Category Archives: golf swing

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.

Getting Ready For Spring

About a month ago, I posted some suggestions for your winter practice. I was following that plan at the time, but you know how my mind wanders, so I thought I would let you know what is going right now.

It’s hard to practice approach putting when it’s raining so much and the practice greens are soaked, so most of my putting practice goes on in my back room on a very short-pile carpet–perfect for the task.

I am firmly committed to the two-putter plan. That has me practicing up to ten-foot putts with my face-balanced putter, at least nightly, and whenever I’m home with nothing important to do (which is all the time when I’m home).

When I go to the the range, I bring my sand wedge and my pitching wedge. I pick out a target on the ground and try to drop a ball right on top of it. I don’t pitch to an area. I pitch to a spot. Most of the time it’s a ball lying out there somewhere.

I have been doing this for years at the range, and have developed a sense over that time of what a distance feels like and what I have to do to hit the ball there, just by looking at it. Sometimes I get the ball so close it’s scary.

Not bragging here. If you practice something often enough you get good at it.

As far as the swing goes, I am deep into a new (for me) mental approach to it.

I have written about Gabrielle Wulf’s work on the benefit of external focus (in golf, the club) rather than internal focus (the golfer) in learning, improving, and performing.

Now let’s combine that with the Ernest Jones method of “swing the clubhead.” To me, that is an early expression of external focus. By swinging the clubhead, the body will automatically do the right thing.

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it is on the right track.

I swing a Titleist 20.5° fairway wood (975J) in my back room. I take the club back slowly with a gentle push by the left hand. Slow is important because I want to feel the clubhead throughout the swing. If the start is too fast, that feel will not emerge.

The backswing is nothing more than feeling the clubhead move back and up. The forward swing is the same. I feel the clubhead move down, around, and through.

My mind is on nothing else than the clubhead moving. I mentally follow its movement back and forward again. I really have no concept of what my body is doing, because my mind is on something else, so getting stuck on technique is out the window.

I can’t think about hitting the ball, hitting it a long way, hoping I will hit a good shot, or any other irrelevant and destructive thought. It’s just, follow the clubhead.

The results I’m getting are very good. I’m hitting good shots easily.

If you want to try this, I suggest you begin with a sand wedge, because its weight makes the clubhead easy to feel throughout the swing. There is no need to bend way over when you swing it. Stand up in your driver stance and pretend your sand wedge is a short driver.

I have been through a lot with my health in the past six years. I am unable to play golf the way I used to, but that doesn’t mean I can no longer play good golf. It means I have to find a different way. I have growing confidence that this is the way.

How to Practice Hitting the Ball First, Ground Second

We all know that when the ball is on the ground, we should hit the ball first and the ground second. The wrong way to make that happen is to deliberately guide the club into doing that with your hands. That just interfered with my swing as it went through impact when I did it that way.

So I’m trying something else now. I get a fairway wood, and set up, drawing a line in my mind where the leading edge of the clubhead is on the ground. Then I take a swing and make the effort with my swing, not my hands, to let the sole of the clubhead thump the ground in front of that line.

You most likely will have to adjust your swing slightly to make that happen. I couldn’t begin to describe how my swing got adjusted, so I’ll leave it up you to figure that out for yourself.

I like to use a fairway wood instead of an iron, because outdoors, I don’t make a mess on the ground with divots and get my club dirty, and I can do this indoors without damaging the carpet.

I’m still working on this, the adjustments aren’t automatic yet, so I can’t say if the effort will actually pay off. But the idea makes sense to me, so I’ll invest in it.

A Few Odds and Ends

I was looking through a notebook I keep that contains notes from golf lessons I have taken. The last playing lesson I took emphasized the tee shot. My note says, “Tee shot is paramount to making par. Work on these.” So work on your driver, but work on hitting it straight, not far. If you can hit your irons straight, but not your driver, get a lesson. You’ll never figure it out yourself.

There are several other notes that pertain only to me, but another general note is, “Make your targets very precise from the tee and the fairway.” Think not only of which direction you want the shot to go, but on what spot do you want the ball to land. And it’s a spot, not an area.

You know the bottom of your swing needs to be ahead of the ball. How do you do that? I practice this indoors with a fairway wood. I set up and take note of the place where the leading edge of the sole is. Then I make a slow-motion swing and try to lightly tap the rug with the sole of the club ahead of that place when I swing through. Hint: if you’re not getting your weight to the left in the forward swing, and early in the forward swing, you won’t be able to get the club out there.

I’ve been playing around with a short stroke for short putts this past week. It started out as the old pop stroke, but I quickly found out that the rapid stroke and percussive hit the word “pop” suggests is the wrong way to go about it. I’m finding success with a rhythmic stroke that nudges the ball to the hole. That might be a better starting point for you if you want try this out. I should also mention my upper arms rest against my sides for security. The advantage of a short stroke (about six inches for a 10-foot putt) is that the clubface stays square throughout. I’m only using this stroke for short putts I think I can sink. For longer putts, I go back to my sweeping pendulum stroke and the TAP method.

I read a tip in a current golf magazine that I thought might help. So I went out and tried it. The results were terrible. What I realized very quickly is that I was already doing what the tip suggested. In trying to follow the tip I did more of it and that was too much. Beware of tips you read in golf magazines.

