Basically, there are only two positions in the golf swing: the address and the finish. Everything else is a motion and, as such, difficult to analyze. But the finish is static and allows for serious self-analysis. If you know what to look for, then how you end your swing can give you some good ideas of what’s going on in your motion.
Let’s begin with two common finish positions: the high and the low finish. The high finish (see Chris DiMarco for an example) is characterized by high hands and a bit of a flying left elbow (for righties). Typically, the high finish is associated with pushes, push hooks and push fades, as well as thin shots and shots struck toward the heel. While finishing high isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the type of motion needed to create it can cause problems. High finishers tend to swing on a very inside-out path through impact, with the club traveling to the right of the target. Yes, inside out is the preferred path, but when taken to the extreme as evidenced by a high finish, control is minimized.
Why So High?
Developing an overly inside-out swing path is a fairly common mistake, particularly for better players. Accomplished players and other top-level golfers almost never move the club more than a degree or two inside to out, however. The key is to be fairly subtle with this move, not to grossly overdo it. When the inside-out move becomes severe, the most common shot error is a push. When the club comes too far from the inside with a closed clubface, the ball will hook, often badly. In addition, swinging the club too far from in to out will deliver the club below the swing plane, which often prevents the club from striking the ball on the desired, slightly descending path. Shots hit from this position don’t get compressed and often are thinned.
In contrast to the high finish, the low finish results from an overly outside-to-in swing path. Players who develop this swing path typically come over the top of the plane, causing the clubhead to cut across the ball through the impact zone. Divots resulting from this type of swing will run diagonal across the target line and will tend to be fairly deep. An overly outside-to-in swing path often is caused by a downswing motion that’s initiated by the arms instead of the body. When the arms outrace the body through the hitting zone instead of being dragged through, the club comes over the top of the plane and generally comes into the hitting zone on a steep angle. Shots created by this type of move are pull slices (when the face is open through impact), pull hooks (when the face is closed through impact) and shots struck on the toe.
Why So Low?
Since the club is moving steeply and across the ball, none of these shots are typically well struck, and certainly don’t often fly at the intended target. Also, you’ll notice that the arms (photo, right) have a constricted, jammed look in the finish, with little freedom or extension. Because the arms have moved earlier than the body, their action tends to be impeded by the body, and have no choice but to bunch up in the finish (and also through impact).
Here’s a common one, thanks to the fact that it’s fueled by an equally common flaw. You know you’ve achieved the lunge finish when you feel that your head is in front of your left (or lead) leg at the end of the swing, or sense that you’re in danger of falling forward. If your shots are thinly struck, or travel unusually low, then you may be a lunger.
Lunging in the finish is fueled by a severe meltdown of the lower body through the hitting zone. Generally speaking, all’s well until the hips stop rotating through impact, causing the upper body (including the head) to get ahead of the ball. It’s a recipe for disaster that destroys one of the all-time great needs of a solid swing: staying behind the ball. Good golf swings are rotation-based, mandating a turn of both the upper and lower body through impact.
To go from Lunger to Langer (as in Bernhard), work on your downswing hip rotation. Specifically, try leading your downswing with your hips instead of your upper body. Place a chair in front of your lead leg and make a few practice swings, being careful to remain in contact with the chair as you turn through impact. Finish with your head directly over your front leg.
The gap finish is not a pretty sight, nor are the shots associated with it. This finish is characterized by a noticeable, if not obvious, space between the knees (when they should be touching at the finish). While gapped knees at the finish is a disease, gapped knees at address is the sickness.
If you start with a wide stance, you’ll finish with one. And while some may argue that a wide stance sets a more solid foundation and can support a more powerful swing, these individuals fail to realize that the wider the stance, the more difficult it is to rotate. Convince yourself by standing with your feet together and rotating back and forth. Now do it with a much wider stance. Harder, isn’t it? A wide stance actually hinders your turning ability and limits your power potential.
