The affable, ever-smiling Kuchar has emerged as one of the PGA Tour’s steadiest performers in recent years. He claimed the money title in 2010 and posted nine top-10 finishes in 2011, excelling with a solid short game and a swing that’s efficient if a bit unorthodox.
Unconventional move: Kuchar, who stands 6’4", arcs the club on an extremely flat plane, which finds his left arm nearly horizontal as he completes the backswing.
What it looks like
Photo 1: Kuchar starts the club back well to the inside; note that the clubhead is behind the hands (relative to the target line) at this point.
Photo 2: At the top, Kuchar’s left arm is much more horizontal than the typical pro’s. (It’s more horizontal than our model’s, too.) His right elbow points toward the ground, with the right palm facing skyward.
Why it’s a problem for amateurs: Players with overly flat swings tend to hook the ball, mixing in pushed and pulled shots as well. The worst-case scenario is a flat plane paired with a club that’s laid-off (pointed left of target, for a right-hander) at the top, producing every golfer’s most dreaded shot – the shank.
How Kuchar gets away with it: Flat though it may be, Kuchar’s swing stays on plane from start to finish. The clubface is square (flush with the back of the left forearm) as he finishes the backswing, which prevents him from hitting monster hooks. He also rotates his right side powerfully through the downswing, which keeps the club from getting stuck" behind his body.
The cure: The easiest way to fix a flat swing is to stand closer to the ball, forcing you to take the club back on a more upright (vertical) path. Teeing the ball lower serves the same purpose.
Another trick is to stand with your back 8-10 inches from a wall, then make practice swings without hitting the wall. A single swing that’s too flat will cure you in a hurry.
Is a Flat Swing Plane Right for You?
One of the parts of the swing that golfers talk about most is the plane of the club. If you have spent any time hanging around a driving range, or even watching golf on TV, you have probably heard the term ‘swing plane’ from time to time. But what does it mean? Do you know what your swing plane looks like, or what you want it to look like? This isn’t just golf lingo that gets tossed around for no good reason – it is an important swing concept for you to understand if you are serious about improving your game.
The plane of the swing can be defined as the path that the club takes during your backswing and downswing to reach impact. To help you visualize this path better, most people think about the plane as being established by the shaft of the club – so if you were to pause a video of your swing at any point prior to impact, the angle of the shaft would be your swing plane. It is possible to play good golf from many different swing planes, so long as you have basic fundamentals in place. The ideal swing plane for you is going to depend on your body type, the style of swing you make, and the ball flight you wish to hit. Just as with so many other parts of the game, there is no one right answer in this case – finding your own optimal swing plane is a process that you have to go through for yourself.
One of the common debates on this topic pertains to which is better, an upright swing or a flat swing? The flat swing vs. upright swing debate is a little silly because, as mentioned above, both can be highly effective. Spend even a little time watching professional golf and you will find plenty of players in either camp. Obviously great shots can be hit both ways. So where should you stand on the decision of a flat swing vs. upright swing? The content that follows is meant to help you make this important choice.
Regardless of which way you decide to swing the club, one thing is for sure – it needs to be highly consistent from shot to shot. When you make your swing plane repeatable and reliable, you will start to see the same ball flight over and over again, which makes the game far easier to play. After settling on the technique that you believe to be right for you, it will be up to you to get the proper mechanics in place and rehearse them regularly on the driving range until the motion becomes natural. A hallmark of a good golfer is the level of repeatability that they bring to their golf swing, no matter what style of swing it happens to be.
All of the instruction below is written based on a right handed golfer. If you are a left handed player, be sure to reverse the directions so they apply to you correctly.
Evaluating Your Current Swing Plane
Before you can decide if a golf flat swing plane is right for you, it is important to determine what kind of swing plane you are currently using. After all, you could be playing from a shallow golf swing plane position and not even know it. A little bit of time on the driving range with a video camera will reveal your current swing plane so you can make the right choices going forward.
During your next practice session, try to bring along a friend that will be willing to record your swing on a video camera so you can watch it back later. For the purposes of evaluating your swing plane, you only need to record video from the ‘down the line’ angle, as this is the perspective that will show you what kind of plane the club is swinging on. That means that the person holding the video camera should be standing behind you, on an extension of the target line. Obviously, they need to be a safe distance back to avoid being hit by your swing. Record a few swings, and take the video home for later review.
