Casual golf fans may have expected Graeme McDowell to fade after his surprise victory at the 2010 U.S. Open. They would have been very wrong.
The Northern Irishman, who had already won twice that season on the European Tour, finished the year by sparking Europe to a Ryder Cup win against the U.S., then toppling Tiger Woods at the unofficial Chevron World Challenge. He's had a couple more close shaves in majors since then, and always seems to lurk on the weekend leaderboard.
Clearly, “G-Mac” is here to stay.
McDowell learned the game on the vaunted links of Royal Portrush, where hitting low, penetrating shots is a necessity. He developed a swing that's somewhat unconventional, but ever-consistent.
McDowell's signature: He re-routes the club with a dramatic outward move of the hands at the top of the backswing.
McDowell starts with a grip that's stronger (hands turned to the right, as viewed by the golfer) than most pros'. This results in a bowed left wrist position and closed clubface at the top of the backswing, similar to Dustin Johnson.
Let's rewind an instant to examine McDowell's signature move. Halfway through the backswing, with his left arm parallel to the ground, his hands are in a “deep” position, or more behind the body than most. (Viewed looking down the target line, his left arm points well behind him.) As the arms go higher, they move out toward the target line – in what might be termed an “over-the-top” move -- while the shaft points well left in what's called a “laid-off” position.
As he starts down, the club drops onto the proper plane, forming a line directly to the ball. McDowell rotates his body beautifully and extends his right side through impact, with minimal rolling of the forearms. This mild release keeps McDowell from hooking the ball, which is the primary danger of a strong grip/closed clubface position on the backswing.
Why it works for McDowell: Rather than working with a highly paid swing instructor at an early age, McDowell learned to swing naturally in response to the elements he faced on the links. While he's made some adjustments since hiring Pete Cowen as his coach in 2010, McDowell's basic swing hasn't changed. The unorthodox swings of Jim Furyk and Lee Trevino evolved in much the same way.
Like his fellow major champions, McDowell proves that it doesn't take textbook technique to succeed. If your swing is a little unconventional but gets the job done, don't make drastic changes.
From a technical standpoint, McDowell's thorough downswing rotation keeps his arms behind his body and prevents him from hitting big hooks. In fact, he hits the ball quite straight, generally with a slight draw. It also helps that his swing is compact, with the arms and shoulders in sync and the club stopping short of parallel at the top.
How it can work for you: If you've got a strong grip and closed clubface at the top of your backswing, make sure to start the downswing with the lower body. You'll pull the club down rather than casting it from the top, decreasing the danger of over-releasing and producing wild hooks.
Graeme McDowell – From Laid Off to Spot On
Over the past decade or so, Graeme McDowell has been among the very best golfers in the world. He has captured a major championship title in that time, winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010. There have been plenty of other impressive performances in majors throughout McDowell's career, including a 5th in The Open Championship back in 2012. Along with his impressive individual titles, McDowell is also known for being a key member of the European Ryder Cup team. While McDowell has already had a great professional career, he is still just 36 years of age and likely has plenty of good golf yet to come.
One of the great things about golf is the fact that you can get the job done in many different ways – and McDowell is a great example of that point. His swing is not exactly 'traditional', in that it includes some positions which would not be copied by many other players. Specifically, he has the club somewhat laid off at the top, meaning the shaft of the club is pointing out to the left of the target (since McDowell is a right handed player). For some golfers, leaving the club laid off at the top is a recipe for trouble, but McDowell is able to put the club into a great position at impact, leading to quality ball striking round after round.
So how is McDowell able to get the club into a great position while starting his downswing laid off? It all comes down to how he moves his body throughout the downswing. Rather than using his hands and arms to swing the club, McDowell does a great job of turning his body to the left, which in turn brings the club along for the ride. Thanks to a downswing that is controlled by the big muscles in his body, McDowell can hold the club face square through the hitting area.
Without a good body rotation in the downswing, it would be easy to allow the club head to flip over at impact – leading to a quick hook. This is a problem that plagues plenty of amateur golfers who fail to understand the importance of rotating their hips and torso through the shot. If you have trouble using your whole body to hit a golf shot, you may benefit from watching McDowell hit some shots. When he is on top of his game, McDowell is able to hit accurate shots all around the course, leading to some impressive scores on difficult tracks.
It wouldn't be a good idea to intentionally put your club into a laid off position at the top just to copy the swing of Graeme McDowell. His swing is unique to him, and your swing needs to remain unique to you. However, you can certainly learn from his example and apply some of the things he does in his game to your swing. Specifically, learning to turn your body aggressively through the shot should lead to improved ball striking.
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.
Rotation Leads to Improvement
It is hard to overestimate the importance of body rotation in the golf swing – especially in the downswing. Without good rotation through the shot, your swing will lack power and you will deliver the club into impact from inconsistent angles. By mastering the art of body rotation from the top of the swing on through to the finish, you can quickly and dramatically improve the quality of your play.
