Category Archives: golf swing

A Few Random Golf Notes

No essay today. Just a few odds and ends that have come to mind lately.

1. That the forward swing begins with the movement of the left hip is beyond doubt, but what that movement is, exactly, is a matter of confusion. There is a slide and a turn. But which one comes first and how much of a movement is each one? Let’s make the matter simpler.

Think of the first move forward as pushing your left hip straight back behind you. Now it cannot exactly go straight backward. To go back it has to turn somewhat and there will be a bit of a slide, too. Also, your weight will get off the right side early, like it should.

By thinking about it this way, whether the slide or the turn happens first is no longer an issue. They will both happen at the right time and that’s all you need to worry about.

If you try this, make sure the hip goes backward in rhythm. Don’t snap it back quickly.

2. A few years ago, the Play It Forward campaign was big. Play from the right set of tees and you will shoot lower scores and have more fun. There’s another reason why playing it forward pays off. It makes you a better golfer over time.

Because the course is shorter you will be hitting more shots that are within your ability to hit. This means you will learn how to score. Instead of always playing catch-up, you will always be on offense. You will learn how to dictate to the course instead of the course dictating to you.

You might want to play for a while from tees that are too short, then back up with your new mindset.

3. A few years ago I talked to you about the clubs I used to chip with. It was a set that went from lob wedge through 8-iron. The chipping stroke I used was somewhat of a downward blow with a little bit of punch to it.

Recently I have changed my chipping stroke to one that is more of a level brushing stroke. It gradually became clear that the clubs I calibrated earlier did not work well with the new stroke.

Since the blow with a brush is not as sharp, the ball does not leap off the clubface as it does with the downward stroke. All I had to do to recalibrate my chipping set was to move up by two clubs.

For example, where I had been using a lob wedge I now use a gap wedge to chip to a certain distance, or instead of a pitching wedge I use an 8-iron to send the ball an equivalent distance.

4. Remember that we play golf in order to have fun with friends. Of course we want to get better, but improvement occurs gradually. Having fun happens anytime we want to. First things first.

The Golf Swing as Simply as I Can Describe It

Golf instruction books, videos, blogs, all give you advice on how to swing the club that makes sense to the person who wrote it but is no more than a vain attempt to describe what the swing feels like.  That’s what technical advice really comes down to.

Bobby Jones wrote this in his introduction to his book Bobby Jones on Golf:
“In order to play well, the player must have the feel of the proper stroke.  Being unable to view himself objectively, he has no other guide than the sensations produced by the action of his muscles.”

Those sensations, being subjective, defy objective description.  Technical advice can point a golfer in the right direction and warn her or him of things NOT to do, but after that, all is left to the internal investigations of the individual.

I’m going to make an attempt here at describing the swing in terms of everyday motions, not golf motions.  This description lacks detail on purpose.  If you can do these things, I believe you will be CLOSER to doing it right than if you followed a mechanical laundry list of what is happening.

So here goes.

The backswing:  Imagine there is a shelf behind you and just above your right shoulder (left shoulder if you play left-handed).  Stand up straight and reach behind yourself with the hand on the opposite side of your body to take something off the shelf.  The catch is that your feet have to stay in the same place and cannot turn.

Unless you are Gumby, you will will not be able to reach the object on the shelf unless you turn your body.  Your legs turn, your hips turn, and your shoulders turn in order to get your hand back there.

Now get into your golf stance and do the same thing.  Reach for the shelf and you will find your body making a proper turn back.

If you do this with a club in your hands, once you are finished you will be in a very good backswing position.

Without a club in your hands, you might have turned your head to look at the imaginary shelf, but holding a club, your head stays looking forward.  That should be the only difference.

As for the forward swing, imagine you are holding an object up there weighing several pounds that you want to toss a long way away from you, and which you are holding with both hands.

You would start by getting your hip into it (you would), then your arms would swing forward, and lastly your hands would release the object you’re throwing. The momentum of the throw would continue your body turn, and swing your arms and now-empty hands high and in front of you, coming to a balanced stop.

(The reason I say to think of throwing a heavy object is that its weight will keep your hands back where they cannot throw it until it is time to.)

That’s it, the golf swing in a nutshell:  reach back for the shelf, throw the heavy object.

