Old-school golf instruction is full of imagery that was originally created to help players make what were perceived as the the proper moves in the swing. In those days, many of the technical aspects of the golf swing weren’t completely understood, largely due to the lack of video technology that exists today. Instead, players mostly relied on feel, natural talent and repetition to hone their technique and overall game. Not surprisingly, the average scores of recreational golfers barely ever improved significantly, other than what was delivered by technological advances in equipment and golf course conditioning.
Today, good golf instruction should combine an understanding of the proper mechanics of the swing with an emphasis on creating an athletic, natural motion. To help accomplish this task, I’ve come up with some simple but effective thoughts that can help your swing become more natural, athletic and repetitive. Give them a try both during practice and when you’re on the course. After a while, whatever mechanical swing thoughts you might have developed over the years should be replaced with these simpler, more effective ones. Once your mind is free from distraction, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to make good swings.
Grip Like You Are Holding A Bird
Like most golfers, I’ve never held a small bird in my hands, so this advice doesn’t do much for me. I prefer thinking of the tension you’d apply when throwing a ball—it’s more athletic, and makes more sense. Think about it—when you throw a ball, you hold it tightly enough so it doesn’t fly out of your hand when you cock your arm, but loosely enough to create speed.
Hold The Tray
The “waiter position” is one to forget—you don’t want your palm facing directly skyward at the top of the backswing. Instead, your palm should be on a 45-degree angle to the ground, which puts the clubface in a square position and maintains the width of the backswing for maximum swing arc.
To create a more athletic setup, imagine your shoulders, hips and knees in a level position with your weight spread between your feet evenly.
The importance of a solid setup position cannot be denied—if you start out poorly you’ll have little chance of making a solid swing. Some key thoughts for a good setup are “stay level” and “be athletic.”
Many golfers handicap themselves at the outset by making mistakes like kicking in the right knee, dropping the right shoulder or flaring only one of their feet. In the photo at right, notice how my shoulders remain nearly level, with the right only slightly lower than the left. My knees are bowed a bit outward and both feet are flared. This is a key for creating an athletic swing—one that’s rotational rather than a lateral, sliding motion that stresses the back and leads to an ineffective impact position. Equally important is the feeling of being “bouncy” in the legs, with flexed knees and relaxed muscles.
At The Top
The golf swing is an athletic motion that must be made with a dynamic base. Rigid legs can’t provide the same athletic platform as those that are flexed.
The obvious differences in the pictures to the left are powerful evidence of what can happen if the wrong swing thought occupies the mind during the backswing. At the left, I’ve lost all the angles I set at address and any chance to create a leveraged, dynamic attack into impact. Notice how much more athletic I look in the picture on the right. Both knees are flexed, my core has dropped slightly lower and my body is poised to spring into action. This position creates a direct route for my arms and club to the ball from the inside, encouraging a more rotational move with my body all the way to the finish. The thought of squatting is key for creating this type of move.
I encourage my students to feel athletic and balanced at the top of the swing. An important point to remember is that the backswing is designed to set up a powerful and consistent attack into impact. When you think of squatting (butt toward the ground), allow your knees to pivot with your hips as you rotate your way to the top.
A telltale sign of a strong, squatted pivot away from the ball is the backside being close to the ground and pointing at the target (see photo at right). When tension (stiff legs, rigid muscles are evidence) is present, the body becomes weak, powerless and off-balance. Once the thoughts turn to squatting correctly in the backswing, the entire swing becomes significantly more powerful because you’re able to use the ground to push against for maximum leverage. Remember, the top of the swing should feel “heavy and ready,” not “light and tight.”
A proper transition occurs when the body drags the hands and club into the downswing. Casting and a loss of power occur when the club moves first.
In a body-driven downswing, the club drops to the inside and is powered by the turning of the body and soft, relaxed arms that lack tension.
The key thought for a good transition is “body leading arms,” and not vice versa. A common misconception is that the club should stay in front of the body during the swing. While this is true on the backswing, it’s totally incorrect on the way down. In the photo at left, the body is getting ahead of the arms and club on the downswing by moving first—it’s the engine that’s driving the entire move. This drops the arms, hands and club down without losing any angle between the clubshaft and left arm. If the sequence is incorrect and the club moves first, the body is taken out of its leadership role and the club is cast or thrown from the top.
This leads to a huge loss in power and control over the club’s path into impact. Remember, you want the club to be trailing the body up to and past impact. Leave it back in the transition and you’ll keep the proper sequence solidly intact. From this angle you can clearly see how the arms and club are left back in a somewhat passive manner as the pivot of the body forces them down from the top of the swing. The thought should be “turn and drag,” not “hit.” Notice how my body remains ahead of the arms and club late into the downswing. It’s unnecessary to help the club catch up with my wrists and hands, as that would only create scooping and flipping through impact. Instead, the rotation of my hips pulls the left leg straight, creating a “post” to hit against. Once the arms, hands and club can’t be dragged any farther, they will release through impact naturally and explosively, as none of the stored energy on the downswing was wasted by “hitting at” the ball.
