It's the golf fundamental even non-golfers know: Keep your head down.
Apparently, nobody ever corrected Annika Sorenstam. Somehow, the Swede became one of the greatest female golfers of all-time -- racking up 90 international tournament wins and 10 major championships before retiring in 2008 at age 38 – despite violating this most basic of concepts.
Unconventional move: Head turns toward the target before the club makes contact with the ball
Who else does it: David Duval
Viewed in real time, Sorenstam's head appears to swivel toward the target well before she's made contact. In still photos, you'll notice that her head has indeed turned to the left, with her chin pointing to a spot just beyond the ball. The typical pro's chin points straight down, behind the ball, or perhaps directly at the ball, at impact.
Why it's a problem for amateurs: Rotating the head like Sorenstam generally causes the left (lead) shoulder to come up and around as well. When this happens too early, the arms lag behind the shoulders and chest, producing thin contact and an open clubface. Weak, slicing shots generally ensue.
How Sorenstam gets away with it: Sorenstam's swing is a model of efficiency. Her technique and positions are incredibly simple and sound. In fact, still images show that her head movement isn't as early or pronounced as it appears to be when viewed in motion – and that's the key.
Amateurs get into trouble when early head movement pulls the shoulders off the ball. In Sorenstam's case, her head is simply following the movement of the shoulders. It simply occurs a little sooner in the swing than with most pros. If anything, this creates more freedom as she moves through the ball, resulting in greater distance.
The cure: When it comes to the head, two things can get a golfer in trouble: moving it too early in the downswing and follow-through, or keeping it too still.
If you have a problem of coming up and out of shots, try picking a spot on the back of the ball and focusing on it like a laser through impact. Without a small, defined focal point, your head is more apt to wander off the ball.
Taking the “keep your head still” mantra too literally can have an equally detrimental effect. By holding the head firmly in place, you restrict the natural movement of the shoulders through the ball. Focus on the back of the ball, but keep your neck and shoulder muscles loose. Let your head rotate toward the target as the right shoulder turns through.
Annika Sorenstam Early Head Movement
Annika Sorenstam is one of the greatest female golfers in history. During her Hall of Fame career, Sorenstam amassed an incredible 93 professional victories, 72 of which came on the LPGA Tour. She won 10 LPGA major championships, including three U.S. Women's Opens. In addition to all of her success playing against women, Sorenstam also crossed over and became the first women since 1945 to play on the PGA Tour when she made a start in the Colonial Tournament in 2003. To say the least, Sorenstam made a lasting impression on the game of golf around the world.
While you have to have a solid all-around game in order to perform at the high level that Sorenstam produced throughout her career, she was known particularly for her solid ball striking. Incredibly, she struck the ball beautifully despite appearing to break one of the main fundamentals in the game of golf. You have surely been told to 'keep your head down' at one point or another as you have learned this game. However, if you watch Sorenstam's swing, you will notice that it doesn't appear that she keeps her head down all the way through the ball. It looks as though she is pulling up and out of her swing. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
If you watch a slow-motion video of Sorenstam swinging the club, you will find that she actually does keep her head down through the ball – it's just that she moves it earlier than other top golfers once impact has been achieved. Basically, her head follows the movement of the club through the hitting area. As contact is made and the club swings on through, her head rotates with the rest of her body on to a full and balanced finish.
Rather than being a problem that needs to be corrected, this head movement actually played to her favor. By allowing her head to rotate through the shot along with the rest of her body, Sorenstam could continue her rotation beautifully through impact. Many golfers get stuck near the bottom of the swing because they are trying so hard to keep their head in place – but that simply was never going to happen with Sorenstam's swing. A big part of her consistency can likely be attributed to the fact that she allowed her head to turn through the shot freely.
Of course, you don't want to come up off of the ball at impact, and you certainly don't want to take your eyes off the ball before it is struck. So, if you were to imitate Sorenstam's move in your own swing, you would need to be careful not to get too carried away going in this direction. Most golfers can benefit from a bit of added freedom when it comes to their head movement through the shot, but there is a balance on this point that must be achieved. In this article, we are going to look at how you can control your head nicely throughout the swing in order to achieve maximum ball striking consistency.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Understanding the True Fundamentals
When someone tells you to 'keep your head down' during your golf swing, they aren't entirely wrong – but they aren't entirely right, either. Keep your head down is an easy piece of golf advice to give, but what does it really mean? Should you be keeping your head perfectly still, with your chin tucked down into your chest? No, certainly not. You will never hear a qualified golf teacher telling you simply to keep your head down because that is an incomplete, ambiguous piece of advice.