Now do two things with what I have just said.  First, interpret it literally, not literalistically.  What’s the difference?  If I say it’s raining cats and dogs, the literal interpretation is that it’s raining very hard.  The literalistic interpretation is that boxers and tabbies are falling out of the sky.

Second, if this description of the golf swing doesn’t make sense to you, or doesn’t seem quite right, or if you have a better way of saying it, don’t quibble.  Make up your own nutshell.  Use what I said as a springboard for finding your own way to express the golf swing IN THE SIMPLEST TERMS.

When you’re out there playing is not the time to be thinking of minute technical points.  They all have to be included in a larger, simpler conception.  I’ve given you two: one for the backswing and one for the forward swing.

I’ll let you know when I figure out a way to describe the whole thing at once.

Your Ideal Golf Swing Tempo

It’s funny how you can hear the same thing over and over again and it doesn’t make sense until something happens that just makes it click.  That happened to me a few days ago when I was watching Tiger Woods hit a few tee shots.

On every tee, His GOATness took two relatively slow, graceful practice swings—swings any one of us could make.  I would hurt myself if I swung at the ball like he does, but I am right in there with his practice swing.

Which gave me an idea for my game.  Hit the ball with my practice swing.

I know, everyone has heard that a thousand times before, but watching Tiger’s practice swing next to his real swing made me finally comprehend what that advice really means.

His practice swing is slowed way down so he can feel everything.  He’s checking all the marks that he pays attention to along the way.  What those marks are is not important.  That his swing is error-free is important.

Now he is good enough to step on the gas with a ball in front of him and still make an error-free swing.  We are not.

I would suggest that before each shot the recreational golfer take a few unhurried, perfect practice swings, and use THAT SAME SWING for hitting the ball.

That will provide the time to hit all the marks that are important for making a successful swing.

You will not rush yourself through your swing and miss some of your marks, or more importantly, force the club out of position by making your body keep up with itself, and fail to.

Many amateurs have a problem getting their weight onto their left side before impact.  Swinging slower gives them time to do that.

Many amateurs throw the club at the ball from the top.  Swinging slower makes it easier to hold onto their lag and release it naturally at the ball.

Swinging slower makes it easier to swing from start to finish rather than from start to impact.

And so on.

I wrote in my Living Golf Book that your ideal tempo is the fastest you can swing through impact and consistently hit solid shots off the center of the clubface.  For many recreational golfers, that isn’t nearly as fast, or as forceful, as they now swing.

Will you lose distance?  Maybe, at first, but when you have settled into hitting the center of the clubface, that distance will come back AND you will be much straighter.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

The swing you make before you hit the ball is the same swing to hit the ball with.  There should be no, zero, difference between the two.  Hopefully it is an unforced swing that leads to your finest shots time after time.

The Golf Swing as a Whole

The finish of the golf swing is not just a position we arrive when the swing is over.  It embodies the entire swing.

The swing is the sum of its parts.  All the parts must be linked up together, as Percy Bloomer described it, so the golfer can proceed to the finish, and it is by swinging to the finish that the parts are linked up.

What I mean by this is understanding that what happens after the ball is struck counts as much as everything you did beforehand.  You hit the ball with all of your swing.

Instructors have lately emphasized impact as the most important phase of the swing, and they are right, in a way.  That is when the ball is struck, and how the strike turns out is everything.

But it will not turn out well if the pursuit of a good strike makes the activity of the swing end at impact.

The direct pursuit of a good strike leads to end-gaining*, inconsistent ball-striking, and the inability to improve.  A good strike is the residue of a good swing, from start to end.

I know you wish you had a dollar for every time you have heard, “It’s a swing, not a hit.” (It used to be in dime, but inflation, you know.)

To become the player you want to be you need to internalize that maxim.  Getting an A on the written test doesn’t count.  To play good golf you need to get A on the practical exam.

Train yourself, and this is a mental exercise, by swinging without the ball in front of you, over and over, not thinking of any mechanics, nor of a backswing and a forward swing, or hitting an imaginary ball, but rather of one motion that connects the start (address) with the end (finish).

One motion, over over, from the start to end.

When there is a ball in front of you, here’s a reminder (not a swing thought).  As you’re about to take the club away, you usually have a feeling of hitting the ball.  Replace that with a feeling of swinging the club.  Actually feel the entire swing, especially the part that sails through the ball and continues to the finish.  Now you can go.

