Making a full shoulder turn is one of the most important fundamentals of the golf swing, yet most golfers fail to achieve it consistently. (That’s one reason so many have slice problems.)
A proper turn is when you rotate the upper body so the lead shoulder comes under your chin, the shoulders at a 90° angle to the target line.
Here’s how a proper shoulder turn eliminates the slice:
- If your shoulder rotation is stopped too early, your arms will tend to fly outward, across the target line, on the downswing, causing an outside-to-inside club path that produces the dreaded banana-ball. A full golf swing shoulder turn will keep the arms “on plane,” inside the target line.
- A full turn promotes a correct weight shift, where a majority of weight moves onto your right (back) foot on the backswing. A “reverse pivot” – where the golfer’s weight moves left on the backswing, then right on the downswing – is a leading cause of slicing.
- When a golfer does not turn completely, he tends to rely more on the small muscles (hands and arms) to swing the golf club. This leads to inconsistent golf ball striking and shots prone to slicing. With a full shoulder turn, you will use more of your big muscles to route the club.
Here are a few keys to making a good shoulder turn:
- Don’t rush; taking the club back slowly engages the shoulders, torso and hips and prevents over-active arms.
- Keep your chin up and off your chest so the left (lead) shoulder can rotate and pass under the chin. If the shoulder hits your chin, rotation stops short.
- Making a full shoulder turn doesn’t mean you must get the club back to parallel at the top of the swing. Many great golfers have compact swings that come up far short of parallel while still making a solid turn.
Golf is a funny game in a lot of ways. One of the things that many golfers run into which gives them trouble is the fact that the more you learn about the game, the more complex it can become. More specifically, the more you learn about the mechanical aspects of the golf swing, the more complicated it seems to be. Ideally, it would be the opposite - as you learned more and gained experience, it would start to become easier and less complex. In fact, the golfers who are able to keep their swing as simple as possible are usually the ones who are the most successful.
The golf swing only takes a second or two to complete from start to finish. That isn’t very much time, and it certainly isn’t enough time to think about very many mechanical thoughts. If you have taken any golf lessons, or watched golf instruction on TV, you probably already know terms like swing plane, lag, clubface position, pronation, center of gravity, and more. You could fill an entire dictionary with simply the terms that are tossed around by golfers when discussing their swings.
At this point, the problem should be obvious - there just isn’t enough time during the swing to think about all of these various elements. The golf swing is supposed to be a rhythmic, fluid motion, but it can be robbed of its rhythm when technical thoughts start to creep into your mind. The challenge for every golfer is to learn enough about the technical aspect of the swing so that they can make a proper swing, but then not think about those mechanics while actually hitting a shot. It is a challenge that many golfers never quite conquer.
So what does all of this talk about golf swing technique have to do with the shoulder turn in golf swing? Well, everything. The shoulder turn is a crucial element of a successful swing, but it is also one of the simple parts that you can think about while making a swing. Most golfers find their best success when they only have one swing thought at a time - and thinking about making a perfect golf swing through a good shoulder turn is a great plan. You won’t be overloading your brain with information, and you also will be remembering to focus on one of the key elements to a good swing.
It might be helpful to think of your shoulder turn as the engine of your golf swing. By nature, golf is a rotational game - you build up speed by rotating your body toward the target as fast as possible while remaining in control and on balance. Too much side to side movement is a disaster for your swing, which is what makes the shoulder turn such a vital element. If you are able to make a big shoulder turn during your backswing, it will ‘load up’ your swing with energy that can be unleashed down toward the ball. A bad shoulder turn leads to a weak arm-only hit at the ball, and disappointing results are sure to follow. To make sure you understand the importance of the shoulder turn, pay close attention the next time you watch professional golf in TV. While you will see a variety of different mechanics and techniques used to hit good shots, you won’t find any players on Tour without a good shoulder turn. It is simply a prerequisite to playing good golf.
Evaluating Your Current Shoulder Turn
Before you can improve your golf swing takeaway and get to work making sure you have the proper shoulder turn in golf swing, it is important to check and see where you are at currently.
Remember, when you are working on any aspect of your golf swing, you are not starting from scratch - you already have a current swing and current technique to consider. Rather than trying to build a new golf swing from nothing, you are only trying to make the proper adjustments to your current swing.
