I believe that the true golf swing is much easier to learn than most people make it. Most golfers confuse and complicate the golf swing by getting stuck with what I call “do-this-do-that” information. They are always trying to “make” a move like “pulling the elbow into the right side” or “holding the angle then release late.” There are a thousand of these “secret” moves that people keep trying in the hope they will finally find their swing. The reality, however, is that everybody knows how to swing, they just haven’t applied it to their golf swings!
What usually happens when we pursue the “do-this-do-that” model is that we try to copy the look of a good swing, but we usually get farther away from actually swinging.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The biggest problem golfers face is misconception. Most hold on to notions like, “the left arm needs to be straight,” or “I’ve got to hold the angle.” While these are things that appear to be true when watching a professional golf swing, they are far from the experience of truly swinging. In fact, the true phenomenon that I’ve experienced and witnessed hundreds of times is that once the student understands swinging, sees what a swing is, and can feel what a swing is, then “good” golf form begins to take shape…without thinking about a bunch of different moves or positions. What I’m trying to say is that learning the function of swinging comes before the form or image of swinging. Most golfers (and teachers) assume that if the form looks right, then the swing will function properly.
If you find yourself inconsistent or not progressing, I’m willing to bet that you continually try to copy form or force your individual muscles to “do” (shift weight to start downswing, keep left arm straight, make sure hips are turning first, etc.) — a specific move hoping that a great swing will magically appear. That is not how you learned to do anything you do well. I’ll give you a simple understanding of the physics of swinging an object and how to truly learn how develop it without all the mental noise. The only thing you will need to have success is 1) a willingness to do instead of think you are doing, 2) drop your pre-conceived notions of what you think a swing should be, and 3) be able to notice the differences between what does and doesn’t work.
WHAT MAKES A SWING WORK
I haven’t met anyone yet that hasn’t been in a playground swing. I’m going to sug-gest you go find one to deepen the most important principle of learning how to swing. To effectively swing, I need to pro-vide two things – tension and movement. In a playground swing, if I don’t have tension, I can’t swing, as I demonstrate in Photos 1 and 2). If I don’t create move-ment that maintains tension, my swing gets distorted. Now, here is where you need to make a critical connection. Your lead arm func-tions like a playground swing and your golf club also functions like a playground swing; see Photo 3 for an illustration of what I mean. You have to supply a force that creates tension (a pulling sensation – not muscular con-traction) along your lead arm, and a force that creates tension along the length of the club. Anything else is not a swing!
THE SUM OF TWO SWINGS
Swing 1 — Arm swing around the torso (chest), and Swing 2 — Club swing around the wrist joint. When these two are linked together, they create a lot of club head speed. Also, the rhythm and timing of a swing is easy to sense and becomes easy to predict, to the level that you can strike a ball with incredible precision if you are willing to practice enough. Now that we have a clear visual, here lies one of the big challenges you will need to use your natural learning system to overcome. Your musculoskeletal design makes it very easy to interfere with the tension forces required to swing. Each of your muscles is attached beyond the joint by a tendon. This allows a human to move specific body parts independently of other body parts — very useful for many skills, but not for learning a swing. The two areas in the body that you must learn how to keep in a non-contracted state for the forward swing are the shoulders, elbows and particularly the wrist joints. Any excess contraction of the muscles between those joints in the forward swing interferes with swinging. The good news is, if you pay attention to what you are experiencing when you swing, you can feel unnecessary contraction and learn by exploration (and some cool drills I’ll give you) to allow swinging to happen. Here are three of my favorite exercises to help players distinguish between swinging and not swinging
Drill 1: Kettlebell/Med Ball/Cone Toss Exercise
This exercise is simple. You just need something reasonably heavy, but not too heavy (between two and four pounds). In Photo 4 I have a safety cone (my favorite), hand weight and a medicine ball. Any of these will work for this exercise, which two of my young students demonstrate in Photos 5-8. This exercise represents the first swing you need to feel in your body — arm swing. Set up in your golf posture and allow the weight to pull your arms straight down. Swing the weighted object back and toss it forward. If you notice your shoulders are tightening up and your hands are squeezing tight, you are interfering with the swing (bad cone toss Photo 7) and the cone tends to go up. If you feel like your core muscles are working and your arms are being pulled consistently through the forward swing, then you’ve got it. Once you can feel the tension force of the swing working, you simply let the cone go. It will tend to come out lower with much more velocity. Practice this until it becomes an effort-less and synchronized movement. You know you are getting better when you toss the object a fair distance without strain in the upper back and shoulders.
As we move into experiencing the second swing — the golf club swinging around our wrist — we need to identify something that is critical to distinguish. Most golfers try to move the club using wrist torque against the shaft when ideally you should simply use the shaft to create velocity. In this drill, we are going to use my patented swing trainer, the PRO (www.swingthepro.com) to reveal a meaningful experience of what it feels like to interfere with the swing of the club vs. allow the club to swing. If you use your wrist muscles to rotate the club, you will put a force on the club that distorts swinging. This is not swinging. Even a little of this tendency will distort the swing, leading to a lack of accuracy and power. As you can see in Photo 9, when I do this exercise with the PRO – you can see a bend between the grip and the rope. This is just like pushing on the chains of a swing set! Here is an exercise you can do with your club to learn how to feel the natural pull of the swing.
Drill 2 – Using The PRO
Swing The PRO with your regular golf swing. If the rope bends at the grip joint, you are distorting your swing. If you can keep it dead straight throughout the entire forward swing and follow through (Photos 10-14), you are swinging.
Drill 3 – Feel the Swing in the Club
Take a club and hold it level to the ground (Photo 15). Next, turn back and bend the club so it is 90 degrees or less with your left arm. Relax your wrist muscles and your grip pressure as much as you can (Photo 16). Rotate your chest back towards the target without increasing grip pressure (Photos 17-19). If you are successful you will feel the club head speed up and actually rotate your wrists for you! If you experience a tendency to try to help or increase grip pressure, that is a good thing. You need to be AWARE of what it feels like to not swing and when you tend to do it. This is critical because the only way you can get better is to begin to catch yourself making a mistake.
You can then grip the club and the PRO at the same time to check how skilled you are getting, as I’m doing in Photos 20 and 21. I’ve seen these simple exercises have such a profound effect on so many types of players, beginning to professional. The reality is that we need to see how a swing works and be able to feel how it works.
Once this becomes evident, playing good golf becomes about letting the swing hit the ball instead of trying to push or force the club into the ball. And you don’t need to worry so much about your form because the skill of learning to swing reveals form – imitating forms doesn’t necessarily reveal your best swing. Good luck!
Dan Martin, PGA, is Director of Instruction at Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark, California, U.S. Kids Golf Los Angeles Local Tour Director and USA Junior National Team Coach