A common swing error from which many golfers suffer is throwing the club from the top of the swing. This fault can produce a variety of bad shots and typically an impact position in which the clubhead is too far out in front of the hands. Throwing the club from the top is a start-of-the-downswing error, but most golfers, sensing it's their hands lagging behind the clubhead that's producing weak slaps at the ball, will choose to focus on correcting their impact position. Impact occurs at speeds from 80 to 120 mph and, as a result, is a tough part of the swing to influence independently. If you're one of those golfers who throws the clubhead from the top, you can't recover at impact. In other words, you simply have to live with what you get once you set the motion from the top. If you're throwing it from the top, you're throwing it! And if you're not, you're not! In my opinion, the most important stage in the golf swing is when your club and body change direction to start the downswing, exactly when clubhead throwaway can occur. Improving your change of direction or transition is largely dependent on a couple of things. One is the correct chain of events or, as I like to put it, the correct train of events. Second is the maintenance of key body angles, which is critical to get the train on track. Once you do, you'll eliminate one of the game's deadliest faults and improve your impact and ballstriking without once thinking of where you need to be at the point of contact. Make your transition automatic, and impact will take care of itself.
Right To create perfect impact, you need to establish six key angles during your transition. The majority of these angles are dependent on maintaining the angle of your spine as you move from backswing to downswing. Among other positives, maintaining the spin angle provides room for your right arm to move in front of your right hip and toward the target without straightening.
Wrong Most golfers have the tendency to stand up during the downswing. Losing the spine angle established at address creates several problems. For one, it moves your body away from the ball, facilitating the need to straighten the right elbow and wrist to reach it. This places the clubhead too far out in front of the hands at impact.
It's vital that your transition become smooth and unhurried. Even the game's longest hitters project a look of effortlessness as they change direction from backswing to downswing. A smooth transition from backswing to downswing is largely dependent on the movement of your lower body, specifically your legs. Your legs are the stabilizers in your golf swing (acting like shock absorbers on your car), providing balance and support as your torso winds and unwinds. In fact, in a good transition, your body should be moving in two directions simultaneously. As your upper torso completes its wind away from the target, your lower body should already start to unwind toward the target. It's this sequencing that sets up the correct train of events.
Imagine that your lower body (your feet, knees and legs) is the engine of the train while your upper body (shoulders, arms, wrists and hands) is the caboose. If the engine doesn't lead the caboose, the train will most certainly crash. The same goes if your lower body doesn't lead your upper body into the downswing. Work on the Sequencing Drill to improve your transition and avoid any train wrecks on the golf course.
Sequencing Drill: Place and hold a clubshaft behind your back just above the shoulder blades and a soccer ball between your knees, and assume your address position. Just before your shoulders reach the top, drop the soccer ball by moving your left knee toward the target. This move will produce the feeling of a correct transition and a sitting-down look in your lower body.
Achieving the correct sequence of movements is vital to creating a very athletic golf swing, and this sequencing is a good first step toward hitting better golf shots. However, without maintaining key body angles throughout the swing, you'll still suffer from very inconsistent contact. There are three angles your body should produce at impact if you wish to expect quality results. There are also three club angles. If you go three-for-three in both areas, you'll be knocking the flag down in no time.
The three body angles that must be present at impact for quality shots are a constant spine angle, a bent right elbow and a bent right wrist. You can easily achieve these impact positions if you maintain your spine angle during the transition. Try the Chair Drill to learn how to properly maintain your spine angle.
Maintaining your spine angle as you start your downswing allows many other good things to take place. First of all, you'll remain the same distance away from the ball, which helps you hit the ball solidly. Second, it provides the room necessary for the right elbow to move toward the target–in front of your right hip–without straightening, which helps you hit the ball with more power.
When you stand up in your downswing and lose that consistent spine angle, your right elbow will often get trapped behind your right hip. Standing up also moves you farther away from the golf ball, forcing you to straighten your right elbow and wrist to reach it. Poor contact is the typical result from this scenario.
Note: Just as losing your spine angle can cause you to straighten your right arm and right wrist too soon, straightening your right arm and right wrist too soon can cause you to lose your spine angle. Either scheme is disastrous as a constant spine angle, a bent right elbow and a bent right wrist are needed for solid contact.
Chair Drill: Place a chair behind you, whereby at address you feel the chair on your rear end. As you make your swing, strive to maintain contact with the chair throughout, especially during the transition. This will help you to maintain your spine angle throughout your swing and facilitate the creation of the other two body angles.
Shaft Over Hands Drill: Place a headcover over the grip end of a clubshaft and have a friend hold this shaft so the headcover lies just above your hands at address. The goal is to make swings without hitting the headcover with either your hands or your club. If you keep your spine angle constant, you'll have no trouble swinging without contacting the other shaft. On the other hand, if your spine angle changes and your rear end moves in, your chest and spine will stand up. This raises your arms and hands and you'll bump into the shaft.
The three key impact club angles are created by: 1) the shaft leaning toward the target (ensuring a downward blow on the ball); 2) the shaft laying at an angle similar to that established at address (a phenomenon that aids hitting the ball in the center of the clubface); and 3) the clubface pointing perpendicularly at the target (controlling the direction in which the ball will travel).
A fundamentally solid grip invariably will help you achieve a square clubface, but as far as producing the first two club angles, a good transition is paramount.
As mentioned earlier, maintaining your spine angle while transitioning into your downswing with your lower body acting as lead will allow you to retain the bend in your right elbow and right wrist through impact. A bent elbow and wrist will help you achieve a forward-leaning shaft position. This forward lean, evident in the swings of all great ballstrikers, happens only when the wrist retains its hinge. If they unhinge too early, as they do when the club is thrown from the top, the clubhead will race ahead of the hands. This produces a reverse lean and shots that fly too high, too short and often too far to the right.
Maintaining that spine angle during the transition also fuels the creation of an impact shaft angle that mimics the angle the shaft held at address. In fact, it's impossible to produce similar address and impact shaft angles if you don't maintain your spine angle. If you make the mistake of straightening up in the downswing (i.e., lifting your rear end off the chair), the clubshaft angle will also straighten, becoming much more vertical than it was at setup. Expect poor contact and the gamut of bad shots. Use the Shaft Over Hands Drill (above) to better your expertise at maintaining spine angle and creating the key clubshaft positions.
Hopefully, you've come to realize that in order to get perfect at impact, you've got to be perfect during the transition. Above all, keep that spine angle intact. When you lose it, you'll trap your right arm and force your right elbow and wrist to release too early, causing a reverse lean of the shaft at impact and that type of weak, flaring contact no golfer desires. But when your posture remains intact, and you sequence your downswing so that the bend in your right elbow and the hinge in your right wrist is held up to the moment of contact, you'll achieve a level of ballstriking like you never have before.
Practice the drills and keep in mind the three key body angles and three key shaft angles. Soon, you'll eliminate errors like clubhead throwaway and produce better impact.
PGA professional and Senior Instruction Editor Chuck Winstead is the Director of Instruction at the University Club in Baton Rouge, La., and English Turn G&CC in New Orleans.