Not only do most amateur golfers lack the body rotation to hit powerful shots, most of them don't even realize they are struggling to turn through the ball. The average player thinks they should simply swing down with the arms, which leads to the kind of weak contact that you see on most driving ranges every Saturday morning. In order to hit powerful shots that you can also control, it is essential to integrate your body into the overall swinging motion. On this point, you can certainly learn from Graeme McDowell. Whether you have the club laid off or pointing perfectly down the line at the top, using a strong hip turn is a great way to strike the ball cleanly.
To work toward a better turn in the downswing, focus on the following three points –
- Hips go first. If you are going to get your whole body involved in the golf swing right from the top, it is essential that you start the move down with your legs. Most golfers start the downswing by moving their hands toward the ball, and then they struggle to catch up with their lower body the rest of the way. It is the lower body that should be leading the move to the left, with your arms and hands following along in turn. As you arrive to the top of the swing, make sure your left hip is doing a good job of getting out in front of the swing on the way down. With that left hip in charge, your downswing will be in great shape to continue all the way through to the finish without hesitation.
- Be confident. Many players struggle with the forward swing simply because they lack the confidence to completely commit to the move they need to make. Once your start your hips turning toward the target, there can be no holding back and no fear regarding the outcome of the shot. You need to dedicate yourself to the swing and expect great results. On the range, work on swinging all the way through the ball with tremendous confidence and don't back off of that when you get onto the course. It won't always be easy to find the confidence to swing through to a full finish, but that should always be your goal. A confident swing is almost always going to have a better body rotation than one which is filled with doubt.
- Left foot stays down. If there is one 'hidden' trouble spot in the downswing of the average golfer it is the position of the left foot as the club is coming down. Many golfers get into the habit of lifting their heel off of the ground during the downswing, which will cause a couple of problems. First, when you stand up onto the toes of your left foot, you will be raising up the level of your whole body, making it more difficult to strike the shot cleanly. Also, and perhaps more importantly, that vertical motion will slow down your body rotation. Moving up means you aren't moving left as fast as you could be, so your swing speed will suffer as a result. In order to maximize your turn and improve your ball striking, you need to do your best to keep that left heel flat on the ground all the way through the swing. It is okay if you need to allow the left heel to come up slightly during the backswing to lengthen your turn away from the ball, but it needs to get back down on the ground as quickly as possible during the transition.
If you can hit on each of those three points, you will be well on your way to making a great downswing turn. Of course, just doing those things right doesn't mean you will automatically hit good golf shots, but you will be putting yourself in a better position to do just that. Graeme McDowell is able to consistently strike the ball cleanly, in large part due to his excellent turn. Work on this part of your swing at the range and look forward to improved performance.
Another element of Graeme McDowell's swing that has allowed him to excel – especially under pressure – is the way he keeps his hands quiet all the way through impact. Since he is laid off at the top, he would run the risk of hitting a quick hook if his hands were too active through the hitting area. However, he avoids that trouble by allowing that great body turn to do the work while his hands hold the position of the club face as steady as possible.
In order to make sure you are using quiet hands through the hitting area, you need to focus on putting your club in a great position earlier on in the swing. The main reason that golfers feel compelled to use their hands actively at impact is because they have made other mistakes earlier in the swing that put the club face off track for a solid hit. Therefore, that late hand action is meant to 'save' the swing – which is a move that fails more often than it succeeds.
While Graeme McDowell might get the club into a laid off position at the top, he does a great job of quickly finding a good swing place once his downswing begins. Since he is on such a good plane coming down, there is no reason to use any saving moves with his hands at the bottom. All he needs to do is hang on for the ride and keep turning to the left. As long as he trusts the swing and completes his move all the way through, the result should be a solid shot that heads directly for the target.
Using quiet hands at impact can be a serious challenge for someone who is used to using plenty of hand action at the bottom of the swing. To get used to using your core instead of your hands to actually hit the ball, start by hitting some short pitch shots in the practice area. Work on hitting 30 or 40-yard wedge shots by turning back and through the swing. Focus your efforts on keeping your hands out of these shots as much as possible and you should see how solidly you are able to start hitting the ball. Since a short pitch shot requires much less swing speed than a long drive, you will have more time to think about how you are swinging through impact. Once you gain confidence in your ability to hit shots with little hand action, gradually pick up the pace and hit longer and longer shots until you are all the way up to the driver.
Taking the excessive hand action out of your swing isn't going to lead to overnight improvements – instead, you should be looking for gradual progress that comes a little bit at a time until you are a better golfer than ever before. Quiet hands at the bottom of the swing, when combined with a great body rotation, can lead to impressive results both on the range and eventually on the course.
