Editor's Note: This instruction piece has been updated from its original posting in 2002, and remains a great guide to better ballstriking.
Posture is a critical element of the golf swing, and is often overlooked by golf instructors and recreational players alike. It's not particularly dynamic or flashy, and most golfers just don't get excited about spending time developing correct posture. However, establishing the proper body angles at address, including what I call the secondary angle–and maintaining them throughout the swing–is absolutely crucial to solid ballstriking and good shotmaking.
The secondary angle is one of the most important aspects of solid posture. This spine angle is the tilt of the torso backward, away from the target, and is established due to the natural positioning of the body. Because the right hand is lower on the club than the left hand (for a right-handed golfer), assuming your arms are the same length, the right shoulder and right hip have to be lower than the left shoulder and left hip. This position at address is the only natural way the body can stand when gripping a club, and is universal for all golfers.
Once this angle is created, it's of great importance to maintain it throughout the entire backswing and downswing. When the secondary spine angle is lost (usually on the initial takeaway), it affects more skilled and less skilled players differently. When skilled players lose the secondary angle, they tend to reverse pivot, that is, keep an excessive amount of weight on the front leg throughout the backswing. An indication that this is occurring is the left knee moving out over the left foot instead of backward toward the ball on the backswing.
The skilled player's reverse pivot often leads to the right elbow getting stuck behind the hip on the downswing, draining both power and accuracy from the shot. This occurs because, regardless of skill level, a reverse pivot on the backswing generally leads to an opposite reverse pivot on the downswing. The result is the right shoulder dipping or tilting too much toward the ground, leading to the right arm getting trapped behind the hip. Not only does this position lead to less powerful shots, it can also cause blocks to the right and severe snap hooks.
When a less skilled player loses the secondary spine angle on the backswing, he or she tends to sway (move the hips laterally), which in turn causes an early leg drive and overly active lower body. A thrusting lower body is one of the most common problems among average golfers, and puts the body in front of the ball at impact. This weak position not only detracts from accuracy, it saps the body of the leverage needed to create powerful, solid golf shots. In addition, when the lower body moves too far forward (laterally), it prevents the arms from extending through impact, arguably the most important element of a good swing.
In order to ensure a proper, level hip turn (no sway or reverse pivot), with correct width on the backswing and the proper secondary angle, try the following drill.
Obtain two, three-foot-long, thin wooden dowels. Place one dowel through your belt loops, favoring your left side. Be certain that the end of the dowel protruding from the left side is slightly higher than the end of the dowel protruding from the right side. This will ensure a proper secondary angle at address, with the right shoulder sitting lower than the left. Then, place the second dowel in the ground vertically, so it sits outside your left foot. Make sure the second dowel is in line with your toe, sitting just below the end of the first dowel that's resting in your belt loops.
Now, you're ready to hit the ball. The goal is to swing the club without hitting the dowel placed outside the left foot. If you dip or sway your hips on the backswing, the two sticks will collide, indicating that you've lost your secondary angle.
When practicing this drill, it's important to really concentrate on maintaining your address position all the way through the backswing. It's easy to lose your posture, and the accompanying angles, immediately as you take the club away. If you've already ingrained bad habits into your motion, as many golfers have, it may be difficult at first to get your body to do what you want it to do. Don't get frustrated. Just think about keeping the left end (for right-handed golfers) of the dowel or shaft above the right end. Doing so will allow you to make a backswing without touching the dowel or shaft that's stuck in the ground.
This is a simple and effective way to practice the proper takeaway. Continue practicing until you can make a solid swing without touching the dowels. When you can do this consistently, you'll have developed a proper hip turn and maintained the secondary spine angle.
Carl Rabito, a former ECC PGA Teacher of the Year, directs the Carl Rabito Golf Schools in Orlando, Fla.