When starting your golf journey, it’s easy to read up and be sold on the latest and greatest equipment of the year. Many new golfers (and just as many seasoned) begin to believe he/she can buy a game and not work on the actual mechanics of their golf swing. This thought process cannot be farther from the truth. I would argue that focusing on proper training and the fundamentals of your golf swing will, at best, lower your scores at a quicker pace and, and worst, make your rounds a more enjoyable time. Don’t get me wrong, once you develop a consistent swing and are beginning to shape shots having properly fitted clubs in the bag will be a crucial step into a better golf game. But the focus of this post is for improving your golf swing. If you’re new to the game, hopefully by the end of this writing you will have a much greater understanding of the what’s, why’s, and how’s of the most important part of golf… Your Swing!
Table of Content
Basics of a Golf Swing
A golf swing is an extremely complex motion, but it can be broken down into basic categories:
- The Setup (Grip, Posture, Alignment)
- The Takeaway (From the Ball to Waist Height)
- The Backswing (From Waist Height to the Top)
- The Downswing (From the Top to Impact)
- The Follow-Through (From Impact to the Finish)
All of these categories are equally important; however, if anything in the Setup is out of place, the rest of the swing will be difficult to execute properly.
Basics of a Proper Setup: The Grip
The grip is the only connection between you and the golf club, and careful attention needs to be paid to the placement of your hands. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
The most important factors when gripping the golf club are the position of your hands (here’s our breakdown of a proper golf grip), and how firmly you hold the golf club. In regards to grip pressure, from a scale of 1-10, where 1 is barely holding on and 10 is squeezing the life out of it, you want to be somewhere between 4 and 5.
Basics of a Proper Setup: Posture
How you stand in relation to the golf ball and the shot you’re trying to execute is crucial to consistency. Posture really boils down to having the proper angles from your knee bend, pelvic tilt, and a straight line from your hips to the top of your head. Most importantly, you need to feel comfortable with your posture. Otherwise, a smooth, fluid swing is difficult to achieve.
Basics of a Proper Setup: Alignment
Alignment is often the most underrated fundamental in golf, but one that requires plenty of attention. Even a slight deviation in your alignment can cause a big miss. The best way to hone your alignment is to work on it all the time.
Now that you have the setup squared away, you’re now ready to set the club in motion, and that starts with a solid takeaway.
Basics of a Proper Takeaway: One-Piece Takeaway
When you start the club in motion, you want the club, along with your hands, arms, and shoulders to start the takeaway in unison, with a smooth, slow tempo. Your hips should also begin to turn slightly as the club swings above the ground
Basics of a Proper Takeaway: Wrist Hinge
As the club begins to move off the ground, with your hands approaching hip height, your wrists should begin to hinge, setting yourself up for a solid finish of your backswing.
With the club halfway back, it’s time to complete the backswing, which is comprised of finishing your turn, your wrist hinge, and establishing the correct swing plane.
Basics of a Proper Backswing: Completing your Shoulder/Hip Rotation
Turning your shoulders and hips is key to maximizing the amount of effortless power and speed you can generate. The key is to turn as much as possible without any additional strain on your body.
Basics of a Proper Backswing: “Setting” the Club at the Top
Once your wrists are fully hinged and the club has reached the top, the club should feel secure, with the thumbs and index fingers on both hands providing support.
Basics of a Proper Backswing: A Word About Swing Plane
When you reach the top of the backswing, the path which the shaft has traveled on is known as the swing plane. Ideally, the shaft should be pointing relatively close to your target line. Sound a little confusing? This video should help.
If you’ve reached the top of the golf swing in a good position to transition into the downswing, most of the hard work has already been taken care of. Still, there are a couple things to keep in mind.
Basics of a Proper Downswing: It’s All About Sequencing
With a solid backswing already established, the rest of the swing is all about transitioning your body motion in the correct sequence. There is a simple way to remember this: it starts from the ground (your feet) and works its way up, with your hips clearing, followed by your shoulders, etc. The last thing that should start down is the clubhead.
Basics of a Proper Downswing: Reaching Impact
If you follow the ideal sequencing into the golf ball, the impact should look a lot like this.
The downswing and impact happen so fast, you won’t know much about the shot until you’re well into the follow-through. However, the follow-through can provide plenty of feedback itself.
Basics of a Proper Follow-Through: It’s All About Balance
Notice how every good player you see on TV holds their finish on the follow-through? It’s not because they want to look pretty for the camera; they are able to hold that finish because of their balance throughout the swing.