Evaluating your current shoulder turn can be done in a number of ways. The easiest is to have a friend record your swing on video so you can look at it for yourself. Most people have cell phones with video capability, so getting a quick video of a couple swings on the driving range has never been easier. Next time you head to the golf course with a friend for a round or just a practice session, ask them if they will record a swing or two for you review. Make sure to have them stand in front of you and record the swing from the ‘face on’ view - this will provide the best angle to evaluate your shoulder turn.
Once you have a video of your swing that you can use for reference, take a few moments and watch the swing playback. If your recorder has slow motion capabilities, it might help to slow the video down in order to get a better look at your swing. The key moment that you are looking for is the top of your backswing, when you start to change directions and move the club down toward the ball. Try to freeze the video right at the top of your swing, if possible. At this point, take a look at the position of your shoulders to check on the quality of your turn. In a perfect golf swing, a line drawn through both shoulders will point at least at the golf ball, if not a few inches behind it. If you are seeing this position in your video, you are in great shape with your shoulder turn. If, however, your shoulders are pointing more toward the target than the ball, you have some work to do.
If you usually go to the golf course alone, or don’t have the equipment to record your swing, you will need to use another option. The methods are like golf shoulder turn drills that call for some practice swings without the use of a golf ball, and holding the club across your chest instead of down in your hands like usual. Take your stance just like you are going to hit a shot, but instead take your club and place it so it runs across your shoulders, parallel to the ground. Your arms should be crossed and reaching up to hold onto the shaft of the club where it is touching each shoulder. Now, make a practice backswing like you would in your normal swing.
Where is the club pointing? If the end of the club is pointing down at the ground toward where the ball would be, you are in a good position. Unfortunately, most golfers will find that the club is pointing out in front of the ball, closer to the target. If that is the case for you, it is going to be important that you work on your golf swing technique, and golf shoulder turn drills in order to enhance your shoulder turn.
Flexibility Plays an Important Role with Shoulder Turn
Before we get too far into the technical aspect of how you can work on your shoulder turn, it is important to talk about the role that flexibility plays in your shoulder turn. While the golf swing might not require the same level of fitness as, say, running a marathon or playing basketball, it is still an athletic motion that can benefit greatly from strong and flexible muscles. All you need to do is look around at the guys who play on the PGA Tour these days to see how seriously they take their conditioning, and the use of golf stretches for shoulder turn. Making a powerful golf swing is much easier when your body is prepared for the task.
You can go about improving your fitness any number of ways, from working with a personal trainer to exercising on your own (always check with a doctor, of course), and with the use of golf stretches for shoulder turn improvement. However, before you embark on improving your fitness with the idea of adding to your golf shoulder turn, you should know what muscles are important for the job. To complete the proper shoulder turn in golf swing, there are a variety of areas on your body that need to be flexible and ready to work. Consider the following list -
- Shoulders. Obviously, it will be helpful if your shoulders themselves are flexible enough to swing your arms up into position. However, since most of the golf swing is driven by the core of your body as opposed to your arms, this is actually one of the less-important pieces of the puzzle.
- Lower back. This is where most of the twisting comes from, and the reason that many golfers have back trouble at some point along the way. Adding flexibility in this area will have a huge impact on your shoulder turn as a whole - more so than any other fitness improvement you can make. Of course, if you happen to carry a few extra pounds around the middle, losing those will usually enable your lower back to carry you farther into the backswing.
- Quads and Hamstrings. Your upper legs play a major role in the golf swing - more than most people realize. The important thing is that your legs are flexible enough so that they don’t have to give up their position in the stance while you are making the shoulder turn. Tightness in the hamstring can cause you to have to ‘stand up’ out of your stance as you reach the top of the swing. This will not only cut your shoulder turn short, but it will also get the club out of position and cause a bunch of other problems. You might not think about your legs much when you consider getting fit for the purposes of golf, but they can go a long way toward improving your game.
One other note to keep in mind when you are planning to build an exercise routine around getting in shape for golf. Large, bulky muscles tend to do more harm than good in the golf swing, so you don’t need to worry about lifting particularly heavy weights to bulk up. Again, going back to the point about looking to professional golfers for direction, most of them are slender and fit, rather than being built like football players. Being strong helps, but flexibility is even more important in terms of building a swing that will last.
Try not to be intimidated by the thought of improving your golf fitness - you don’t need to be built like an Olympian to play good golf. Even marginal improvements in your fitness can pay off quickly on the golf course. Beyond being able to make a better shoulder turn, you also should find that you are less fatigued at the end of the round and better prepared to finish off the last few holes successfully.
