How the Golf Swing Really Works

If you haven’t already heard of her, I would like to introduce you to Vivien Saunders, a great teacher who lives in the U.K.

In this video, she turns around everything you have heard about how to swing a golf club.

Swinging a golf club is not what happens when you do the right things with your body. It is what happens to your body when you swing the golf club correctly.

Watch this. (Unfortunately, there is no Embed option)

Swing the Clubhead

Now you don’t have to watch the Golf Channel anymore.

How to Break 100, 90, and 80

Breaking a milestone scores is a major event in a golfer’s life. It signals improvement and gives assurance that going lower still is a possibility.

There are books written on how to break each of these three scores, filled with technique. If you’re a few strokes away, you already have the technique. Think instead about how you plan your round. It makes a difference.
Breaking 100

If you got a double bogey on every hole you would shoot 108. So you can get a double bogey on just nine holes, a bogey on the rest, and there’s 99.

What is killing your score now is not a lack of pars and bogeys. It is the triples and quads. At your level your job is not to take fewer strokes on a hole, but to avoid taking extra ones.

Do that by shoring up your play at each end of the hole.

First, leave your driver at home. Leave your 3-wood at home, too. Tee off with a hybrid iron, one that gets the ball out there 175-180 yards but in the fairway.

Second, from 50 yards and in, just get your ball on the green in the same area as the pin. Do not get cute and try for the pin.

You’re not that good yet. Just get the ball on the green and take your two putts.

Nine bogeys + nine doubles = 99

Breaking 90

Now you have to start making pars. I would still leave the driver at home. Use the longest club with which you can reliably get the ball in the fairway from off the tee, to be on offense from the start.

You also have to get better around the green. Eliminate down-in-four from 50 yards in. You should be getting down in two from just off the green half as often as not.

Get your pars by parring one of the par 3s, one of the par 4s and two of the par fives.

You might say, if I get four pars that gives me an 86. Yes, but you’re still going to have some doubles and maybe a triple.

Your game is in the middle where you’re capable of making pars, but still capable of making big scores, too.

Four pars + eleven bogeys + three doubles = 89

Breaking 80

Now you have to play well all around. Seven over sounds pretty tough, but that’s more wiggle room than you think it is.

Your goal should be to have a putt for par on every hole. Sometimes that putt will 45 feet long, not two feet, but the ball is still on the green and your putt is for a par.

At your level, par is a reasonable expectation on all but a few holes on your course. For those few holes, go for bogey, but give yourself a chance for par. Don’t go all out for par and end up with a double.

Get your pars on two par 3s, five par 4s, and all the par 5s.

Eleven pars + seven bogeys = 79.

In reality, you have to throw in another par somewhere, because going 18 holes without a double bogey is really hard for an 80-shooter to do. Birdies are still happy accidents at this level.

How to Play Par 5s

The par 5s on your course are the holes where you can get your pars more easily than the rest. Think of them as really long par 4s that you are playing for bogey, and you have the idea.

As with a par-4 hole, the key to the par 5 is the second shot, an advancement shot which sets you up for an easy shot onto the green. Of course, your drive has to put the ball in the right spot for that second shot.

A long hole does not automatically mean a long drive is needed. I did a survey once of the par-5 holes on eight courses I normally play. The average length was 485 yards, from the white tees. The longest was 525, the shortest was 460.

Let’s go with the average, 485 yards. Say you can get 200 yards out of a hybrid iron. Tee off with it. You don’t have to hit that short off the tee, we’re just seeing what happens if you do.

That third shot into the green needs to be a gimmee. The right second shot is how you get it.

You have two shots left to cover 285 yards. Divide by two, and that’s about two 7-irons. Or you could cover the same distance with a 5-iron and a pitching wedge.

Not bad. So let’s go back and tee off with a driver. That puts the ball in the fairway at 230 or so. Now you have two 8-irons to get the ball on the green. See how this works?

There’s no need to be a manly man when you’re 240 yards away from the hole by going for it all at once unless you are VERY good from that distance.

Of course you want to get as close to the green as you can for your third shot, but the number one priority is to hit the second shot, the advancement shot, with a club you handle well.

On your third shot, resist temptation to go for the flag even if you’re close to to the green. Just get the ball on the green inside 40 feet or so, and there’s your par. That’s a big target that I’m sure you can hit. You’re likely to get closer than 40 feet, too.

The idea of a par 5 is not to be concerned about distance. They give you an extra shot to get the ball on the green, so use it. Wisely.

Get the ball in the fairway off the tee, keep the ball on the fairway with your second, and just get it on the green with your third.

Christy O’Connor (1924-2016)

Christy O’Connor, a legendary Irish professional golfer, died on May 14 at age 92. He became known as Christy O’Connor Senior when his nephew of the same name began competing in the early 1970s.

