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. 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 it’s been 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 (please see The Key Move), you’re pretty much guaranteed to get into the right positions, including keeping the left arm relatively straight at the top (which can be 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 and the changes in body mass and balance, an old fault has crept back into my swing, one that I know plagues many golfers. And that is coming over the top or coming into impact from outside in. It causes all sorts of problems, including shanking, particularly with better golfers, but also slicing particularly with the driver. In my situation it’s the dreaded shank. It’s dreaded because, like Russian Roulette, you never know when the trigger and the bullet will be in sync. And it’s shocking when a shank happens. It’ll ruin a round and, over time, may be the impetus to give up the game.
So how to initiate the downswing to avoid this over the top action? I still ascribe to a former, and quite popular, post of mine, the Key Downswing Move. This involves pulling the butt end of the club down towards the ball. I believe the chest, hips, and legs will naturally follow suit and move along with the arms, effectively transferring the weight forward. Ball position is a bit right of the left toe for driver and middle to slightly right of middle for irons. This encourages lag as well as preventing the over the top move. With the ball forward for the driver, an upswing at impact is encouraged. While a middle of stance ball position with irons encourages hitting down and through the ball, helping produce the compression so essential for crisply hit irons.
Of course, if your weight shift is a bit too slow, you’ll hit it fat so you’ll need to experiment and practice with this move. The idea is to learn with each swing and make adjustments accordingly. A teaching pro would be helpful to monitor what you’re doing, but it’s possible to figure this out on your own with patience and due diligence.
The other big advantage to pulling down the butt end at the start of the downswing is the shaft is more likely to stay on plane which is critical for a consistent result. 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.
As always with golf, learning the game–and we’re all learning this game–is a challenge and a process. Have fun with it.
In an exciting finish, South Korean A Lim Kim won the Women’s U.S. Open with three birdies on the last three holes to overtake Amy Olson. Kim was ranked No. 94 in the world coming into the event, the lowest ranked player to win the Open since the women’s world ranking began in 2006. She won $1,000,000.
This week, it’s the PNC Championship, formerly the Father Son Challenge. You’ll get a first look at 11 year old Charlie Woods and his Dad, 16 year old “Little John” Daly and his Dad, as well as a number of other interesting pairings, not only of sons, but daughters, fathers, etc. Should be fun. Starts Saturday.
May I recommend a good Christmas present for the golfers in your life: my book, The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness.
Phil Russell says
Stephen another great post. Really informative. But I am going to have to read the post over more than a few times to absorb all the information.
I feel like I back in my college days taking notes for next week’s test.
I think the main point that stuck with me was that in golf you never really know when your swing goes south and you just have to figure out how to get it back.
Have a nice New Years. Glad this year is almost over.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks so much, Phil. Happy New Year to you and yours as well. A good time to set some golf goals. It’s been too damn cold and rainy up here in the Pacific Northwest to play, but we do have a range that has heaters at each covered station. So no excuses for me. Hope you have opportunities to practice as well. The range can be a great help in trying out some theories, get the swing in shape, play with swing speed, and accuracy. All good, in preparation for the spring ahead. Take your time with looking over that last post and see if you can find the right swing sequences at the range or indoor practice facility. You’re looking for that certain feel and sound that comes with a well hit golf strike.
Enjoy the process.