Engaging the Lower Body Early
Although it is during the transition of the swing that your hips and the rest of your lower body need to jump into action, the lower body actually should be playing a role in the swing right from the very start. As you take your address position, it is crucial that your knees are flexed and the big muscles in your legs are engaged. You need your legs to support your upper body throughout the swing, right from the moment that the takeaway begins all the way through to the finish.
To get your legs to support your swing properly right from the start, you need to build an excellent stance. At address your knees should be flexed slightly, and your upper body should be tilted out over the ball to give your arms room to swing. Many amateur golfers make the mistake of standing straight up and down at address, and their swings lack athleticism as a result. You don't have to get into a deep knee bend while standing over the ball, but it would be a mistake to lock your knees out straight. If you are going to use your body rotation in the downswing like Graeme McDowell is able to do, flexing your knees at the start of the swing is the beginning of the process.
Of course, building a good stance is only half the battle when it comes to using your legs to support your swing. In addition to starting out with flexed knees, you also need to keep that flex throughout the entire backswing to set up a great turn in the downswing. Many of the golfers who do manage to build a good stance with their knees flexed go on to waste that stance by standing up out of the shot during the backswing. If you lose your knee flex somewhere between the takeaway and the transition, it will be nearly impossible to create a powerful and accurate impact when you return to the bottom. Focus on holding on to that knee flex as the club swings back – specifically, make sure your right knee is holding its position nicely. A steady right knee is the key to a great backswing in many ways, so make that point a top priority. When you get to the top of the swing with your right knee in a similar position to where it started, you will be set up for success as you start to turn back to the left.
So, the idea is pretty simple – set up with plenty of flex in your knees at address, and hold that flex as long as possible into the backswing to set up a powerful downswing. If you watch a video of Graeme McDowell's swing, you will see that he stays nicely down into his stance throughout the motion. He sets up with a nice amount of knee flex at address, and he is still down in a good posture when he gets back to impact during the forward swing. Mimic those positions in your own swing and you should be taking some big steps in the right direction.
It is impossible to play golf at the highest level without an incredible amount of self-belief. If Graeme McDowell didn't believe in himself, and didn't believe in the ability that he has on the golf course, he never would have become a professional golfer in the first place – let alone been able to hoist the U.S. Open trophy at one of the most-famous golf courses in the world. You have to believe in yourself to play great golf, whether you are competing in front of millions of fans, or just playing a match on a Saturday at your home course.
That self-belief is particularly important when you have a quirk in your swing that isn't necessarily right out of the golf swing textbook. You need to believe in what you are trying to do with the golf club no matter what is on the line, and you shouldn't let one or two comments from playing partners sway you from your intended path. For example, if you have a unique grip that you feel comfortable using, you need to have the confidence to stick with it even if a couple of players in your grip start to question how it works. Doing something different from the rest doesn't mean you are doing it wrong – there are plenty of ways to get the ball into the hole. All of the golf swings on the PGA Tour look different, and yet each player at that level is capable of incredible accomplishments.
Confidence in your swing is not something that you can fake, and you have to earn it on the driving range before you go out onto the course. Why does Graeme McDowell believe in his golf swing? Because he has seen it produce great shots over and over again. Confidence comes from experience, and you need to build that experience on the range before going out to the course to put yourself to the test. Once you have seen your swing do great things on the range, it will be that much easier to trust it under pressure. While you may never swing quite as good on the course as you do on the range, the confidence you build during practice will do wonders for your overall performance.
It might be hard for you to believe at this point, but a big part of the reason why McDowell can get from a laid off position to a beautiful impact spot is the fact that he believes in his move. There is a ton of doubt going around among the average amateur golfer, and that doubt gets in the way of performance. No one has a 'perfect' golf swing – in fact, such a thing doesn't exist. Sure, the pros that you see playing on TV have technically solid swings, but they also have the confidence to deploy those swings successfully. Without that positive thinking to stand behind their swings, shooting low scores would simply be impossible.
If you are suffering from a crisis of confidence, you might find yourself trying out all sorts of different techniques on the range in the hopes that you will stumble onto something that works. Don't make the mistake of chasing swing after swing out of desperation. Stick with the basic type of swing that comes naturally to you, and then tweak your mechanics as needed to improve your results. When you spend time on the range, focus on improving what you already do, rather than trying to do something totally different. It takes discipline to stick with your technique until you are able to sharpen it properly, but that discipline can lead you to the best golf of your life.
Graeme McDowell is one of the best golfers in the world, and he plays from a laid off position at the top of the swing. Does that mean you should be laid off at the top as well? Of course not. You shouldn't try to copy every swing you see on TV just because it gets good results. Just like Graeme McDowell has stuck to doing what he does best, you should do the same thing. Believe in your swing, work hard on the range, and watch your game improve over time.