O’Connor Senior turned pro in 1948. He won twice in 1953, then annually on the European Tour or in other events until 1972, and five more times from 1974 to 1980.

He represented Ireland in the Canada Cup fifteen times, including thirteen years in a row from 1955 to 1969. He played in ten Ryder Cups, from 1955 to 1973, a record until broken by Nick Faldo in 1997.

His highest finish in a major championship was second in the Open Championship, the only one of the four modern majors he ever competed in, in 1965.

Once, when playing a practice round for the Open at Royal Troon, he missed the green hitting into the 123-yard 8th hole. A gallery member commented that a professional golfer should be able to hit even a small a target such as that.

O’Connor’s reply was to empty his bag of golf balls and hit one onto the green with each club in his bag except his putter.

How to Make a Swing Change

Making a swing change? Do it like this.

Step 1: Start by making slow-motion swings with your driver, no ball in front of you. Do this over and over until you feel the change is being integrated with the rest of your swing.

Then hit some balls, with the same slow-motion swing. If you get good shots, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Spend a week swinging your 9-iron with the slow-motion swing. Hit some balls. Hit lots of 9-irons. When you’re satisfied that you can hit a 9-iron with your new swing, move up to the 8-iron.

Keep the pace of your swing slower than normal. Resist the urge to step it up and see how far the ball will go. All you want is clean contact and straight ball flight.

Work your way through the bag one club at a time. If switching to the next club causes your swing to break down, that’s a sign you weren’t really ready to switch. Go back to the one you were swinging before for a few days.

Take your time, there’s no rush. Spending three months on the transition will pay off a lot more than spending three weeks.

How to Play Par 4s

A standard golf course has ten par 4 holes. They’re hard. Even the pros average a touch over par on them in aggregate. The key is the second shot, but the first and third shot are right behind in importance.

The tee shot needs to be in the fairway. Colin Montgomery said, “The reason people think I’m such a good iron player is that I’m always playing my second shot from here (pointing to the fairway) instead of from over there (pointing to the rough).”

If the rough is low, if fairways bunkers have shallow lips, if there are no trees to hit into, you still have a chance if your ball ends up in one of those places.

Best, though, to play for the fairway. That might mean leaving your driver in the bag occasionally. Something to consider.

The key, now, is the second shot. The big mistake is hitting short of the green. You either overestimate your how far you can hit a club, or you have the right club but don’t make good contact.

Start out choosing your club based on the distance to the pin. Then take one more club (say, a 6-iron instead of a 7-iron), and grip down about an inch. Put a normal swing on the ball.

A good shot will get you past the pin (always good), and if you don’t quite get all of the shot, you’ll be short of the pin, but still on the green.

In addition, most of the trouble around the green is in front, and you’ll be hitting over it.

When selecting your club, do not forget to consider other factors such as differences in elevation between you and the green, wind, dampness in the air, your lie, and how you’re hitting the ball today.

If you got green-high in two, odds are your third shot won’t be that close to the hole, so you’ll have a longish chip or approach putt left.

This is where chipping practice and long approach putt practice (30-40 feet) comes in. You have to get the ball to three feet or less with your third.

Having gone through all that, the advice that puts it all together is to plan the hole backwards, from green to tee.

If you know the course well, you should know where in the fairway you want to hit into the green from. Now you know where in the fairway you want to put your tee shot.

Finally, some par 4s are just to hard for you. Play those as a short par 5 to keep the double off your card.

A Tempo Feeling

When I write about tempo, I make it somewhat technical so you can work it out precisely at the range. But you can’t use technical methods when you play.

So try looking at tempo this way.

Swing at a pace that feels unhurried. Not too slow, though. For sure, the swing is not a horse race, but it’s not a mosey.

A Sunday afternoon, unhurried tempo will work wonders.

Manuel de la Torre (1921-2016)

A legendary instructor passed away on April 24. Spanish-born player and coach Manuel de la Torre, based in Wisconsin, taught that the golfer should think about how the club moves and not about how the body moves.

Manuel de la Torre

If the club moves correctly, the result will be a good shot. There are many ways the body can move to get the club to move correctly.

Once a golfer understands what the club is supposed to do, that player’s unconscious mind will take over and guide the body to produce that result.

See him explain this concept here.

de la Torre was an accomplished golfer, finishing as runner-up in the 1942 NCAA final. He won the Wisconsin State Open five times and the Wisconsin PGA Professional Championship five times. He had top ten finishes in PGA Tour events, too.

He was inducted into both the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame and the PGA Hall of Fame.

He loved teaching, and kept his fees low to expand his reach. He famously charged juniors just $3 a lesson. He often said, “I’d rather make $1,000 teaching 50 people than $1,000 teaching 10.”

The book, Understanding the Golf Swing, explains his golfing philosophy.