Category Archives: golf swing

The Slow Golf Swing

This conversation occurred between me and my wife after I got back from hitting a golf ball around the big field near my house with a 6-iron.

Me: I learned something today, for the umpteenth time, and maybe this time I’ll remember it. But I’m never sure.

Wife: And what would that be?

Me: We, and by that I mean every golfer living, wants to hit the ball a long way.

Wife: What’s wrong with that? I would want to do that if I played golf. Which I don’t.

Me: But which you will someday, knock on wood. The thing is, we keep thinking to hit the ball far, we have to hit hard. That means swing hard. In reality, all we have to do is put a swing on the ball, with the distance the designer built into the club, and we get all the distance we need.

Wife: In other words, stop trying so hard to make it happen.

Me: Yep.

Wife: And you’re still learning this after having played golf for how long?

Me: Sixty years this coming June, but that’s beside the point. It just seems natural to want to hit hard, We try not to, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s like we don’t trust the swing and the club to get the job done. It’s so effortless when you do it right that we really can’t believe it.

Wife: So why don’t you just say to yourself you’re going to swing easier, then do that?

Me: I do. And I suppose other golfers do, too. I take the club back easy, but when I finish my backswing and am about to start the club forward, I think, “HIT THE BALL!” and all my self-restraint goes out the window.

Wife: Maybe you could tell yourself something at that point other than “Hit the ball.”

Me: That’s right, and that’s what I did. Right before I started the club forward, I said to myself, “Center of the clubface.” Or rather, I thought that, because it’s quicker to think that than to say it. But it worked out the same. In this shorthand way, I replaced one conscious thought with a different conscious thought. You have to be thinking about something, and it’s just as easy to think about the right thing as it is the wrong thing. What this did is prevent me from adding that little extra something that doesn’t add, but subtracts. Now my swing was slower, but it wasn’t deliberately slow. I let my unconscious mind take over and it made me swing only so fast that I would be able to get that center hit, which is slower than my “hit” instinct wants. But, boy, did it work. Straight, great ball flight, and all the distance I want out of my 6-iron. It turns a power swing into a finesse swing that has power.

Wife: So you finally have it figured out? This time for sure?

Me: Yes, at least until the next time I hit golf balls. When I’ll have to “discover” this all over again. And I’ll come home and tell you all about it like it’s the first time. Again.

Why You Should Slow Down Your Golf Swing

One of the best comments I ever read on a golf forum was to “slow down your swing and learn to live with the extra distance you get.” The reason eluded me until recently.

I got the November 2019 copy of Golf Digest magazine. You know, the magazine that has playing tips every month that work for world-class professionals, but not for you?

Here’s one that did work, and it was from Daniel Berger. He said you’re never going to get the distance you’re due until you learn to hit the ball off the center of the clubface, and he gave us a drill to work on that.

He said to hit balls with your 7-iron (everybody’s favorite club) at 30 percent of your normal swing speed until you start connecting with the center of the clubface consistently. Then move up to 50 percent, then 70 percent.

He also mentioned you would be surprised at how far the ball goes even with those slow swings if you hit the ball on the center of the clubface.

That rang true to me, so I went to the driving range I live next door to. Actually it’s not driving range, but the Oregon State Fairgrounds. It has a big field that is used for a parking lot that is 560 yards long and 235 yards wide. I go there every day and hit a few balls.

So I went out there with a 7-iron and a few golf balls to try this tip, swinging at what I felt to be 30 percent. Slowing down that much is harder than it sounds, but I think I got it.

Wow. Triple wow.

Berger is exactly right. Slowing down the swing makes it easy to get centered contact and when you do, the ball flies off the center of the clubface, and goes farther than you could imagine it would.

I’m working up slowly to a faster speed, but only so fast that I can still make contact on the center of the clubface.

I my Living Golf Book, I define tempo as “the fastest you can swing through impact and consistently hit solid shots off the center of the clubface.” Berger’s drill is a fantastic way to find that tempo. (Yes, I’ll be revising LGB accordingly for December 1.)

Try it. You’ll find that tempo doesn’t have to be very fast to hit shots that go straight (slowing down your swing takes the tension out of it, which is what introduces many of your swing errors) and to a distance I know you can live with.

Hinging Your Wrists

The wrists break, or hinge, in two ways in the golf swing.

Put your palms together with your fingers pointing away from you. Now hinge your wrists so your thumbs point back toward you. This is vertical hinging, which every golfer does.

Set up your hands like you did before and this time hinge your wrists from side to side. This is horizontal hinging, which fewer golfers do.

The complete golf swing must include both types of hinging.

Vertical hinging takes care of itself. That’s why every golfer does it. Horizontal hinging must be deliberately done.

When you take the club back, and your hands get to about hip height or a bit before that, start bending the right wrist (left wrist for left-handed golfers) back on itself.

