When Henrik Stenson won The Players Championship in 2009, he was well on his way to becoming golf's “Next Big Thing.”
Then came 2010, when a case of viral pneumonia derailed his game. In 2011 the culprit was a waterborne parasite. All of a sudden, golf's Next Big Thing was lost in the woods. At his lowest point, Stenson plummeted to No. 230 in the world rankings. Things got so bad that the big Swede couldn't even win his club championship.
A 2012 attitude adjustment was just what the doctor ordered. Weary of band-aids with short-lived effectiveness, Stenson decided to focus on the big picture. It paid off with a late-season win in South Africa, which catapulted him into 2013.
His 2013 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup victories capped a career year for Stenson, who – now age 37 – once again seems poised for great things. He led the PGA Tour in the all-important Greens in Regulation category (70.9%) and finished third in Total Driving, which combines the Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy stats.
How does this major-league talent hit the ball so solidly? Read on as we break down his swing.
Stenson's signature: Early downswing shift with the lower body.
What it looks like: Unless you're a teaching pro or have very keen eyes, the move is almost imperceptible in real time. But in slow motion, it's easy to see that when Stenson's arms reach the halfway point of his backswing, his lower body begins shifting toward the target. Meanwhile, his hands continue toward the top. As the arms complete the backswing, his hips are fully engaged in their leftward traverse.
Why it works for Stenson: Stenson's stance is wider than the typical pro's; the insides of his feet are outside his shoulders at address. This effectively limits his hip turn, creating a high “X-Factor” between the lower and upper bodies. While a wide stance can cause excess movement or sway off the ball, Stenson remains well-centered on the backswing. This takes a great deal of flexibility and core strength.
By starting the hips forward before the upper body, Stenson creates tremendous leverage that pulls the club down toward the ball with ferocious force and a powerful lag effect. He appears to swing quite hard, which shows how vigorously this precisely timed action works.
How it can work for you: As noted, you need considerable strength and flexibility to make a full shoulder turn without swaying if your stance is as wide as Stenson's. Rather than emulating his setup, just be sure your feet are far enough apart to provide a stable, balanced base.
Nailing Stenson's early lower-body move requires lots of practice. You won't master it in one session – in fact, you may hit some pretty squirrely shots at the beginning – so be patient. Here's a drill that will give you a feel for the move and help ingrain it into your swing:
- Using a mid-iron, start the drill without a ball.
- With your feet just 1-2” apart, assume your normal golf posture.
- Take the club back very slowly, lifting your left foot off the ground as you complete the first 12” or so of the backswing.
- With your arms still rising slowly, move your left foot toward the target.
- Place your left foot on the ground in its normal position under the left shoulder
- You should feel weight pressing down through your left leg and ankle, the knee flexing slightly as in a squatting motion.
- Do this several times without finishing the backswing; stop when your left foot hits the turf, then do it again.
- Once comfortable with the move, try some slow-motion swings with the same motion.
- Graduate to hitting balls this way when you've got a feel for it.
No doubt, this is a fairly difficult sequence to pull off. But with patient, persistent practice, you can integrate Stenson's signature move into your swing. Who knows, you just might become the Next Big Thing at your home course.
Henrik Stenson Hips Shift Left Before Arms Finish Backswing
Henrik Stenson could be considered something of a late bloomer in the world of golf. Despite nearing his 40th birthday, Stenson has had his best results in major championships over the last couple of seasons, including top five finishes at the PGA Championship and Open Championship in 2013, along with fop fives in the PGA Championship and U.S. Open in 2014. He has a total of 17 professional wins since turning pro back in 1998, and is considered one of the best Swedish golfers in history.
When Stenson has his swing in order and is playing well, he is an impressive ball striker capable of handling any course. One of the great elements to Stenson's swing is the transition from backswing to downswing, which is what we will be taking a closer look at here in this article. Every golfer should focus on this crucial point of the swing, because the transition sets the path for the rest of the downswing on into impact. Get the transition right and you should be able to hit plenty of quality shots – get it wrong, however, and you will struggle to get the ball off the ground at all.
So what does Stenson do so well between his backswing and downswing that can be copied by the average amateur player? Specifically, he does a great job of putting is lower body in motion before the backswing is even finished. This is one of the 'secrets' to a smooth golf swing, as the typical weekend player is unaware of the importance of the timing of this part of the swing. As the club is nearing the top of the backswing, Stenson already has put his hips in motion toward the target, meaning the club will be pulled nicely down into position as soon as it changes direction. Not only does this technique lead to quality ball striking, it also leads to impressive power. One of the main reasons why the professionals on the PGA Tour hit the ball so far down the fairway is their ability to time out the transition phase of the swing.
