Possibly the most dominant European Tour performer of all-time, Colin Montgomerie may go down in history as the best player never to win a major. In his prime, the Scot was as good as any golfer on the planet, racking up 31 wins and claiming the Order of Merit (European money title) an unprecedented seven consecutive times.
Montgomerie suffered a number of near-misses in majors, including playoff losses in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Still, you don't come that close without exceptional ability, and Montgomerie certainly had that.
Unconventional move: Upper body tilts toward the target at the top of the backswing
As he approaches the top, Montgomerie bends laterally at the left hip. This sets his right hip higher than the left, and places less weight on his right foot than is common among skilled golfers. It doesn't quite qualify as a true “reverse pivot,” but it's as close as you'll see a professional come to the dreaded malady.
Why it's a problem for amateurs: While Monty manages to stay evenly balanced across the feet, most amateurs would wind up with the majority of their weight on the left (lead) foot if the upper body tilted in the same manner. In fact, the classic reverse pivot – in which weight transfers to the left side on the backswing, then right on the downswing -- plagues a high percentage of players and causes all sorts of mishits, primarily slices and pushed shots.
How Montgomerie gets away with it: The big Scot is extremely flexible, so he's able to keep the lower body stable while his upper body goes slightly astray. Unlike amateurs who suffer from a reverse pivot, Montgomerie does not shift weight to his right side on the downswing, remaining centered over the ball through impact.
The cure: The “weight shift two-step drill” is a tried and true classic fix. It may take several repetitions to do it correctly, but the drill will instill the proper transfer sequence. You may use any club, though starting with a shorter one will help you get the hang of it.
1. Set up with your feet slightly narrower than usual and the ball in the middle of your stance.
2. As you begin the backswing, lift your left (lead) foot completely off the ground and keep it there as you reach the top.
3. Start the downswing by placing the left foot back on the ground.
4. Continuing the swing, lift the right foot off the ground.
5. Try to stay balanced on the left foot into the finish.
Colin Montgomerie Upper Body Tilt
The career of Colin Montgomerie places him among the best of all time, even if he never quite landed that elusive major championship title. Montgomerie dominated the European Tour for years, and has a total of five runner up finished in majors to his credit. Throughout his career, Monty has been recognized for his unique golf swing which is something of a throwback to prior generations. Although the swing that Monty has used to such great success is not commonly taught today, it has obviously served him quite well. The 52-year old has accumulated 47 career professional wins, and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
So what is it that's so unique about the swing of Colin Montgomerie? Mostly it is the position of his upper body at the top of the swing. When Monty reaches the top of the backswing and prepares to transition into the downswing, his upper body is tilted slightly toward the target. This is a rare position for a professional golfer to use, and it is something that most golf teachers would tell you to avoid. In order to hit a quality shot from this position, there are some adjustments that have to be made quickly in the downswing. Of course, Montgomerie is able to make those corrections with great consistency, but the average amateur golfer may not have the same ability.
Despite the unique position of his upper body at the top of the swing, there are plenty of components in Monty's swing that are picture perfect. For example, his balance is wonderful, and he reaches an excellent impact position. If you are looking for a model to follow when working on your own golf swing, there are many lessons you can learn from watching Colin Montgomerie swing the club. But should you copy his upper body position at the top of the swing? The answer to that question is not so simple.
There are many different ways to hit good golf shots, and just because something is unique doesn't mean it is wrong. While Colin Montgomerie uses an upper body position that most golfers try to avoid, he has obviously been able to hit countless quality shots over his long career. His notable success alone should be enough to encourage you to take a closer look at his game to see what you can learn. It would be a mistake to ignore Montgomerie's swing simply because it is different – it is often the unique swings that have the most to offer.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Is It a Reverse Pivot?
'Reverse pivot' is a phrase that no golfer wants to hear in reference to their swing. The reverse pivot is considered a classic amateur mistake – one that can lead to poor contact, a lack of distance, and even a slice. If you are told that you have a reverse pivot in your swing, correcting that error should be one of your main objectives as a golfer.
Interestingly, the move that Colin Montgomerie makes in his backswing is something similar to a reverse pivot. As he swings the club up to the top of the backswing, his upper body slightly leans toward the target – a classic sign of a reverse pivot move. How is it possible that one of the best golfers in the world created a Hall of Fame career while using a reverse pivot? Simple – he didn't. While the move that Monty makes in his backswing might look something like a reverse pivot, it isn't one.
