The golf swing can be a bit like one of those YouTube wormholes that you get sucked into. There is so much information out there, so many tutorial videos, that you find yourself clicking from one to the next and seeing contradicting advice all over the shop. On top of that, the golf swing comes in endless shapes and sizes so I would strongly recommend that you remember you are playing a game of how many, not how!
The aim of this particular article is to give you an idea of some overarching principles that can help with your golf swing, but mainly I want to provide some fixes that you can apply to your swing when you are having certain issues with your game.
It strikes me that a lot of amateurs don’t have the time to go through an entire swing reconstruction. For the majority of amateurs, it is about enjoying the game each time, not necessarily changing how they play. I hope that some of this advice can give you a few more swing solutions that you can refer back to on the course.
The Entire Swing Simplified
I’m going to start with this section because I want you to keep this in mind when reading the more specific areas as we go through this article. What I mean by “simplified” is, what are the basic ideas that can lead to a better golf swing?
Something which I have learned over the years, and like to refer back to when I am over-complicating matters, is that the backswing is more of an upper-body rotation, whereas the downswing is more of a lower-body rotation. Rotate back, rotate through is a nice and simple swing thought. Give it a go and if it works for you, stick with it.
I also like to just concentrate on bigger muscles and body parts. For the backswing I am trying to feel connected with my torso and shoulders, then just rotate, and for my downswing it’s all about using my upper legs and glutes to create power.
The reason that I find that it is effective to be aware of this is that if you are doing these two things pretty well, then you are always going to be in a decent place and can start to work on more of the specifics as you go. On the other hand, if you are not getting these parts right, you might be wasting your time trying to work on something like your transition.
In my opinion this is a massively undervalued part of the golf swing. Your golf swing is essentially a sequence of motions, so how you start that off is going to have a big impact on what you have to do next. If you watch golf on TV then you will have seen players like Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas working on their takeaway a lot, even including it in their pre-shot routine on occasion.
I think it is best not to have too many moving parts during your takeaway, especially with your lower body and head. If you move these areas then you will need to compensate for that somewhere else in the swing. Of course there will be some movement, and that is okay, but if you try and put the focus on just rotating your torso and shoulders, then you can reduce this and feel more “connection”. There is going to be a certain level of movement during your backswing and that is fine, I don’t want you standing there trying to be still and end up not moving around at all. I am an advocate for the takeaway being very calm though so try not to let your knees move during this stage.
In terms of wrist break or ‘set’, this can be within your own feeling of comfort. If you struggle with rotation, then it will probably help you to break your wrists a little earlier. You can see players like Danny Willett who have an early and exaggerated wrist set, and he’s won the Masters, so let’s not be picky if that is what feels most comfortable to you! You may need to incorporate wrist set in order to complete your takeaway without any of that knee movement, so play around with it and see what works for you.
The Backswing & Rotation
So you’ve finished your takeaway and the club is at about hip height, now you need to complete your backswing in an efficient manner.
Some of you will have long backswings, some short, anything goes to be honest. For those of you with a longer backswing, you don’t want to go past the point where you start losing balance or your head has to move a lot, or you drop your knee inside in order to ‘finish’ your swing. If you are going this far, then you are probably going too far. It is definitely a positive if you can rotate so freely, but it can lead to more moving parts and more replacement that needs to happen in the downswing, which is a very difficult time to be fixing things!
You should be able to play around with this, even indoors without a ball, and figure out where your ‘tipping point’ might be. You may have to swallow a bit of pride as you give up a few mph of club head speed, but isn’t it more fun to be proud of winning rather than hitting four great tee shots in the round?
If you struggle with a backswing that you think is too short, then you are likely to have problems with your swing being a bit quick and not having time to go through the transition. Your backswing rotation should come from your spine, hips and shoulders, but sometimes we need a bit of help to unlock those areas.
You may have seen Francesco Molinari doing a drill (during play!) a couple of years ago, when he won the British Open in fact, where he would lift the heel of his lead foot off the ground. This was helping him to alleviate the stress during the rotation and complete his turn. I would highly recommend trying this drill as it actually has some dual benefits leading into your downswing. It helps you to plant your lead foot during the transition and get your weight back onto that side, possibly increasing your speed and distance.
To be honest I feel like this could be the most technical area of the golf swing, or at least the area which can cause the most debate and issues for golfers. For this reason I think it is an area which only elite level amateurs and professionals are really looking into the intricacies of. Having said that, there are still some important feels and tips that you can take into consideration for your swing.
The one thing that you rarely see ending well, is a lightning-quick transition. Generally speaking, slowing things down a bit is more effective as it gives your arms and body time to sync up together.
A lot of people start their downswing too quickly with their body and they have left the club behind. This can lead to a big push, or if your hands are quick up enough to catch up, it can lead to a quick hook. I worry that this stuff might sound too technical and be lost on some, but the point of slowing things down is to try and achieve a position at impact where your body and arms are working together, so you’re really hitting the ball with a lot of pressure and relying less on timing.
