This summer marks 30 years of playing golf for me. Wow – can it be true? I had played baseball from the ages of 5 to 12. And then it happened . . . I played 9 holes of golf with my dad and as soon as I connected with the golf ball and saw it fly, I was hooked. The flight of the ball mesmerizes me to this day.
Much has been said on this site about the role of swing dynamics vs. individual style. Having worked with my boys (ages 18 and 13) and many friends and associates to improve their golf swing motions, I’ve been reminded, more than once, that teaching a specific backswing style is difficult at best. You can talk about the backswing, demonstrate an “ideal” looking backswing, you can even hold the club and help someone hit key checkpoints. Yet, when left to make one’s own natural backswing, it becomes blindingly obvious: everyone has their own unique blend of backswing characteristics.
If this is true of the backswing, one might conclude that it also holds true for the downswing. In my estimation this conclusion, although tempting to assert, is misleading and is one significant reason why golfer’s struggle to improve. We’ve become quite comfortable saying, “no two swings are alike” and, “there are so many ways to swing a club” that I think we’ve become guilty of taking individualism too far. I can relate to Johnny Miller’s admitted addiction to looking at swing sequences – I too love these frame by frame snapshots and the many online, slow motion video clips of the world’s top players. Here’s what I’ve concluded: the motion of the golf club as seen in the world’s best players, from the top of the swing to when the club shaft reaches parallel to the ground, is very, very similar.
This “similarity” in the downswings of the best players is in large part responsible for their world class impact dynamics – two in particular: 1) swinging on a straight plane line and 2) achieving a forward swing bottom.
Now let me clarify. Although the movement of the golf club falls within a relatively tight corridor of similarity among the top players, I’m not suggesting that they all look alike making this motion. Some shoulder motion is steep, some is flatter. Some hips are active, some are less so. Sometimes the heel of the back foot leaves the ground early in the downswing and for others, it happens gradually. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, take a look at these photos of Bill Haas:
Notice Four Key Features: 1) hands move down while staying in front of the chest, 2) the club shaft moves on a 45 degree-ish angle between the right and left forearms, 3) the club shaft, when parallel to the ground, falls on the toe-line, and 4) club and ball contact results in maximum compression and a forward swing bottom.
Recreational player tendencies: 1) hands move out and over in line with left shoulder rather than chest, 2) the club shaft gets steeper than a 45 degree angle and closer to the left arm, 3) the club shaft, when parallel to the ground, falls in front of and left of the toe line, and 4) club and ball contact results in a compromise in compression and a forward swing bottom is not guaranteed. Ball flight tendency is left of target unless clubface is manipulated.
Better player tendencies: 1) hands move down and under in line with right shoulder rather than chest, 2) the club shaft gets flatter than a 45 degree angle and closer to the right arm, 3) the club shaft, when parallel to the ground, falls behind and points right of the toe line, and 4) club and ball contact results in a compromise in compression and a forward swing bottom is not guaranteed. Ball flight tendency is right of target unless clubface is manipulated.
How can one benefit from this information? The temptation for all golfers is to go to the range and to start pounding out 7 irons and driver shots at full speed. Here’s an alternative approach:
- Revisit the 50-yard pitch shot. There’s no better way to practice.
- Make slow motion swings. No need to hit balls when doing this.
- Make slower than full speed swings while hitting balls.
- Practice your downswing in front of a mirror.
- Video your swing and review your particular downswing pattern with a trusted instructor.
Be patient with yourself and commit to one focus at a time. As has been correctly stated, “you don’t hit the ball with your backswing.” Shift your focus to your downswing and you just might find yourself looking like the best players – that is, on the downswing.