A proper swing is essential to success in golf.
It is one of the few sports in which form and technique play a more important role than raw athleticism and innate talent.
Sure, you need a certain physical profile to go pro and win tournaments at the elite level, but consistent and deliberate practice of the fundamentals can dramatically improve your game.
All the great pros spent hours every day practicing, always seeking to improve their swing.
Think about any other sport that involves striking a ball; you are invariably looking at a moving target. However, that is not the case in golf, so swing technique takes primacy over reflexes and hand-eye coordination.
Read as many How to Improve Your Golf Swing guides as possible, practice, and improve your swing until you get it right; if you do this, you’ll be able to produce excellent and accurate shots.
The Basics of a Golf Swing
A golf swing is a series of motions chained together.
Perform every link in the chain correctly, and you’ll produce a smooth and balanced swing that will result in shots that couple distance with accuracy. Your body must be in proper balance at every stage in order to get the desired results.
To get a better idea about the importance of balance in a good swing, check out this YouTube video in which Rocco Mediate explains the importance of balance in a golf swing:
Also, remember to stay relaxed and limber. When your body is tense it lacks the vital flexibility that is essential for a smooth and free flowing swing. Just go online and take a look at the swings of some great pros like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth. One thing you’ll notice is how smooth and effortless their bodies look in motion during the swing. That smoothness is what you want to replicate. Now let’s look at the different parts that make up a basic golf swing.
Always grip the club using your fingers, not your palms. Holding the club with your palms makes it more difficult to use your wrists and hands during the swing. There are several different grip styles that you can choose from, but they all involve using your fingers. Do not worry too much if one style suits you more than the other two, as long as you are using fingers alone for the grip. The three common styles are:
- Ten Finger Grip: All ten fingers are in full contact with the club, similar to a baseball grip. Not used commonly by pro golfers, t. hThis style is only suggested for beginners who are in the early stages of learning (since it is the easiest to grasp).
- Vardon Overlap Grip: Also called the Vardon Grip or the Overlapping Grip. The legendary pros commonly used this grip. The little finger of your trailing (bottom) hand is placed between the middle and index fingers of your leading (top) hand. Some fingers overlap when you grip the club. For reference, if you are right handed, your left hand is the leading hand, and vice versa.
- Interlocking Grip: The other grip style commonly used by the pros, especially on the ladies’ circuit, this involves locking your hands together. The little finger of the trailing hand interlocks with the index finger of the leading hand. This grip is better suited for players with smaller/weaker hands, and many beginners.
Start by holding the club firmly (not too tight, though; you don’t want to strangle it) with your leading hand (left for right handers, and right for southpaws) in such a way that you can clearly see the knuckles of your middle and index fingers. Look at the “V” formed by your thumb and index finger; it should point in the general direction of your leading hand’s shoulder. Now just bring your other trailing hand below the leading hand, and grip the club while maintaining the same holding position. Use the grip style that you feel is most comfortable.
This is the beginning of a great golf swing. Get this wrong, and things have a tendency to fall into disarray. Such is the importance of the setup (also called the address) that Jack Nicklaus was quoted as saying that you could still get reasonable shots with a mediocre swing as long as you had a correct setup, while a poor setup would get you horrendous misses even with a great swing. Here are the essential components of a proper setup/address:
- Alignment: Imagine the straight line that the ball must travel to reach your target, let’s call it the “target line”. Your body should be parallel to the target line. Now position yourself accordingly, placing your legs, shoulders, and head all parallel to the target line—like a railroad track, where your body forms one line and the ball’s flight path forms the other.
- Feet: You should spread your legs and keep them at about shoulder width. Your weight should always be balanced on the balls of your feet, and never the heels or the toes. For shots involving longer clubs, such as woods and drivers, the weight of your body should be balanced marginally more on the back foot (the right foot if you are a right-handed player). For shorter clubs, like wedges, your weight should be slightly more on the other leg. For medium sized clubs, like mid-irons, distribute your weight evenly on both legs.
- Ball Position: When using the driver (the longest club in the bag) the ball should be placed just inside your left foot (if you are a right-handed player). In contrast, for the shortest clubs—a 9-iron or a wedge—the ball should be in the center of your stance, its position plumb between your legs. For each of the shorter clubs, increase the distance of the ball from your left foot by an inch; in other words, a 5-iron is one inch closer to your front foot than a 6-iron, and so forth. Your distance from the ball will be determined by the length of the club.
- Spine Posture: When you are in proper alignment with the ball, stand erect (as tall as possible) with your spine completely straight. Bend your upper body forward to a level where the spine and the shaft of the club form a right angle. The spine is the main engine that drives the swing, so you need it to be in the perfect position. The bending should be at your hips, not your waist. If you are bending the correct way, your buttocks will protrude outwards slightly.
