There are a great many so called “truths” in our fabulous game that have seemingly been present since a Young Tom Morris was collecting his very first Open Championship winner's belt. You've heard them all before. You don't need to venture very far onto a practice ground or a driving range anywhere in the country before you hear, ”keep your eye on the ball, straight left arm on the way back, don't let the club go past parallel at the top,” and so on and so on.
Some have credence, many don't and one that certainly has no place anywhere near the game of golf is probably the most famous and well versed of them all, “keep your head still!” These four words have done more damage to the beginning and handicap player than a thousand other “tips” combined.
There won't be a golfer alive that hasn't been told this nugget of so called wisdom at some point in their golfing careers. Well forget it, because it's rubbish!
Golf, like every other sport is an athletic endeavour and as with any athletic endeavour our bodies have to move. They have to move to allow us to play with rhythm, timing, and flow. Those three magic yet seemingly elusive words all golfers are after but yet find so hard to attain. Letting yourself move during your golf swing is the answer.
The one biggest problem in golf is that the golf ball is stationary and because it's stationary it is very easy for us to become stationary too. If you were to study any of the great ball strikers, from Jones to Hogan, Trevino to Knudson, you would very quickly see that they are always in motion. Although they may “appear” to be stationary when hitting a shot, they are in fact in constant movement from the time they take a club out of the bag to the finishing position up on their left foot. When we are in constant movement, our bodies can naturally respond to the challenge of striking a golf ball, and our weight naturally flows back and forth as we swing the club back and through the ball.
If our weight is allowed to naturally flow back and forth during the swing, this means that our bodies are moving back and forth also. Since our head is perched on top of our bodies, this will also move back and forth. In fact, if our bodies are moving correctly we never have to think of what our heads are doing at any time during the swing. The head simply goes along for the ride. Again, you will see this in the swings of all the great ball strikers.
When a conscious effort is made to keep the head still, proper athletic shifting of weight cannot occur correctly. Weight cannot move back to properly load up the swing and weight cannot be transferred through the swing to produce adequate force. In short, your body cannot perform the athletic movement it naturally wants to. It's being stifled and held back. This is where jerky, awkward looking “swings” come from that lack any real power and co-ordination. In short, let your head move wherever you body wants to take it. Don't try to keep it still.
So the next time you're out on the range, try this following drill. It's called the Step Drill and it will teach your body to feel the correct weight shift while hitting a ball.
Pick a club (medium iron) and set up to the ball as usual. Using a tee makes this drill considerably easier. As you swing the club back, try to touch your right foot with your left foot (opposite for left-handers!) so that most of your weight will be on your right foot at the top of your swing and your feet will be touching. Then, to start the downswing, simply re-plant your left foot back into its starting position and let your weight flow through onto your left foot as you strike the ball. Try to finish with all of your weight on your left foot. Allow your head to move during the whole movement.
This drill should be performed in one flowing sequence with no pauses. When done correctly, the Step Drill is a fantastic way to feel the correct weight shift as you swing. This is a very powerful and effective drill, as your weight will now be moving forwards. When you strike the ball you will be adding significant force and clubhead speed.
Do Not Move Your Head? Don't Be So Sure
It is one of the first pieces of advice that most of us receive when we first start to play the game of golf – keep your head down! You have certainly heard this tip time and time again, whether you were taking a lesson from a golf professional of watching an instructional program on TV. Keeping your head down is considered to be one of the core fundamentals within the game – but is it true? Do you actually need to keep your head down in order to hit good shots? The answer might not be quite as clear cut as you may expect.
The golf swing is a dynamic, athletic action, so you should start to get a little suspicious anytime someone tells you to keep a part of your body still during the swing. After all, rarely will you see athletes in other sports stay still while performing a skill, so why would golf be any different? You might not thing of golf as an athletic sport on the same level as games like football and basketball, but there is plenty of athleticism required for the period of time when the club is in motion. Sure, you aren't running and jumping around the golf course like you would be on a basketball court, but athleticism is still required to play the game well.
Another cause for concern regarding this tip is that each and every player in the world has a swing that is uniquely their own. Even if you have patterned your swing after the motion of your favorite player, you still have small little bits and pieces that are unique to you. No two golf swings are exactly alike, so it is hard to believe that any piece of golf instruction can apply universally. Something that sounds so simple like 'not moving your head' may in fact be helpful to some players and harmful to others. Before you go using this golf tip as if it were proven fact, you need to do some careful thinking about how it will affect your swing and even if it will help you play better golf at all.
Everything you do to your swing should be done with one single goal in mind – to get the ball into the hole as quickly as possible. It doesn't matter what your swing looks like, or how much you will impress your friends with your new move – it only matters how many strokes are on your card at the end of the day. Therefore, any time you are considering making a change to your swing, such as reducing the movement of your head, you need to make sure that change is going to move you in a positive direction. If there will be no benefit to the change, or if there might even be some regression in your ability, the change you have in mind should be skipped completed. There are no shortcuts to playing better golf, and you will need to think critically at every step along the way if you hope to succeed.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play the game left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as needed.
