#1 THE SETUP
The setup is the first piece of this puzzle. So, let's start from the ground up. Generally speaking, your right shoe should be square and your left toe should be flared. A square right foot creates an environment for your lower body to remain relatively passive during puzzle pieces 2 and 3 (you'll see on the next pages). However, if you struggle turning during the backswing, experiment with flaring your right foot like mine. This will give you more range of motion to turn properly. As for the left toe, some flare allows you to clear your lower body through impact and to the finish. Your knees at address should be slightly flexed. This helps to create an athletic and balanced setup.
Most Tour pros start with a neutral grip. Both Vs formed by my thumbs and index fingers point to my right ear. This allows you the best opportunity to square the face at impact so that your ball starts relatively close to your target line.
The left arm should be extended at address and that extension should be maintained through the entire swing, all the way up to the finish. The right arm should start soft, allowing for a smooth takeaway. Finally, it's imperative to create spine tilt at address. You want some tilt for irons, and more for fairway woods and the driver. Follow these steps for a good setup, and you'll get your swing off to a great start.
The takeaway is one of the most misunderstood pieces of the golf swing. The goal here is to start the club on a good plane. Unfortunately, most amateurs take the club too far to the inside. This occurs because the hands don't cock properly and the shoulders turn too quickly. Instead, when you take the club away, your hands should start to hinge immediately when your arms start moving. Also, your weight shouldn't shift much during the takeaway. Notice the angle between my left arm and the shaft when the shaft reaches near horizontal. That's what you want, and there's no need to shift, slide or force your weight over to your right side just yet. This hinging of the wrists will really allow you to create speed where it counts during the downswing.
#3 THE TURN
The second half of the backswing should comprise mostly of a turning motion. The shoulders should start to rotate, which allows the shaft plane to round out. See the down-the-line photo of my shaft pointing at the golf ball? That's an indication I'm on the proper plane. Also, as the shoulders turn, your weight should move into the inside of your back foot. In fact, approximately 80% of your weight should be on your right foot at the top of the backswing. Also, it's important to maintain a bit of flexion in your right knee. Creating a good turn will allow you to transition properly, which is the next puzzle piece.
#4 THE TRANSITION
if the takeaway isn't the most misunderstood piece of the golf swing, then it has to be the transition. The best players in the world transition in this order: lower body bump, torso rotation, arms dropping and wrists unhinging. Transitioning from the top of your swing toward the finish position in this order will allow the club to swing down on-plane or in the proverbial "slot." Most amateurs start down with the arms first, instead of with the lower body and then the torso. If you do that, it will create an over-the-top move, causing you to slice or pull your shots. If you transition properly, you have a better chance to maintain some lag (wrist hinge) in your swing, which then releases a split second before impact.
This puzzle piece encompasses the delivery of the golf club to the golf ball. The best players in the world create ideal impact conditions, which include forward shaft lean, weight moved into the left leg even though the head should be behind the ball and a relatively square clubface. The right arm should be straightening at impact, and it's crucial to have separation between your hips and shoulders, meaning the best players in the world at impact are relatively square with their shoulders, but their hips are opened to the target. This separation helps create room for your hands and arms to deliver the club properly, and by the way, the driver is the only club that you want to consider hitting level-to-up on. For all the other clubs, the clubhead should be moving down into the back of the ball.
Wow, you made it! If all the previous pieces are done properly, the finish will fall into place on its own. The keys to the finish are simple: Make sure the majority of the weight is on your left foot (up to 95%) and that you're in a good, balanced stance. You should be able to hold your finish until the ball lands. As you can see, I'm all the way into my left side and the entire sole of my shoe is visible. Also, you can see my lead leg is fully extended as there's no more flexion in my left knee.
Now that you're educated on each puzzle piece, I challenge you to put them all together. You'll see your golf swing come alive like a completed puzzle and your scores will go down dramatically!
John Stahlschmidt, PGA, is the Senior Head Instructor for the TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale. To comment, email John at [email protected]