That pretty much sums up the basics of what entails a good golf swing. In the next section, I will share some of the best tips I’ve used to help people with every facet of their golf swing that anyone can use to improve.
Techniques/Tips to Improve
Now that we have established the basics of a golf swing, there are ways to improve on each aspect of the swing. Here are some of my favorites.
- It’s All About Balance
The golf swing is a very dynamic, complex motion, and a lot of things can go wrong if you’re not balanced throughout the swing. A simple way to improve your balance is to swing while standing on a foam log. If you can swing through to a balanced finish on a foam log (or on a balance rod), your ability to maintain balance with both feet on the ground becomes incredibly easy.
- Rotation is the Key to Power
Many beginning golfers focus too much emphasis on developing speed through their arms and hands, which usually results in poor contact. Even when they do hit an okay shot, there’s almost no clubhead speed. The easiest way to improve your overall distance is to focus on rotation, back and through the golf swing. When you learn how to properly rotate in the golf swing, you will achieve effortless power and more consistency.
- Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
A bad golf swing with good rhythm is infinitely more desirable than a decent golf swing with horrible rhythm. A simple way to think about your swing tempo is with a ratio or a word cadence to help you discover your own personal rhythm. By utilizing this 3-to-1 ratio, you can develop the correct sequencing and improve your golf swing.
- Ball Position Matters
When you address the golf ball, where the ball is located in relation to your feet is an often overlooked but incredibly important facet of improving your golf swing. For example, a ball position that is too far back towards your trail foot (the right foot for right-handed golfers) can cause you to swing too steeply. Conversely, when the ball is too far forward, it can cause you to lunge forward. Either way, it results in poor golf shots. For most golfers, it is far much easier to maintain the same ball position but widen or narrow your stance depending on the club. If you haven’t given much thought to ball position, you might just be surprised as to how much it helps when done correctly.
- Keep It Simple
I will delve further into this in a later section, but it’s important to understand that all of these tips need to be integrated slowly. The last thing anyone wants to do is to try to improve their balance, their rotation, their tempo, and focus on ball position all at once. By working on everything, you won’t improve anything. Take it one tip at a time, then move on once you feel you have a firm grasp of the concept.
In the next section, I will share some of the most common problems golfers face, and the most efficient way to fix them.
No matter how much golf equipment and technology has evolved, there are still several common problems the vast majority of golfers struggle with. Here are a few of the most common problems golfers face.
Common Problem #1: Fighting a Slice
A slice, which is a shot shape where the ball curves from left-to-right for a right-handed golfer. About 80% of golfers struggle with a slice, most prominently with the driver. A consistent slice can be an incredibly frustrating problem. Luckily, there are a few basic steps any golfer can take to correct their ball flight.
Common Problem #2: Lack of Flexibility
One of the reasons most golfers struggle with consistency is due to a lack of flexibility. It’s very difficult to make a smooth, effortless golf swing and maintain balance if your muscles and connective tissue are tight and immobile.
Common Problem #3: The Dreaded “S” Word
Nothing causes that warm rush of shame more than seeing a simple wedge shot fly 45 degrees offline or feeling a 9-iron clank off the hosel. The shanks can sneak up on any golfer at any time and can seem nearly incurable at the worst of times.
Analysis of Famous Golf Swings
There is a lot we can all learn from the golf swings of some of the best players in the world. In this section, I will provide insight into what makes many of the best swings in the game work, and how you can learn from them.
Tiger Woods: One of the most important things you can learn from Tiger Woods’ golf swing is his extension. His arms create an incredible arc and width without any sway or sliding in his lower body. The extension carries into the downswing and the follow through and speaks volumes about his ability to maximize his distance.
Vijay Singh: The big Fijian’s golf swing is the only one I wanted to show you at full speed because of his incredible tempo. At 55 years-old, he can still compete on the PGA Tour, and his longevity can be attributed to his smooth, rhythmic tempo from the takeaway through the finish. Despite the slow pace, he still generates plenty of clubhead speed. A good player to emulate when it comes to rhythm.
Phil Mickelson: The greatest left-handed golfer in history uses his leg action to time his golf swing, which is longer than most professionals. Note how much his legs drive through to his right side on the downswing, which is key for him to square the club at impact. Rotation is key for any golfer, and Phil demonstrates how effectively it can be used.
