While golf shots off the club's toe are often caused by a relatively simple pulling in of the arms near impact, sometimes the issue can be traced to an earlier moment – the transition from backswing to downswing.
If you drop or pull the club too far behind your body as you start down, the arms may remain “stuck” behind the body all the way to impact. This prevents the arms from extending properly and keeps the club too far inside the ball. Result: Contact on the toe.
To combat this problem, focus on keeping your arms in front of your chest as you swing to the top. Mimic this position on the way down, with the shoulders, chest and arms moving in unison into the ball. It's good to practice this in very slow motion, without hitting a ball, to gain a sense of the correct technique. Gradually speed up your practice swings, then progress to some actual shots.
When hitting the ball, you may feel as though you're reaching out too far, with the arms well away from the body.
In fact, that's what we're going for. Hitting a few shots off the heel is actually a good sign.
Keep Club in Front of Body at the Top
In modern golf instruction, it seems as though the trend has been to worry more about the static positions of the golf swing rather than the timing and tempo that is used to creating the swinging action. While there is certainly something to be said for getting yourself and the club in the right positions, there is far more to the game than just copying a list of positions. Tempo has always been, and will always be, a crucial part of delivering the club to the ball properly time and time again. Only when you are able to blend great positions with a beautiful tempo will you be able to take your game to new heights.
With that point in mind, we are going to focus this article on the topic of keeping the club in front of your body at the top of the swing. Why is this an important topic? It is key to your golf swing because it involves both the mechanical side of the swing and the rhythm side of the game. To keep the club in front of your body as you transition from backswing to downswing, you are going to need to have the club in the right place, but you are also going to need to have your tempo under control as well.
Keeping the club in front of your body is something that you may not have thought much about previously when working on your swing, but it is certainly an important point. When the club is in front of your upper body during the swing, you will have a much better chance of returning to a square position at impact – meaning you will be able to hit the ball on line on a consistent basis. If the club falls behind your upper body during the swing, however, the face will usually be open at impact and you will miss to the right. This is a common mistake, and it is one that some golfers never manage to correct.
If you ever watch golf on TV, you may have heard an announcer talk about a player 'getting stuck' during a swing, causing a poor shot. Most likely, the mistake they are talking about has to do with the club falling behind the upper body during the transition. Good golfers usually say they 'got stuck' when they let the club lag behind, and that mistake almost always leads to a shot that is pushed out to the right of the target (for a right handed golfer). While the mistake of getting stuck is something that can affect top-level golfers, it can also be a problem for the average player as well. By working on the timing and tempo of your swing, you can limit the chances that you will get stuck during any of the swings in your upcoming rounds.
All of the instruction in the article 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.
The Importance of Connection
When you keep your body and the club working together throughout the swing, you are doing a good job of 'staying connected'. The connection between your body and the club is important for a long list of reasons, and we have highlighted some of the biggest points within the list below. After reviewing this list, you should have all the motivation you need to work hard on keeping the club perfectly in front of your body at the top of the swing.
- Stay on plane. The biggest reason why you want to keep the club and your body connected is so you can keep the club on plane all the way through the swing. If the club should happen to lag behind your upper body during the downswing, the shaft of the club will drop below the ideal plane and you will be in trouble. Keeping the club on plane is a basic fundamental of solid ball striking, and you are going to have a much easier time staying on plane if you manage to remain connected. It isn't only dropping below the plane that you have to worry about, either – if you start your arms down first before your upper body is ready, you can move the club over the ideal plane. This is the mistake that is made by most players who fight a slice.
- Timing the strike. As mentioned earlier in this article, it is absolutely essential that you focus on the timing of your golf swing. Why? Because good timing leads to solid ball striking. If you want to be a good player, you have to be able to strike the ball cleanly time after time – it's just that simple. Without clean ball striking, you will never be able to accurately predict your distances, and it is nearly impossible to play good golf without solid distance control. As you will find during your practice sessions when working on this point, there is a strong correlation between the timing of your swing and your ability to stay connected. If you keep the club in front of you throughout the swing, you will suddenly find the challenge of hitting the ball cleanly to be no challenge at all.
