Before working on your swing plane, it's important to know if your swing plane actually needs work. Here's a simple way to check with just a club and a full-length reflective surface:
An off-plane backswing requires you to compensate coming down in order to make contact. You'll have to make an inefficient movement with your body, arms or hands to re-route the club, draining power and causing poorly struck, offline shots.
Is your swing plane off the mark? Repeat this drill, guiding your backswing by looking in the mirror, to groove a correct path.
Swing Plane Golf Drills
As an amateur golfer, it is easy to get overwhelmed with everything that you need to think about before and during the swing. Pro golfers have the advantage of getting to work on their swings all day, every day – but that isn't a luxury that most amateurs can afford. You probably have to keep up with things like work and family commitments, meaning you aren't able to spend as much time as you would like on the process of honing your swing. While that can make it difficult to improve your game, you don't have to resign to a future of the same old shots and same old scores. By picking one bit of your technique at a time to improve as you go, your game can continuously make progress week after week, and year after year.
In this article, the bit of technique that we are going to target for improvement is the swing plane. The plane that you use for your swing is an important part of your mechanics, yet it is something that many golfers completely ignore as they practice. You probably work on things like your grip, stance, takeaway, and more, but you may have never previously thought about your plane and how it affects your ball flight. By taking the time to look into this part of your game, you just might be able to improve on both the power and accuracy of your shots.
One of the difficult things about learning how to master your swing plane is the fact that swing plane is such an individual thing. You can play well with a relatively flat swing plane, or you can play well with the club high up in the air – the choice is yours. It doesn't really matter what kind of plane you choose to use, as long as your plane is repeatable from swing to swing. Also, you need to make sure that the rest of your fundamentals match up with the plane you have chosen. If, for example, you are using an upright plane with mechanics that would be better suited for a flat swing, you may run into trouble. By matching up your swing plane with the rest of the moves you make in the swing, you should be able to achieve more consistent, more predictable results.
Before you get started working on your swing plane, there is something you should keep in mind. Currently, you have an established swing plane in your game. Sure, it might not be the exact plane that you would like to use, but it is already present in your swing and you are used to using that path to find the ball at impact. So, going forward, you are going to have to work from that starting point in order to make the changes that you would like to see in your technique. You can't start from 'scratch' in this game, unless you are literally swinging a club for the first time. Don't make the mistake of trying to build up your new swing and swing plane from scratch, because that isn't possible. Accept the current state of your swing, understand the changes you need to make, and then get down to work on making them.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Starting Out on a Good Path
The position you set the club in at address is going to largely determine the kind of swing you make, and the plane you use throughout that swing. Those who are going to swing the club on a flat plane should set up with the club in a relatively flat position, and those swinging on an upright plane should do the opposite. However, even if you get set up in the right position, your work is not done. Additionally, you need to start out the swing on the correct plane by using your takeaway properly.
Unfortunately, the takeaway is where the swing goes wrong for so many players. There are a number of mistakes that can be made during the takeaway which will quickly get the club off plane – and you may not be able to recover your swing the rest of the way through. Following is a quick list of takeaway mistakes that you should be trying to avoid –
- Too much hand action. This is easily the most common mistake that is made during the takeaway phase of the swing. Rather than allowing your shoulders to turn away from the target as the swing gets started – which is the right way to go about the takeaway – many amateur golfers fall into the trap of using their hands actively to move the club. This will usually swing the club quickly to the inside of the proper path, and the club will be under the correct plane as a result.
- Rushing the takeaway. There is an element of rhythm and timing that needs to be present in the takeaway if you are going to keep the swing on plane from start to finish. If you rush through the takeaway and get the club too far into the backswing before your shoulders and the rest of your upper body is able to rotate to the right, the club will become 'stuck' behind you. When the club gets stuck, it will usually drop below the intended swing plane, leaving you with a shallow downswing that attacks the ball too far from the inside. By taking your time, you can keep the club in front of you and give yourself a better chance to keep your swing on plane throughout.
- Swaying to the right. While the first two mistakes in this list might be the most common problems to be found in the takeaway of an amateur golfer, this problem is the most damaging. As the swing starts, you need to be careful to stay on balance rather than allowing yourself to sway back to the right. If you do sway off the ball during the takeaway, you are going to limit the rotation that you can achieve with your body – and the club will be forced up into the air as a result. Many players who fight the slice make this exact mistake. They slide their bodies to the right early in the swing, the club is forced up because it can't rotate around the body, and the swing is effectively ruined. Do everything you can to stay on balance early in the swing and your odds of sticking to a good swing plane will go up dramatically.
The best drill to work on improving the consistency of your takeaway is simply to rehearse this part of the swing over and over again. Take a club from your bag, set up in your usual address position, and repeat your takeaway time after time. You don't even have to make the whole swing – just complete the takeaway, move the club back to address, and repeat. Doing this over and over with proper fundamentals, while avoiding the mistakes listed above, will make it far easier for you to keep the club on plane.
Staying in Your Stance
Managing your swing path isn't all about the club itself. Sure, it is the club that is actually going to trace the swing path you use to hit the ball, but there are a number of elements to your swing which will impact that path that is used. Specifically, you are going to want to pay particular attention to your stance throughout the swing. When you do a good job of staying in your stance from the start of the swing to the end, you will have a much better chance to holding to your swing plane.
At address, there should be a significant amount of flex in your knees over the ball. Many amateur golfers fail to get their knees flexed properly, so this is the first point to keep in mind with regard to how your lower body affects the swing plane. Make it a point to flex your knees sufficiently over the ball shot after shot, even as it gets late in the day and your legs start to get a bit tired. No matter what kind of shot you are hitting, from a driver on down to a short wedge, you want to always have a comfortable degree of knee flex built in to your stance.
Once that stance is taken and your knees are flexed, your next job is to keep them that way throughout the swing. This is where many golfers run into serious trouble. Even golfers who know that they need to flex their knees at address don't always do a good job of keeping them flexed once the swing gets going. It is common to lose knee flex near the top of the swing, as you might be tempted to stand up out of your stance in order to generate more speed. This is a bad idea, of course, and you will be punished in the way of losing your swing plane.
It is common for players who slice the golf ball to come up out of their stance at the top of the swing. As the club nears the top, the knees will lose flex and the club will be pushed up and away from the body. This is a dangerous move to make, as pushing the club up high during the transition can lead to the dreaded outside-in hit that is associated with a slice. So, to make sure you keep your club on plane for as long as possible, you need to work on maintaining knee flex throughout your swing. The following drill will help you do just that –
- To start, take your seven iron (or another mid-iron from the bag). You aren't actually going to be hitting balls with this drill, so you don't necessarily need to be at the driving range. Anywhere you have space to safely make golf swings will work just fine.
- Get into your stance and pick out an imaginary target to use for alignment. Once you are happy with your stance – and your knees are flexed properly – you can start the swing.
- Swing up to the top just as you would during any other swing. As you swing back, focus on keeping your knees nicely flexed without standing up at all. Your lower body at the top of the swing should look very similar to how it looked at address.
- As the backswing turns into a downswing, you are going to swing down a little differently in order to reinforce the idea of staying down in your stance. Swing the club down without any help from your lower body – keep your knees in the same position as they have been, and move the club down in front of you toward the (imaginary) ball. You don't even need to swing through the rest of the way to the finish – just go back and forth through the backswing and downswing while holding your knees stable.
When done correctly, this is a great drill for isolating the importance of your lower body in the swing. Specifically, it is going to help you hold your level and keep the club on plane. Allowing your knees to straighten during the swing is a common error that gets many golfers off plane, so you don't want to find yourself in that category. Making a correction to the way you use your lower body during the swing might not seem like a big point, but it can have a major impact on how well your club stays on plane.