The good news is that you should be able to emulate this style of transition and put it into use in your own game. Of course, that task is not going to be an easy one, and it is going to require plenty of hard work and practice time before you are comfortable swinging in this manner. The timing of your swing has to be just right if the shots are going to come off successfully, so plenty of practice is vital to seeing positive results on the course. You will need to have the persistence to stick with this process through some ugly early shots before you start to get the feeling and tempo down for how to start your lower body forward while your upper body is still going back.
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.
Creating a Seamless Swing
Many amateur golfers swing the club in two distinct stages. They swing up to the top, stop, and then start the downswing. While it is true that the club needs to stop in order to change directions, you don't want your body as a whole to come to a stop. Instead, you want continuous motion, all the way from the takeaway up to the finish. The best golf swings are the ones that have no dramatic changes in speed or tempo – they build naturally as the body turns back and through, propelling the club into the ball with tremendous energy. If you feel like your swing has a distinct hesitation at the top, working on the timing of your hip turn will help take you in the right direction.
Of course, before you can work on the timing of your hip turn, you have to make sure you are getting a good hip turn in the first place. The hip turn in the downswing is one of the single most-important pieces of the swing, as it provides the speed that you are going to use to drive the ball down the fairway or send it high up into the air. Without good hip action in the downswing, your swing will be mostly made by your arms, which is a weak and inefficient way to move the club.
To check on the current status of your hip turn, ask a friend to record your swing on video at the driving range. When you watch that video, try to pause the action at impact so you can see what your lower body has done in the downswing. When the club contacts the ball your hips should be open to the target line, while your shoulders are still relatively square. Many amateur golfers struggle with this point, as they still have their hips square to the target line when they hit the ball. If your video reveals the fact that you aren't using your hips enough in the downswing, you are going to first need to work on getting them firing effectively before you can work on the timing of your transition.
Once you do have a quality hip turn present in your downswing, you can then get to work on timing it up just right. Timing is a big part of golf, no matter which phase of the swing is in question. You have to get your sequencing just right in order to hit good shots. Even if just one piece of the puzzle is out of place, your entire swing can be thrown off and the results will not be pretty. If you take time to work on your swing on the driving range, be sure to work on your rhythm and tempo along with your actual swing mechanics – those two elements need to work nicely together in order to produce great golf shots.
Start in Slow Motion
The golf swing happens fast. All of the action, from start to finish, is usually completed in less than a couple of seconds. That means you barely have any time at all to think during your swing, and you certainly don't have time to think through your swing mechanics one step at a time. Therefore, when working on the sequencing of your swing, it makes a lot of sense to start out in slow motion. By slowing everything down at first, you can get a good feeling for how the swing should develop, and you can gradually pick up the pace as you get more and more comfortable with the right swing sequence.
To get started working on the sequencing of your hips in the golf swing, you don't even have to be at the golf course. In fact, you can get started right at home if you have enough space to safely swing a club (without hitting a ball). Making 'dry' practice swings is a great way to feel the movement of the club around your body without the pressure of hitting a shot. Find a spot in your backyard (or at the course if necessary) to make some practice swings while working on the timing of your transition.
Follow the steps below to work through a slow motion version of your golf swing. Once you are finished, you should be able to move back to a full-speed swing while quickly noticing the improvements that you have made.
- Using one of your mid-irons, take your stance in a place where it is safe for you to make full practice swings. You are going to be making slow swings at first, but you will gradually pick up the pace later in this drill, so make sure you are able to swing at full speed without damaging anything in the area.
- Once your stance is complete, begin your swing and slowly move the club all the way up to the top of your swing. You aren't going to be doing anything with your lower body just yet. The point of this part of the drill is to allow you to feel the length of your backswing so you can get the timing down correctly later on. Repeat this slow backswing three or four times, each time holding your position at the top for a couple seconds before resetting back down at address.
- Now that you have a good feel for the length of your backswing, make the same slow motion backswing except you are going to start your downswing when the club is almost to the top. Once your hands are within a few inches of the top of the backswing, start your left hip turning toward the target. Remember, you should still be doing everything slowly at this point. Again, repeat this process three or four times, using a hip turn to initiate the downswing while the backswing is still in progress. You can choose to complete the rest of the backswing up into the finish, or you can stop as soon as you start down – the choice is yours.
- At this point, you should have a good feeling for the timing of your transition, even if it still seems a bit awkward. Continue to make slow motion full swings while focused on starting your hip moving left before your backswing is finished. As you gain confidence, feel free to pick up the pack of your swing, gradually at first. Don't go from slow motion all the way up to 100% speed – instead, take the effort up a little bit at a time until you feel like you are ready to make practice swings without holding anything back.
- After you have gotten up to full speed, you can feel free to visit the driving range to test out your new move. At first, you shouldn't expect great results. Even if you are feeling comfortable with the way your hips are starting the downswing, it is still going to take some time and practice before you will see improvement in your ball flight. Stick with it and you will have a breakthrough before too long.