- Consistency. Any experienced golfer will be able to tell you that the hardest single part of the game is consistently producing the same ball flight time after time. Sure, you can probably hit a few good shots during the course of a round – almost every golfer is capable of that feat. But can you repeat your swing consistently enough to hit those good shots on every hole? Probably not – at least not at this point. However, if you work on improving the way you keep the club in front of you during the transition, you should find that the consistency of your ball striking quickly improves. Consistency within your swing will not only help you to play better from the first hole to the last, but it will also help you to play better round after round, year after year. Golf will always be a challenging and frustrating game, but it will get quite a bit easier when the club stays in front of you on each swing.
Staying connected during your swing is going to improve your golf game. There are plenty of different ways to highlight that fact, but you don't really need to know any more in order to be motivated to work on this skill. Players who are able to keep the club in front of them throughout the swing will always have a big edge over those who aren't able to hit on this point. By using the instruction included below, you should be able to move in the right direction on this important fundamental.
Setting the Stage for Success
This article is focused on the importance of keeping the club in front of your body at the top of the swing. However, you need to be concerned with this point far earlier if you want to make a reliable and productive golf swing. If you fail to lay the groundwork necessary to hit on this important fundamental, you are going to have almost no chance to succeed when the club does get up to the top.
The following list highlights some key points that take place earlier in the golf swing. If you are able to check off all of these points prior to reaching the top of your swing, the transition will be far more likely to be a success.
- Set up square to the target. The address position that you use to start off your swing is one of the most important elements of your overall technique. A good setup can make everything in the game quite a bit easier – and a poor setup can make the game nearly impossible. By setting up square to the target at address, you are going to be placing the club directly in front of your body right off the bat. The task of keeping the club in front of you still needs to be completed, but at least you will be starting from a good spot. If you were to have your setup position misaligned prior to starting the swing, you would need to make some sort of correction just to get on track – and those kinds of corrections are hard to make on the fly.
- One-piece takeaway. One of the biggest differences between the swing of a professional golfer and the average amateur can be found in the takeaway. The typical amateur player uses his or her hands and wrists to start the club in motion, while the average pro uses a one-piece takeaway to keep everything connected in the early stages. A one-piece takeaway uses the shoulders and torso to turn the club away from the target while the hands and wrists stay mostly quiet. This is the best way to start the swing because it will allow you to keep the club in front of your chest successfully. Breaking the habit of using your hands in the takeaway can be a tough hurdle to get over, but it is important if you wish to make progress with your swing.
- Rotate rather than slide. It is common for amateur golfers to slide in the backswing rather than turning away from the target properly. This is a problem because a slide is going to cause you to stick the club behind you by the time the top of the swing is reached. You need to keep turning your shoulders – and the rest of your upper body – if the club is going to stay in front of you nicely. In addition to making it easier to keep the club in front of you, focusing on rotation will help you to stay on balance, which is a major key in hitting solid golf shots. Sliding in the backswing will ruin your balance, and your swing will be ruined at the same time.
There is nothing particularly difficult about any of the points on the list above, although it may take some time to break some old habits if you have been making a mistake on one or more of these issues. Spend some practice time working through the three fundamentals listed above and your swing will be improved as a result. In fact, if you are able to do a good job with these three points, there is a chance that you won't even need to work on anything else – your issues at the top of the swing may be solved just by correcting earlier errors.
How to Stay Connected
At this point, we get to the main focus of the article – how to stay connected while transitioning from backswing to downswing. While it is important to lay the groundwork as described in the previous section, you can still lose your way if you make mistakes during the transition. In many ways, the transition is really the last place where things can go terribly wrong in the swing. If you are able to get through the transition without a big problem, the rest of the swing down through the ball should be no problem at all.
