The key move in the execution of a golf swing turns out to be a simple one indeed. I don’t know why it’s not emphasized more. I’ve taken a number of lessons over my 50 years in the game, and it was never mentioned once. Not even hinted at. People always asked Hogan what was his secret, and he always replied “It’s in the dirt,” implying that a great deal of practice was the answer. But that assumes you are practicing the proper fundamentals. Most golfers, including myself, do not. The move is a subtle one. You will barely notice it, and no one else will see happening. That’s the catch, and probably why it was never pointed out to me before. You can feel the move, but you can’t see it. Well, you can see but it takes very close observation. I discovered this move after hearing a chance remark about it by Gary McCord on a golf telecast recently. Yes, Gary McCord, the funny guy with the handlebar stash who has won a total of two professional tournaments, both on the Champions Tour. The man, though, knows the golf swing. I’ve seen him play, and he hits the ball a country mile. Here’s what Gary had to say, addressed to a right handed golfer: “Keep your left arm near your chest and swing them (your chest and your arm) at the same pace, keeping your arm connected to your chest.”
Now we don’t often think of keeping our arm connected to our chest, but what that does is unify a part of our body that, for a golf swing, needs unifying. Separating them is like separating the drive train from the engine of a car: It doesn’t go very far or fast. When you connect them in this fashion, you feel as if the entire body is behind the swing, generating power. The ball is the recipient of that power and it is designed to take it full on. Of course there are other fundamentals required to make sure the ball travels in the intended line and trajectory of flight. Things like a steady head, a measured left arm, turning (not swaying) hips, and about a million other items, as Rocco might say. But the foot or so from the time you drag the club away from the address position to before you lift it to the top of the backswing is “the key move.” It is the heart and soul of the one-piece takeaway. Mining it deeper in search of the cell of that takeaway is the connection between the forward arm (left in the right-hander, right in the left-hander) and its relationship with the chest that is the absolute core.
For golf is a matter of relationship, with your body, your mind, your emotions, your environment, your playing partners, the golf course, your ethics, and your ability to bounce back from disappointment and despair. When you enter the arena of the golf course (or even driving range, for that matter), you enter a kind of coliseum, rife with lions and spectators out for your blood. These of course are mental constructs, reflective of the characters parading about in your own mind, but the course is not only a place of fun and relaxation, but a place of high drama. And you’d better have your proverbial shit together if you want to come out of the experience with any modicum of self-respect and pride. And where to start is the foot or 18 inches which start the takeaway on the backswing.
Ironically, to practice this key move, you don’t need a golf course, a driving range, golf clubs, or a ball. A full-length mirror would be nice, but you even don’t really need that. You need to stand up, take your address position, hold an imaginary club, and begin your swing, and do this over and over. You can do the move in the bathroom before your shower, in your cubicle at work, waiting for the commuter train, in an elevator, hell, you can do it while you’re even in the shower. As I said above, you can’t really see this move. You more feel it, and feel it you must. The hands, arms, shoulders, legs, and chest work as a unit, the true one-piece takeaway, and the weight begins to shift to the inside of the right foot, which keeps you from swaying your hips. The left arm remains relatively, not rigidly, straight, and moves in direct relation to the chest, at the same pace, as McCord says. The hands do not operate independently, in any way. They simply hold the club properly (a subject for an entirely separate post), and are part of the drive train for the engine of the core/chest. They work in unison as the club begins its ascent to the top of the backswing. Think Steve Stricker. Think Lee Janzen. Think Robert Allenby.
As a car engine will sputter and falter and fail if the pace of the pistons is not consistent, so will the golf swing. The overriding element is pace. For every club in the bag it must be the same. I like to imagine and practice a seven-iron pace for every club, including the driver, which is the toughest club in the bag to hit because it’s the toughest seven-iron pace to maintain. Sometimes, I’ll go back in memory and picture and apply my “Gene Littler” pace to each swing. Or sometimes, my “Ernie Els” pace, or my “Sam Snead” or “Bobby Jones” pace. These images or mental suggestions are very important, since pace is so easy to forget during the course of a round. The amateur can be quite affected by the pace of others who are hitting the ball farther. The mind can link onto the pace of others, and very subtly change your pace without your knowing it. It doesn’t take much to knock the golf swing off balance and rhythm.
But the place to start is at the start of the backswing, along with the image of Gene Littler, or whoever your pace idol happens to be. Then move the chest and left arm as a unit, and a lot of the rest of what happens from there is a function of gravity. But I’ll get into that next time, via Gene the Machine, as they used to call him.
I realize some of you don’t know who Gene Littler was (he won 29 PGA Tour events, along with the 1953 U.S. Amateur and the 1961 U.S. Open), so here’s a clip to help bring the past into the present:
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Looking for a good golf read? Consider my book, The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness.