We're talking about shots that, for the right-handed golfer, start left of target, fly on a straight line and finish left of target. That's a sure sign that the swing path was moving in that direction while the clubface was square to this path. (If the clubface were open, the ball would fade or slice; a closed clubface would cause a hook.)
So, how does leaning or hanging back create this action? Basically, by forcing the upper body to compensate for the lower body's improper movement. With weight stuck on your right side in the downswing, the shoulders and arms react by throwing the clubhead toward the ball. Unfortunately, this sends the club out and across the ideal path, resulting in a pull. The same issue may also cause the arms and hands to over-rotate, again swatting the ball left.
If you've got the pulls and have already confirmed that your alignment isn't the problem, you may be struggling to properly shift weight from right to left on the downswing. The left hip should lead the way by rotating left. This begins a chain reaction which drops the club inside the target line. Not only will this eliminate the pulls, it will increase your power and improve your ballstriking.
Stop Pulling – Don't Lean Back
While golf is a complicated game, it is possible to think about it in rather simple terms. For example, when you are hitting a full shot toward a target – whether that target is the fairway or the green – you can really only miss in two directions, either right or left. Obviously you have distance to concern yourself with as well, but that can usually be solved with proper club selection. Therefore, as you make your swing and send the ball toward the target, you will be mostly concerned with getting the ball online. If you can successfully avoid missing dramatically to either the right or the left, you should be happy with the outcome of the shot.
So how does the ball get off line on its way to the target? You can either curve the ball off line, known as a hook or a slice depending on which direction the ball turns, or you can pull/push it away from the target. The content below is going to deal with the pull part of this equation. Many amateur golfers struggle with the pull for a variety of reasons. Hitting a pull can be frustrating because most pulled shots feel solid coming off the club, so you expect better results when you look up to find the ball. Instead of seeing the ball flying directly at the target, you will see is soaring off to the left (for a right handed golfer). While hitting a pull is usually going to lead to a better outcome than hitting a hook, it is a still a ball flight that you would like to avoid if at all possible.
Another downside that comes along with the pull is the fact that the ball usually travels farther than you expect because the club face is closed at impact (which takes loft off of the club). Therefore, approach shots which are pulled will often fly over the green and find their way into some serious trouble. For example, if you are hitting your pitching wedge into the green from 120 yards, you may find that a pull winds up sending the ball 130 yards – and into the rough, bunker, or even water behind the green. Controlling your distance is crucial on approach shots, and you aren't going to be able to do so successfully if you can't make square contact at the bottom of your swing.
If you are noticing a pattern of pulled golf shots in your game, you can be sure there is a mechanical issue somewhere in your swing which needs to be addressed. Hitting one or two pulls throughout the course of a round isn't cause for too much concern, but consistently producing this ball flight should prompt you to head to the driving range in an effort to figure out what's wrong. If you allow your pull pattern to continue for too long, those bad swing habits will become harder and harder to correct. As soon as you realize there is a problem going on in your swing, it is in the best interest of your game as a whole to get it fixed.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
Understanding the Pull
Before you can fix your pull problem, you need to understand exactly what it is that makes the ball miss to the left in the first place. As discussed above, a pull is a shot that starts to the left of the target line and keeps flying in that direction until it comes down. Most pulled shots don't have a big curve one way or the other – they simply start left and stay there. To hit a pull, you have to have the face of the club closed relative to the target line at impact. Without a closed face, it is impossible to hit a pull. Of course, if you are actually going to fix the problem, you need to figure out why the face is closed when the club meets the ball.
For most golfers, the pull originates from one single mistake – keeping the weight back in the downswing. If you lean back away from the target as you swing the club down toward the ball, there is a good chance the club face will be in a closed (or shut) position by the time you make contact. In a proper golf swing, the weight gradually moves toward the target in the downswing as your body rotates to the left. However, if that weight transfer never happens, your body will be behind the ball and the club will over rotate prior to impact. Even if everything else in your golf swing is in good working order, this one mistake can lead to poor results.
If you suspect that you are leaning back during your downswing, fixing your balance and weight transfer should move to the top of your golf priority list. You are never going to achieve consistently great ball striking if your body is out of position, even though you may hit a good shot from time to time. While it may take some time and effort to learn how to use your body the right way in the downswing, the good news is this – once you get your body working correctly, the rest of the swing should come together rather quickly. With your body in the right spot at impact, you should start to hit your shots in target more frequently than ever before.
It is possible to pull the ball for other reasons, such as overactive hands in the downswing, but the content below is going to focus only on the problem of leaning back away from the target. This is the most common cause of the pull among amateur golfers, so there is a good chance that fixing your balance will eliminate the pulled missed from your game. However, if you work on your weight transfer and continue to hit pulls, you may need to look in other places for the eventual fix.
Setting the Stage at the Top
It is during the downswing phase of the swing when you have to worry about making the mistake of leaning back away from the target. However, the problems can actually begin earlier than that. If you make mistakes during the backswing, you could set yourself up to lean to the right during the downswing. In order to give yourself the best chance at a quality downswing motion, you should first make sure your backswing is doing its job properly.
There are a number of fundamentals that should be in place at the top of your swing. Compare your 'top of swing' position with the points below, and then make any corrections that are necessary.
- Great balance. This is always going to be the number one point on any list of golf swing fundamentals. When you arrive at the top of your swing, you should be perfectly balanced with your weight nicely distributed between your two feet. If you are leaning left at the top, you will likely compensate when your downswing starts by moving back to the right – which is the leaning back motion that you need to avoid. On the other hand, if your weight is on your right foot at the top of the swing, you may get stuck there throughout the downswing, leading to the same result. Only when you are nicely balanced at the top of the swing will you be able to initiate the downswing properly and get your weight moving toward the target.
- Flexed knees. In order to get your downswing started correctly, your legs need to take control right from the top of the swing. Of course, that is only going to happen if your legs are in a position to lead the rest of your body. Straight legs aren't going to be able to do much of anything, so make sure you have maintained the flex in your knees that you started with at address. If you get to the top of the swing with your knees bent and your weight balanced between your feet, you will be in great position to make a powerful and aggressive downswing motion.
- Relaxed arms. The arms don't play as much of a role in the golf swing as most people think. Sure, they are holding onto the club, but it should be the big muscles of your body that are controlling most of the movement. Therefore, when you reach the top of the swing, make sure your arms are nice and relaxed so you can allow them to 'whip' through the hitting area. Tense arms will only lead to tension in the rest of your body, which will inhibit your ability to rotate through the shot.
Don't make the downswing harder than it needs to be by making mistakes during your backswing. The fundamentals of the backswing are relatively simple, but they are extremely important at the same time. Hitting on each of the three points above – balance, knee flex, and relaxed arms – will position you nicely for the rest of the swing. Take some time to evaluate your current swing and make corrections if you feel like you are missing on one or more of these points. Once you have any backswing problems sorted out, you will be ready to move on to eliminating the lean back from your downswing once and for all.
It's All About Sequencing
To avoid the lean back, you must sequence your golf swing correctly - it's just that simple. When you reach the top of your swing, you want to start moving left with your lower body first. If anything other than your lower body should happen to initiate the swing, you will be out of sequence and you won't be able to recover no matter what you do the rest of the way. Once the lower body fires to the left, you can then allow your torso, arms, and hands to follow in that order. A properly sequenced swing is a powerful motion that can send the ball hundreds of yards down the middle of the fairway. A poorly sequenced swing, however, will struggle to even make solid contact with the ball.
Players who pull the ball to the left as a result of leaning back in the downswing usually have poor sequencing. Instead of initiating the downswing with the lower body, these players start down toward the ball by simply pushing their hands and the club down right from the top. If you start your downswing by moving your hands first, your lower body will never have a chance to help you build speed, and it will be a non-factor in the rest of your swing. Even worse, you will likely have the club face in a shut position by the time you reach impact - meaning that the shot will be pulled to the left.
Why does poor sequencing lead to a lean back in the downswing? When your arms start down, they won't have enough room to swing into the back of the ball, so your body will have to get out of the way. Getting your body out of the way usually means moving back to the right, which will successfully give you room to swing down but will also put you in a position to pull your shots. This is a case of one mistake leading to another. Simply by starting down with your hands instead of your hips, you will set off a chain of events that effectively will ruin your golf swing.
To correct this problem, you need to learn how to enable your hips to do what they need to do right from the start of the downswing. If you are having a problem with your hands starting before your hips, try using the tips below to get on track -
- Take more time. By hanging at the top of your backswing just a split second longer, you can give your lower body time to engage and get moving toward the target. It is usually when you rush through the transition phase of your swing that you will end up moving your hands before your hips. Smooth tempo is always helpful in golf, but it is especially helpful when it comes to sequencing your downswing properly. During your practice sessions, feel like you are almost pausing at the top of your swing and you should quickly be able to improve the order in which everything moves toward the target.
- Practice pitch shots. Since pitch shots are basically mini golf swings, they are a great tool to use when working on your mechanics. Find an area at your local course where you can practice short pitch shots and hit a few while trying to use your hips to start the downswing. A pitch shot is simpler than a full swing, so you should have a much easier time focusing your mind on getting the sequence just right. After you get the hang of using your lower body to start the forward swing in your pitch shots, gradually add more and more speed until you are all the way up to a full shot.
- Watch slow-motion video of great players. For a strong visual image of what you should be trying to do in your swing, try watching some slow-motion videos online of a few of your favorite professional golfers. Nearly every professional golfer in the world does a great job of using their lower body to start the downswing, and you might be surprised to see how much better your own swing can get simply by watching a world-class example over and over again.
In reality, sequencing your golf swing correctly is about more than just fixing the pulls - it is something that will benefit your entire game. However, if you do need the fix the pulls, improving the sequencing of your motion is a great way to reach that goal. It will be hard to generate a pull when you lead with your lower body simply because you will be keeping the club in the right position throughout the downswing. That doesn't mean you are going to hit a great shot every time, of course, but you should be able to avoid the pull that is caused by leaning back as you swing through the ball.
Smart Course Management
Unfortunately, you won't always be able to correct your swing mistakes as quickly as you would like - especially if you are in the middle of a round. When you start to pull your shots to the left while you are on the course, you might not be able to get your technique sorted out until you can hit the range when the round is over. Therefore, you have to know how to get your way around the course even while hitting a pull. If you can make good course management decisions, it is possible to navigate the course and still post a good score even without having your best game.
The first thing you need to do when you notice you have the pulls is to pick targets that won't punish you harshly for missing to the left. For example, if you are facing an approach shot where the hole is located on the left side of the green, and there is a water hazard guarding that left side, you will want to aim safely out to the right. If you happen to hit a pull while aiming right, your ball will at least have a chance of avoiding that water hazard. It takes patience to pick out conservative targets that will keep your ball out of trouble, but this is the best way to finish off your round if you can't seem to get your swing sorted out.
Another way to get yourself around the course while fighting the pulls is to take extra club and swing softer on most of your shots. When you are holding more than enough club to reach the target, you will naturally swing slower and with a smoother tempo. Slowing down your swing should lessen the chances of hitting a pull, as your hands won't be in such a rush to start down from the top. In fact, hitting extra club is a good way to get your swing back on track and correct the problems that are causing the pull in the first place. After playing a couple holes while pulling an extra club, you might be able to go back to your normal club selection and full speed swing with better results.
One last course management tip that can help you deal with the pulls is simply laying up when you are facing a difficult shot that is guarded by hazards on the left. There is no reason you have to go for the green on a par four if you are facing a tough shot, especially when you are feeling unsure of your swing. In fact, you don't even have to try to hit the green from the tee on a par three if you are worried about the outcome of the shot Never be afraid to lay up and try to make a par with a good wedge shot and a nice putt. There are no pictures on your scorecard at the end of the round, so make decisions based solely on the path that you believe will produce the lowest possible score.
It is certainly frustrating to hit pull after pull out on the course, but you can usually correct this problem by fixing the way your body works in the downswing. Rather than allowing your weight to move back to the right as you swing down, keep everything moving toward the target until the ball is sent on its way. Once you sort out the sequencing and mechanics of your downswing successfully, you should find that the pull is a thing of the past.