A lot of people say that there’s a reason that “golf” is a four-letter word. It is one of the few things in life that can be incredibly frustrating, yet people regularly pay to do. It makes a lot of people want to scream a variety of other four-letter, but it doesn’t have to be frustrating! Take a look through this article to learn about the golf swing so you can play your best golf and enjoy the game today!
The Basics of a Golf Swing
When it comes to improving your golf swing, one of the easiest ways to do this is to make sure that you have the fundamentals of the swing correct. Now, fundamentals can be broken up into two different categories; pre-shot fundamentals and in-swing fundamentals.
We’ll start with the pre-shot fundamentals. These are the things that you get set up before you ever hit a shot. There are four main pre-shot fundamentals; grip, aim, stance, posture. It’s easy to remember these four if you think of the acronym GASP.
First, we’ll talk about the grip. The grip is incredibly important because it is the only thing that connects you to the golf club. That sounds a little bit obvious, but if you can’t get the grip right, then the rest of the swing is going to be significantly more difficult.
There are three different types of grips, but they all start out exactly the same. The first step in making sure you have a good grip is to open (supinate) the hand that is closest to your target (the left hand for a right-handed player). Then, lay the grip of your golf club diagonally across your fingers; it should start at the tip of your pointer-finger and end at the base of your pinky-finger. Once you have the club laid across those fingers correctly, close your hand around the grip. If you lift the club in the air, you should have control over it as if you were swinging a hammer. If the club is too far in the palm of your hand, then you will feel as though you could not hit a nail with a hammer.
The next step is to get that hand placed in the proper position. So, in order to do that, your thumb and the base of your pointer-finger ought to make a “V.” That “V” ought to point like an arrow at your opposite shoulder (right shoulder for a right-handed player).
After that, make sure that the thumb that is on the grip is comfortably extended down the club’s grip. Imagine that thumb is a hotdog and your opposite hand (that is not yet on the club) is the bun. You can find the bun of your hand by touching your pinky-finger and thumb together, but don’t forget to release those two fingers before setting your grip; that is just to show you where the “bun” is located.
Place the “bun” from your second hand around the “hot dog” of your first hand. This will show you the proper placement of each hand. Now, your second hand will also form a “V” between your thumb and base of your pointer-finger. That “V” will also point directly at your back shoulder (the same shoulder as the first-hand).
Like I said, up until now, all three grips are exactly the same. Where they all differ, slightly, is on the under-side of the grip. If you lift your club up so that the clubhead is straight up in the sky and you can see the middle-knuckles of your fingers, then you’ll be in the proper position to see the difference between the three grips. From here, there is not “right” answer, everyone is different. Simply, choose the grip that feels most comfortable to you.
The “10-finger” grip is one where each finger sits next to each other without and overlapping or mixing of the order. Some people also call this the “baseball grip” because the fingers are in the same position as a baseball player. Next, the “overlap” grip is where you place the pinky-finger from the hang closest to the clubhead, in the groove between your other hand’s pointer finger and middle finger. You are simply overlapping one finger with another. Finally, the “interlock” grip is where you take the same two fingers from the “overlap” grip and interlock them like chains.
Next, we look how to aim your shot. This is also incredibly important because it doesn’t matter how well you hit a shot, if you’re not aimed in the right direction, you’ll never hit your target. There are two elements to the aim; your clubface and your body.
First, it’s important to get your clubface aimed at the target. The easiest way to do this is to stand behind the ball before you hit the shot. Pick a blade of grass, chunk of dirt, or leaf that is 1-2 feet in front of your ball and in-line with the target. This is called a “secondary target.” This secondary target now becomes the thing that you line your clubface up with when you set up because it is much easier to aim at something that is a couple feet in front of you than a flagstick that is 100+ yards away.
Next, when we talk about aiming your body, really what we’re talking about is your feet. Picture railroad tracks in your mind. Your feet are on one side of the track and your club is on the other. So, if you drew a line between your toes, that line would be perpendicular to a line drawn straight from the ball to the middle of your stance. This line on your feet ought to be parallel with your waist line and your shoulders. A lot of people think that these three lines ought to point at your target, but that is incorrect. These things ought to point parallel left (for a right-handed player) of your target. This is because the clubface is aimed at the target, your body will not be aimed at the same place.