If you’re an OK golfer and want to become a good golfer you need a new conception of the golf swing.  Ending your golfing activity at the finish, using the entire swing to hit the ball, is that conception.

*The natural act of doing what seems obvious to achieve a result instead of doing what is right to achieve that result.

Two Fine Points

In the golf swing, just like anything, it seems, the devil is in the details.   I want to let you know about two details that seem to be working well for me lately.

The first one has to do with the golf club.  That’s what we swing to hit the ball with.  So far, so obvious, but it’s not always made to be that simple.

You have teachers who say you swing the handle.  Eddie Merrins comes immediately to mind.  Then there are others too numerous to mention who say you swing the clubhead. We could go on.

But what you’re really swinging is the golf club–the entire thing.  All of it.  You don’t swing the handle and leave the rest of it behind, do you?

When you think of swinging the entire club all at once, even though you are holding onto a small part of it, everything changes.  At least it does for me.

In several of my posts, and in my Living Golf Book, you will find me to be an advocate of the concept that swinging the club correctly tells the body what to do.

That only makes sense if your mind is on the club.  Not just part of the club, but all of it.  Handle, shaft, clubhead, not three parts, but all one thing.

Now this is a feeling in your mind and feelings are notoriously difficult to describe.  The best I can do is to suggest that even though your hands are holding only the handle, it has to feel as if they were holding the entire club.  I hope you can take it from there.

The second fine point is more technical and is something you can put your swing right away.  I read about it and James Sieckmann’s new book titled, Your Short Game Solution.

We all should know that the shape of your left wrist at the top of the backswing should be the same as it was address.  This goes a long way to keeping the clubface square.

In this book, Sieckmann adds the obvious point that the wrist should be in that shape throughout the backswing.

What I played with that idea, I discovered my wrist was getting out of shape along the way then back in again at the top.  That didn’t seem to affect my full swing all that much, but I discovered it went a long way toward explaining why I occasionally shank short pitch shots.

I had been bowing my left wrist outward, which shoves the entire club outward.  The short swing did not give me enough time to get the wrist back in shape so the club could be pulled back in.  That meant when the club came back to the ball it was not the clubface but the hosel that would do the hitting.

By keeping my left wrist angle constant, that problem, which I have tried so many things to solve and failed, is now a thing of the past.

Better yet, I find this point makes it very easy to do what I suggest above, which is to swing the entire club.

So that’s what I’m working on right now.  You might give them a try to see if they make any sense to you.

Your Golf Swing’s Red Line

You know what the red line is. It’s the line on the tachometer of your car that you dare not rev the engine beyond unless you want to ruin it. Shift, already!

Your golf swing has red line, too. Keep your swing speed under it, and your swing will perform the way it is supposed to. Exceed it and, well, . . .

Before I go on, let me be clear that when I say swing speed, I mean how fast you pivot and swing your arms. That’s not the same as clubhead speed, which usually refers to the velocity of the clubhead as it hits the ball. This post is about swing speed. Another name for that is tempo.

It might seem that if you want the clubhead to be moving faster when it hits the ball, you need to move faster, too. Although there can be a direct relationship between swing speed and clubhead speed, there can be an inverse relationship.

Oh sure, if you watch many modern Touring pros swing, they swing hard and fast and hit the ball way out there. But we’re not them. If most of us tried to swing as fast as they do, our body would get so tight that we would actually slow down the clubhead.

When you swing at a speed that is right for you, and it’s not going to be as fast as you can, the clouds part, the sun shines down upon you, the violins swell, and golf becomes a simple game.

In my earlier writings, I said to find your swing speed (tempo) you should start slowly and speed up until you have gone too far, then back down. Now I want to suggest trying the opposite approach.

Go to the range, and after you have thoroughly warmed up, hit balls with a 6- or 7-iron, swinging as fast as you can and yet stay in reasonable control of the goings on. Hit maybe a dozen balls this way. Be sure to rest in between shots.

Hopefully that sustained outburst should make you good and tired, so slow things down a little bit now. Try swinging as fast as you can without feeling like you’re swinging fast, with a gentle up and down rhythm. Try hitting a dozen balls with a swing that like that instead of “Hold on to your hats!”

I will not be surprised, though you might be, that the slower swing speed dramatically improves your ball-striking. You make much better contact than before, get better ball flight, the ball goes in a consistent direction, and you get pretty good distance. Did I leave anything out?

