After his stellar career at Northwestern University, there was never much doubt Luke Donald would do great things as a professional golfer. The Englishman has fulfilled expectations and then some, rising to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking in 2011 while finishing as the leading money winner on both the U.S. and European tours – an unprecedented feat.
While Donald has yet to claim a major championship (as of mid-July, 2012), he's threatened several times and seems destined to eventually break through. At age 34, his best years may yet be ahead.
Donald's calling card is an extraordinary short game centered on deadly putting. But his silky smooth swing draws plenty of oohs and ahs from appreciative fans and swing analysts. Let's break down Donald's classic action.
Donald's signature: Perfectly balanced finish with hands high over head.
Who else does it: Stewart Cink, Payne Stewart
Many modern players finish with the arms bent over the shoulders in what's called a “low and around” position. Not Donald. He could easily pass for one of the stars of an earlier era – think Ben Hogan – with his arms extended and the club held above or just behind his head. Donald is beautifully balanced, too, with his weight on the left foot, left leg straightened and his back gently arched. His chest points left while his belt buckle (e.g. his hips) face the target.
Why it works for Donald: Who cares what the finish looks like, right? What matters is the action that takes place up to the moment of impact. Ah, but there's your answer. You can tell a lot about a golfer's swing by his position at the end – and Donald is a perfect example.
In order to finish on balance, you must swing that way, and Donald displays lovely balance and tempo from start to finish. Reaching the proper positions with the chest and hips requires the upper and lower bodies to be in-sync from start to finish. Donald excels here, too, with a full, 90° shoulder turn paired with about 45° of hip rotation at the top of the backswing; his hips then lead a seamless downswing sequence.
Finally, Donald's ability to maintain his posture and spine angle shine through at the finish. Notice the slight tilt in his upper body, which mirrors his posture at address and impact. His right shoulder is below the left as well.
Donald's swing isn't perfect; some analysts quibble with his considerable lateral motion on the backswing and downswing, and his arms move farther from the body on the downswing than what's considered ideal. But his mastery of key fundamentals is reflected in Donald's classic end-of-swing pose.
How it can work for you: Follow the links below to learn three separate drills designed to instill the basics that lead to a lovely finish:
Luke Donald Classic Finish Position
There is a lot that the average golfer can learn from watching a professional play the game. Obviously, professional golfers have reached the top of the game because they are able to consistently deliver low scores on some of the toughest courses in the world. How do they do it? Usually, they do it with rock-solid mechanics that allow them to produce quality shots over and over again. Sure, there are other factors involved – such as the ability to putt well and the ability to perform under pressure – but it usually starts with great fundamentals in the swing.
Such is the case with Luke Donald. At one point, Donald was ranked as the #1 player in the world, and it only takes a quick look at his swing to figure out why that was the case. Donald has a beautiful golf swing, and he is able to attack even the hardest golf courses with precision and consistency. Despite not having the length of some of the other top players, Luke Donald has forged a highly successful career as a touring pro.
In this article, we aren't actually going to look at Luke Donald's golf swing – instead, we are going to look at his finish position. Donald is well-known in golf circles as having what most would consider to be a 'classic' finish position at the end of his swing. The pose that he holds while watching his ball fly through the air includes just about everything that the average golf teacher would look for in a student. The quality of the finish position that Donald reaches is a great indication of the quality of his swing as a whole.
As an amateur golfer, there is a good chance that you haven't given much thought to your finish position up until this point. While that is understandable, as you have probably been instead working on the moving parts of your swing, it is also a mistake. By focusing on your finish position, you can learn a lot about the swing that has led you to the finish – and you can make improvements to your technique as a result. You rarely see a player with a poor swing who ends in a great position at the finish, which should tell you everything you need to know about the importance of this element of the game. Work on mastering a great finish position and the swing that leads up to that point just might take care of itself.
It is important to note before going any farther that just because we are using Luke Donald as a reference for his beautiful finish position does not mean that you need to copy his swing frame-by-frame in your own game. It is never a good idea to copy the swing of another golfer, as that golfer has their own personal tendencies and capabilities which make the swing work for him or her. Instead, you should look to simply learn lessons from other players that you can apply in your own swing and game. In this case, it is the finish position that we are going to learn from Luke Donald. Over time, you can pull together various bits and pieces from a number of top golfers in order to assemble your own unique technique.
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.
