A simple swing? But with all the moving parts involved, how could a golf swing be simple? How about the precise sequence of movements? How about the perfect timing required? How about E=mc squared? How about the centrifugal forces of physics involved? After all, didn’t physics major Bryson DeChambeau win seven times factoring in all that data? Yet, even with all those things considered, I am proposing that a golf swing can be both simple and effective, possible to learn by anyone of any age, race, gender, physical condition, or socio-economic status, and have an increasing chance at success depending on their motivation. And it may not require hours of “digging it out of the dirt” as Hogan advised. For when Mr. Hogan, an obsessive practicer, advised Byron Nelson, who didn’t practice much at all, that if he wanted to win more, he should practice more, Byron replied, via a mutual friend who relayed the advice, “Tell Ben I already know how to swing a golf club.”
That’s not to say you shouldn’t practice, but you may not need to pound out range balls until Hell freezes over and your back cries Uncle. For once you learn to swing simply and effectively, there may be no need to extend your practice session any further than a dozen balls or so (unless you really love to practice which some golfers, including myself, do love). Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, and Gene Sarazen may have stretched some before playing, but they rarely went to a practice range before a tournament, mainly because there weren’t any! In fact Hagen’s pre-round warmup likely consisted of screwing the cap off his whiskey flask!
To make a long blog short, the golf swing is principally a turning of the chest and hips away from the target on the backswing, and a turning of the chest and hips towards the target on the downswing. The old image of turning in a barrel, without touching the sides, is as relevant today as it was when I first learned the game in 1960. Sure, a number of other elements come into play, but if you understand and apply that basic fundamental, you’re off to an excellent start. The upper body, hips, and knees turn in a slightly different sequence but roughly at the same time. Don’t overthink it. Experiment.
My belief is that the upper body, aka the core, leads that sequence, which is the source of power and consistency in a golf swing. The arms, being directly connected to the core, follow its lead, with a straight lead arm measuring the swing and insuring it returns closely to the position at address at impact. The follow through should take care of itself after swinging freely through the ball. The core should be pointing in the direction of the target at the end of the swing. A lazy core/hip turn is a common fault for amateurs.
The pace will vary, and, as I’ve said before in this blog, should be adjusted so as to make sure you strike the sweet spot consistently. Don’t worry about distance. Modern clubs are designed to deliver it when the sweet spot is struck, as you hit the ball on the upswing with the driver, and down and through with irons and hybrids. Getting that core moving increases distance, and accuracy, for woods and irons.
That’s all you really need to know for this simple swing. The rest is trial and error around pace, rhythm, and timing. Any grip that unifies the hands will do, with a bit more pressure applied to the last three fingers of the top hand. Proper weight shift to the forward leg/foot on the downswing for irons should happen naturally with the turning of the core towards the target.
The goal is to hear that certain click at impact, and solid feel in your hands that tells you the sweet spot has been contacted and the ball is flying towards the target. Scoring is a whole other challenge that affects your goals. Distance is another challenge as well that comes with increasing pure contact of ball with club.
I played with two women the other day, both relative beginners, who struggled some with their games. But the smiles that came to their faces when they occasionally heard that magic click were great to see. That’s what brings players back to this game, and provides a great sense of joy and satisfaction. We made arrangements to meet again this week and continue to enjoy the game together.
My great-nephew Matthew, who attends the University of Pennsylvania, scored his first hole-in-one this week while playing with a friend in New York state. He baby-faded (yes, Matt knows how to do that!) a 6-iron at the 181 yard 16th at Sprain Lake Golf Course, heard it hit the stick, and saw it drop in the hole. Matt was a fine young golfer, often breaking 80, until he got interested in track and 175 lb. football. He left the game, but must have retained the feeling and sound of that magic click. Now, he’s back and as obsessed as ever with the game, as I once was at his age. Welcome back to golf, young man! And, of course, congratulations on your hole-in-one. But you’ve got work to do to top your old Unc Steve: He’s had three of those gems, one in front of your Grandpop!
Stephen, that was one of your best blogs for me. It was simple but easy to understand and a great reminder for me when my swing breaks down. My swing hasn’t been what I want so far so I will put to use those tips from your blog. Thanks Phil
Stephen Altschuler says
Glad it was helpful, Phil. Swings do break down from time to time, as you say. Same with mine. And same with touring pros at times. I think it may be the aging process and the subtle changes in the body that affect timing and rhythm.
The challenge is keeping up with those changes and making the right adjustments. Not easy, but certainly possible.
Thanks for commenting, and good luck with getting your swing together.
I’ll never forget your ace at the 12 th at Shannondell in Pennsylvania with my nine iron. You are the best my dear brother. I think Matt has a few more in his bag.
Stephen Altschuler says
Ah yes, I remember that shot as if it were yesterday. What a thrill. As for Matt, our young family member has the skills to have several of those aces before his golfing days are over. There’s luck involved, for sure. But you’ve got to have the skills to get it to the green.