To make sure you have a clear understanding of what should be going on above your shoulders during the golf swing, review the points below. These are the real fundamentals that you need to keep in mind as you swing the club.
- Keep your head level. Your head does not need to remain perfectly still during the golf swing. In fact, it will be difficult to generate significant power if you attempt to keep your head exactly in place from the start of the swing on through to impact and beyond. However, while allowing your head to move slightly is perfectly acceptable, you do not want to allow your head to move up or down significantly. When you 'lose your level' by going up or down excessively with your head, you will have trouble making solid contact through the hitting area. Also, since you are wasting energy moving up or down, you will lose speed in your rotation. It is common for golfers to sink down into their swings during the downswing, causing the head to drop and the shot to be hit fat. Pay attention to this possible mistake and do your best to keep your head on the same level throughout the swing.
- Keep your eyes on the ball. It seems that this is really what most people mean when they say that you should be keeping your head down in the swing. While it isn't necessarily important to keep your head down firmly in place, it is important to watch the ball until it is gone. In any sport, you want to see what you are trying to hit. That is true in baseball, it is true in tennis, and it is certainly true in golf. No matter what else takes place in your golf swing, be sure you are watching the point of impact carefully. As long as you can still see the ball as the club arrives at impact you should be in good shape to achieve a clean strike.
- Keep your chin up. This is the point that usually gets lost in the shuffle when golfers think they need to keep their head down in order to be successful. If you are too intent on keeping your head down, you are likely to force your chin down into your chest – and that is bad news for the rest of your swing. It is important that you keep your chin up during the swing because you need to make room for your shoulders to pass under your chin as they turn. With your chin down, your shoulders will be blocked and your rotation will fall short of its potential.
The best way to describe the position that you should use for your head during the golf swing is 'eyes down, chin up'. With your eyes looking down at the ball and your chin up away from your chest, you will be in a great position to get started. From there, you can take the focus away from your head position while thinking about the other things you need to do to make a great golf swing.
Advantages of the 'Annika Move'
Obviously, whatever Annika Sorenstam was doing with her golf swing was extremely successful for her as she competed on the LPGA Tour. However, is her unique head movement through impact something that you should copy in your own game? Well, that depends. It might be something that could benefit your ball striking, or it may be something that holds you back from being your best.
To decide if this move is something you should try out for yourself, review the following list of advantages stemming from the early head movement. If you think that these positives could have a great impact on your ball striking ability, it may be worth your time to adjust how your head moves in the swing.
- Turn fully through impact. One of the biggest things about turning your head to the left just after impact is that you will find it easier to keep turning your entire body in that direction. This is something that gives the average amateur golfer trouble in a lot of cases, as many players give up on their rotation just as impact arrives. You want to turn all the way through your swing and into a full finish, and head movement can keep you going in that direction. If you resist this movement and try to keep your head perfectly in place, it might be hard to keep up your rotation throughout the swing. Sorenstam never appeared to have any problem making a great turn, so you should consider following her lead with this move.
- Reduce pressure on your back. Golfers are no strangers to back problems. The golf swing is inherently hard on the muscles and vertebrae in your back, as the rapid winding and unwinding motion is certain to take its toll over time. Professional golfers are particularly susceptible to back issues, as they play this game day in and day out. However, when the head is allowed to move through the swing as it does in Annika Sorenstam's swing, there is a bit of pressure taken away from the back. Everything is able to move through into the finish in one piece when the head moves early, so there isn't any tension between the back and neck. This one move isn't going to take away all of the pressure that golf puts on your back, of course, but it is a nice step in the right direction.
- Build rhythm. Allowing your head to move along with the rest of your body through the hitting area just might allow you to improve on your tempo and rhythm in the golf swing. You want your swing to be as smooth as possible from start to finish, but it can be difficult to be smooth when you are moving different parts of your body at different speeds (and in different directions). You don't have a choice on that point in the backswing and at the start of the downswing, but you can keep everything together through impact if you let your head turn left. Once you get used to this move you might just find that you are able to repeat your swing more consistently by adding early head movement.
Make no mistake – it is not going to be particularly easy to add this move into your golf swing. If you are used to keeping your head relatively still through impact and beyond, allowing it to move to the left will feel strange at first. However, the points above highlight some of the benefits that you can enjoy if you do make this change. Should you decide to go ahead with adding the 'Annika move' to your game, read on for a step-by-step guide on how to make the adjustment.