The next thing in our pre-shot fundamentals is the stance. This refers to the position of your feet, specifically how wide they are. In most full iron shots, your feet ought to be shoulder width apart. The longer the shot, the wider your stance will get. So, when you’re hitting your driver, your feet with be slightly wider than shoulder width. On the other hand, if you’re hitting a pitch shot or a chip, your feet will come in closer together, just inside shoulder width. Remember, if you’re not comfortable with your stance width, change it. Make sure that you are comfortable and you’ll have more success.
The golf swing is a little bit different than most other sports. The golf swing does not imitate a typical “athletic position” (knees bent, butt down, chest and eyes up) that is used in basketball, football, or baseball. Instead, golf has its own posture.
The first thing you’ll want to do is stand straight up. Then, keeping your back straight, bend over at the waist and allow your arms to hang down freely. Next, give your knees a little bit of bend, only a little bit more than you would to unlock them. You want to make sure they have the freedom of movement back and forth that a golf swing requires.
Finally, we’ll take a look at your back. In order to check the correct back posture, lay a club straight down your spine. The club ought to touch your back in three places, your tailbone, middle of your back, and back of your head. That is how you’ll know that you have a nice straight back to swing a golf club.
Once you have your grip, aim, stance, and posture down, you’re ready to hit the ball. So, next we’ll talk about the in-swing fundamentals that you’ll need to keep in mind. There are two main in-swing fundamentals that need to be addressed at first; path and face.
Everyone wants to hit the ball straight, or at least know where the ball is going. In order to hit a ball straight, it requires two things to work together, we call those your club path and clubface. If your clubhead were to draw a line wherever it travels, we call that the path. Imagine when you were a kid and wrote your name in the dark with sparklers or a flashlight, that line created is your path.
A lot of people think that in order to hit a straight ball, you need to keep your path as straight as possible to the target, but that is incorrect. Instead, think of your swing as a circle, your spine is the center of the circle and your clubhead is traveling around the perimeter of the circle.
Next, we need to talk about your clubface. The face of the club is where the ball makes impact with the club. Again, many people think that we need to keep that square to the target as long as possible to hit a straight shot, but that’s not true. Since the path is a circle and goes around your spine, the clubface will also change based on where your swing is located.
A good way to practice clubface rotation correctly is to hit some short, abbreviated, shots and practice pointing the toe of the club directly to the sky in your backswing when your hands are belt height. Then, create a mirror image on the opposite side in your follow-through; when your hands are belt height, the toe of the club ought to face towards the sky. Then, you’ll know that the face is square (or perpendicular) to the target at impact.
So, to hit a perfectly straight golf shot, you need to swing in a circle-shaped path around your spine and rotate the clubface so that it is square at impact. (refer to video above) There is a very simple way to check to make sure you are doing all of this correctly. (bottom right image) Your shot will tell you exactly what you do wrong (if anything). Wherever the ball starts will indicate your path and wherever the ball ends will indicate your face.
Put more simply, a path that travels too far outside to inside will start the ball left (for a right-handed player). Then, the face will determine the spin on the ball. If the ball starts left and continues to go even more left (often referred to as a duck-hook) then the face was too closed at impact. If it starts left and stays in the same left direction, then the face was straight. If it starts left and spins back to the right (a very common problem for right-handed players), then the face was left open. If this is the case, the you need to work on rotating the clubface through so the toe faces the sky more in your follow-through.
Techniques/Tips to improve
Thumbs up, Thumbs down:
If you continually hook or slice the ball (spin it right or left regardless of your dexterity), then there is a very simple fix. Think about your two hands as giving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” When you hook the ball (shot ends up towards your back side rather than front), it is because you have over-rotated the clubface. To fix this, imagine your two hands maintaining a “thumbs down” through impact. This will force you to keep the clubface open longer and hit it straighter.
On the other hand, if your issue is slicing too much (hitting the ball towards your front side more than back side), then the fix is the exact opposite. You want to make sure that through impact your thumbs are turning to create a “thumbs up” position.
Even though chipping is one of the shorter shots in the game of golf, it can be one of the most difficult. A great tip for improving your shipping is to eliminate moving your wrists after you make impact. There’s a great drill that you can do to practice this that I call the extended shaft chip shot. Most clubs have a hole in the top of the grip, this is there for a variety of reasons, but you can very easily use that to extend your grip for this drill.