Using Video to Your Advantage
This section isn't going to be so much about a drill as it is about the benefits of using video, and what you can spot in your swing through the use of video. It used to be that you needed to go to a golf teacher in order to watch your swing on video, as they were the only ones with the equipment necessary to take a recording out there on the range. Of course, that has changed with technology. Today, most people walk around with a video recording device built in to the cell phone that is in their pocket. That means you can grab a quick video of your swing at just about any time, provided you have a place to hit balls and someone willing to take the video for you.
In order to get a video that will be helpful in terms of working on your swing plane, you want to record video from what is known in golf as the 'down the line' angle. That means the person who is taking the video should be on an extension of the target line, a few feet back from the player (far enough to avoid getting hit with the swing, of course). When the video is taken from that angle, it will be easy to see the swing plane develop from start to finish. One important point for those taking the video to remember – keep the frame wide enough to capture the entire club as it swings. You want to be able to see both the shaft of the club and the club head all the way through, even at the top of the backswing.
Once you have captured a video of your swing, take a look at it while keeping the following points in mind –
- Minimize shift. The best swing planes are those that look simple. In other words, the club doesn't seem to be shifting planes during the swinging action. The plane is basically set at address, and that same angle is then used throughout the swing from start to finish. Watch as your club moves through the swing, and see if you can spot any unnecessary movement that seems to be taking you off plane. If you can remove extra motion from your swing that isn't serving any purpose, you will become a more consistent ball striker almost immediately.
- Where is the club at the top? Players who are using a flat swing plane should have the club somewhere around their right shoulder at the top of the swing, while those using a steeper plane are going to have the club up around their ear – or even higher. Make sure that the position you are finding at the top of the swing is matching up with the plane you are attempting to use. If you have a flat backswing that turns into a high position at the top, for example, something is going wrong in your swing.
- Watch path through impact. In addition to watching the plane that you swing on, also check on the path of the club head through the ball. Are you hitting across from right to left or from left to right? Or are you swinging right down the target line beautifully? If your path is severely angled in one direction or another, changes are going to be necessary to your plane in order to eliminate that poor path through impact.
There is a lot to be learned by watching your swing on video, but you don't want to allow over analysis of your swing to totally 'freeze' you the next time you step over the ball. After you watch your swing video, pick out one or two points that you are going to work on and then put the video away. Golf is a feel game first and foremost, and watching too much video will strip away your feel for the swing. By picking out points to improve one or two at a time, you can get the club closer to the right plane and improve your ball striking tremendously in the process.
Swing Plane in the Short Game
Did you know that swing plane is actually an important thing to keep in mind in the short game? It's true – you want to be sure that you are swinging the club on a good plane while chipping and putting, as getting off plane is going to result in the ball heading off line. In many ways, being on plane with your short shots is even more important than it is with your full swing, as short game shots don't have a chance to turn back toward the target in the air thanks to spin. Once a short game shot is off line, it is going to stay that way.
When you set up over a short game shot, whether it is a chip or a putt, you are establishing your swing plane right there at address. Once that plane is set by the shaft of the club, your job is then to swing the club on the plane that has been set on the way back and through. Don't allow the club to tilt up or down during your swinging action – rock it back and forth using your shoulders and little else. At first, playing your short game shots in this manner will probably feel a bit simplistic. However, in time, you will realize that you are going to be far more consistent just by focusing on the plane of your swing. The short game is supposed to be as simple as possible, and this is a great example of that notion. Those who are able to keep the club on plane during the short game are the players who will find the bottom of the club more frequently.
Swing plane is an important concept in the world of golf, yet it remains frequently overlooked by the average player. Take some time to think about the swing plane you use in your game, and how it could be improved going forward. This isn't the easiest part of your technique to improve on, but it is one of the most impactful. Start finding your perfect swing plane more frequently and you will begin to locate fairways and greens with incredible consistency.