So what is the one element of the swing that separates amateurs from pros? Actually it’s a series of elements, which adds to its complication…and mystique. I do not have it all figured out–far from it–but I have observed that recreational golfers know little about getting the sequence of movements right. Pros often learn this early on in their lives, and reinforce it with continued excellent instruction and guidance along the way, right up to their present careers. Their swings are grooved, but that still offers no guarantee that the sequence of movements will remain consistent, hence, good days and bad. A good example is Justin Rose’s pre-shot routine where he visibly practices his downswing sequence. With age, the body changes, especially with any injury, as Tiger demonstrates. Adjustments must be made, which have to do with what the body can do at any given time. Then there’s the mind, which is affected by life experiences–illness in family, money woes, pressure to perform, failure, or even success. Danny Willet won the Masters in 2016 but hasn’t done much since. I suspect perhaps too much pressure to perform up to that previous level.
Sequence is fairly straightforward when it comes to the backswing. If you keep everything connected going back, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get into the right positions, including keeping the left arm relatively straight at the top (which can as short as Jon Rahm or as long as Phil Mickelson). Of course things can vary like wrist positions, amount of coil (a function of your flexibility), and amount of hip turn, but as they say, you don’t hit the ball on the backswing. The real sequence action doesn’t really start until the transition to the downswing, where speeds will get you tickets on most highways. So the proverbial question: What starts the downswing, and how do actions proceed from there?
A reader recently asked if my views have changed around the start, and let’s just say they are evolving. Due to illness, I haven’t been able to experiment as much as I’d like, but I observe the pros in detail, especially the slow motion sequences during tournaments. My current thinking, at least with the driver, is that the left hip starts the downswing even before the backswing is completed, setting up a slightly slinging or even whipping action that facilitates the building of speed as the club descends towards impact. With irons, there is less whipping action, but the left hip still leads the way, and the weight more quickly transfers to the left side, facilitating the down and through at impact which usually pr0duces a divot and backspin. The driver is struck on the upswing, which is facilitated mostly by a more forward ball position.
That build up of speed requires strength from a number of different parts of the body to keep the club on plane, which is important to insure that the club makes solid and accurate contact with the ball at impact. This is the ultimate goal of every golf shot: solid contact and striking the ball with a club face that is facing the intended direction. I know modern clubs are loaded with forgiveness, helping manufacturers with marketing. But from my experience, really solid contact doesn’t happen unless you hit the sweet spot dead on center. And, according to some sources that spot is much smaller than the manufacturers claim. One source asserts the spot is as small as the sharp end of a needle (see golfloopy.com)! So hitting that spot consistently is quite a challenge. Proper sequence heightens your chances.
Do I know exactly what the rest of the sequence is? No, I don’t, nor does most anyone including many pros themselves. I suppose Iron Byron might but none of us has its consistently robotic skills, nor its lack of a human body to contend with. Things are moving very fast at this point, with awareness of sequence near impossible to determine without the use of slo mo technology. Just make sure the basics are intact like keeping a steady head; keeping the straight left arm intact, and making sure your weight has transferred to the left side. Then observe the results and make adjustments where needed. You’re looking for solid contact with the ball flying along your intended flight. So as with much of golf instruction, employ trial and error to fine tune and find the remainder of the sequence that fits your particular body’s condition and capabilities, all based on your particular experience. That includes, of course, the pace and speed of your swing, as well as overall balance and position of the follow through, which should be as high as your body allows. Bubba, Jon Rahm, and Patrick Reed are good role models. Bernhard Langer is not, unless you’re over 60, then he’ll do fine!
So your time on the range should be one of exploration and trial. I know on most public ranges the balls are dead, but you can still feel a solid hit, see it hang in the air some, and come down softly and with proper distance (probably a bit less for those dead balls) for that particular club. That, by the way, is how to make your range time more relevant to your playing time. And, too, work with a teaching pro, from time to time, to check on your progress, and make adjustments that only a trained eye can assess and recommend. A golf swing and its sequential movements is a bit too complicated to leave completely up to YouTube, a fellow range rat, or your own analysis.