Take an old golf club shaft or a snow pole (a lot of hardware stores will have these if you live in a snowy climate) and put it in the hole in your grip. This will extend the grip to about twice the normal length. Then, hit some chip shots with this large club. The shaft should always stay in front of your front side. If you use too much wrist in your shot, then you’ll feel the shaft hitting your side. Instead of moving your wrists, try turning your hips to get rotation.
Creating solid impact:
Creating solid impact can be one of the more difficult parts of hitting a golf shot. A lot of players believe that in order for the ball to fly in the air, they need to get under the ball, but that’s not true. Actually, a solid impact comes from hitting the ball first and then pinching it into the ground. You need to hit BOTH ball AND ground in that order.
To do that, think about bending your back leg and keeping your front leg straight on your downswing and through impact. This will allow you to shift your weight to your front side and create solid contact by hitting ball first and then the ground.
Correcting Common Problems
Fixing a slice:
This is the most common issue for golfers. A slice is the result of a clubface that is open in relation to your path. A path that starts outside and travels towards the inside with a face that is open will create side-spin on the ball and cause it to slice. (bottom image) There are a couple ways to try fixing this problem. First, rotate both of your hands on the grip; clockwise for a right-handed player and counter-clockwise for a left-handed player. This will allow you to close down the face easier. Next, try the drill where you put a club head-cover outside and behind the ball. This will allow you to keep the club inside the ball on the correct path rather than outside. If you hit the club head-cover, your club is too far outside.
Find the right tempo:
The swing tempo is important because it helps you stay in balance, flexible, relaxed, and hitting the ball consistently every time. To make sure you have a perfect tempo, simply count slowly throughout your swing. Count to two in your back swing (1, 2...) and then to four on your down swing and follow-through (…3, 4). This will help you create the perfect tempo for your golf swing. (Golf-Info-Guide)
Your hands blister easily: (Golf)
Your grip and your hands are incredibly important in the golf swing. If your hands hurt from swinging, it can be tough to play your best. So, there are a couple of great tips to make sure your hands are healthy enough to play. First, make sure you have a golf glove. This will provide some protection for your non-dominant hand. If you still have blisters or tender areas, consider applying Vaseline to the area and covering it with athletic tape.
Another helpful though, if your hands hurt, often times that means your grip pressure it too strong. On a scale of 1-10, your grip pressure ought to be about 6. Picture yourself holding a tube of tooth paste like a golf club, with the cap off and pointed down. Your grip pressure should be firm enough to hold on to the tube, but light enough that no toothpaste would leave the tube during a swing. Give it a try!
Analysis of Famous Golf Swings
I love watching the golf club lag that Tiger Woods creates. Basically, this is angle between the arm and club that he keeps for a long time in his down swing. Check out the right image at 4:33 in the linked video. He can keep that arm-shaft angle for a long time. The longer you are able to maintain that angle, the farther you’ll be able to hit the ball. Tiger is also very well-known for his picture-perfect follow-through position. This position (right side at 5:58) means that he was in balance all the way through his swing. If you’re able to finish like him, chances are good that you’ll have a very well-balanced swing as well.
One of the great things about Vijay’s swing is his finish position; he finishes with his hands high in the air and then rests them down on his shoulder. Finishing with your hands high in the air allows you hit the ball harder. He is able to maintain his clubhead because he hit through the ball rather than just to it. That means that his swing does not lose speed until well after the ball is gone. It also forces him to stay balanced and finish with his weight on his left side every time. Check out the position he’s in at 4:40 on the right in the linked video.
The thing that Phil does really well is keep his driver swing really long, slow, and extends through the ball. You’ll notice in the video that is linked, his first movement with his driver is with his large muscles (shoulders and arms) rather than the small muscles (like his wrists). This allows him to maintain a long and relatively slow backswing which increases distance. Also, at impact, his arms are completely extended. He is able to make impact with the ball at its farther point away from his body. This helps with controlling direction and increases his distance.