The Potential Problems
If you commit yourself to keeping your head still throughout the golf swing, you are quickly going to run into some problems. Not each of these problems will effect every golfer, but at least one of them is likely to cause trouble in your swing. Without giving yourself the freedom to move your head at least a little bit in your golf swing, you are opened up to the possibility of the three issues below.
- Lack of rotation away from the target. The golf swing is all about rotation, and the players who are able to maximize their rotation (while staying on balance) are the ones who can hit the ball the farthest. If you are focused on keeping your head perfectly still, however, you may inadvertently limit how much rotation you are getting in your backswing. While you shouldn't be sliding your head away from the target, you may need to turn it somewhat to allow for your shoulders to get all the way back. Resisting the tendency of your head to turn away from the target will mean you are resisting your shoulder turn as a whole – and your overall golf swing will be shorter and less powerful as a result. Even just allowing for a little bit of rotation in your head will free up your backswing to become longer and more powerful, which is always a good thing (as long as you keep your balance, of course).
- Restricted downswing. In the way way that keeping your head still can limit your backswing, it can also take some of the speed out of your downswing. The downswing should be led by the lower body, which rotates aggressively toward the target in order to pull the club down into position for the strike. However, if you are working hard to keep your head still, you might not be able to turn hard with your hips and legs while staying stable up top. There is inevitably going to be some movement toward the target with your head, and the overall level of your head may drop a bit as well early in the downswing. While you certainly don't want to be moving all around with your head position as you try to strike the ball, a little bit of movement shouldn't hinder your ball striking efforts while offering you significantly more power potential.
- Poor impact quality. You might be surprised to learn that one of the potential outcomes of keeping your head perfectly still is a loss of impact quality at the bottom of the swing. It would seem like keeping your head still would actually improve how cleanly you are able to strike the ball, but the opposite is usually true for most players. As mentioned earlier, the golf swing is an athletic motion, requiring plenty of movement and rhythm to complete successfully. By freezing your head in place, you take away much of the athleticism that your body was going to use in order to hit the ball solidly. You should trust your hand-eye coordination to allow you to hit the ball cleanly, even if your head is moving around a bit. Again, this is not to say that you should be moving your head wildly from side to side – that certainly would not produce good results. However, some minor head movement isn't a big problem, as long as you are allowing your athletic ability to shine at the bottom of the swing.
As you can see, there are plenty of problems that may be caused by restricting the head movement in your swing. It should be reiterated one more time that this section is not meant as approval for you to move your head around as much as you want during the swing. There is a difference between allowing your head to move slightly as a reaction to your swinging motion, and moving your head intentionally for no reason. Overall, your head should be relatively quiet during the swing, but that doesn't mean that it needs to be held perfectly in place. Most good golf swings include a head position that remains mostly still with a moderate amount of movement during the dynamic parts of the swing (transition, impact).
Correcting This Tip
The tip that you should 'keep your head still' while making a golf swing is not exactly right, but it isn't that far off, either. This tip can be altered slightly to become far more accurate, and far more useful to the average golfer. Instead of focusing on 'keeping your head still' during the swing, you should be focused on 'keeping your eyes on the ball'. At first, that might seem like the same thing – but it is actually something completely different. Keeping your eyes on the ball throughout the swing gives you the best of both worlds, as you will be able to see what you are trying to hit while also not restricting the movement of your head in the backswing or downswing. Your eyes can remain on the ball while your head moves, as long as you aren't moving too suddenly at any point during your swing.
So, just by changing the tip from 'don't move your head' to 'keep your eyes on the ball', we now have a point that is very much worth following while you work on your game. Keeping your eyes on the ball is a fundamental that truly does apply to all golfers, and you should strive to master this seemingly basic point during your practice sessions. It isn't as easy as you might think to keep your eyes on the ball while making a swing, but doing so can lead to great ball striking shot after shot, round after round.
If you would like to work on keeping your eyes on the ball more successfully during the swing, try following the three tips below.
- Pick a spot. It isn't good enough to just look at the ball when making your swing – the best course of action is to look at a specific spot on the ball that will hold your attention. If you are only looking at the ball in general, it is too easy for your eyes to drift away and onto other things. To pick a spot, you can either use writing that is already on the ball, or create your own mark prior to starting the round. Drawing on the ball is a great technique because you can make the mark something specific and meaningful to you. Draw the same thing on each of your golf balls and then use that spot to hold your attention throughout each swing that you make (both in the long game and the short game).
- Be careful at the start. The most likely time to lose your focus on the ball isn't actually as the club approaches impact – it is just as the swing is getting started. When you begin to pull the club head back away from the ball, it is easy to allow your eyes to follow the club instead of staying with the ball. Be careful at this initial stage of the swing and work hard to control your line of sight as the club goes through the takeaway. This will actually take some practice, so spend a little bit of time just rehearsing your takeaway over and over again while staring at the ball. Eventually, with practice, you will lose the feeling of temptation to watch the club head and it will become easy to keep your eyes on the ball.