Jim Stewart says
Ha! Once again, your topic hits right where I’ve been living lately: trying to simplify my whole mindset and figure out how to transfer weight efficiently and repeat, repeat, repeat. A golf pro friend of mine mentioned something while we were fitting me for new clubs and it has made a huge difference. Yes, it’s the turn and the core. I’m experimenting with little things and am having a ball. That click is addicting for sure.
Thanks for the acknowledgment of those small epiphanies.
Stephen Altschuler says
Looks like you’re right on track, Jim. Just follow that magic click. If you’ve been playing this game for awhile, the body knows what to do. It just keeps changing as we age (I know, ain’t it a bitch!). The shocks wear out and there’s really no auto body shop to have them replaced. So we make an adjustment here and an adjustment there. And back to the range laboratory. And, hopefully, we get something going.
Take care, and thanks for commenting, Jim.
The absolute simplest way to swing, and best by far for me:
Swing within that barrel. There be monsters outside of it.
Weight and pivot on front leg and hip.
Swing down hard with your arms. If hips provided distance, 10 year old girls would hit 300 yards.
The body adjusts automatically as this is the natural way to throw, hit a baseball, shoot a basket, etc.
I forgot which famous golfer said his strong legs served to simply provide stability for his arm swing and that the secret to that was to have the feeling that the club would get to the ball before his shirt buttons did. This evidently was not well received by all.
No weight shifts, tilts and bends and swivels…nothing. Stay stable throughout the process, swing hard at the ball. If I flub a shot, I find that my mind could not get over those thousands of YouTube golf videos promoting this manipulation or that. Reset, think of the basics above and the next shot will be better.
Since there is no such thing as muscle memory, it is just much easier to set up for and execute a simple process.
Stephen Altschuler says
There’s a lot of good material here to take to the lab, i.e. the range, and experiment with. Ultimately, the arms swing a golf club, and the legs provide stability to do so. But the arms can’t do it alone. They need the core and hips to move/turn as well, to then do their job.
Good grist for the mill. Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.
Good post, Stephen, but doesn’t this contradict your post of a few years ago where you said the left arm/hand pulling the butt end of the club toward the ball is what starts the downswing? It seems you have gravitated toward the view that the body/core is the lead and key, or am I missing something?
Stephen Altschuler says
I’m impressed by your memory, J.O. You’re right. There has been an evolution of my thoughts on the all important trigger at the start of the downswing. But the change is a subtle one. For though I now put more importance on the right shoulder to start the move, the pulling down of the butt of the left hand is the very next move, helping to prevent coming over the top as the downswing proceeds, and increasing the lag required for a delayed strike. The right shoulder initial move too insures that weight is transferred forward adequately especially for irons (which helps effect dynamic loft). As I’ve consistently pointed out, sequence of movements is key. In my case, because of age and infirmity, I’ve lost a good bit of distance, and so have experimented with employing the core into the start of the downswing. It’s still a work in progress but I have found that this does indeed increase not only distance but accuracy as I continue tinkering with this great experiment of honing the golf swing to fit my ever-changing physical and mental development.
Thanks for bringing this up and commenting. I hope this brief explanation was helpful. It gets me thinking about doing a separate post on this very subject.
I think you’re absolutely right that it’s about sequencing. I strive for both right shoulder to the ball and pulling the left arm down to the ball, though my sequencing tends to change depending on what I feel that particular day. FWIW here’s an old Sports Illustrated article that advocates something closer to your post of a few years ago. I’d look forward to another, more expansive post by you on this specific topic.
“Golfers who can play the game every day and who start off by having exceptional control of their body action—which the average golfer doesn’t—can inaugurate the downswing with their hips. For the average player, though, the best way to launch the downswing is to pull down with your left arm. What sort of a pulldown is it? Well, as you have heard before, it is something like pulling the rope of a bell. Do you pull straight down? Not exactly. You should pull the butt of the club toward the ball.
Remember, this pulling down is done by the left arm. It’s the controlling agent, and if you let it be you will escape the many troubles that result from trying to push the club down from the top with the right hand and the right shoulder. By pulling down with the left arm and keeping that arm straight you automatically bring the right arm into the proper hitting position: the elbow is leading and the upper arm comes in close to the body. The right hand then will be just where it should be when it uncocks into the ball.
Let me emphasize that, as far as conscious moves are concerned at the beginning of the downswing, limit this to the left arm and hand. They not only pull the club into position but they must keep pulling all the way through the swing until the left hand is hip-high on the follow-through. When you pull all the way through, you will finish high. It is the natural, inevitable result of the correct, strong swing.
HERMAN PEERY, Cascades Golf Club, Hot Springs, Va.
NEXT TIP: Jo Ann Prentice on a lighter right hand in putting
BY HERMAN PEERY
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Stephen Altschuler says
I will focus on this important topic in more detail, J.O. I think if it’s the right shoulder or left arm that triggers the downswing is a personal choice. Either will do the job of getting the weight over to the left side quickly, particularly for irons. I like the right shoulder starting in that it gives me more a feeling of power coming from my core. But I’ve lost a lot of body mass due to illness so need to find ways to get that distance back. For others, the left arm will be fine. Just need to experiment some at the range. Good article.
Thanks for commenting.