- Head and Shoulder Position: If you are right handed, move your torso slightly to the right (tilt it to open up) in order to get your head aligned behind the ball. At this point, your right shoulder (or left shoulder if you are left-handed) will be at a lower point than the left (or vice versa).
- Leg Position and Posture: The front foot should be pointed slightly outward, flared toward the target. Keep your back foot straight. When you bend your hips, slightly flex your knees as well. At this point, keeping the back knee cocked slightly towards the target will help you stay balanced during the backswing.
- Arm Position: When holding the club at address, the distance from your body to your hands is largely dependent upon the club you are using. But still, with shorter clubs, your hands should be approximately a hand’s width away from your inside thigh, while for longer woods and drivers it should be nearer to a hand’s length from your thighs.
This is what gets things started with your swing. It is technically a part of the backswing, and it determines how both the club and your body are positioned prior to the swing. An improper takeaway can mess up a perfectly good stance and setup, and force you to mishit, slice, or hook the ball. There are two prominent methods used for takeaways: the one-piece takeaway and the right forearm takeaway. Look at your arms and shoulders at address. They form a triangle. The key is to maintain that proper position, with the arms, the club, and the upper body moving together in unison.
When you start moving the club, start the movement together and stay connected until the eight o’clock position. From there, as the clubhead moves upwards, use your wrists to move the club faster than your arms and shoulders (because the tip of the clubhead has to travel the most during the swing). Check out this video for a better idea of what I am are trying to say:
If you move everything at the same pace, you will end up with your shoulders and arms moving back significantly while the clubhead has not moved back nearly enough. Remember to keep your lower body and spine straight and not to move, with the right leg in flex while doing all this. Sir Nick Faldo has some great tips on how that can be done:
As the club keeps moving backward and up, your shoulders should pivot on your still-straight spine. Collapse the knee closest to the target, as this will allow you to free your hips during the swing.
Always ensure that the left arm (or the right arm if you are left-handed) remains straight (but not rigid) even as you reach the end of your backswing. Keep your body weight on the balls of your feet, and turn your torso away from the target by moving your hips as your shoulders pivot.
At the top of your backswing, the club should be almost horizontal to the turf surface and parallel to the target flight line that you wish the ball to follow.
Visualize the difference between the angle of a merry-go-round and a ferris wheel—the swing plane of your club must track between these two angles for an optimum swing, and achieveing that plane depends upon proper club positioning at the top of the backswing.
The core of your stroke begins with the downswing. There are several things to keep in mind as your swing shifts from the backswing to the downswing:
- Transition: Try to avoid a jerky or abrupt transition from the backswing to the downswing. This means not rushing the swing once you reach the top of the backswing position. Start the downswing at the same speed you began the backswing—slow and easy.
- Begin With the Hips: Lead the movement with your left hip, as you turn clockwise towards the target. Your shoulders and arms should follow suit. The rotation is key to a healthy swing. Some players make the mistake of sliding their hips. Turn the right hip towards the ball for the left hip to rotate smoothly.
- Straight Head and Spine: The spine is the pivot for your entire swing. It must maintain its straight shape, while the head remains still throughout the swinging movement.
- Shift Weight: As you start your downswing, shift your weight from your right foot to your left (for right handed players) for maximum power and balance.
- Firm Grip and Hit Hard: The grip on the club should be firm, but not so tight as to reduce flexibility. This will allow the wrists to un-cock easily, and thereby release during the swing. Use the right hand during the downswing to power the shot, pushing as hard as you can. To keep the clubhead square at impact, ensure that the left knuckles are turning down to the ground and not moving up towards the sky.
Though it may seem like the moment of truth, the impact is just another point in the sequence of events in a proper golf swing.
If you mess up any of the earlier steps, such as the setup, stance, or takeaway, you will end up having to use your wrists aggressively to get the clubhead into position for a solid impact. But once you get the basics right, the impact is a fluid follow-up on your swing.
At the point of impact, you will have the following features in your swing action:
- Open Shoulders: As part of the clockwise movement towards the target, your shoulders should be open and facing slightly towards the target.
- Arms Flexed: Both your arms should be somewhat flexed. Though the leading hand should be straighter than the bottom hand, some flex should remain for power that expands as you exit the shot and go into the follow through.
- Open Hips: by the time your swing reaches impact, your hips should have rotated enough to be half-facing the target.
- Body Over Ball: Your entire upper body should be poised straight above the ball, with your head and eyes perfectly on target.
- Straight Left Leg: For right-handed players, the left leg should stay straight, with almost all body weight now firmly on that leg. The right heel should be lifted up, while the right knee flexes slightly towards the target.