- Trust yourself. The biggest reason golfers are tempted to look away from the ball is because they don't trust the swing that they are making. In order to feel like they have more control over the outcome of the shot, golfers will look either at the club while it is in motion, or they will look up at the target prematurely, hoping to see the ball heading in the right direction. If you are going to consistently be able to keep your eyes on the ball, you need to be able to trust yourself. Make your swing with total confidence in the preparation that you have put into your game, and expect good results.
You might think that keeping your eyes on the ball would be one of the easiest parts of the game to master, but that isn't the case for many players. A great number of golfers are never able to get control over their eyes during the swing, and they lack consistency as a result. Put in the time necessary to learn how to keep your eyes down on the ball at all times while hitting a golf shot, and you are certain to become a better player for the effort.
Focus on Other Fundamentals
Now that you understand the fact that it is more important to keep your eyes on the ball than it is to keep your head perfectly still, you should turn your focus to some of the other fundamentals in the golf swing. These are the things you should be working on instead of keeping your head in place. In fact, if you are able to hit on all of these fundamental points, your head position will be relatively stable as a result. Ideally, you won't think about the position of your head at all during the swing – you will work on these other mechanics, and your head position will take care of itself automatically.
- Stay balanced. You are probably tired of hearing about this one by now, but it is too important to ignore. Staying balanced during your golf swing will automatically allow you to maintain a relatively steady head position, even if you are swinging aggressively through impact. Balance is crucial to making quality contact, and it will help you to maintain consistent levels of performance from the start of the round through to the finish. You should always make balance one of your top priorities within the golf swing – as long as you are balanced, you can't be too far off from hitting a good shot.
- Stay relaxed. One of the overlooked fundamentals in the game of golf is staying relaxed throughout the swing. Tension will only serve to rob you of speed and power, so maintaining a relaxed grip and stance will help you tremendously when it comes to striking the ball with freedom through impact. It can be hard to stay relaxed on the course when you start to feel the pressure, so work on this point on the driving range by paying close attention to how tightly you are squeezing the handle of the club. To make it easier to relax, try taking a deep breath before you start your swing, while focusing on nothing but the target. With only positive thoughts in mind, step up and hit the shot with total confidence in your abilities.
- Stay down. While holding your head still is a 'fundamental' that has been overstated, it is definitely important to stay down through the swing until the ball is well on its way toward the target. Staying down means keeping your upper body over the ball while the club whips through the hitting area. Many amateur golfers lift up from this position, often moving onto their toes as they raise the level of their entire body through the swing. Nothing good will come from lifting up out of the shot, even if it feels like you might be gaining power from this move. Stay down, keep your chest out over the ball, and only allow yourself to come up into the finish position after the ball has been struck.
Golf is a complicated game in many ways, but it can be made quite simple when you break it down to basic fundamental components. A swing that is balanced, relaxed, and stays down through the hitting area, is one that will almost certainly be successful. You can spend countless hours working on various other golf swing technique tips and tricks, but these simple fundamentals have stood the test of time for a reason. Make sure each of these three points is covered in your swing, along with keeping your eyes down on the ball, and you won't have to bother thinking about your head position any longer.
Exception on the Putting Green
Everything that has been covered so far in this article should be thrown out the window when it comes to putting. When you are on the putting green, you do want to keep your head absolutely still throughout the stroke – any head movement during the back stroke or forward stroke could cause the putter to swing off line and the putt to miss. Unlike the full swing, putting is not an athletic action but rather a simple rocking of the shoulders back and through. Focus on keeping your body as still as possible to make a great stroke time after time.
Of course, you also want to focus on keeping your eyes steady while putting, just as you were doing in the full swing above. The combination of steady eyes and a stable head will make it far easier for you to swing the putter directly down your target line and send the ball toward the hole. Since your nerves are likely to come into play while putting, you need to make sure your fundamentals are as sound as possible before you ever head out onto the course. Set aside plenty of practice time to work on keeping your head still on the putting green and you should quickly notice an improvement in your on-course performance.
It is always important to keep your head still while putting, but it is especially important when you are dealing with those challenging short putts that give so many players trouble. Even a slight movement with your head during the stroke on a putt from five feet and in can easily mean the difference between making the putt and watching it slide by the edge. You don't need to create very much power to get the ball to the hole from just a few feet away, so stay perfectly still and allow the rocking of the putter to do the work.
You can't always believe what you hear in terms of golf instruction – even if you hear it over and over again. Plenty of people will tell you that your head should stay perfectly still in the golf swing. Those people would be wrong. It is true that your head shouldn't be moving all over the place, but holding it totally still would actually have a negative effect on your game. On the putting green? Yes, keep your head still. Otherwise, focus on other fundamentals and allow your head position to take care of itself.