His swing may not be conventional, but it sure is consistent. That's Tom Lehman in a nutshell, and it helps explain how the Minnesotan has ranked among golf's steadiest performers for two decades.
Lehman took a while to hit his stride after turning pro in 1982. But once he made the PGA Tour for good in 1992, there was no looking back. Lehman became a fixture on weekend leaderboards, especially at the majors. In fact, he led the U.S. Open through 54 holes in three consecutive years (1995-97), though he wasn't able to win any of them. Lehman broke through for his lone major title in 1996, claiming the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
In 2009 Lehman began playing mostly on the Champions Tour, winning three majors on the 50-plus circuit through mid-2012. His swing still looks an awful lot like the one Lehman developed growing up in the Midwest.
Lehman's signature: A strong lateral shift toward the target on the downswing.
Who else does it: Byron Nelson
What it looks like: Lehman's swing bears similarities to other pros, too. For example, he bows the left wrist at the top, a la Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell, and dips noticeably on the downswing like Tiger Woods.
As a whole, though, the swing is distinctively Lehman's.
He takes the club back to the inside, the clubface severely closed (shut) about halfway to the top. The club is still closed as he completes the backswing, though not as much. Next comes the key move. Rather than rotating the left hip and knee, Lehman shifts the left side of his lower body toward the target; the lateral movement is accompanied by a pronounced dip of his upper body.
Lehman's slide prevents an over-rotation of the hips that would turn his closed clubface into a hook machine. Instead, Lehman's shoulders and arms hang back, enter the hitting zone on a shallow path and produce a soft draw, shot after shot. His method virtually eliminates any chance of hitting a slice.
Why it works for Lehman: According to teacher Jim Flick, Lehman is so committed to hitting a draw (right-to-left shot) that he never fires at a flag located on the green's right side. Lehman only plays a fade when it's absolutely necessary.
This consistent approach is the basis for Lehman's dependable swing.
How it can work for you: If your clubface is closed at the top of the backswing and you hit a lot of hooks, you've got a couple of choices: Change your grip and/or takeaway, or make sure your lower body remains in front of the upper body on the downswing and follow-through.
To check your clubface position, take the club back until the shaft is parallel to the ground (hip height). If the toe points in front of your body, it's closed. Standing in front of a mirror, take the club to the top and check for the same thing. A square clubface will be flush with the back of the left hand and forearm. A toe pointing away from the forearm signals a closed position.
Here's a tip for option 1, adjusting your grip to a “weaker” position.
If you decide that's not the answer, try Lehman's lateral move using this sequence:
- On the backswing, keep the right knee flexed but stable as your hips rotate. Your weight should press down on the center or inside of the right foot, never the outside.
- Keep your left heel planted on the ground, or as close to it as possible.
- Start the downswing by shifting the left knee toward the target; be careful not to slide abruptly.
- The hips should rotate left after this lateral move, with the club dropping onto an inside-out path toward impact.
It will take a good deal of practice to synchronize your lower and upper body with this move. But if you can master it, you'll hit a consistent, playable draw.
Tom Lehman Lateral Move Keys Anti-Slice Swing
Do you battle a slice? You aren't alone. In fact, nearly every golfer - even the good ones - have dealt with a slice for at least a short period of time. Some golfers learn how to conquer this issue relatively quickly, while others spend their entire golfing life trying to solve the puzzle that is the slice. There are very few feelings on the golf course as frustrating as looking up from your swing only to see the ball slicing off into the trees. If you hope to maximize your enjoyment of the game of golf for many years to come, figuring out a way to get rid of the slice needs to be at the top of your priority list.
One group of players who you never see battling a slice is the professionals on the PGA Tour. While some of these players may choose to use a fade as their preferred ball flight, none of them have to deal with the struggle of a slice like the average amateur. Players who have risen all the way to the top of the game have left the slice well in the past, as they understand the basic mechanics required to generate a relatively straight shot. As one of the most-accomplished players of his generation, you would certainly never see Tom Lehman hit a slice. A player who preferred to move the ball right to left, Lehman used a swing which was great at taking the right side of the golf course out of play.
The method Lehman used to hit consistent draws was to move his lower body laterally toward the target during the downswing. All swings have some amount of lateral movement as they come down toward the ball, but Lehman had about as much as you would ever find among professional golfers. Rather than rotating his hips aggressively to the left as so many other pros do today, Lehman simply slid toward the target and into a soft left leg. This technique did not make him one of the longest hitters on Tour, but he certainly could control the golf ball nicely. If you would like to rid yourself of the slice and develop a useful draw that can keep your ball in play and lower your scores, it might be a good idea to follow the lead of Tom Lehman.
