The Basics of a Golf Swing
Tip O Neill (Speaker of the US House of Representatives) once said: If I swing the gavel the way I swung the golf club, the nation would be in a hell of a mess. Let’s not talk about the mess the nation is right now; let's focus on the swing.
It is interesting to note that people generally have the misconception that an expensive golf club is a solution to all their golfing woes. They seem to forget that unless you know to wield a weapon, even the nuclear warhead is useless; it is elementary my dear friend.
The famous “Barkley golf swing” videos which went viral in 2007 show the great basketball legend struggle to get his swing right. Apparently even Tiger Woods’ Coach Hank couldn’t rectify the awful hitch, the buckling knees, and the shaking legs.
If you are nervous about your swing, despair not. There are several websites, tutorials, and tools that will aid you in improving your swing. Remember the three P’s: Perseverance, Patience, and practice; develop these characters and they can turn the swing in your favor, and you can bid the flight and fight syndrome a goodbye!
The Basics of a Golf Swing
The main aim of a golf player is to hit the ball as straight and as far as possible. But, unfortunately, either due to poor technique, wrong equipment or lack of practice, this doesn’t happen in many cases. To understand the basics of a golf swing you must understand that the swing is split up into:
- Follow through.
The best golf club, attire, and shoes will not ensure that you have a strong efficient swing; a proper solid setup will. If your stance is wrong how could you possibly hit the ball right?
- Make sure that your feet are always shoulder-width apart and square to the target line.
- Get a comfortable grip before addressing the ball and then bend down from waist.
- Distribute your weight evenly between your feet by pushing your hips back and angling your spine towards the ball.
- Flex your knees slightly and relax your arms and form a V.
- The right stance is to have your hips back, torso in front and knees bent.
With a proper stance, you will have sufficient space to swing and also maintain your stability which in turn will improve accuracy.
Remember a swing is not just about the arms and the hands it comprises the club head, your shoulders, and hips as well; your entire torso moves as one unit.
- Align the club perfectly by pointing the grip of the club to your belly button.
- If you are a right hander turn the left shoulder towards the chin.
- Swing inside the path with the left arm and hand.
- Rotate the upper torso until the left arm comes parallel to the ground.
- Remember you must rotate only your joints and the muscles while your spine stays intact.
- Then with minimal hip rotation bring down the club face squarely and hit the ball.
With the left shoulder tucked under the chin bring the club down. For down swinging your left hip will return the weight to the left foot. Rotate your torso away from the target. At full swing, the head of the club will point at the target while the shaft will remain parallel to the ground. As the club comes down you must create a divot wherein the shaft leans towards the target and the hands are a little in front of the ball. This should happen before the impact.
A perfect finish is when the arms extend over the left shoulder and your belly button is facing upwards and towards the target. At this point, your weight is on the front foot and you are facing your target. Once in this position hold it for three seconds.
Techniques/Tips to Improve
To be able to swing effortlessly like McIlroy you must let go of your tension which will make your muscles less stiff and more flexible.
1. Attain balance
The most important aspect of a strong swing is balance. You should not vacillate between your heels and toes. An ideal way of obtaining balance is by practicing your swing on a foam log; it is not easy to maintain your balance and swing on foam. That is why this practice of using a foam log will improve your sense of balance on the ground.
2. Use your entire torso
A perfect swing is not the result of effective use of hands but a combination of the right use of the arms, hands and the chest or upper body along with hips. You cannot generate enough power when you use your hands, but when the whole body works in unison the swing is sharper, powerful, consistent and more accurate.
3. Manage the tempo
Do not be in a rush to complete a shot. Slow down; don’t worry; you can’t slow down too much even if you try. The point is that you must be in control and bring the club down in a smooth effortless fashion.
4. Improve Takeaway:
If the takeaway is too low to the ground then proper hinging of wrists is delayed which in turn is reflected in the swing. To overcome this fault, do these below improvements:
- Keep the hands close to the ground when the club head moves up for backswing. The wrists remain neutral.
- The left thumb should point to the right shoulder.
- The right shoulder must be pulled into the spine.
- The shaft must be perpendicular to the ground while the left arm is parallel to the ground.
- As you commence takeaway push the right heel into the ground
- You should feel your right hip and glute engaged if you’ve performed correctly
- Keep your head down in the setup as this will help to lift the head in the backswing.
5. Position of right elbow
Some players like John Daly play with their elbows flying but for a novice, it is important that your right elbow is in the correct position during the swing. It should always point to the ground; when you do this your shoulders will turn level to the spine allowing you to swing more easily and with better control. This position will also reduce slices.