Unwind Through the Ball

The less you try to HIT the golf ball and the more you SWING THROUGH it, the better shots you are going to get. I keep looking for a way to explain that to myself, and this week’s version is, “unwind through the ball.”

That means, in the backswing wind up, and in the forward swing unwind in the same way, all the way through the ball. Not TO the ball, but through it. Big difference.

It’s like you turn yourself into a giant spring. You wind up the spring on the back swing and you unwind on the forward swing. The unwinding is performed in the same manner as the winding. It is not ease back, then fire through.

I think the reason this is so hard to do is that we want to HIT the ball along way. So it’s really hard for us to swing easy back and easy through. But that’s exactly what I think you have to do.

That will also make it easier to hold onto the angle between your forearm and the club shaft and not let it go too early. That way, the club builds up acceleration without you even feeling it. You LET the club do the work instead of MAKING it do the work.

Before you swing, remind yourself to wind up gently and unwind gently through the ball. Regardless of what you really look like when you swing, picture in your mind how smooth and graceful you must look.

Practice swinging like this in your living room or in your backyard. Than the next time you play, take a practice swing in slow motion that winds up and unwinds through the mall. Then step up to the ball and do the same swing, just a little faster. I think you’ll like what happens.

Fix It Yourself

There was a time not too long ago that my driver was my go-to club. I felt as good about hitting it into a narrow fairway as I did standing over a 6-inch putt on a slow green. But because of my health issues I haven’t played that much in the last five years and and I lost that swing.

So now I’m trying to simplify my swing to to make it easy to perform and easy to remember. Though I hit my irons okay, I hit one duck hook after another with my driver. The ball lands about 120 yards away then rolls into the left rough. You can’t play golf like that.

I changed my grip. That didn’t help. I change my takeaway. That didn’t help. I worked on my turn to square up the clubface. That didn’t help.

One of the things I had done to simplify my swing was to start the swing by pulling the club back with my right hand. I figured pulling something moves it more accurately than pushing it. So I pulled the club back with my right hand rather than pushing back with my left.

That, it turned out, was the problem. It was in the takeaway, but I had been looking in the wrong place.

Two days ago I decided to find out where in my swing my clubface was closing because that is what was causing those duck hooks. Every place I checked the clubface was closed. It got to the point where I saw my clubface had closed no more than two feet after it had been taken away from the ball. And then the solution hit me.

By pulling the club away with my right hand I was not allowing the club to rotate open. I was closing the club face from the very start. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

So I tried doing the opposite and started the club back by gently pushing with my left hand. Problem solved.

The club face remained square and I began hitting drives just like I used to. Straight, up in air, and while maybe not as far as before, the ball still got out there.

I’m telling you this because sometimes it doesn’t take a wholesale change in your swing to correct the problem you’re having. If you just spend time investigating your swing in detail you can find out what the problem is. And if you don’t find it, keep looking.

I have always recommended lessons, but much more often you can figure out what the problem is and find the solution yourself. When your golf is based on knowledge that comes from you, that’s one step closer to owning your swing.

Golf’s Most Important Two Inches

You’re never going to hear the end of this from me. It’s the most important swing fundamental there is. Your hands have to lead the clubhead.

A few weeks ago, I changed it to, the handle moves in harmony with the clubhead. Too wordy.

How about the handle leads the clubhead?

Whatever you call it, you see it demonstrated here by our new U.S. Open champion, Brooks Koepka. His hands got to the ball before the clubhead did. Not by much, only about two inches. But that’s all it needs to be.

Brooks Koepka at impact

If you’re not used to swinging through this position, it feels like your hands are two feet ahead of the clubhead, but they’re not. They’re ahead by just a little bit. But it’s the most important little bit in golf.

Timing the Whoosh

Last fall I wrote about the whoosh–the sound the clubhead makes when you swing it fast. I want to review that, and add on another comment.

Swing a golf club, maybe a 5-iron or longer, without a ball in front of you. Listen for the whoosh. That’s the sound of your club travelling at its maximum speed.

The whoosh gives you an indication of what your clubhead speed is. While you won’t get a precise measurement, obviously, we can say that the higher the pitch, the faster the club is travelling.

And more speed is always better. The Internet is full of pages, and YouTube if full of videos, about how to increase your clubhead speed. But many of them fail to make the most important point. Your maximum clubhead speed has to appear at the right moment. Otherwise, it’s no good.

You should hear the whoosh at or just past where a ball would be. If you hear it before the clubhead gets to the ball, you are releasing the club too early and using up your clubhead speed before you really need it.

Most likely, if that is the case, you’re letting go of the angle between your left forearm and the clubshaft too soon on the downswing. Play with holding on to that angle a little bit longer until you hear the whoosh placed directly in front of you.

This shouldn’t be a big adjustment to make. Just be sure you’re only adjusting your release and not trying to force this to happen. Light grip pressure will help, too.

Be careful, though. It is entirely possible to give up your angle too early and still place the whoosh in the right spot. This is a two-part exercise: retaining the angle and placing the whoosh.

And don’t go expecting miracles once you’ve accomplished it. You only hear, “I tried this and now I hit my drives 40 yards longer,” when somebody is trying to sell you something. If you get 7-10 more yards out of this, you’ve done the job.