No matter how hard you work at achieving a technically sound golf swing, once in a while you'll encounter a small flaw that causes your shots to run amuck. One of the most overlooked and easy-to-fix mistakes golfers make involves the position of the hands at the top of the backswing. For all intents and purposes, you can have a perfect weight shift, a great arm extension, a powerful coil, and the perfect head and spine position, but if you don't have your hands holding the clubshaft properly at the top of the swing–well, the downswing may as well be doomed from the start.
Take a look at these two photos. Can you see the difference? If not, take a look at the club. Notice how, in the right photo, the shaft and clubhead are both above my shoulder, thus indicating that I've made a full turn and my body and clubshaft are still on plane. In the photo to the left, the club is in a position called laid off, which means my hands have gotten lazy, and the clubshaft has strayed too far away from my body and from the target. This position can wreak havoc on my ability to hit consistent shots. If I'm laid off too much, I'll have a hard time slotting the club correctly.
The photo on the right is how I want to be at the top of my backswing, even though I'm a little laid off from the target line (which is shown by the club on the ground). The trick is to not overdo it! To see if you have the clubhead too far from your body, check the position of your hands at the top of the backswing using a mirror. If a mirror isn't available, try this: When you reach the top of your backswing, allow your hands to drop the club straight down. If the shaft hits your shoulder, then great–you're on plane. If the shaft missed your body and the clubhead falls behind you, you're probably laying off too much and you need to keep your hands and shaft above your shoulder in order to get back on track.
Check your position at the top frequently, and make sure you're in the correct position at this critical point in the backswing. You'll find that when your hands are in the right spot, it becomes a lot easier for the rest of your body to find the correct position. If you lay off the clubhead at the top, the chances of a big slice or snap hook are hugely magnified.
Craig Sasada, PGA, is Director of Golf at the beautiful Poipu Bay Golf Resort on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. For more on the resort, as well as all of Kauai, visit kauaidiscovery.com and poipubay.com.