The proof that Monty isn't using a reverse pivot in his swing is the position of his left foot at the top of the backswing. When he completes his turn away from the target, his left heel is clearly off the ground, indicating that his weight is still balanced, if not favoring his right side. The main component of a reverse pivot is moving your weight onto your left side during the backswing. Montgomerie isn't doing that, because he wouldn't be able to get up onto his left toe if he was. Although his upper body is tilted somewhat toward the target, he hasn't used a reverse pivot because he still has in weight in excellent position.
If you were to head to the driving range with the intention of copying Colin Montgomerie's swing, there is a good chance you would end up developing a reverse pivot of your own. In trying to imitate the lean to the left at the top of the backswing, it is easy to lean too far left with the majority of your weight – causing you to lose your balance and end up with a reverse pivot. What Montgomerie does at the top of his swing is a delicate balance. He tilts slightly left with his upper body in order to create room for a long arm swing, but his lower body does a great job of staying in position. If you were able to copy those positions exactly, you would likely be able to hit some quality shots. Of course, that task is easier said than done.
You should be working hard to avoid a reverse pivot in your swing. Despite what it might look like on video, Montgomerie does not play from a reverse pivot position, but rather from a nicely balanced position that simply has an extra tilt of the upper body to the left. As further proof of the quality of Monty's balance, watch the rest of swing on to the follow through. Players who are using an actual reverse pivot have trouble getting to a balanced finish position because their weight is moving to the right in the downswing. There are no such problems for Monty. After he has struck the shot, his swing continues on into a nicely balanced finish that he is able to hold as the ball soars through the air.
Should You Try the Upper Body Tilt?
Now that it has been established that Colin Montgomerie is not using a reverse pivot in his swing, the next question is this – should you try to emulate his upper body tilt to the left at the top of the backswing? What benefits could this position provide? What drawbacks would you need to be concerned about? As you might expect, there is no simple answer to this question. For some golfers, adding a slight tilt at the top of the backswing could be beneficial, while it could be a disaster for others. You will need to learn about how that tilt can affect your golf swing before deciding if it is an experiment worth trying for yourself.
Following are three potential benefits that could be experienced by adding an upper body lean to the top of your golf swing.
- Longer backswing. If you lack the flexibility to put the club into a parallel position at the top of the swing, you might want to consider using a tilt to allow the club to complete a full turn. By making a longer swing, you open up the potential for increased club head speed – as long as you do everything else correctly, of course. If you watch Colin Montgomerie hit a driver, you will notice that the club actually swings well past parallel at the top. You don't need to get that long with your swing, as it takes excellent eye-hand coordination to make that kind of swing work on a consistent basis. However, if your backswing regularly comes up short of parallel, adding a tilt to the left may be a good choice.
- Added rhythm. One of the things that has made Colin Montgomerie such a successful player throughout his career is the beautiful tempo that he uses in his swing. The rhythm of the swing looks the same time after time, meaning the ball flight that he creates is highly repeatable. Adding a tilt to the left in your backswing could make your swing a little bit longer, which may in turn add rhythm to your motion. Players with short backswings tend to get in a rush during the transition, which can ruin tempo and lead to poor contact with the ball. Even just a slight tilt of your upper body toward the target may be enough to even out your rhythm as you make your way around the course.
- Better balance. Ironically, tilting your upper body to the left at the top of your swing could actually lead to better overall balance, even if it might kind of look like a reverse pivot. Many amateur golfers struggle with getting their weight stuck on their right side as a result of sliding away from the target during the backswing. If you are focused on using the tilt to the left to complete your backswing, you won't have to worry about getting stuck on your right side. When executed correctly, the upper body tilt will help you to keep your weight right where it should be – which is right in the middle of your stance.
Not every golfer will experience these benefits. In fact, many will find that the upper body tilt doesn't help their game at all, and it may even cause them to play worse. Of course, you won't know if this method is going to help or harm your game until you try it out for yourself. Hitting even a single bucket of ball on the driving range may be enough to decide whether or not this is an idea worth pursuing further. Not everything you try in golf is going to work out, but you will never be able to unlock the right combination of techniques for your swing unless you are willing to try some experiments along the way. Keep an open mind and give this method a shot on the range, even if only for a day. The only thing you have to lose is a little bit of practice time, but you could potentially gain a dramatically improved golf swing.
How to Add an Upper Body Tilt
If you have decided to give this move a try in your own game, the first step is to simply head to the driving range with your set of clubs and a bucket of balls. Try to schedule this session for a day when you won't be playing any actual golf out on the course, as your swing could be put temporarily off-track by the changes that you will be making. Even under a best-case scenario it will take at least a few practice sessions before you are able to take this new move out onto the golf course with any degree of confidence.