Don’t do it all at once, and finish the hinging by the end of the backswing in a position that is comfortable. You will feel the bend, but it should not feel forced.

When you begin the forward swing, preserve your gain. Keep that wrist hinge as you start down. Let the momentum of the swing release all hinging as the club swings into the ball.

This is one way of generating club head speed. It’s free, you don’t have to force it. Just enjoy it.

Two Swing Moves Every Golfer Needs

I looked over my blog, which I have been posting to more than weekly since early 2009.  There are 152 posts about the golf swing.  I’m going to give you one more.

This post is something of a distillation of two principles I have written about many times.

It contains all the advice you will ever need about your golf swing.  If you learn to do these two things, your golf swing will transform itself and you will move to a new level of play.  I guarantee it.

First, slow down your swing.  I say in my Living Golf Book that “Your optimum tempo is the fastest you can swing through impact and consistently hit solid shots off the center of the clubface.”   That’s very likely slower than you’re swinging now.

By “consistently” I mean three out of five times.  We don’t need perfection.  But right now I would be surprised if you’re doing that three out of ten times.

The way you achieve this is to slow down your swing.  Try swinging at thirty percent of your normal speed.  You should start connecting with the center of the clubface and hitting brilliant shots with startling frequency.

Now move up a bit to maybe fifty percent of your normal swing speed.  Are you still connecting?   Three out of five times?  If so, go to seventy percent.  If there’s a drop off in shot quality, resist the urge to figure out how to hit the center at seventy percent.  Go back to the swing speed at which you found your greatest success and stay there.

Go back to the place where you make beautiful contact and hit the ball straighter, much more often, without losing any appreciable distance.

Second, swing so your hands get back to the ball before the clubhead does.  Your hands lead the clubhead.  No good golfer fails to do this. No bad golfer ever does it.

Learn how to do this by making half swings with a sand wedge, with only your left hand on the handle (right hand if you play left-handed).  That will give you the feeling of what your left hand and wrist are supposed to be doing as they swing through impact.  Practice this over and over.

Combined with your slower swing, it will be easy to keep doing this when you put both hands on the club.

That’s it:
Slow down your swing to get centered hits
Have your hands lead the clubhead into the ball

Work on these two things.  Don’t get distracted by anything else. Make them your winter golf swing workout.

Now, I didn’t make all this up in my backyard this morning.  You can read about these two things all over the place.  I’ve been talking about these two points for years on this blog.

Teaching professionals have their own ideas about a lot of things, but no teaching professional will disagree with these two.  They might be the only swing universals there are.

And when I get it through my thick head to actually do them they actually work.

My purpose in writing this blog is to point you in the right direction.  I cannot point you in a better direction than I have today.

Two Turns and a Swish

Several weeks ago I described the golf swing in two pieces.  I said if I could describe the swing in one piece I’d let you know.  Well, here it is.

The title of this post is it: two turns and a swish, credited to legendary teacher John Jacobs.

But what does that phrase mean?  That part isn’t so easy.  From Jacobs we go to Jim Flick and his book with the most to-the-point title ever, On Golf.

In this book, Flick makes the clear statement that the golf swing is composed of turning motions and swinging motions.  They are different, and are performed by different parts of the body.  Some parts turn, other parts swing.

The turning elements are the shoulders, torso, hips, legs, knees, and feet.

The swinging elements are the club, the mind, the fingers and hands, the wrists, the forearms, the elbows, and the upper arms and shoulder sockets (in which the upper arms turn).

He makes the key point that the turning elements support and respond to the swinging elements.  Swinging comes first, turning comes second.

Let’s move to Manuel de la Torre, who refines this concept in his book, Understanding the Golf Swing.  He says (writing in broad terms) the hands produce the backswing, and the arms produce the forward swing.

On that second point, he uses the anatomical definition of the arm, which is the upper limb from the elbow to the shoulder.  The limb from the elbow to the wrist is the forearm, and that is not used to produce the forward swing.

How do you integrate these two motions, the turn and the swing?  For the recreational golfer, Flick advises “to let his feet and legs support him and move in response to the swing.” (I’ll assume that applies to women, too.)

de la Torre says the body turn takes place in response to the swing, and says nothing more about it.  As far as the weight shift goes, which you hear about so much, the swing will produce it.

Both instructors are in firm agreement that the underlying concept in all of this is that what is swung is the club, not any body part.  The club.

Let me throw in one idea that helps keep the swing and the turn working together.  Flick calls it, “letting the air out.”  The first move forward with the arms is a gravity move.  The arms begin to drop in response to the pull of gravity.  “Tour players will tell you they want to soften their arms precisely at the change of direction.”

Centrifugal force will build up the necessary speed by the moment of impact.  By not forcing things at this critical instant, the swinging and turning elements integrate.

So there you have it: two turns and a swish (swing).  Part of the body turns, part of it swings.  Get those two parts straightened out and you’re on your way to hitting beautiful golf shots.

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.