So, what can you do to make sure you get through the transition without any major issues? The first thing you need to do is take your time. The transition cannot be rushed, and if it is rushed, your swing is going to fall apart almost immediately. In fact, rushing through the transition is the leading cause of getting the club stuck behind in the downswing. If you try to go too fast as you move from backswing to downswing, the club will fall behind the movements of your body and the swing will be lost. You may try to catch the club back up on the way down, but there is almost no chance to do so successfully. A rushed transition is a bad transition, and a poor shot is the inevitable outcome.
The problem, of course, is that it is easy to wind up rushing the transition when you are nervous or excited about a given shot. This is commonly an issue on shots where the player is trying to hit the ball a bit harder than normal. If you are trying to smash a drive or hit a long iron with full power, you are at risk for rushing through the swing. It might feel like you are giving the swing extra power by rushing the transition, but that isn't the case at all. The best way to maximize your power is to take your time during the transition so your entire body can prepare for the downswing. It is during the downswing when power is created, so think of the transition as an opportunity to get everything in position for a powerful, aggressive move through the ball.
As you practice your golf swing on the driving range, make your tempo and the time that you take at the top of the swing a point of emphasis. While practicing, you may want to slow down your transition to an exaggerated point just to feel the benefit that you get from taking your time at the top. The exact timing of the transition is going to vary from golfer to golfer, so part of your job during practice is to nail down exactly how you are going to work through this part of the swing. No matter what kind of transition you wind up using, remember that it is always better to be a bit too slow than a bit too fast – a slow transition will usually work out okay, while a quick transition is a recipe for disaster.
In addition to the timing of your transition, another point to watch at the top of the swing is the length of your backswing. A good swing will see the shoulder turn and the arm swing come to a stop at almost exactly the same time, but that isn't the case for many amateur players. Some players feel like they should force the arm swing back as far as possible in order to develop power, and they wind up putting the club behind their upper body in the process. Your shoulder turn and your arm swing should be working together – when one stops, so does the other.
Again on this point, it is the desire for power that causes so many players to go wrong. The average golfer tends to think that they need to swing back with an extra-long backswing to generate swing speed, even though that action is likely to create the opposite outcome. A long backswing will usually cause you to lose balance, which will wind up costing you swing speed in the end. Resist the temptation to swing back any farther than your shoulders want to turn and you will find it easier to keep the club in front of your chest from start to finish.
Simply practicing your golf swing while thinking about this point may be all you need to do to make progress with your game. If you are like most players, you probably haven't considered this topic previously, meaning you may currently be in a habit of allowing the club to fall behind your upper body at the top. Put in some practice time while focused on keeping the club in front of you and your ball striking is going to progress nicely.
If you are still having trouble with this point even after some practice sessions on the range, it might be best to head to the short game practice area to simplify things a bit. Specifically, consider finding a place to hit some pitch shots. When you pitch the golf ball, you have to keep the club in front of your chest throughout the swing if you are going to be successful. Working on your pitching will not only help your short game, but it will also help you to feel the important fundamentals that play a role in the long game.
While pitching the ball, work on using only the turn of your shoulders to power the swing. Don't add much input from your hands in this swing, and make sure you accelerate all the way through the shot. Pitch shots tend to give the average golfer fits, so you may struggle a bit at first with this drill. Stick with it, however, as you are likely to have a breakthrough at some point where you start to understand how the club should work with relation to your upper body.
After a period of hitting pitch shots to work on your connection, head back to the range and gradually increase the size and speed of the swing. The best way to move from pitch shots to full swings is one small step at a time – try hitting the ball five or ten yards farther with each swing until you find yourself hitting full shots. Perhaps without even noticing it, you will suddenly be making quality golf swings that keep the club in front of your body from start to finish.
There are few fundamentals in the golf swing as important as keeping the club in front of your body. While it is often during the transition that this part of the swing will go wrong for the average player, you actually need to focus on this point at all times in the swing. Only when you are able to keep the club in front of you swing after swing all day long will you be able to reach your consistency goals on the course. Use the instruction in this article to work on your ability to execute this part of the swing, and go back to the basics if you find yourself having trouble at any point.