As you’ll see in the video on Rory’s swing, he maintains a fantastic angle between his arms and wrist throughout his backswing. This 90-degree angle is part of where he gets so much of his power. The other place he gets his power is from the rotation of his hips and shoulders. You’ll see that at the top of his backswing he is perfectly balanced, but also locked into a loaded position where he can unload and create an enormous amount of power through impact.
One of the biggest things I love about Jordan Spieth’s swing is that it is very calm. That means, there are not a lot of extra or wasted movement. He stays very relaxed and in tempo. He never allows himself to swing so hard that he loses his balance or gets tense. This is super important for golfers because tense muscles have a smaller range of motion than relaxed ones. Relaxing your swing like Jordan will actually allow you to hit the ball farther. You’ll see that in the linked video.
Tools You Can Use
This is a great tool to use to improve your tempo, timing, and balance in your golf swing. This tool allows you to practice a variety of drills that improve your body rotation, flexibility, timing, and balance; all things that every golfer needs to develop in order to hit more consistent shots. (Orange Whip)
This tool allows you to produce the proper amount of wrist bend in your back swing. We know that part of getting good distance is based on our ability to create and maintain a good angle with our club and arms; your wrist bend. The Swingyde training tool in easily connected to your club and allows you to feel the correct position throughout your swing. (Swingyde)
The smash bag is used to practice creating a solid impact position every time in your golf swing. The smash back replaces a golf ball and you simply hit the bag with your golf club. You’ll know if you create a solid impact position by the sound that it makes at impact. A loud “thud” means that you have made solid impact. If you hear a softer noise, flipping your wrists through too soon, that means you’ll need to work on maintaining your wrist angle longer. (Smash Bag)
Don’t Practice the WRONG Way
Driving Range practice:
Golf is a game that takes time and practice to get really good. For most people, the golf swing is not a natural movement, so if we don’t create new habits, then we’ll always revert back to what is comfortable and natural. So, don’t forget to take time to practice your golf swing on the driving range. Deliberate practice can help create new habits, so that the next time you go out on the course it is a lot easier and more fun.
Deliberate practice is, “about improving by pushing your practice beyond your comfort zone” says, Golf.com. Hitting balls on the driving range isn’t much use if you’re just trying to pound as many balls as possible. It’s better to hit fewer, more intentional shots, than many unintentional shots. Always make sure you have a target and slow down your range practice. One trick might be to spend the same amount of time at the range, but buy a smaller bucket, so that it forces you to slow down.
Putting green practice:
Often times, when we get on the putting green, we just start hitting putts. This is also not all that helpful. Take some time being intentional about each putt you take on the practice green. A lot of a person’s ability to putt depends on their ability to read a green, aim correctly, and hit the ball with the correct pace. If we just step up and hit a bunch of balls, we only focus on the pace.
Before every putt you take, squat down behind the putt and read the green. Then, line your ball up with the line you think is correct, only then should you hit the putt. That way, you’re practicing all phases of the putt.
A good drill for improving your lag putting is to practice a lot of 3-4 foot putts. This will start to build your confidence that you can make those 3-4 foot putts that so many golfers dread. Then, when you have confidence that you can easily make a putt of that range it frees you up to be a little more aggressive with long putts. No one expects you to make a 25 foot putt every time, but if you can consistently two-putt from that range then your confidence on the greens will skyrocket.
Try practicing like one of the best putters in the world, Jordan Spieth. He hits thee balls in a row from a specific distance and then rotates around the hole, gradually increasing the distance. (Golf Digest)
Second set of eyes:
Often times, it is very difficult to know if you’re doing something wrong without a second set of eyes. Try to grab someone you trust to watch you practice. Ask them specific questions about your swing rather than asking them for tips. For example, “Are my feet, hips, and shoulders parallel?” Rather than, “How can I hit the ball straighter?” This allow you to dictate what you’re working on. If you really trust the person, then you may ask for tips, but everyone has a different idea on how the golf swing ought to look. Have a very specific thing in mind that you’re working on and allow another person to tell you if you accomplished what you’re working on. Another option is to have someone record you on video, so you can see the swing and be your own judge on how well you’re doing with a swing change.
Just remember, when you are recording a golf swing, make sure you get different angles; both face-on and down-the-line. If you don’t get the right angle and set up, your video and analysis will be distorted. (Golf Channel)
A very special thanks to my friend Eric Peyton for contributing this article.