Most golf teachers today will encourage you to focus on rotation rather than lateral movement in the downswing. That is good advice for most players, but it isn't going to work for everyone. As Lehman proved, it is certainly possible to play high quality golf while favoring a lateral slide to a pure rotational swing. The only way to know if this method will work in your game is to put it to the test - first on the driving range, and then out on the course.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play golf left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Lateral Move Benefits
Despite the fact that most golf teachers would not instruct their students to use an aggressive lateral move in the downswing, this technique does have some benefits. Of course, those benefits might not be enough to outweigh the negatives that comes along with this method - but we will get to those later. First, it is important for you to understand what you could stand to gain if you decide to employ a lateral side as part of your downswing mechanics.
Following are three benefits that many golfers will experience with this technique -
- Easier to hit a draw. The whole point of making this switch is to make it easier to turn the ball over from right to left. The dreaded slice is something that millions of golfers would love to eliminate from their games, and this move could help you do just that. If you are able to use the slide to start your downswing, you will give the club room to drop to the inside immediately after the transition is complete. When that happens, you will attack the ball from inside-out, and draw or hook spin will be the likely outcome. Of course, you will still need to learn how to control that right to left spin in order to maneuver your way around the course, but it will be a big step in the right direction as compared to your slice.
- Aggressive move toward the target. It is important to have everything moving together in your downswing as you try to hit the ball toward your target. If one part of your body is fighting against the rest, you will lose both power and accuracy when impact arrives. The lateral slide makes it easy to move in concert onto your left side in the downswing. Where many golfers who focus on a rotational swing will 'hang back' on their right side slightly on the way down, you should have no such trouble when you put this technique to use. Moving everything to the left will allow you to be aggressive through impact - an important skill if you want your swing to hold up under pressure.
- Clear swing trigger. One of the common problems faced by amateur golfers is not knowing exactly how to get the downswing started. Many players will reach the top of the swing successfully, only to not have a clear idea of how to get moving down toward the ball. When you use this swing method, your will know exactly what you are trying to do - slide your lower body toward the target. It is important to have confidence and decisiveness in your golf swing, and you will gain a big dose of both when you are completely sure of what you need to do as you start your move down toward the ball. Clear thinking doesn't mean that you are going to hit a great shot each and every time, but it will certainly place you a lot closer to that goal.
Clear thinking, an aggressive move to the left, and the ability to produce right to left spin is a great way to attack the golf course. Unfortunately, you may find that some of these benefits don't wind up appearing in your game when you test out the lateral slide. Test this swing technique out on the driving range before you ever think about taking it to the first tee. Only when you start to see some of the benefits listed above actually show up in your range performance should you give it a try on the course.
Drawbacks of a Lateral Move
It's not all good news when it comes to a lateral downswing move. In fact, most golf teachers would argue that it is actually more bad news than good news when you think about adding this technique into your game. A lateral slide in the downswing is normally something that a golf teacher will try to take out of your swing for a variety of reasons. In order for this style of swing to actually benefit your game, you will need to hope that the positives wind up outweighing the negatives when all is said and done.
Following are a few of the drawbacks that you may see appear in your game when you try to add a lateral move in the downswing.
- Potential for a hook. Eliminating your slice using this method may come at a cost - running the risk of hitting a hook. By dropping your hands and the club to the inside right from the top of the swing, you will be creating a significantly inside-out swing path for the rest of the downswing. That kind of path can create a nice draw - or it can lead to a devastating hook. Obviously, it would be great if you can turn this method into a tight draw, but hitting an out-of-control hook is an even worse result than a slice. Pay attention to your ball flight on the driving range while you practice this method and note how many shots turn into hooks. If you are turning the ball over hard to the left on more than a few occasions, the lateral slide might not be your best option.
- Shallow angle of attack. With the exception of the driver, you generally want to be using a relatively steep angle of attack as you come into the golf ball. You need to hit down on your irons in order to generate backspin, and hitting down can only happen from a steep angle of attack. However, when you slide to the left early in your downswing, you will automatically be shallowing out your angle. Not only can this make it difficult to generate backspin, it can also cause you to hit the ball fat from time to time. To counter this problem, it may be helpful to play the ball farther back in your stance than you would with a more traditional swing. Moving the ball back a few inches will enable you to catch the ball earlier, hopefully while the club is still tracing a downward path.
- Loss of power. This point is not an absolute, because it is possible to swing with a lateral slide and still create plenty of power. Most players, however, will notice a power drop when they start to use a lateral move because some of the rotational power in the swing will be lost. To recover the power that you lose by not rotating completely through the shot, you will need to do an excellent job of lagging the club into the ball. By holding the angle between your lead arm and the club shaft for as long as possible, you can develop impressive power with your hands to make up for limited rotation. Tom Lehman had excellent lag in his downswing when he competed on the PGA Tour, and you will need to follow his lead if you want to maintain your distance while adding a lateral move to your swing.
The range of problems that you could run into while using this technique runs from the three points above all the way to a complete inability to hit the ball solidly. If you are used to using a rotational swing to deliver the club to the back of the ball, the change to lateral movement is going to be a big one. In order to give this swing a fair chance, be sure to devote at least a few practice sessions to working on this style before you make a judgment one way or the other.