6. Remember face open and close
When the takeaway starts your thumbs should be up as this will keep the face of the club open.
The mistake most players make is that they let the thumbs remain up even in downswing as a result, they strike the ball with an open face.
For an effective shot, the club face should be closed and this is achieved when your thumbs point down to the ground. This reduces shots that curve to the left.
Correcting Common Problems
Just by overcoming some of the common mistakes that beginners make, you can correct your swing to a significant extent.
1. Not doing warm-up
Do not be under the assumption that sportsmen who play high-intensity sports require warm up and not golfers; to be able to produce a powerful swing you must be physically fit as you can see from Rory McIlroy's stupendous success once he took to working out in the gym. It is crucial to loosen your muscles because relaxed muscles are the key to a strong swing. They will also ensure that you don’t damage your back or shoulders.
Golf is a very demanding sport but neglecting warm up is the commonest mistake made by beginners.
Do some basic stretches before every game. On an off day hit the gym and do some power training and lifting weights. It is good to have an exercise routine to remain flexible and keep injuries at bay.
Back pain: If you are experiencing back pain then the best thing is to squat and hug your knees to your chest; if you can’t squat try to bend and touch your toes. This will loosen the lower back muscles and relieve the pain. If pain still persists visit a physician as soon as possible.
2. Using wrong clubs
There is no single club for all the shots that you wish to play. Get fitted with the correct club to overcome faults in your swing.
3. Swinging hard
In their desire to achieve distance and power, many beginners tend to swing too hard and too fast without having the adequate skill to hit the sweet spot each time; as a result they either slice or mis-hit. Slow down for more consistency.
4. Wrong grip
Do not grip too tightly because this will stiffen the muscles and make the swing ineffective. Remember your muscles must be loose and relaxed for a smooth swing. Do not grip the club in the palm; this will reduce the wrist movement.
For grip issues, don’t grip too tight or too loose. And ensure that your fingers are around the club and not the palms. This will increase the wrist hinge, give you a better feel and produce a powerful shot.
You must have observed how professional golfers keep adjusting their stance before a shot; the reason being if you are not aligned properly then your shots turn into failures.
The most common mistake is to keep your feet aiming directly at the target while in reality, they must be parallel to the target.
Swinging too soon or too late can be disastrous. An ideal swing is effortlessly and unhurried. It moves slowly but steadily to the top of the backswing and then seems to pause while the lower body begins to turn toward the target, building up power ready to be released.
7. Poor shoulder rotation
Often players just fake a shoulder turn by bending the left shoulder during the backswing. This action will not generate the power required for a smooth and swift swing. To overcome this fault keep your chin up and off the chest; this will give the shoulder ample space for swinging.
8. Over the top swing
This is another common mistake often misunderstood by most beginners. What actually happens is that when there is disproportionate weight placed on the forward foot, the player has no choice but to move the right shoulder and arm at the beginning of the downswing. As a result, the ball is either sliced or pulled to the left.
This problem can be easily overcome using some tools like the alignment rod. Place the rod 5 inches behind the ball on the ground. Practice swinging slowly and try to hit the ball. Another method is to practice single handed swing; start with the left hand if you are a right hander and you will see that you will never go over the top. Once comfortable do with the right hand and then try to hit the ball with both hands.
9. Problematic shanks
When you strike the ball with the rounded hosel and not the club face shanks are produced; it is often prevalent in beginners. You can fix this issue by imagining that the butt of the club has to stick to the left thigh when you swing. This move will open the club face and it will move away from the ball and not into it.
Analysis of Famous Golf Swings
Despite some drawbacks in their techniques, all great players are unique in their own way. They have learned to turn their shortcomings to their advantage and have reached the top of their game. Here is a brief analysis of five of the top players in the Golf world.
The Tiger is prowling again; woods is back with a vengeance despite his innumerable injuries and personal and professional highs and lows. His stance and swing have undergone changes over the years with the stance becoming smaller and the swing more centered. He has a lot less curvature now than before. To know how his swing has evolved click here.
Convention, textbook perfection and power come alive in this Head Down Guy – Vijay Singh. Here is a classic player who likes to tinker with his swing. He has textbook type grip, posture, and alignment. A powerful striker of the ball, he has a peculiar bend to his right hand during the takeaway. Want to know more, click here.
Been there and continues to be there – Phil Mickelson who is an exception to every rule: his swing is hand dependent and not arm and body dependent; he has too much of hip turn; a swing which goes beyond. And yet he is one of the greatest players on the circuit. Check out his unique style of playing here.