Swing A Rubber Hose
This is a good thought for the start of the downswing because a steady acceleration of the club on the downswing produces a more consistent swing path and facilitates solid impact.
In contrast, grabbing or snatching the club from the top in an attempt to “hit at” the ball almost always leads to inconsistent ballstriking. Remember to “drag” the club from the top, and your tempo will improve as well.
The thought at impact should be to squeeze the ball on the clubface as long as possible. This is how good players create compression and power. The relationship between the hands, wrists and club should remain structured and constant through impact—drag the club, don’t flip at the ball.
Without a doubt, the worst swing thought recreational golfers have is to “hit at” the ball. The desire to “hit at” initiates the use of the hands during the downswing, breaking down the proper sequence of “body first, club and arms second.”
In fact, “hitting at” the ball effectively changes the focus from swinging through impact and into the finish to stopping or quitting at the ball. What many recreational players don’t realize is that accomplished players don’t think of the ball as the target, but often try to swing through a spot located several inches past the ball. With this as the goal, they actually get the feeling of the club speeding up through impact (though this isn’t really possible), instead of before impact. A great way to eliminate “hitting at” the ball is to focus on dragging your arms, hands and the club past the point of impact with the rotation of the body, all the way into the finish.
When it comes down to it, solid impact and quality ballstriking is what every golfer really wants. Crisp contact that compresses the golf ball on the face of the club leads to both power and accuracy, plus, this type of impact is what creates the great “whoosh” sound that everyone likes to hear as the ball shoots off the clubface. While it might sound strange, a good thought for creating solid contact is “squeeze the ball on the clubface for as long as possible.” This will give you the feeling of working the entire club, not just the clubhead, through impact and into the finish. If you struggle with flippy impact and glancing blows that produce little power, this is the right thought for you.
Simply put, thoughts like “through, not to, impact” can take your game to another level. Remember that you’re looking for a steady acceleration that keeps the ball compressed against the clubface as it’s propelled to the finish. Any attempt to overaccelerate or whip the club into the ball will produce a glancing blow. Conversely, steering or quitting through impact will never keep the ball against the clubface very long. To help facilitate this “squeezed” impact, your body must drive your arms, hands and club through the ball. When done correctly, the relationship between your torso and the club should remain constant, as should the structure of your arms and wrists. If you manage to keep these relationships solid throughout the swing, you won’t be able to flip the club. Instead, you’ll discover what quality ballstriking is all about, and your full shots and scores will improve dramatically.
Heave A Bucket Of Water
This is definitely a great thought for promoting a solid pivot. In order to heave a bucket of water past your body, you must first get the bucket behind your body (not above your head), which in turn promotes a more inside-out attack on the forwardswing. In addition, the imagery of heaving a bucket of water should help trigger your lead leg to post or straighten as the hips rotate, a critical and often improperly executed element of a powerful golf swing.
Skip A Stone
The sidearm feeling of skipping a stone is a good thought for the start of the downswing, but a bad one through impact. It’s true that this image can help get the right shoulder to drop down on plane while the lower body rotates out of the way, both of which are desirable movements in the golf swing. However, the sidearm delivery associated with skipping a stone can also keep the right side down too long after impact, inhibiting the release and overstressing the spine.
Take a close look at the two photos below. If the photo on the right looks like your finish, you don’t have the right sensation of a proper finish, and I’ll bet you’re probably not hitting the ball as well as you’d like. The reason the position on the bottom right looks so hung back and incomplete is that the body quit working the club too early in the downswing. Notice how far back my right shoulder is and how my left hip is closer to the target than my right. These are symptoms of a lateral, sliding type of swing that will produce nothing but glancing blows and generally poor impact.
In the photo on the bottom left, I’m comfortably balanced, with my hips fully rotated and my right shoulder much closer to the target than my left. This position indicates that I’ve worked all the way through impact and continued to power my swing into the finish. Golfers who swing the club “through” the ball generally have this type of complete finish position. In contrast, players who “hit at” the ball very often resemble the photo on the bottom right because they basically stop the swing at the point of impact.
To develop a solid, balanced finish position (it isn’t just for looks—the finish is often a reflection of the entire swing), your thought should be “get the right shoulder to the target.” This image will force you to keep working past the ball and will change your ultimate destination from the point of impact to well beyond it. This is how the pros do it; you should too.
PGA professional Brady Riggs is a Golf Tips senior instruction editor who currently works with numerous top junior, college and professional players. Riggs utilizes state-of-the-art video technology while teaching students at Woodley Lakes G.C. in Van Nuys, Calif.