A well-executed follow through is a fitting finale to a great swing, one that proves that you have nailed the execution at every stage.
Conversely, if you make mistakes at any stage, they will become apparent in your follow through.
The following are the major highlights of a successful follow through:
- Your belt buckle will be facing the target squarely, while your chest may be facing slightly to the left of the target.
- The entire weight of your body is firmly planted on your left foot, while the right foot is touching the ground only by the toes.
- Ideally, your forearms should be rotating as the swing goes into this stage for minimal chance of slicing the ball.
- At the end, the arms and shoulders should be at rest and relaxed.
Techniques/Tips to Improve
- You can use your breathing to maintain a slow and relaxed tempo. Just take deep, slow breaths at address before taking the swing.
- Use your shoulders as a reliable visual aid to the target. Make sure they are pointing at where you want the ball to go, and look down to ensure that your feet are lined up perfectly at a right angle to the shoulders.
- Use a golf club placed on your back to check if your spine is holding perfectly straight.
- Use high-loft short clubs to practice swings early in the game. They are easier to hit and will inspire more confidence.
- Keep your eye on the ball at all times. This ensures that your head stays down through the swing. And when your head stays down, your shoulders stay in proper position throughout the swing!
- Don’t swing if you are tense or stiff. The body needs to be absolutely relaxed for a perfect swing.
- Hold your follow through in place for at least three seconds. You need to perfect your balance and body position at finish, with all the weight on your leading leg.
- In the initial part of the takeaway, focus on the tip of the club’s handle. Have it pointed at your belly button at all times until you reach 2 feet/the eight o’clock position. This will help you keep the clubface square.
- Gripping the club too tightly can have negative effects on your swing tempo.
- Create your own personal pre-shot routine. Move or wiggle your club and body around a bit to relieve any stress or stiffness.
Correcting your Swing
- “Watch” The Slice: A sliced shot is one of the most common complaints that beginners (and even mid handicappers) have regarding their swings. Getting clubs with specific face-angle setups may seem like an easy solution, but most of the time this tendency to slice comes down to a quirk in your downswing that keeps the clubface open to the swing path. Correcting the swing is the better long term solution. One simple option is to wear a wristwatch on your lead hand. When your clubface approaches the ball during your downswing, keep an eye on your watch face. If it is pointing up or sideways through impact and on the follow through, start rolling your arms before impact so that the watch face is looking at the ground. Rotating the forearms ensures that you also close the clubface, preventing any future slices.
- Put a “Dimple” on any Hooks: At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who tire of the hooks they have to endure, thanks to a closed clubface that regularly makes contact with the ball at a point farther away from you. You can try fitting your clubs with a more open face, or you can try improving your swing with a simple trick. Picture your golf ball as having two hemispheres divided by a vertical line at address. If you have a tendency to hook the ball, pick a dimple on the hemisphere closest to you, and try and strike that point with the center of your clubface. It’s not as easy as the watch trick, mind you, but still effective with enough practice if you want to improve your swing.
- Toe the Line With an Extra Club: Irregular accuracy and direction on shots often points towards a faulty setup at address. Start with your feet. They must be perfectly aligned, or else every other part of your body will end up out of sync. At address, place a club or stick parallel to the line of ball flight and use the club to place your toes correctly in position. Ensure that both your feet lie perpendicular to the club/stick.
- Push a Shoulder Back to Stop the Pull: Pulled shots are shots that maintain a leftward trajectory, often the result of too much pressure from your right arm and shoulder (or left if you are a left-handed player) during the downswing. Often, that shoulder strays out and forward during the downswing, affecting the flight of the ball on impact. To correct this, you need to ensure that your right shoulder stays in line during the swing. Hold the club with your right hand, and place your left hand on your right shoulder to push it in while you take a couple of practice swings. Feel the difference and try to maintain that position when you swing with both hands.
- Hit two Balls to Kill toe Shots: Those toe shots are the worst kind of mishits, especially when you get them with irons. To avoid hitting balls with the toe of your club, all you need is some practice shots with not one ball, but two of them. Bring your club to address and place the second ball slightly within the heel of your club. Take a few easy shots while trying the utmost to avoid hitting that second ball. Do it often enough, and your swing will be conditioned to be more in-to-in rather than out-to-in. Out-to-in shots are the usual culprits behind toe mishits.
Analysis of Famous Golf Swings
There is no better way to improve your golf swing than to learn from the greats. And these days, you can find hours and hours of video footage freely available online, on sites like YouTube. Check out how some of the greatest pros handle their swings, and try to emulate them on your local course or driving range.