If the club is “behind you” then you need to compensate by flipping with your hands and this is a very difficult skill to master consistently.
The feeling that you are going for is to give yourself more time at the top and slow things down. If you can get out to a driving range then you can even play around with a ‘pause’ at the top of your backswing, then releasing everything together.
Hideki Matsuyama often has a noticeable pause in his transition during tournament play, so it can clearly work!
Being able to have a tad more patience in your transition is something that I come back to time and time again. It can save you during a round when things feel like they’re happening all too quickly.
Early extension is part of your transition and your downswing, but it is so prevalent in amateur golfers that I have played with, that I felt it could add genuine benefit to have a little section on it here.
It basically means that your pelvis/hips/knees move towards the ball too soon in your downswing, leaving you with no space to rotate, so you have to flip and rely on that timing again. It’s an issue that many, many players deal with and it is certainly something that I am all too familiar with!
When done correctly, you should actually feel like you’re almost squatting into your downswing as you move your weight onto your lead foot. I don’t want to get too technical here, but the goal is really to do the heavy work through your quads (upper legs) so that you can maintain your posture and rotate around a solid point.
If you move your pelvis forward, then the common fix is to lift up in your chest and get cramped with your arms as your hand-eye coordination takes over in order to actually hit the ball.
This may be too advanced for you at this stage, it will depend on what level you are at, but keep it in mind and have a play around with it if you have some extra time practicing. If you deal with this problem, then please don’t expect to fully eradicate it, just to incrementally learn how to manage it. I have been a full time golfer for seven years now and I still have to work on it every day!
Let’s be honest, things are moving very quickly at this point (possibly not as quickly as you’d like, but that’s another topic) so it is not easy to distinguish what feels like what and where it feels like it is.
However, not all downswing faults are created equal. There are some faults which will destroy your chances of consistency, so I would like to offer some help with them in this article. We’ve already spoken about early extension, which is an important one to understand, and the others also revolve around moving parts making things more tricky.
‘Losing your height’ can be a very frustrating one as it tends to make things more difficult the closer you get to the hole. This can occur from losing your posture (i.e. your chest or head drop down) or also in the lower body with the old ‘collapsed knees’.
When you lose your height you are effectively making the club too long for the space that you have given it, so people will often hit the shot fat, or they can lift up their arms to try and find that space, leading to a thin. You’re probably seeing a theme at this point…golf is really hard if you make it about timing.
Trying to work on this fault can be a little tricky. Sometimes you might need to improve your core strength in order to control your posture more. Other fixes can be that you take more time in the transition and let the club come down before your knees go, then you are more ‘in time’.
Personally, I have found that it can help to even just go on the driving range and feel myself keeping that height. Maybe I will start with a few slower swings, building up the speed as I go. But just moving that awareness to maintaining your height can give you substantial benefits.
The Follow Through
If I’m honest, I feel like the follow through is spoken about more than is necessary. It is important to be in balance throughout your swing, and ideally you are able to “hold the pose” after your swing, but that comes from balance prior to your follow through.
My general opinion is that your follow through is a result of your downswing move, so I don’t want to give you anything too technical here. What I do want to provide are a couple of drills which you can incorporate into your practice to give you some more options on the course.
- Drill 1: The first of these drills is for a ‘punch’ shot. This is a shot which keeps the ball a little lower, and it can also be helpful if you feel a bit nervous about hitting the ball fat. To hit a punch shot, you curtail your follow through and end up with the club in front of you, rather than behind your neck. The ball position should also be further back in your stance (closer to your back foot). Don’t try to do too much with your swing (we don’t want to over complicate matters), but just concentrate on hitting through the ball and holding the follow through a little shorter. You will see that the ball comes out lower and that you feel like you have hit ‘down’ towards the ball more. This can be a good way to make sure you hit the ball before the ground.
- Drill 2: The second drill with your follow through can be to try and imagine the club moving either in-to-out or out-to-in. If you hit too much of a slice, then I want you to picture the club moving away from you as you make impact and follow through, vice versa if you hit a big draw. This kind of exaggerated move is an effective way to train your body to move in a slightly different way. Generally speaking, if you hit a big slice, then your club is moving from out-to-in as you reach the ball and follow through. So if you do some practice working on the opposite of this, then you can start to see how it affects the ball flight. The big positive of this is that it is a sort of neutralising drill.
As we play more and more golf, we tend to fall further and further into our habits. Over time, your slice can become bigger and bigger, to the point where it may become unmanageable. If you go back to this drill every now and then, it can help you to avoid becoming too extreme either way.
I hope that you have seen from this article that I do not want to try and teach you how to swing the club “perfectly”. Playing golf, and the golf swing in particular, has a lot to do with problem solving. There are all sorts of external factors changing at an alarming rate, and the game feels different every day. I feel like one of the biggest areas that a lot of amateurs can improve is simply to understand their swing more and be equipped with some fixes that they can put into play when something feels off.