Three Keys to Making the Change
Before you head to the range to learn how to make this move in your downswing, you need to know exactly what it is that you are trying to do. Too many golfers go into the swing change process without all of the information they need to do it correctly. Before you begin to hit any balls while using a lateral move in your lower body, review the following three keys. Hopefully, these three points will enable you to make this transition as quickly and easily as possible.
- Soft left side. The biggest key to using this swing technique is maintaining a soft left side throughout the hit. If you watch video of Tom Lehman hitting balls, you will see that his left knee maintains its flex all the way through impact and beyond. This is unusual in modern golf - most players want to 'post up' on the left leg and lock it straight as they get up into the finish position. However, if you are going to use the lower body slide to deliver the club into the ball, you will have to keep that left leg soft. As you set up to the shot, feel the flex in your left knee and then focus on maintaining it all the way through the hit and even into your finished pose.
- Strong grip. One of the skills you will need in order to execute this technique is the ability to hold the face of the club steady through impact. If you allow the club face to flip over to the left, you will almost certainly hit a hook. While a strong grip is typically associated with hitting a draw or hook, it will actually help you do a better job of holding the face off in this situation. If you were to use a weak grip, you may not have the control in your hands to maintain the club face position at impact. You want quiet hands at the bottom of your swing, as you will be using your lateral movement to drive through the shot. Find a strong position for your hands on the grip and use it to hold the face square as long as possible.
- Head behind the ball. It is a good idea to keep your head behind the ball no matter what kind of golf swing you are using, but it is especially important when you are making a lateral move in the downswing. If you allow your head to get past the ball along with your lower body, there will be nothing left behind the ball to drive it down the line. To make it easier to keep your head down and back, focus your eyes on a spot behind the golf ball and keep your eyes trained there until the ball is gone. In some ways, you should feel like your lower body is separating from your upper body - the lower body slides left while the upper body and your head stay back to drive through the shot.
Of the three points listed above, the 'soft left side' will be the one that is the most difficult to incorporate into your swing. In fact, the other two points, may already be present in the technique you are currently using. If you do a good job of keeping your head behind the ball already, and you currently play with a strong grip, the soft left side is really the only major technique change you will need to worry about.
As is the case with any other kind of swing change, it is best to start with soft shots and short clubs. Hit plenty of wedges on the range at only 80% effort or so until you begin to feel comfortable with this style of golf swing. If you were to jump right in to trying to hit long iron shots high into the sky, you would likely get frustrated before you ever made any progress. Gain confidence with your wedges first and then begin to gradually tackle the more difficult clubs in the bag.
Allowing the Lateral Move to Work
It might sound strange, but many golfers actually get in their own way when it comes to swing changes. Sure, they decide they want to take their swing in a new direction, but they never wind up committing 100% to the process. Most players cling to what feels comfortable in the swing – afraid to use a technique that feels foreign and unfamiliar. The results are predictable, as the player gradually moves back into their old technique after a period of half-heartedly trying the new method. If you go into this process not completely willing to give it a try, you might as well not even bother.
One of the reasons it is so difficult to get rid of a slice is because the slice is the only thing you know. While it may be a bad shot, at least it is a bad shot that you are comfortable with. It is hard to step outside of your comfort zone to learn new things, especially when you get out on the course and hit shots while your friends are watching. Of course, if you truly wish to eliminate your slice once and for all, it will be crucial to step outside of your comfort zone to alter your swing technique.
The transition from backswing to downswing is what is going to feel uncomfortable at first when you try to add a lateral move to your mechanics. As a slicer, you are used to pushing the club up and away from your body at the top of the swing, leading to the outside-in swing path that produces a slice. However, when you start using the lateral slide, the club will naturally drop to the inside and your swing will take on an entirely new shape. This is good news when it comes to eliminating the slice, but it will feel rather uncomfortable at first. The only way to work through the awkward feelings of those initial swings is to keep practicing. You should gain comfort and confidence with each passing swing, and you will soon start to become comfortable with the feeling of attacking the ball from the inside.
Patience is an important attribute for any golfer to have, especially when they are working on a swing change. You can expect your progress in this endeavor to come slower than you would like, so plan on a process that takes several months before the new swing truly becomes comfortable. If you don't have the time to dedicate to altering your swing mechanics in such a significant way at this time, it would be best to wait until you have a period of time available to embark on this kind of project.
Tom Lehman swung the golf club in a unique manner, but that fact didn't stop him from winning many tournaments on the biggest stages in golf. While the Lehman method of swinging the club isn't right for most people, it could potentially be a game-changer for you if it enables you to straighten out the slice once and for all. Read carefully through the advice contained above before trying this method out for yourself – hopefully a lateral move in the downswing will be exactly what you need to get the club in position for a perfect strike into the back of the ball.