Rory McIlroy: Rory is arguably, pound-for-pound, the longest golfer on Tour. Like Phil, he also uses his lower body but does do in a very different way. On the downswing, he tends to squat with his hips, which turns the ground into a springboard, which helps him generate high clubhead speeds. He also has a very freewheeling, relaxed tempo, which is a testament to the confidence he has in his swing.
Jordan Spieth: Jordan is a phenomenal talent, and certainly an anomaly in the modern game. Of the four other golfers on this list, he’s the shortest hitter by a mile but utilizes his greatest strength, his accuracy, to become one of the best young players the game has ever seen. His position at the top is unique, but the bowed wrist allows him to be incredibly accurate with his wedges and his irons, which is key to his success.
Tools You Can Use
Do an online search about golf training aids, and you’ll quickly learn that there are hundreds of various tools designed to help you improve your golf swing. Some of these tools are effective, while many are not. In my experience, here are the top tools that will help you improve your swing.
Swing Tool #1: Alignment Rods
As I had discussed in the fundamentals section, proper alignment is a must for any golfer to swing the club more effectively. While there are plenty of products on the market that are designed to help you with alignment, reflector rods at your local hardware store are just as effective, and won’t cost you more than five dollars for two of them, which is how many you’ll need.
How do you use them? Simply, set them up like a train track.
Not only will this help you get your body parallel to the target, you’ll also be able to check your takeaway path and your divot pattern in comparison to your target line. The best golf tool with the most bang for your buck.
Tool #2: SKLZ Gold Flex
Tempo can be a tough thing to feel with a standard golf club, and this training aid has solved this issue for many golfers. Not only does it help develop your tempo, you’ll even get a bit of a workout by using it. Your swing can become more fluid, and the extra strength development will help you hit the ball longer. Even Tour pros find it useful. It’s great for warming up and can be swung anywhere you can find space for it.
SKLZ Gold Swing Trainer:
Tool #3: EyeLine Golf Speed Trap Base and Four Speed Rods
One of the most versatile training aids ever designed, it can help you gain instant feedback on your contact, and the four protruding rods provide a physical guide to gauge your swing path. Each rod can be adjusted based on your tendencies; if you fight a slice, you can place the rods to promote an inside-to-inside path.
The combination of these three tools can set you on the path to a better golf swing. However, in order to make the best use of them, it’s important to practice and to practice well. That’s what I will cover in the next section.
Don’t Practice the WRONG Way
Practice is important, but practicing without some sort of purpose or structure may cause more harm than good. For example, hitting hundreds of range balls without a defined goal in mind can often reinforce negative habits and tendencies, making it even harder to improve your golf swing. This section will break down how many golfers practice incorrectly and show you the proper way to practice instead.
Quality vs. Quantity
Hang around the driving range long enough, and you’ll notice many players going through the following process.
- Buy the largest bucket of range balls
- Take a few practice swings
- Hit five wedges (maybe), a couple irons, then pull out the driver and swing away
If you’re just looking to have fun and not worry about improving your golf swing, there’s nothing wrong with this approach; however, with the right plan, you can do far better, with less time spent pounding away range ball after range ball.
A focused, purposeful half-hour of practice is far more useful than an hour of mindless swinging.
Prepare for Success
There are three things every serious player does on the range during a practice session. Even Tour players use these methods.
- Pick a target for every shot.
It’s far too easy to hit range balls with no specific target in mind. By focusing on a specific target, whether it be a flagstick, a yardage post, a dirt patch, or even a tree in the distance (which is ideal for woods), having a specific target develops proper alignment habits that will translate well on the golf course where you must have a target.
- Use alignment tools for every shot.
If you’re not used to aligning properly, it’s imperative that you train yourself to aim your body parallel to your target. This is where the alignment rods, which I discussed in the previous section, will come in handy. Although it’s best to move the alignment rods for every target, that can be tedious if you’re just getting started with a focused target. Instead, try to find an area of the range where there are multiple targets more so lined up with each other, but at different distances. As you improve, you’ll want to adjust your alignment to avoid any biases towards one direction on the range and on the course.
- Keep Your Intentions Simple.
Many players try to focus on far too many things during their practice sessions, which often leads to frustration and confusion, leaving them worse off than they were. Whenever you practice, focus on one, maybe two keys that you want to improve on. Some simple keys are:
- Your takeaway
- Getting comfortable with a grip change
- Making a full turn back and through
- Focus on your tempo
By following these three steps with diligence and patience, you can see improved results in both your ball striking and your scores.
Improving your golf swing can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools, some basic concepts, and proper practice techniques, you can improve your golf swing in no time.