Get behind the ball for better, more powerful swingsMost golfers know that a full, 90-degree shoulder turn is a crucial element of a solid golf swing. Without it, a proper weight shift and a correct swing plane are almost impossible to achieve. A good shoulder turn not only ensures that your shoulders and chest are behind the ball at the top of the backswing, but helps maintain consistent balance throughout your motion. Before you can master a proper shoulder turn, however, it’s important to understand what it entails and exactly what it is.
Simply put, a full shoulder turn is accomplished when the left shoulder replaces the right shoulder’s position in the backswing. In other words, to make a correct turn, your left shoulder should rotate into the position held by your right shoulder at address.
Another way to achieve this position is to simply concentrate on moving the left shoulder to the inside of the right foot. Both techniques will produce the same result—a left shoulder that has turned, not swayed, into the right side.
Although this move sounds simple, recreational golfers have a terrible time doing it consistently. Instead, they make a mistake that I call the “fake turn.” This is probably the most common backswing error, and can be difficult to overcome because it actually feels like a proper move. Unfortunately, the “fake turn”—in which the shoulders rotate, but don’t actually position the body behind the ball—almost always results in a reverse pivot and a lack of balance. By turning in this way, with the left shoulder beginning over the left foot and staying in that position throughout the swing, the majority of body weight is stranded on the left side, which can lead to a variety of bad shots, including pull hooks, blocks and slices.
Another characteristic of the “fake turn” is a left shoulder position that’s markedly lower than the right. In contrast, a solid shoulder turn has the left shoulder maintaining the same height it held at address and simply rotating away from the target and behind the chin. You’ll know you’ve made a good turn when your head moves away from the target, not toward it. And remember, your left shoulder has to turn, not drop!
The amount of power you can potentially unleash into the back of the golf ball is directly proportional to the quality of your backswing and, more importantly, the solidity of your shoulder turn. A proper shoulder turn is one in which the shoulders rotate fully, weight is transferred to the rear leg and a constant spine angle is maintained.
Parallel Club Drill
A very simple exercise that quickly and easily instills the feeling of a correct shoulder turn is the Parallel Club Drill. To practice this drill, place a club across your chest and another club parallel to the inside of your right foot (at address). Make a backswing so the club across your chest is directly on top of the club inside of your right foot. When the two clubs are in-line, hold the position long enough to remember what it feels like. Repeat this move until you feel confident you can achieve the correct position without the reminder club being present.
A solid turn begins with a solid setup, preferably one dominated by a wide base of support, a straight spine and comfortably flexed knees. From this position, if all you think about is replacing your right shoulder with your left while maintaining your spine angle, you’ll be well on your way toward grooving a high-quality backswing turn. If your head floats toward your rear leg during the process, don’t fight it—it’s part of the proper move.
Another great drill to help understand how it feels to correctly turn around your axis is the Mirror Drill. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and assume your address position. Have a friend stand behind you and hold a club vertically, running from your head toward the ground. This line represents your spine angle and the axis around which you want to rotate. Once you have this position set, make a backswing and take a close look in the mirror. If you only see your friend’s left shoulder, then you’re making a “fake turn.” In contrast, if you’re moving correctly and rotating well, you’ll see most of your friend’s upper body. Once you can consistently make your backswing and see your friend clearly in the mirror, you’ll have mastered the proper shoulder turn and will be ready for increased power.
Shift Your Weight For A Proper Turn
Since the “fake turn” is a major contributor to bad balance and a reverse pivot, it can be extremely helpful to pay close attention to the flexing of your right knee in the backswing. Often, making a fake turn will cause the right knee to become stiff or locked in a straight position at the top (for right-handed golfers), which places the majority of body weight in the left leg. When you swing down from this position, your weight will naturally shift to your right side, taking away all your power and pulling the club up through impact, instead of allowing it to move down and through the hitting zone. From this dynamic, expect the gamut of poor shots.
A great way to improve your turn and to eradicate the reverse pivot (locking of the right knee) is to shift your weight properly while maintaining the spine angle you established at address throughout the entire swing. To develop a proper weight shift while also working on your turn, try this drill: Assume your address position, and have a friend stand behind you, placing the butt-end of a club against your left shoulder and the end of another club against your left hip. Then, take a backswing. If your hip moves off the club, then you’ve swayed and your right leg and knee have straightened to some degree. Instead, you want the left shoulder to move off the club, to the inside of the right foot, and the left hip to rotate while staying in contact with the club. This will ensure that you’ve maintained your original spine angle throughout the backswing, while also helping retain the original angle of the right knee.
PGA pro Carl Rabito operates Rabito Golf Schools in Orlando, Fla.