Watch how one of the most talented pros of our generation (or, in fact, any generation) adapted and evolved his swing styles over the years. This video looks at Tiger’s golden period, from 2000 to 2012. There is a noticeable difference between how he sets up at address and in his backswing. Also, note the improved leg movement on the downswing before impact. The swing plane also looks less steep in the more recent swings. The comparison between Woods and Ben Hogan midway through the video is well worth a look as well.
The “Big Fijian” was not averse to changing aspects of his swing throughout his career, and this video highlights some of the many variations he tried over the years. What is especially interesting, beyond all the variations, is what remains constant: his approach at address and his unorthodox downswing action. The shaft plane on the downswing is especially noteworthy. The release action is quite bizarre as well, and a trademark of this great striker of the ball.
A slow motion dissection of a single drive by the great lefty, in which you can admire his perfect position at address. The backswing is noteworthy for just how far behind he can take his arms while still maintaining a stable form, the club driver going all the way behind his head. On the downswing, watch for the subtle weight transfer from his left foot to the right leading foot.
A look at the swing of the four-time Majors champion shows his impeccable setup at address. Watch the balanced takeaway and the backswing, where he ends up resembling a wound-up or taut spring just ready for a strike. The follow through is incredible, considering the amount of power he gets on the downswing, with the lower body pivoting extremely fast towards the target. His follow through is the perfect example of how a golf swing follow through encapsulates all that is good about a swing. You can try replicating his balanced backswing action.
One of the youngest Masters champions in recent years, Jordan Speith has had a glittering beginning to his golf career. He has a rather classical swing action, with a calm and fluid takeaway and backswing. The downswing is great, with the pivot led by his shoulders, and do watch his arms. Notice the slight bend in his arm, which enables him to keep a square clubface on impact. Though the follow through looks a tad untidy from the side view, due to a slightly flared left foot, the balance is still exceptional.
Tools You Can Use
There are many tools out there on the market that can be used as training aids to improve your golf swing. These aids are diverse, from low-tech everyday objects to high-tech gadgets and everything in between. They are all great at providing audio/visual cues and feedback that allow you to figure out where you are going wrong with your swing.
Mirror: Let’s start with the oldest and simplest training aid of them all. And yeah, in all probability, you have one of these at home! Just stand in front of one and watch your reflection, especially at address. You can learn a lot just with a mirror and some good advice on the optimal stance. In case you don’t have one at home, here is a sample link to something you can easily find online:
Tour Striker: How do you learn to find the sweet spot every time with your swing? Learn to hit a club with a smaller sweet spot of course! That is the idea behind Tour Striker clubs. Once you learn how to hit consistently with these, you will find the sweet spots on your normal clubs seem much bigger than before! Get the 7-iron if you are a low handicapper, and choose the wedge if you have a higher handicap, for best results.
Orange Whip and Orange Peel: These are two separate training aids that together form a fantastic combination. The Whip is a weighted ball that will help you enhance your swing rhythm. The extra weight helps you focus on your movements as you swing the ball and worry less about striking the ball as many beginners are wont to do. The Peel platform is a balancing aid that helps reduce sway and promotes overall swing health. You can also practice a variety of golf course lies on the platform.
Impact Bags: An evergreen favorite, these old school trainers help you improve your swing by providing the right feel and feedback on shots that strike true. All you need to do is take swing after swing at the bag. When you get one to hit it square on the clubface, you will know immediately. Moreover, you do not have to worry about getting bags and bags of golf balls either!
Medicus Dual Hinge Iron: How about a club that points out probable flaws in your swing as you go through the motions? A golf club has an optimal position at all points throughout the swing, and the dual hinge iron is designed to “break” when you make a mistake at specific critical stages in your swing. For example, it can help you slow down if you suffer from a fast tempo during any point in your swing. You will know when you get a perfect swing, as that is the only way the club will remain intact at the end of the swing!
Have you ever considered the amount of time spent swinging a golf club and hitting the ball in an average round of golf?
Just think about the time it takes you to get ready at address and hit the ball—at most, it might be a shade over a minute and a half (but probably considerably less).
Remove the time taken at address, and the actual swing takes less than two seconds. For an 18-hole course, that amounts to around three minutes of time spent hitting the ball, out of the four hours that it takes to complete the round!
Everything about your score over those four hours of golf is completely a result of three minutes of swings! It is somewhat reminiscent of a samurai sword fight, where a lifetime of training is expressed in a few minutes of compressed and explosive action.
Sure, golf is no life-and-death situation, and you do get long breaks between each swing. However, what I am getting at is the importance of consistent practice and much meditation. Practice your swing, and learn to visualize your shots before you attempt them to have maximum success on the course.
I hope you enjoyed our “How to Improve Your Golf Swing” guide, and wish you all the best of the best on the tee, in the fairway, and on the greens!
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