Stop Gaps To clear the gaps, erase them at the start. Adopt a stance that features feet placed just outside your shoulders. Perfect. If you’ve been playing with a wide stance, you’ve likely lost your ability to turn as well. Relearn the habit of turning through the ball by swinging a club with your only right arm. This drill promotes getting your right side through the shot. Your new narrow stance will help. Look for knees touching at finish.
One of the more sublime poor finishes is the flop, although the faults that lead up to it present concrete frustrations, usually in the golfer’s disgust in watching pull hooks, pulls and pull slices. What’s flopping is the right (or rear) foot. Golfers who allow their right foot to flop at the finish invariably use too much right side through impact (compared to the gap finisher, who uses too little). Overusing the right side leads to cut-across and roundhouse-type motions that, depending on the position of the face, create the gamut of pulled shots. It’s important to note that with the flop finish, the fact that you’re flopping isn’t the fault. Your excessive right-side action is the culprit.
Flip The Flop
You need to work on your shoulder movement (which should be down and under through impact, not simply over). Address a ball then toe your right foot outward. Hit balls from this stance and sense how the flared right foot keeps your right side from rotating too early and mandates your right shoulder move under and through.
A spin finish occurs when the left (lead) foot spins outward, whereas in a solid finish, the left foot remains planted in the same position established at address. If the left foot spins out and plants in a different position (below sequence), it’s usually an indication that the body has rotated too quickly on the downswing, a move that often strands weight on the back leg. This is a recipe for pull hooks, which always seem to find the absolute worst spots on a golf course. To correct the left foot spin and to ensure that the left foot remains planted, move weight into the left toe on the downswing and then begin rotating your body.
Ease The Spin
To stop the left-foot spin, you need to work on both your rotation and your footwork. Place a shaft to the left of your forward hip, as pictured. Swing to the top, then try to bump the shaft with your left hip at the start of the downswing. As you bump, feel weight transfer into your front foot. Now you’re free to rotate through the hitting area. Focusing on your footwork also may help. In any good golf swing, weight moves from the toes at address, to the right heel at the top, into the left toe on the downswing then, ultimately, to the left heel.
Reverse C Finish
The one-time all-star finish position has been relegated to tragic flaw in the modern era. The reverse-C finish, evidenced by a severely arched back, not only places undue stress on the body, but also is a strong indicator of upper-body hang-back and lower-body slide, neither of which is good.
The golfer who slides his or her legs laterally to the left and too fast through impact suffers the fate of his or her body hanging back (due to its inability to keep up with the legs). And though the legs are sliding forward, weight remains on the rear foot, an awful combination that forces a very handsy impact. Another way to achieve a reverse-C finish is via a reverse pivot. A reverse pivot occurs when you fail to correctly transfer weight to the rear leg on the backswing, instead stranding it on your front foot on the way to the top. From this position, your weight has nowhere to go but to the back leg on the downswing.
To correct the leg drive-fueled reverse C, you need more hip rotation and less slide. To fix a reverse pivot, you need better weight transfer.
Reverse The C
If you have a reverse pivot, try this. Make your ordinary swing while lifting your front foot off the ground on the backswing, then replant it on the downswing. This help transfers your weight to the rear foot then to the front, just like it should. If you’re guilty of leg driving, build more hip rotation in your downswing by making practice swings with a shaft placed outside each hip. In a fundamentally correct swing, your hips should rotate so they never touch the shafts. If you touch, you slid.
Some golfers finish with rigid and tense arms that don’t release through the impact zone. Arnold Palmer did well with this helicopter-style finish, but he also had a tremendous amount of strength, talent and practice time. Most golfers who utilize the helicopter finish also try to extend both arms down the target line after impact in an attempt not to hook the ball. However, a rigid left arm past impact and a hold-off of the release tend to bring a lot of tension—and inconsistency—into the swing.
The biggest problem with this type of finish is it doesn’t allow you to fold and release the left arm, which often results in a lot of push slices. Basically, unless you have such a powerful release of the club that you constantly struggle with hooking, the helicopter release won’t produce solid results and very well might cause you some back and shoulder problems.