As always with golf, learn and have fun with it.
Does this mean you have changed your mind that the key move to start the downswing is pulling the left arm/hand toward the ball?
In your view does the left hip lead by moving laterally (a “bump”/”slide”), or does it rotate counterclockwise? Or something else?
In your revised views what do the arms do?
Stephen Altschuler says
No, I haven’t abandoned my key downswing move, J.O. I think it’s a solid move for higher handicap players who routinely come over the top and cut across the ball. Pulling the butt end of the club down towards the ball from the top helps insure the club stay on plane and come into the ball square. But with players who’ve been around the game for a long time, the hips are probably not far behind. In fact, if a divot is taken, you can bet those hips have moved fast enough to effect the weight shift. And, no, I don’t think they bump and slide. I’ve tried this and it’s awkward–hard to get it just right. So stick with a rotational movement, using, perhaps, the old school teaching of swinging in a barrel without hitting the sides.
As I mentioned, Rose pays a lot of attention to those hands and arms coming down. So they help deliver the coup de grace in the impact zone. Photos of pros in this zone clearly show rippled arms ready for high speed action, even among less muscled guys. As some say, if you want to add distance, go to the gym as almost all of the touring pros do. But strength won’t do it all. You’ve got to find the sequence that works for you.
Thanks for your good questions, J.O.
As I read more of your book and the blog posts, I learn more and more. I realize that I have to adopt the more “Zenful/Mindful” approach to this game just to keep from committing Hari-kiri when all goes south! And as you know it can/does…but I’m getting it (slowly)…and I’m “settling with the dust”.
Two weeks ago I had it completely (within reason)…fully connected…great tempo…good rotation…and mostly pure strikes (even great short game and putting). This week I struggled to stay connected, my tempo was off, and my strikes were not nearly as pure. Somehow I stayed cool, and even started to “re-connect” by the end of the round (staying cool was a struggle).
These moves that you mention here and elsewhere in your writings (and obviously are written about by many others), are THE moves that are keeping me in the game, and CAN be repeatable. But I do lose it from time to time somehow, and have to struggle to get it back.
Reading good stuff, practicing in the mirror, and mentally visualizing the swing are helping this older guy that (because of life) can only play once a week…yikes!…but this is the journey no ?!
Peace and Golf
Stephen Altschuler says
One of the basics of the Zen approach to golf, and life, is to take in the instruction and guidance, then put that aside and take it and try stuff out for yourself. In Sanskrit, it’s called Ehi-passiko, or Come and See. You are doing that, Mitch, so know you are on the right track. Success/Failure, it’s all grist for the mill. Of course, the goal is success, but, in golf, failure can lead to success if you learn from that failure. And I’m sensing you’re doing just fine.
It’s great to watch your journey. Thanks for sharing it with us.
What a difference a week makes (and that’s all I get is once a week!). I was completely “present”, it was a beautiful day (this was the first round I didn’t play in multiple layers and two winter golf gloves), I enjoyed completely being there with my longtime golf companion as we happily “caddied” for each other.
Now the swing…last week not so good, but I discovered this week that I was not keeping my head still/behind at impact…Eureka!!! This discovery/remembrance to me was more powerful than a hole in one (well OK…almost). The great majority of my strikes were very sound, and when I did mis-hit a few…guess what – head wandered forward through impact – next shot corrected (to me the knowing is power)! Moving forward…
Peace and present golf
I’ve found that two things lead to not keeping the head back: (1) lack of concentration–you just have to force yourself to do it, which takes focus; and (2) a last second effort to gain power, with a heave of the shoulders that leads the head to move forward of the ball at impact. Partly it’s an age thing: the older you get, the more cluttered your mind gets, which creates problem (1), and with age comes loss of strength, which sometimes causes (2).
Yeah….in my case it was (1). I’m just glad I came to the realization, as that is half the battle!