Your Hands Lead the Clubhead – Part 3

Over the years, I have talked at length about how to perform perhaps the most important swing fundamental there is–having your hands get back to the ball on the forward swing before the clubhead does. This move is absolutely critical for good and consistent ball-striking.

I put up a video a few years ago that shows you what that means and gave you a drill for your learn how have the hands lead the clubhead.

Last year I said it a different way: the handle and the clubhead both move in the same direction. Of course, there is a video that shows you what I mean.

But now I have a third way to explain it to you. I don’t mean for it to replace the other two, but to add to the ways you might come to understand what to do so one of them might just click.

The latest way involves the left arm (right arm for lefties). Let’s call it the leading arm so everyone is happy.

This is then new way of looking at it: the leading arm never stops moving. If it leads the forward swing down from the top and through the ball without stopping its swinging motion, you’ll have it.

Now that might sound odd. When does you leading arm ever stop moving? When you try to hit with your trailing hand, that’s when.

Try it. Swing down and just before you get to the ball, let that trailing hand take over and hit the ball (the error we’re trying to correct). You will notice that the leading arm slows way down or even comes to a dead stop and starts up again.

If your leading arm keeps moving, it is very difficult to hit with that trailing hand. I mean, you can do it if you really try, but just don’t try.

The easiest way to learn this move is by swinging your heaviest wedge, which would be your sand wedge or your lob wedge, with your leading arm only. Back and forth, just like a pendulum. Over and over.

The weight of that heavy clubhead will create a swinging force such that the swinging arm keeps swinging through the ball and you will learn what it feels like for it to keep swinging.

(The weather in western Oregon is lousy right now, so I’m not going to run outside and make a video. I think you can figure out what to by yourself.)

Try this drill. Try the other two. See which one works best for you and when you find it, drill yourself from now to next Sunday. Really. When you have the club leaning forward a bit at impact consistently, you will know what good ball-striking feels like. It feels pretty cool.

I have two more ways for you to learn this, but…later.

My Spring Golfing Tuneups

We are starting to have sunny days in western Oregon now. It might even get warm enough to let the overnight dew dry off the course before a 10:00 a.m. tee time so we don’t have to play on a wet golf course.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my winter practice to be ready to go from the very start. Here’s what I’m doing.

As usual, I’m practicing rhythm–three beats up, one beat down. I don’t care how sound your swing is otherwise, if this part is off it’s usually three parts up and a half beat down, nothing else will save you. And rhythm is never something you can say you have once and for all. It takes continual practice.

To avoid letting my right hand take over in the forward swing, both when starting the club forward, and as it comes through th ball, I’ve taken to starting the forward swing with the left arm. More specifically, the left upper arm. The left forearm and left hand are not included. That arm stays in control through the ball.

This is something the Manuel De La Torre taught. I’m finding to be very effective, once I figured out how to do it.

This doesn’t mean I’m taking my right hand out of the swing. This move merely prevents it from making a premature contribution. The instant before impact I have a strong hitting feeling with the right hand, but it is something that is generated naturally by the momentum of the swing, not by anything I’m deliberately doing with that hand.

My right elbow has a habit of flying out instead of staying tucked in where it should be in the forward swing. This causes me to swipe across the ball and hit really bad-looking hooks. To fix that, I concentrate on keeping my elbows close together. That is, I maintain the feeling of closeness they have at address throughout the swing. Though they might not be that close all the time, as long as they feel like they are, everything is fine.

Lastly, my hand-eye coordination is pretty good. Not outstanding, but I generally hit what I aim for. This is a big problem if I aim for the back of the ball when I swing. If I am just a little bit off, I’ll hit the ground just a tiny bit behind of the ball, or just underneath it. You don’t get much out of either one of those.

The fix, I have found, is to look at a spot on the ground about an inch ahead of the ball and aim for that. Works like a charm with my irons. Even with my driver. If I look at the ball with my driver I want to HIT IT (and you know what that leads to), but looking at a spot ahead of the ball slows me to SWING THROUGH it, giving me much better results.

And, of course, there’s putting. I practiced 2-footers every night in my back room, and I never missed. Now I think putting is easy. A lot of putting is about confidence.

A Golf Swing Epiphany

I have a video on YouTube that talks about the straight left arm–what that term really means. It is by far the most popular of all my videos for some reason.