Before you start making actual golf swings, it may be helpful to put your body in a static position that mimics the one you will be trying to find at the top of your swing. Grab any one of your golf clubs and take a stance on the driving range (without a ball down in front of you). Swing the club up to the top and hold your position when the backswing is completed. Without moving your center of gravity, try to tilt your upper body slightly to the left. This will be easiest if you have maintained a good posture throughout the backswing. Your knees should be bent as they were at address, and you should be bent slightly from the waist.
As you tilt your upper body left, hold everything else in place (as much as possible). If you feel your weight start to be pulled left along with your upper body, you have gone too far. Once you get into a position at the top that feels comfortable, hold it for a few seconds before returning to address. Repeat this process over and over until you are confident that you can replicate the upper body lean during your actual golf swing.
To hit your first shot with an upper body lean at the top of the swing, take your pitching wedge out of the bag and place a ball down in front of you. The pitching wedge is a good club choice to get started with because it is short enough to allow you to make solid contact relatively easily. If you were to start with something like a three or four iron, you may get frustrated and give up before making any real progress. Once you have the pitching wedge in hand, pick out a target on the driving range and take your stance. It is important to take these swings seriously and prepare for them just as you would any shot on the course. If you are only 'going through the motions' on the range, you aren't going to make any progress. Just like anything else in life, getting real results in golf requires real effort.
As you make your first swing, focus only achieving an upper body tilt toward the target at the top. That might mean that you lose track of your other fundamentals temporarily – but that's okay. The only goal at first is to get your upper body into the right position while making contact with the ball and sending it somewhere near the target. The first few shots may not be pretty, but stick with it to give yourself a chance at success.
It is important not to rush your swing when you first start using this technique. Both your backswing and downswing will be longer, so there may be a temptation to rush through the motion in an effort to get down to impact as quickly as possible. That is the exact opposite of what you should be trying to do. Embrace the new length of your swing and give the club plenty of time to get into position. The golf ball isn't going anywhere, so take your time during the swing and focus on using a smooth tempo from start to finish.
There is one other point to keep in mind as you are hitting your first shots with this technique, or any other new technique that you try in your swing. The changes that you are making are going to feel uncomfortable at first, and you are going to want to revert back to your old swing simply because it feels 'right'. Obviously, reverting back isn't going to give you an opportunity to get better, but many golfers turn around before they ever get started. Resist the urge to go back to what feels normal and commit yourself to giving this new motion your best chance. If the swing feels awkward at first, take that as a sign that you are doing something right. In time, the new move will become more and more familiar, and you will gain confidence as the results improve.
Taking the Upper Body Tilt to the First Tee
Any experienced golfer will tell you the longest walk in the game is from the driving range to the first tee. Not in the literal sense, of course, but rather in a figurative way, as it is so difficult to take your driving range game out onto the course. It seems like it doesn't matter what you do on the range, improvements on the course itself are hard to come by.
While it is true that it can be hard to translate your game from range to course, it is not impossible. The work you put in on the driving range will pay off on the course, it just might not happen as quickly as you would like. To speed up that process, try putting the three tips below into use in your game.
- Deep breath. When adding something like an upper body tilt to your swing, you need to pay careful attention to your tempo when on the golf course. You may have been able to master a slower tempo on the range, but the tendency for most players is to immediately speed up once they are on the course. To avoid this bad habit, try taking a slow deep breath prior to every shot. As you stand behind the ball choosing your target, take a big deep breath to slow down your thinking and relax your body. As you walk up to the ball to hit, keep that relaxed state in place and use it to create a smooth and rhythmic golf swing.
- Play a score-free round. Most golfers measure their success on the scorecard, but it might help you transition onto the course if you are willing to play one or two rounds without keeping score. For your first round or two back after adding an upper body tilt to your swing, consider leaving the scorecard in the pro shop. If you aren't keeping score, you will be less worried about the results of each swing, and more willing to stick with your new technique until it becomes comfortable. Even just one score-free round could do wonders for your confidence on the course.
- Expect inconsistency. It is unrealistic to expect excellent results in your first round after a swing change, so don't set yourself up for disappointment. Realize that you have just made an alteration to your swing and it is going to take time to see the benefits of your work arrive in the form of lower scores. At this point, you should be happy to see a few good shots, even if there are plenty of other bad ones along the way.
While Colin Montgomerie's swing might be a bit unconventional, it certainly is effective. If you would like to add an upper body tilt to the top of your golf swing in an effort to improve your overall ball striking, start simple with short clubs on the driving range and work your way up from there. If this unique method ends up being a good fit for your swing, you could find that your performance on the course is greatly enhanced by something as simple as a tilt of your upper body.