The Key Points
What is it about Luke Donald's finish position that is so admirable? Well, that question has more than one answer. There are actually a number of elements that come together in order to make Donald's finish position one of the best in the game. Consider the following points –
- Beautiful balance. A great finish position is always going to start with excellent balance. When Donald has finished swinging the club, he is perfectly balanced with the majority of his weight stacked on top of his left leg. Even if you watch his swing in slow motion, you aren't going to see any tendency to lean to one side or the other – his balance is as good as it gets, and he can hold this finish position for as long as he would like. It is a good rule of thumb for amateur golfers to try to hold their finish position until the ball lands. Donald can certainly do that with ease, and it seems as though he could stand there for several more minutes if he wanted. Balance makes everything in golf easier, so this point should be at the top of your priority list in terms of elements to add to your finish position.
- Hands high. When the average golfer finishes his or her golf swing, their hands are usually in close to their head (and the left elbow is down close to their side). That is not the case when Luke Donald finishes his swing. When Donald reaches the finish, his hands are well out away from his head, and there is plenty of space between his side and his left elbow. Why is this important? This kind of finish position usually results when a player gets great extension through the hitting area. Instead of cutting his release off short in an effort to guide the ball toward the target, Donald lets the club release fully through the ball and the club travels down the target line as a result. In the end, he winds up with his hands high in the air, and the club shaft is relatively parallel to the ground as well. If you can think about reaching this finish position while making your swing, there is a good chance you will quickly improve your ball striking.
- Right toe on the turf. This is another sign of an excellent release. When you finish your swing, you want to have your left foot flat on the ground – but your right foot should only be connected to the turf through the toes. Your right heel should be completely off the ground, and your foot should have rotated so that the tops of your shoelaces are pointed toward the target. If you are currently having trouble getting into this position, it is likely because your lower body is failing to do its job properly on the way through the hitting area. Use your legs more aggressively in the downswing and you should find that your right foot will start to come along for the ride.
- All the way left. This is a point that relates to some of the others above, but it should be highlighted on its own because it is so important to the success of your swing. When Luke Donald is finished moving the club and everything comes to a stop, his weight has shifted onto his left side and his entire body has rotated toward the target. As you would imagine, this is ideal. There is no 'hanging back' at all in Donald's swing, meaning he is getting everything possible out of his action as he sends the ball toward the target. Unfortunately, this is a model that is not successfully copied by very many amateur players. The average golfer fails to get all the way left in the downswing, and they waste potential power as a result. During practice, work hard to get your body all the way left in your downswing and your finish position (and your ball flight) will look much better for the effort.
There is nothing to criticize about the finish position that Luke Donald reaches when he is done hitting his shots. It is picture perfect, and it is proof that he has made a quality golf swing from start to finish. It should be no surprise to see him send the ball right down the middle of the fairway time after time when you see how well he finishes his motion.
Finding Your Own Flaws
Realistically, your current finish position is likely coming up short of the example set by Luke Donald. That's okay – there is no reason to be ashamed of not living up to the model set by one of the best golfers in the world. In fact, you should be excited, as finding issues in your finish position means that you will have a chance to improve. One of the best skills a golfer can have is the ability to find his or her own flaws. When you are willing and able to determine where you need to improve, you will be able to make the necessary corrections to take a step forward with your game.
So, how are you going to go about the process of determining the flaws that exist in your finish position? The best method is to use the power of video. While you can hold your finish to check on some of the basic fundamentals after you swing, it will be difficult to get an objective view of your finish when you can't actually see yourself standing there. Since it is so easy to get video these days – nearly everyone has a video recording device in their phone – there is no reason not to shoot a quick video and use that as the basis of your analysis.
During your next trip to the range, have a friend help you with the process of recording your swing on video. Ideally, they will shoot this video from what is known as the 'down-the-line' angle. To capture the video from this angle, have your friend stand behind you on an extension of the target line (obviously, they need to be far enough back as to avoid being hit by your swing). You will want to record video of swings you make with relatively long clubs – at least a long iron, if not a driver. The swing you will make with a shorter club won't always pull you up into a full finish, so those shots might not be a great representation of your technique.
Once you have captured your video, set aside some time to review it when you are back home. Let the video run until you reach your finish position and then pause it so you can have some time to do your evaluations. Look for the following points –
- Balance, first and foremost. Are you balanced when your swing is complete? If not, which way are you leaning?
- Are you getting to your left side completely, and is your right heel coming up off the ground properly?
- Are your hands a comfortable distance away from your head when the swing is finished?
If you would like, you can bring up an image of Luke Donald's finish position on your computer to use as a reference while evaluating your own technique. Take note of any major differences between the two, and make adjustments as necessary to get yourself on track. You might not ever be able to match the impressive finish position that Luke Donald manages to achieve, but you should be able to get pretty close with enough time and effort.
