Ready, Set, Swing

Six ways to improve your game without ever swinging the club

Golf, at its core, is a game that can be learned and practiced without ever swinging a club. By learning what we call the fundamentals (mind-set, grip, posture, ball position and aim/alignment), you'll train your body and mind so they're in all the right positions before you swing the club.

Golf's fundamentals are timeless—they withstand all the swing revelations and secrets that flood the bookshelves and media. They're also more productive to practice on the driving range than the latest quick fix your buddy may have given you the last time the two of you played. (Not that he doesn't mean well, but quick fixes only work for a round or two, and in no time, you'll be back where you started—or worse.)

When you read this article and reacquaint yourself with the fundamentals (or learn them for the first time), you'll be amazed at how fast your swing faults will go away.

There's a lot of sand out there, but I'm picturing the ball splitting the fairway. It's important to remain positive on the course, especially when you're on the tee box. A good shot there starts you off on the right foot and brings confidence to the rest of your game.

Proper Mind-set = Confidence Ever notice how your mind only hears nouns? For example, you_Ê might say to yourself, Don't hit it in the water, only to end up doing just that. Why? Because when you said, Don't hit it in the water, your mind didn't picture the fairway, it pictured water! Same thing when you tell yourself not to hit it in the trees, bunkers or any other hazard, for that matter.

FIND IT: The next time you tell yourself to do something, keep it positive, like: Hit it on the green or I'm going to draw this shot right into the heart of the fairway. That way, you'll create positive images of successful shots. While it's important to be positive on the golf course at all times, I believe it's doubly important to be so on the tee box because a good opening shot will get you started off on the right foot.

ready set swing ready set swing Notice how both my hands (right) are rotated 45 degrees to the right. This is the perfect position for a square clubface. At left, you see the results. My clubface is on-plane, and as long as I continue to swing in the right sequence, I'm guaranteed to produce solid contact.

Good Grip = Square Clubface Most golfers (especially new ones) don't fully grasp the importance of a solid grip. Since your hands are the only contact you have with the golf club, how you hold it directly impacts your clubface position during the swing. Think of there being two clubfaces during the swing: one at the spine (the clubhead) and one where you hold the club (your hands). If your grip is incorrect, your clubface will mirror it and either be correspondingly open or shut.

FIND IT: Turn both your hands about 45 degrees to the right (lefties go the other direction). The V formed between your left hand's thumb and forefinger should point at your chin and your right hand's corresponding V should point at your right shoulder (shown at right). Check out the results (below). My clubface is square and on-plane. It's hard to go wrong from here.

ready set swing ready set swing My athletic posture has given me a base from which this kind of rotation is possible. My shoulders are 90 degrees to my target line, while my hips are half that. This pivot creates the perfect scenario for a swing that uncoils with tremendous force and energy. Good posture is overlooked by many golfers, but it shouldn't be. It must be athletic (shown here), so don't slouch! Notice how my back is straight and I'm hinging from the hips. I'm in a great starting position to hit the ball.

Good Posture = Good Pivot Posture, along with grip, is a fundamental that tends to get overlooked by most casual golfers. All too often, I see golfers slouch over the ball so much at address that they look like they're going to fall over! It's important to keep in mind that the golf swing is an athletic motion, and like a linebacker eyeing a running back, golfers must be in an optimum starting position so they can physically explode. Rounded bodies simply can't do that. Likewise, stand up too straight, and you can't generate the proper tension in your swing.

FIND IT: Keep your back flat and hinge from the hips so if the club wasn't in your hands, your arms would hang freely under your shoulders. When you reach the top of your backswing, your shoulders will be perpendicular to the target line and your hips will have rotated 45 degrees, creating a tense coil that can unwind with controlled rage.

ready set swing ready set swing ready set swing ready set swing Notice how my improper ball position (two right photos) produces some ugly postures. Well, if you think those are ugly, you should see the shots! The first one will go right (and probably straight up in the air), while the other will go hard left.

Proper Ball Position = Good Contact All good golf shots occur as the club is descending into the ball (even with the driver). Playing the ball either too far back or too far forward, on the other hand, makes good contact virtually impossible. When the ball is too far back in your stance, it's easy to get one of those nasty sky marks that blemish the club's crown. They're ugly, embarrassing and significantly discount your club's resale value. Another common result of this ball position is a shot that squirts out to the right (because the clubface is open when it meets the ball). If the ball is too far forward, it will go to the left (because the clubface is closing).

FIND IT: Lay a club down (below and above left) so its toe is against your heel. The shaft will stick out two inches from your heel. That's where you want the ball.

ready set swing ready set swing ready set swing ready set swing By properly aiming your body toward your target, you increase the likelihood of a free-flowing swing. When your body lines cross, however (shoulders pointing right, feet left, for example), anything can happen. Align your body properly, and let the swing flow.

Good Aim = Good Swing Path For those of you who have ever shot a gun, you know that without first aiming it at a target, there's no point in pulling the trigger. Same thing in golf. By concentrating on a specific target, you give your mind and body permission to swing freely. This freedom of movement helps ensure your swing path remains on track and doesn't get derailed by any incongruous body positions.

FIND IT: Pick a small intermediate target on your target line and get your body and eyes parallel to that line. It's that simple.

ready set swing ready set swing WRONG! Notice how tight my arms are. It looks like I have somebody in a headlock. That tension is a real killer when it comes time to swing. RIGHT! That's more like it. My hands are firm on the grip, but my arms are relaxed. This freedom of movement will allow me to swing the club.

Proper Grip Pressure = Good Tempo I don't like to use the word grip. It doesn't conjure the right image in a golfer's mind. It sounds too much like trying to squeeze blood from rubber—not a good idea. I prefer to say holding the club.

FIND IT: Your hands should be firm, but your arms relaxed (above right). On a scale of one to 10, the pressure at which you hold the club should be a seven. Anything less, and you could lose the club; anything tighter, and you might not be able to swing. Remember, it's a golf swing, not a golf hit. Swings come from good, free-flowing pressure, not death grips.

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