When you start to watch your swings, look for the following two elements –
- Position of your left arm at the top of the backswing. This might be the easiest way of all to tell what kind of plane you are swinging on. Pause the video at the top of your swing and note where your left arm is in relation to the rest of your body. Is it covering up your right shoulder from the perspective of the camera? If so, you are already using a relatively shallow golf swing plane. However, if your right ear is blocked by the position of your arm, you are swinging on a rather upright plane. The closer your arm is to being parallel with the ground, the flatter your swing plane is at this point.
- Club shaft during takeaway. Early in the backswing is a good time to get an idea for the swing plane that you are using. Watch how the club moves within the first foot or so of the backswing. Is it moving in closer to you without the club head being lifted much up into the air? This is another sign of a golf flat swing plane. When the club head moves quickly up into the air as soon as it starts back from the ball, a more upright swing plane can be expected.
Between the path of the club head and the position of your left arm at the top of the swing, you should already have a clear picture of the swing plane you are using right now. With that information in hand, the next step is deciding if switching to a flatter swing plane is going to be the right choice for you.
The Advantages of a Flat Swing Plane
It would be a waste of time to learn how to flatten your swing plane if you end up deciding that you don’t need to make that kind of change. Comparing your current ball flight with the possible improvements that a flatter swing can offer should give you a good idea of whether or not this is a step worth taking. Some golfers will benefit greatly from a flatter plane, while others will find that it only does damage to their current game.
Following are a few of the more notable advantages to using a flat swing plane when swinging a golf club.
- Easier to hit a draw. If you have always wanted to be able to hit a controlled draw like so many of the professionals hit, using a flatter swing plane is very likely your best option. The flatter plane automatically puts the club on an inside-to-out swing path, which is essential for finding that elusive draw ball flight. The only danger here is making your backswing too flat, which can lead to the dreaded slice of you re-route the club higher during your transition. Finding the right balance between having your backswing too flat and too upright is going to be the challenge – but getting it right can lead to that draw flight you have always wanted.
- Potential for more power. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but many golfers will be able to achieve greater power when they swing from a flatter position. That is because the arms stay better connected to the torso at the top of the swing, allowing the body rotation in the downswing to provide plenty of speed to the arms and the club itself. Players who use a flat swing plane make what is called a ‘body swing’, where the rotation of the body is what develops power as opposed to the length of the arm swing. Flatter swings are more compact and shorter than upright ones, but they can deliver plenty of power when done properly.
- Good for shorter players. Golfers who stand less than 5’10’’ tall or so should strongly consider using a flat plane to swing the club. Making an upright swing that is still able to generate power is difficult from a shorter stature. Again looking to the professional tours, you can see that many shorter players are able to have great success, but almost all of them do it with a flatter swing plane. The majority of tall golfers, on the other hand, use an upright swing.
- Repeatability. When done right, there are fewer moving parts that can go wrong with a flat swing. Your arms and hands are less involved, meaning the swing relies on the movement of your torso and lower body to move the club back and through. This can mean great things for your performance on the course, especially after a period of practice time has been put in to learn the basic mechanics. If you want to hold up under pressure on the course and hit great shots even when nervous, the flat swing is probably the way to go.
There are certainly a few drawbacks to a flat swing as well. Notably, the difficulty that you can have hitting a fade, as well as potential trouble with bad lies in the deep grass, stand as arguments for using the other method. However, when taken as a whole, there are plenty of items in the ‘pros’ category to at least consider taking this approach to your swing.
Drills to Help You Make the Change
If you have arrived at the decision to make the change to a flatter swing plane, you have some work in front of you. Assuming you are transitioning from a rather upright swing, there are several changes that you will need to make before you feel comfortable with your new swing. You won’t be completely starting over in terms of a golf swing, but almost. The mechanics for a flat swing are much different from an upright one, so your technique will need to be overhauled in order to have success.
The first thing you will want to do is work on improving your shoulder turn. One of the big differences between these swings is that a flat swing requires a better shoulder turn to build power and position the club properly for the downswing. To practice a full shoulder turn, take one of your clubs and place it across your chest so that it is touching the front of each shoulder. From there, take your normal address position stance and start to make some rehearsal backswings. The goal is to get the shaft to point down at the ball when you finish your mock backswing. If you are able to do so, that means you are fully rotating your shoulders back away from the target. Once you do this a few times, take a regular grip on the club and hit a few shots. Don’t worry about the swing plane for the moment. At this point, only think about making a full shoulder turn while keeping your balance. If the shots you hit aren’t very pretty, that’s okay – there are still more changes to be made.