Working Down from the Top
As you get started working on your finish position, you might find that it isn't quite as easy as you might have thought to make improvements. Sure, you will probably be able to tweak a couple of your positions in order to clean up your finish, but it isn't going to just automatically move into place after watching your video. So what can you do to get yourself on track? One of the best 'tricks' for learning how to find the right finish position is to go through your swing backwards. By starting at the end and swinging back to the beginning, you will feel all of the moves that need to go into a proper golf swing.
To use this unique but helpful drill, follow the step by step instructions below. It is important to note that you aren't going to be hitting any actual shots with this drill, so you don't even need to be at the driving range to practice. As long as you have a safe place to swing, you should be good to go.
- To start, you are going to take what you would consider to be your ideal finish position. Holding one of your longer clubs, put your body into a position that you would be happy with if it occurred at the end of your swing. Your weight should be on your left side, your right toe should be on the ground, and you should be facing the (imaginary) target.
- Once you find this ideal finish position, hold it for a few seconds before continuing on with the next step. As long as your balance is good, you should be able to hold this position with ease.
- After a few seconds have passed, begin to 'unwind' backwards through your swing. Imagine that you are playing the video of your swing on rewind – you are going to do everything backwards, as close as you can to mimicking your regular golf swing. This will feel weird at first, so it may take a few tries before you are able to get it just right. Go all the way down through impact, up to the top of your swing, and back down to address. The drill is over when you arrive at the address position.
- Feel free to repeat the drill as many times as you would like. Once you are finished and the club is at address, pick the club up again and put yourself right back into the ideal finish position. Repeating this process a few times in a row will give you a great feel for how your swing relates to the finish position.
So what is the goal of swinging in reverse? It's simple – you want to feel how the club and your body need to be behave earlier in the swing in order to land on your ideal finish position when all is said and done. It isn't always easy to make changes to your finish position when your swing feels the same time after time coming down through impact and beyond. However, by going in reverse, you are going to put yourself out of your comfort zone, and you will have to adapt to some new sensations as you swing. Those feelings are going to make you more aware of what the club is actually doing during the swing, and from that, you should be able to adjust your technique to match up with your finish position.
After a few repetitions of swinging backwards, go ahead and swing in the normal direction once again. As you swing, keep in mind what you learned during the drill, and try to adjust your technique as needed to lead yourself into a great finish. The transformation isn't going to happen immediately, but using this drill for just a few swings during each practice session will gradually take you in the right direction.
Look to Your Shoes
What do your shoes have to do with a good finish position? Well, more than you might think. Without the right shoes, it is going to be hard to find your way up into a great finish position time after time. Many amateur golfers don't think that their shoes could possibly effect their game, so they either play in tennis shoes or some worn out old golf shoes with no traction left on the bottom. Either way, they are making a mistake. Professional golfers always make sure to have good shoes with plenty of traction available, because they know just how important that traction is to the quality of their swing.
When you wear good shoes with fresh traction, your left foot will be able to hold its position on the turf throughout the downswing – and that is critical to the success of your shots. There is a lot of rotational pressure on the left leg in the downswing, so it is easy for that foot to slip on the grass when your shoe doesn't have a good grip on the ground. If the foot slips, your balance will be thrown off, and you will be lucky to even make decent contact with the ball. If you want to be able to swing down into the ball with confidence, you need to make sure that your shoes are up to the challenge.
So does that mean you have to buy new golf shoes on a regular basis if you want to play your best? No – absolutely not. You don't have to buy new shoes all the time, but you do need to pay attention to the bottom of your shoes as the rounds goes by. Modern golf shoes have plastic cleats rather than metal spikes, and these cleats are usually replaceable. For just a few bucks, you can pick up a new set of cleats to install in your pair of shoes. This is a quick job in most cases, and in the end, you will be left with an old pair of shoes that grab onto the turf as though they were new. You might think that this sounds like a relatively minor point, but it is actually quite important in your pursuit of a solid finish position.
Luke Donald is one of the best golfers in the world, and a big part of his success is the fundamentally-sound way in which he swings the club. Even if you have no designs on making it into the professional ranks, you can still learn a lot from the beautiful finish position that Luke Donald manages to find after each and every swing. The finish position is a great demonstration of the swing that has just been completed, so a balanced finish means you have done a good job of controlling your body motion throughout the swing. If you are able to add a great finish to your golf swing, you will have taken a big step in the right direction with your technique.