The main cause of the helicopter finish is a rigid left arm that tries to extend down the target line instead of moving naturally with the rotation of the body. Use the headcover drill to rid your swing of the helicopter finish. Simply take a headcover and place it under your left armpit, then try to hold it there into the finish. In order to accomplish this, you’ll have to finish lower, with your left arm folding down into your side through impact.
While this drill is great for fixing a helicopter finish, you’ll also find it useful for developing one of the great needs of a solid swing: a proper release of the club. Keeping the cover in place and folding the left elbow almost guarantees the correct rotation of the face through impact.
Hands In The Face Finish
Some golfers tend to finish with their hands in front of their face. The reason they wind up here is that they’re slowing down the rotation of their body and the club too early in the impact area. There are a few causes for this slowdown, with the primary one being a casting motion in the downswing combined with tense arms and hands. Players who rotate properly in a counterclockwise direction—all the way through the shot—will never finish in this position because their arms and the club pass their face area and continue into a full finish.
The best remedy here is to make practice swings while consciously trying to finish with a full turn and soft, relaxed arms. When you reach the desired finish position, with your arms bent and folded and the club resting on your back (below right), hold it (it should be easy if you’re relaxed), and let the feeling ingrain itself. Then hit some balls and concentrate on attaining the same, rotated, relaxed finish.
Chest Right Finish
Basically, everything looks good but the chest—it faces to the right of the target. In a solid finish, the chest (along with your head and waist) should point directly at or even left of the target. With a right-facing chest, all signs indicate incomplete body rotation on the downswing. It’s a flaw common to many recreational players, especially on short shots and knockdown plays. Regardless of the club in your hand and the distance you want the ball to travel, never stop your rotation. Every swing deserves a full finish, even from a short distance.
The main problem with incomplete body rotation on the downswing is that once the body stops, the hands and arms take over. Picture a rider on a horse approaching a fence. If the horse stops, what happens to the rider? He’s thrown forward. The same thing happens in the golf swing. The body stops and the hands sling through, usually creating nasty hooks. If you’ve ever hooked a pitching wedge, this is probably the culprit, especially if you were trying to hit a soft shot into the green.
A more appropriate finish would include the chest pointing to the left of the target. Of course, this shouldn’t give any golfer the green light to simply rotate the chest violently from the top to get pointed left at the finish. We’ve seen what this error can do with the flop finish. The key is to never allow upper-body rotation to slow down. In fact, the upper body should out-rotate the lower body at the finish until the chest faces left of the target.
Head Behind Finish
Golf Swing 101: When you finish, your head should be directly over your left (lead) leg. Golfers who fail to achieve this position generally fail to get their left side through impact. It’s a common malady because it’s caused by a variety of errors.
Backswing Sway When you sway the upper or lower body to the right on the backswing, it’s almost impossible to get back to the left side at impact. Spinning From The Top If you begin your downswing by simply rotating the upper body, it’s likely you’ll fail to transfer weight to the front leg. Instead, you’ll hang back. Under-Tilting This error occurs when the lead shoulder raises and the rear shoulder dips on the downswing. When you swing too far under, the head is forced to stay back and causes the golfer to come up on his or her toes at impact. Expect a lot of thinned shots. Keeping The Head Still Easily the worst piece of advice ever handed from one golfer to another. In a proper swing, the head rotates with the body and comes up after impact. It never stays still. Reverse Pivot This flaw, which also can create the reverse-C finish, features weight positioned over the front leg at the top of the swing. If weight is on the left side at the top, it’ll be on the right leg at the finish, which leaves you with your head and body behind.
The head-behind finish indicates such a plethora of errors that there’s no single drill to make a quick fix. If you’re finishing with your head behind, or find yourself in any of the incorrect finish positions detailed in this story, I suggest performing your swing at 50% speed until you can end your swing correctly. Then, make a point of holding your finish for 10 seconds. You’ll ingrain the sense of what a good finish feels like while also improving your balance, rhythm and tempo.
Dr. Jim Suttie is a former PGA Teacher of the Year and is recognized as one of the top 100 instructors in America. He teaches at The Estates at Twin Eagles in Naples, Fla., and at Cog Hill G&CC in Chicago. Special thanks to instruction model Brent Jensen.