Athletic, Explosive and an ability to hit straight all the way to the 320 yard. Rory Mcllory is by far the finest player with impeccable timing, fitness, and balance. He is undoubtedly the king of the greens. click here to know what makes him so special.
Calm, in control and poised- that’s how one will describe this incredible player who can teach the world how to make the body follow the mind. All this despite havin a weak grip. To know more about his classic swing click here.
Tools You Can Use
Once you figure out what is the problem with your swing, you can solve it; there is no problem under the sun without a solution. So do not get de-motivated that your best efforts to improve your swing are not paying off. Maybe a single golf lesson with a pro will prove beneficial because their experienced eye will identify your flaws immediately.
In the meanwhile, you can use any of the following tools to improve your swing.
1. Swing Trainers
There are two types of swing trainers often used to improve swing:
- True Swing trainer
- Hinged Swing trainer
The main idea of these trainers is to take the stress of hitting the ball out of the context. This, in fact, minimizes the number of steps one must take to master the swing.
True swing trainers: These trainers do not have a club head attached to them. They have a flexible shaft that will help you achieve more consistency and balance while increasing strength and flexibility. A popular type of swing trainer is the Orange Whip.
Hinged swing trainers: A very effective tool designed to deal with problematic swings. It is a regular golf club that is hinged. When you swing properly the trainer will go where it is supposed to go but if you hit the ball wrong it will snap. This way you will get instant feedback on your swing and you will know the exact reason for your swing failing. Another advantage is also that you will know how a perfect swing feels and will eventually adjust your swing. These clubs are widely used by several professional golfers
2. Weighted Clubs
Your physical strength plays a major role in your swing. For a fast swing that sends the balls far, you should use weighted clubs. These are clubs designed exclusively to improve swing and technique and strength. You can choose from different weights. Choose one that is heavier than the normal. Make sure it is not too heavy that you can’t swing at all.
3. Alignment Trainers
Mis-hits, hooks, and slices are results of poor alignment. One end of the alignment trainer is attached to the lower part of the club while the other is attached to the wrist of the player. So every time you swing and are not aligned, the trainer will move letting you know that you have to adjust your swing or posture.
4. Tour Striker
This is a special club with a smaller impact area. So when you get used to hitting with it, a normal sweet spot will appear huge and will improve your shots tremendously. (Source)
This equipment is a large stick on which a foam ball can be placed at various places. So every time you swing, you will get an instant feedback on the quality of swing, the place, the position of hands and the body posture. (Source)
1. Minor Tools
A simple mirror is a very effective tool for anyone who wants to improve the swing. Practice your swing in front of a mirror to know what the flaws in your technique are and then address them accordingly.
2. Impact Bags
These are bags that can be hit with the golf club. You can use a duffel bag or any cloth bag and fill it up with sweaters or any other stuffing to keep it tight in case you don’t want to purchase a professional impact bag. This is a great way to practice your swing and many professional golfers use it. This method will teach you to hit the ball with a square face.
Don’t Practice the WRONG Way
It’s not without reason that the saying goes -Practice maketh a man perfect. But endless hours of wrong practice will not lead to any improvement in your game; on the contrary, it will leave you frustrated and dejected. Practice has to be purposeful and done the right way for success to follow.
What is Wrong Practice?
If you think that you are practicing really hard because you use the same club and keep trying till you get it right, then your practice ineffective. A lot of golfers do just that and that is why they don’t progress.
Golf is a mind game. Repetition is boring and hence your brain will stop responding if you do the same thing again and again. It is called blocked practice schedule. It is ineffective.
This is not your repetitive method of practicing but a well defined and structured method which has given results. You should adopt random practice schedule where your brain has to constantly adapt to new circumstances.
You must use a driver, a wedge and maybe a 7 iron. Of course, we are not saying that you don’t practice with the same club; what we are saying is to mix up the clubs and use some more and some less to practice better.
A few tips to deliberate practice:
- Rehearse mindfully: Be mindful of what you want to achieve in a practice session; for example, you want to practice the downswing then consciously make an attempt to get it right and then practice it mindfully for the rest of the session.
- Visualization: Visualize a golf course you know well and use your drivers, irons, and woods for each shot. This visualization will make you familiar with the various clubs while at the same time improving your visualization skills; it will also keep the practice from becoming mundane and boring, this way you will gain more.
- Keep targets: Be it the greens or the sands, keep a target and a minimum number of balls to hit the target. Every hit gets you points. This is motivating and a novel way of practicing.
Thus by bringing variety into your practice not only will the dreary and boring element of routine practice be taken away but you will also learn to adapt better to real life games and pressures.
Hopefully, this tutorial has answered all your doubts on golf swings.
Resources & Further Reading