Adding Early Head Movement to Your Swing
The only way to get started with making this adjustment to your golf swing is to head out to the range and give it a try. Sure, you could make some practice swings somewhere away from the driving range without hitting a ball, but those kinds of swings aren't really going to tell you much about the impact that this change is having on your ball striking. Only when you actually put the club on the back of the ball will you know if the change is having a positive or negative effect on your game.
When you arrive at the course to use the driving range, you will actually want to take a detour and quickly visit the short game practice area before you wind up at the range. Starting in the short game area will allow you to hit some short pitch shots of 20 or 30 yards prior to making full swings. Find a spot to pitch from and work on hitting short shots while allowing your head to move through impact along with the club. Of course, the move isn't going to be very dramatic at this point, as your swing is still small and relatively slow. However, starting this way is going to help you get the timing down properly so you can then speed things up on the range.
After a few minutes have been spent hitting pitch shots, head to the range and take one of your short irons from the bag. You don't want to reach for your driver right away at this point, as you are still learning how to incorporate this move into your game. Start out with a nine iron or pitching wedge, and use the tips below to give yourself the best possible chance at success.
- Let your right shoulder guide the way. As you swing down through impact, pay attention to the position and movement of your right shoulder. If your swing is working correctly, your right shoulder should move down toward the ball along with your right arm and the club itself. As that right shoulder reaches your chin, allow your head to turn to the left along with it. This is one of the best ways to feel the timing for your early head movement. If you move your head before the shoulder arrives at the bottom, you will be coming up out of the short. Or, if you move your head too late, after the shoulder has passed, you really won't be doing anything different at all. Feel like your right shoulder and your head are turning through the shot together and you will be on the right track.
- Turn, don't lift. It is common for people trying to use this move to wind up lifting their heads up out of the shot rather than turning toward the target properly. The early head movement that you are trying to add to your swing is a turn rather than a lift, so avoid lifting up at all costs. If you aren't sure if you are lifting up as you move your head, ask a friend to record your new swing move on video. It will be easy to tell if you are lifting early just by watching the video. Work carefully on this point until you are sure the only movement in your head at the bottom of the swing is a turn toward the target.
- See impact. As was mentioned earlier, you need to be sure to keep your eyes down on the ball long enough to see the moment of impact on each swing. This is one of the basics of the game of golf, and it remains just as important today as it was when the game was invented. You don't have to keep your eyes down for long after the ball has been struck, but be sure you are actually seeing the club hit the ball. If you look up early – even by a fraction of a second – you will notice that your ball striking begins to suffer as a result. Hitting the ball cleanly is one of the most important things that you can do in this game, and watching the ball is going to help you do just that.
If you want to give this kind of head movement a try in your game, it is important that you remain patient in the early going. It is not likely to be a quick transition, so stick with it and look for signs of gradual improvement along the way. Hopefully, after a few practice sessions, you will start to feel more comfortable and your results will begin to improve as well.
Other Lessons from Annika's Swing
It would be a mistake to discuss the golf swing of Annika Sorenstam and only talk about her head movement. Sure, that is an element that is notable when you watch the swing, but she does plenty of other things that need to be highlighted as well. To start, Sorenstam put her body into a picture-perfect setup position time after time. Her knees were nicely flexed, her hands were comfortably out in front of her body, and here feet were just slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
Another notable element of Sorenstam's swing is her impeccable balance. It is hard to play good golf when off balance, and you certainly can't play well as consistently as Sorenstam did without being on balance at all times. From the start of the swing all the way through to the finish, it looks like she is in control of the club as well as the movements of her body. Amateur golfers can draw great inspiration from this point. Most players swing as hard as they can over every shot, and their balance suffers as a result. You don't see that mistake made in this golf swing. Instead, you see a swing that places a premium on control and balance over sheer power. If you are willing to dedicate yourself to improved balance – even if that means not swinging so hard – you are sure to improve.
Finally, we also see a great shoulder rotation in the swing of Annika Sorenstam. At the top of the driver swing, her left shoulder has turned behind the ball, which is ideal for generating speed on the way down. The club shaft is roughly parallel to the ground, her head has not moved much from address, and her left heel remains on the ground. All in all, Sorenstam is able to find an excellent position up at the top of the swing, which is exactly what you would expect from one of the best ball strikers this game has ever seen.
Should you try to incorporate the early head movement of Annika Sorenstam into your own game? That is going to be up to you to decide. It won't be an effective move for everyone, but you may be able to enjoy some benefit if you try it for yourself. Either way, there is a lot to learn from a great player like Sorenstam, so consider studying video of her swing to pick up various points that you can put into action on the range. Golf is a game of endless learning and experimenting, and one of the best ways to learn is through watching the top players on the planet. Good luck with your swing!