With a good shoulder turn in place, next you need to work on the takeaway. As discussed above, the takeaway for a flat swing plane keeps the club head close to the ground for longer than if you are swinging on a steeper angle. There is a very simple drill you can use to practice this technique. On the driving range, take your seven iron and set up for a shot like normal. However, before you start your swing, place the ball behind your club head instead of in front of it. As you make the takeaway motion, keep the club head down low enough so that it can roll the ball back away from the target. Your goal is to keep contact between the club and the ball for as long as possible before it rolls away. You don’t need to finish the rest of the swing, as this is just a takeaway drill.
You should learn two things from this drill – first, that you want to make a slow takeaway with good tempo. If you rush the club back, you will send the ball rolling away quickly. Take it slow and gently push the ball away. Also, the feeling of keeping the club low to the ground should help you understand that you don’t want to use your hands very much at this point in the swing. If you engage your hands in the takeaway, the level of the club head will be lifted and it will slide right over top of the ball. Turn the club away from the target with your torso and shoulders to keep that club head low to the ground.
The final point to work on while transitioning to a flatter swing plane is the position of your right knee. In an upright swing, it might be possible to hold that right knee almost perfectly steady in the backswing. This is because there often isn’t quite as much shoulder turn in that kind of swing. However, with your flatter swing, you need to achieve a big shoulder turn – meaning the knee may need to get out of the way. Unless you are extremely flexible, you will want to allow for some movement of the right knee to enable your shoulder turn to reach its potential.
The way in which the knee moves is crucially important, however. What you are looking for is the right leg to just straighten up a little bit as some of the flex is taken out of your knee. What you don’t want to have happen is for your knee to sway back to the right and away from the target. This will put you off balance and create all sorts of other problems in the swing. Straighten your knee somewhat is fine, and even recommended, but swaying to the right is a no-go.
To work on your knee position during the backswing, take your regular stance like you are going to hit a shot, but have the club only in your left hand. With your right arm, reach down your side so your hand is on the outside of your right knee (or as far down as you can reach). From this setup, make a few one-handed practice swings while ‘controlling’ your right knee with your hand. Allow it to straighten as much as needed to finish the backswing, but don’t let it sway to the right.
Take as much time and as many repetitions as needed to work through those three drills – the shoulder turn, the takeaway, and the right knee. Only when you are happy with your progress on those three points should you go back to hitting regular shots. As long as the drills have done their job correctly, you should quickly notice that you are now swinging the club on a much flatter plane than you were before. Try taking another video to confirm this is the case, and return to the drills as necessary to help reinforce the changes.
Making the Transition on the Course
As a golfer, you already understand how much different the driving range is from the regular course. It can seem relatively easy to get your swing in shape on the range, only to head to the course and find that you are still having problems. The walk from the range to the first tee might be a short one in terms of physical distance, but it can seem like a marathon for your mind. Trying to get your swing to behave the same way on the course as it does on the range is one of the great challenges in golf.
This is very likely to be true when trying to take your new, flatter swing onto the course for the first time. There is little chance that it will perform up to your expectations right from the start. More likely, you will hit a few good shots mixed in with plenty of bad ones. In fact, you might actually play worse than you were prior to making the change. It is at this point that many golfers will simply give up and go back to their old swing.
Don’t make that same mistake. Sure, it can be frustrating to struggle after working so hard at changing your swing technique. However, nothing good in golf comes by giving up after just a few holes on the course. You need to be committed to this change over the long run if it is ever going to work for you. Just like it takes time on the driving range to make the physical changes, it is going to require time on the course to get you mind comfortable with the new swing. The ball flight will be different, the feel will be different – seemingly, everything about your game will be different.
Try making this change at a point on the calendar that makes sense for you. For example, if you like to play in your local club competitions, don’t switch to a flatter swing a few weeks before the club championship. Instead, do so at a point when you will have plenty of time to iron out the kinks and develop confidence in your swing. You will be far less tempted to revert back to your old swing when you have plenty of time to practice and play without any concern for an upcoming competition.
A flat swing plane can work beautifully for a wide range of golfers – but it isn’t for everyone. Now that you know how to flatten your swing plane, analyze your current game and decide if this is an option worth pursuing. Once committed to making a switch, put in plenty of time on the practice range and don’t give up on it if the first couple rounds fail to meet your expectations. As long as there are signs of progress and improvement along the way, stick with your swing changes until they take hold and lead you to better golf shots, and better scores.