It’s really good advice to keep your left arm straight, because if you bend your elbow you introduce another lever into your swing. Two levers, the wrist and the shoulder, are enough. No need to add a third.

But I found out a few days ago that’s exactly what I do when I’m swinging at my best. I bend my left elbow.

For years, the major thrust of all my personal golf swing research has been to figure out how to keep the clubface square from takeaway to impact. It’s pretty hard to do, because the forearms can rotate too much or not enough, and the wrists can do almost anything. Getting these two to behave isn’t easy.

And then there’s who knows what else.

When I was playing very well, back in 2011 before things started happening (long-time readers know what they are), I always had this feeling at the tail end of my backswing that my wrists were bending a bit extra because of the momentum of the swing.

They seemed to always get back into line in the forward swing, though, because one of the hallmarks of my game was and still is that I hit the ball very straight.

But I never felt that extra bending of my wrists was the right thing to be happening, so I tried hard to eliminate it by deliberately doing things to prevent the bending feeling from coming up.

The problem was, those corrections didn’t improve matters, and they turned a free and easy swing into a lot of work.

So in the past few months I decided to go look for that swing feeling and get it back again. I found it last week, and when I did I quickly realized I had been all wrong all this time.

It wasn’t my wrists that were bending. It was my left elbow.

My left shoulder isn’t flexible enough to get my hands to where the momentum of my backswing wants to take them, so my elbow bends to get them there. The feeling in my wrists is caused by the weight of the club, not by any extraneous movement in them.

On the forward swing, the elbow straightens out again and I’m still in business with a square clubface.

I’m going on about this because it is a perfect example of what I wrote about a few weeks ago . Something so fundamental as a straight left arm is something I do NOT do, and when I try to do it, I don’t hit the ball well. That swing is not ME.

Gary Player once said something along the lines of, “Name me any swing fundamental and I’ll show you a championship golfer who doesn’t do it.”

I doubt Player had me in mind when he said that, but it’s true. Fundamentals get you in the ball park, but if they mess you up, modify them until your swing is YOU.

There is only one way for you to swing a golf club, and that is YOUR way.

Golf Isn’t Hard Work

Whenever I go to the range, which is about once every other week, there’s this guy who is always there. Always. With a big pile of balls in front of him.

I’m not sure what he’s up to. Maybe he just likes to hit golf balls. If that’s his retirement hobby (and he’s gotta be retired to be there at 10 every morning), fine with me.

But if he’s trying to improve, I don’t know how being out there all the time and hitting so many balls is going to do it.

I’ve seen what he can do. He hits the ball really well, about as well as he ever will, and as well as a recreational golfer needs to.

He knows how to swing the club. All he really needs is a reminder every so often so he doesn’t forget or start drifting.

In this month’s Golf Digest there is an article “by” Dustin Johnson on how he practices. He says he hits mostly wedge shots, then chips and putts. He’ll hit a few shots with the longer clubs, then he goes to play.

He’s keeping his swing in tune, but putting time in on what goes away fast if you let it slide–the short game. Pounding balls is not part of his practice plan.

I read once that not many pros thought all the drivers Vijay Singh used to hit did him any good at all. After a few he wasn’t adding anything.

I would say to you, if you know how your swing works*, get a small bucket of about 30 balls, hit half of them with full swings, and the rest with your wedges to different targets.

Another key point Johnson made is one my pro made to me a few years ago. You need a new perspective every so often. Staying in the same place at the range and hitting to the same target doesn’t prepare you for the course, where every shot has a different look.

Either hit to different targets, or hit to the same target but move to a new spot some distance away so the look of the shot is new. That gives you the sense of playing that should be part of your practice.

In 2014 I published my Six Fundamentals. They’re my swing keys, and I hit only enough balls to make sure I’m still doing them so I get good results.

One point in them is rather subtle, but it is that the forward swing is driven by the right side. This is from Fundamental 4, The Right Knee Moves Left. In the same issue of Golf Digest, Butch Harmon has a piece on hitting your irons. He says,

“The third piece [of being in position] is driving your right side–arm, shoulder, knee–at the target.”

Butch Harmon charges three million dollars an hour for the same advice you get here for free.

Stick with me, kid.



*Write down your own set of fundamentals, or swing keys, or whatever you want to call them, that your swing depends on so you can always refer to them when things go wrong.