Timing can come and go in golf, so don't be surprised if you have good days and bad days at first. When you find that you are having a bad day in terms of the timing of your swing, try to slow everything back down and work on your transition. Most likely, any problems that you are having are stemming from the transition phase of the swing, so always look there first when things go wrong. Eventually, your hips turning toward the target before the backswing is finished will just feel like a natural part of your swing and you won't need to think about it at all.
The best place to build trust in your golf swing is on the driving range. Trust is especially important when it comes to using your hips to start the downswing, because that move doesn't feel as comfortable to most players as a simple arm swing down toward the ball. If you don't believe in your swing you will have no chance at success, so building trust is something that you should always be trying to do in your golf game.
You have to be fully committed to using your hips to start the downswing if you are going to use this move properly on the course. It is one thing to know that this is how you should swing the club, but it is another thing entirely to be willing to turn the club loose with your hips leading the way. The only way to trust that move on the course is to see it succeed in practice time after time. Once you see the ball launching off of your club face and heading straight for the target, you will have a much easier time believing in what you are trying to do. Every golfer goes through a period where they have trouble trusting their swing, so remember that you can always return to the range to restore your confidence and belief when doubt starts to creep into your mind.
One of the great things about building trust in your golf swing is that the rest of your game can benefit from the trust you have in your full swing action. When you feel confident in your full swing, that confidence will often translate into your short game, your decision making, and even into the way you handle pressure. Think of your golf game like a house – when you have a solid foundation for the house, the rest of the house will be in good shape. However, when there is a problem with the foundation, the whole thing can come falling down.
In golf terms, the trust that you have in your swing is the foundation of the house. Everything else is built on top of your trust, so make sure that it is rock solid before you go any farther. It takes trust to aggressively move your hips toward the target before you backswing is even finished, so spend plenty of time working on this crucial element of the swing. When you do step to the first tee of your local course, you should feel nothing but complete confidence in the move that you are going to make in order to strike the ball.
Playing professional golf certainly takes plenty of trust, so you can be sure that Henrik Stenson believes in his swing completely when he takes the stage in some of the biggest events in the world. It is downright impossible to play great golf under extreme pressure unless you have total belief in your ability. In order to post the kind of great finishes that Stenson has claimed in recent major championships, total trust in his swing is absolutely essential. He doesn't flinch one bit when he starts his hips toward the target while his arms are still finishing the backswing – follow his lead to improve your own game.
Even after you spend plenty of practice time working on this fundamental, you still may run into trouble from time to time. When you notice that the transition to your swing is starting to get off track and your ball striking is suffering, try using the tips below to correct the problem as quickly as possible.
- Spinning out of the shot. When you get down to the bottom of the swing, your body should be nicely 'stacked' over the ball. If not, you are probably spinning out early as your upper body lifts up and away from the ball. When that happens, you will either hit shots that are pulled to the left or sliced way to the right. Either way, you aren't going to be happy with the results. Most players start to spin out of the shot when they rush through the takeaway. To avoid this negative outcome, slow down at the top and give your swing all the time it needs to develop. Remember, the ball isn't going anywhere, so there is no need to rush. Let the transition happen naturally, and only bring the club down when you are sure that your hips have gotten the head start they need.
- Getting stuck. Another common problem that is encountered by a number of amateur players is known as 'getting stuck'. This happens when the club lags so far behind you in the downswing that it is unable to get back to square at impact. Players who are stuck tend to hit the ball way to the right of the target (for a right handed golfer), although that miss may occasionally turn into a quick hook. This happens when your hips get too much of a head start in the downswing. If you are starting your hips to the left too early, your arms won't have a chance to change directions and get back in front of your body by the time you hit the ball. To fix this issue, be a little more patient with your hip turn and only start that rotation after your arms have had a chance to get a little farther up into the backswing. This is a timing issue, so work hard on the range to get into a good rhythm that will allow you to find a square position at the bottom of the swing.
- Hitting the ball fat. If you give up on your lower body rotation shortly after it begins, you will likely hit the ball fat instead of making clean contact. It is a good start to turn your hips left during the transition, but you have to continue that turn the rest of the way down into impact without hesitation. If there is any amount of 'hold back' in your downswing, the club won't get to the ball and you will make fat contact. Once you get started rotating to the left, don't stop or even hesitate until you have struck the shot and the ball is on its way toward the target. This goes back to the earlier points regarding trust. You have to trust in your swing enough to move the club aggressively through the ball without any fear of the outcome. If you lack that trust, hitting a fat shot is one of the negative outcomes that could occur.
Henrik Stenson has a great golf swing, and he has a place as one of the best players in the world as a result. It is impossible to have the success that Stenson has had without hitting great shots on a daily basis, and that is exactly what he does. The hip rotation toward the target prior to the completion of the backswing is only one element of his excellent swing, but it is an important piece of the puzzle to be sure. Work on this technique in your own game and you are likely to be happy with the results.