change Three: The Takeaway Avoid the dark side: the inside
On bad days, you can bet that your backswing is a little too far to the inside, which forces an over-the-top, outside-in downswing and nothing but weak, glancing blows that curve to the right. Golfers who take the club back with the right (rear) hand are especially prone to an inside takeaway. A low, smooth takeaway with the arms in front of the torso is needed.
To sense what a solid takeaway feels like, set up with the butt of the club in your stomach and choke down on the shaft. While maintaining your spine tilt, turn your hips and swing the club back until your shaft reaches eight o’clock. From here, hinge the wrists so that the club points down the target line. Do this a few times and then hit a few shots with that same feel. If your ballstriking improves, do a few of these “stomach” swings before each tee shot to maintain the proper feel.
Stomach It In a solid takeaway, the club travels down the target line, not to the inside. The key to this is keeping your arms in front of you as you take away the club. The Stomach Drill helps.
Change Four: Top Of The Backswing Think left shoulder over right knee
If the club feels out of position at the top, then make sure you’re not reverse-pivoting and that you have control of the club and not vice versa. Grab two irons and place and make swings with both clubs held together. During these swings, make sure your front shoulder turns behind the ball and over your back thigh.
If this is difficult to do, you may be sliding your hips instead of turning them. Assume your setup and place a club across your shoulders. Make a mock backswing, focusing on moving the shaft over your right knee. If this feels different, then your pivot is the problem. Continue making mock backswings with an eye toward turning your left shoulder behind the ball. Once your pivot is good, go back to swinging two clubs, focusing on control and balance. Get the feel for how far you can swing the club back and still control it. Apply this feel to your swing on the course and you’ll be in for a decent round.
Ouch! The dreaded reverse pivot, where, at the top, the front shoulder hovers over the front knee instead of the left. To get on your right side, make sure you turn your hips, not simply slide them.Change Five: Start Of The Downswing Remember, it's shift, brace and swing
If you’re struggling on the range, it’s likely your swing feels quick and out of control. Timing errors make it difficult to hit consistent golf shots. The key here is to get your lower body in balance and ready to fire as you start the club down the correct path. If you rotate too soon on the downswing, the club will travel outside the desired path and it will be up to your hands to save you.
The correct sequence is to shift first and brace your left foot as your hands start the club toward the golf ball. A simple way to check your sequence is to stop your downswing before your left arm moves below nine o’clock. If you can’t stop the club here, you’ve got trouble. Luckily, we have a drill to quickly erase the problem—the Happy Gilmore.
Tee a golf ball and assume your regular stance. Slide your front foot back and position it next to your rear foot, and set the clubhead between your feet. Make your normal backswing, but on the way down, step toward the golf ball with your front foot. Step laterally and don’t rotate your body until it’s firmly planted. This drill improves timing and facilitates the correct downswing sequence. When you’re able to hit some solid shots in this manner, you’ll know you’re back on track.
Hold It! If your downswing sequencing is intact, you should be able to stop your hands at waist high. If you can’t, then it’s likely you’re rotating your body too quickly, which is bad news.
Change Six: Path And Face Position Turn your swing inside out for good
On the range, take a look at your divots. If they’re pointing left, even after making all of the adjustments outlined previously, then it’s time to focus on impact dynamics.
Start by teeing up a golf ball. Place a second peg one tee length in front of your teed ball and in line with the toe of your driver clubhead. This arrangement creates an image of the slight inside-out path on which the clubhead should travel. Make a swing and try to strike 1) the inside rear quadrant of the golf ball and 2) both tees. You’ll find this easier to do if you can keep the buttons on your shirt behind the ball until impact. The key here is to release the hands so that both thumbs point down at impact, instead of rolling through (this requires too much timing, and we’re looking for a quick fix, after all). With this type of swing, your right hand will catch up to your left hand at impact and pass it later in the followthrough as your hips continue to pivot. Your goal here is to hit a slight draw that starts right and works back toward the target. On the golf course, focus on keeping your buttons back longer, which allows you to swing in to out through impact.
A final point to understand is that golf is difficult because the ball isn’t moving. In other sports where the ball is in motion, success depends mostly on athleticism and reaction time, which normally require a single thought. The same should be true of golf: Never allow multiple swing thoughts to creep into your head on the course. Stay focused on your targets and use, at most, a single feel to help you hit better golf shots. If you discover a drill, feel or image that helps you get back on track, stick with it and don’t add additional thoughts. Keep it simple—doing so will provide you with the highest probability of success.
Stay Behind To Get Ahead If your body or head moves in front of the ball, then you’ll have very little chance of creating the inside-out path common to most good swings. Focus on keeping the buttons of your shirt behind the ball at impact and you’ll fare much better.
PGA professional, top-100 teacher and Senior Instruction Editor Glenn Deck operates the Glenn Deck Golf Academy at Pelican Hill GC & Resort in Newport Coast, Calif., and is a member of the Golf Tips Teaching Professional Network.