The Mechanics of the Golf Shoulder Turn
If you have gotten to this point knowing that you need to improve your shoulder turn, it is important that you do it correctly so as to not disrupt the rest of your golf swing. Every golf swing has some element of shoulder turn already in place - your job is to improve yours so it can aid in your power, timing, and ball striking. A good shoulder turn will unlock power potential that you may not have known you had.
You want to be using your shoulders to start the golf swing and carry your arms up into position - not the other way around. If you start the swing with your arms, they will end up behind your body too far at the top of the backswing and you might not be able to recover. This is why you need to key on using your shoulder turn to start your golf swing takeaway. Using your shoulder rotation as the engine of the swing puts everything else into better position right from the start. In fact, many golfers who suffer from a lacking shoulder turn simply need to get started on their shoulder turn earlier in the swing. That change alone might be enough to fix the issue.
As long as you are initiating your swing with your shoulders, you will have one of the potential problems out of the way. However, another issue can frequently come up for amateur golfers which relates to timing and tempo. In a hurry to complete their backswing and start the club down toward the ball, many players cut the shoulder turn short because they are rushing the swing. If you are a player who has always used a short backswing and never really completed your shoulder turn, it might feel surprisingly long at first. Take your time and stick with a smooth tempo - the ball isn’t going anywhere. When done properly, you can use your full shoulder turn as a nice way to maintain your rhythm throughout a round. While you might be tempted to hurry your swing when you get nervous or are trying to hit the ball extra hard, you should be able to keep your tempo in line as long as you focus on your shoulder turn.
The last point of emphasis from a technical standpoint that you need to be aware of is the danger of lifting up out of your posture before the shot is completed. This was mentioned briefly in reference to flexibility, but it warrants further discussion. If you feel that your body is having to straighten up at the top of your swing to accommodate your shoulder turn, you are actually turning too far. The proper amount of shoulder turn in the backswing is whatever amount you can create without losing your balance or posture. At the point you start to lose your posture, you have gone too far and are only going to harm your swing. Practice making some rehearsal swings on the driving range and pay attention to your posture during the backswing - it shouldn’t take you long to determine where your shoulder turn should stop.
Easy Ways to Spot Trouble with Your Shoulder Turn
One of the challenges that all golfers face is determining the cause of problems that they run into on the golf course. Every player knows the feeling of hitting some poor shots during a round and not being able to figure out exactly what is going wrong or how to fix it quickly. Sometimes, those problems in your golf swing technique can be related to your shoulder turn, so it helps to know some of the warning signs for these issues. If you are experiencing any of the problems below, take a close look at your shoulder turn as the possible cause of the problem -
- Thin contact. This is a classic sign of a poor shoulder turn, as you haven’t given your backswing enough time to complete and get the club into position. If you notice that you are hitting consistently thin shots throughout the round, try taking an extra moment during your backswing to complete the shoulder turn. Hopefully, you will be able to quickly make the change and start to hit the ball solidly again.
- Shots pushed out to the right (for a right handed golfer). When you are unable to get the club all the way back square at impact, a shot that heads out to the right is a likely result. This can often occur because of an incomplete shoulder turn which leaves the club trailing behind the rest of your body. The other option in this case is a hook, if you are able to release the club in time. So, if you are fighting a push or a hook, or both, check your shoulder turn right away.
- Loss of distance. Ever have a round where you don’t seem to be able to get the full distance that you normally achieve with your clubs? There is a good chance that your shoulder turn is coming up short. As discussed previously, the shoulder turn is the engine of the swing, and completing it is the best way you can build power.
As you can see from this quick list, there are plenty of problems that can arise simply from failing to complete your shoulder turn. Not only does the shoulder turn put the golf club into the right position from which to swing down into the ball, but it also has a lot to do with the tempo and rhythm that your swing has. Without a good shoulder turn, you are going to find it very difficult to achieve the level of consistency required in your ball striking to play good golf.
The golf shoulder turn might seem like one of the more basic elements of the swing, but it is crucially important and should remain at the top of your priority list when practicing your technique. It is a common mistake to get caught up in the advanced mechanics that some golf teachers promote - all while failing to remember the basics. Things like your shoulder turn, your grip, balance, and more will always remain the elements in the swing that deserve most of your attention. Keep your thinking simple and you will likely be happy with the results.
To review, your process to improve the shoulder turn in your golf swing should start with a review of your current swing, move on to a check of your fitness level, and then on to addressing the exact technique of making a good shoulder turn. Only when all of those steps have been completed can you feel confident that you are doing everything you can to address this important swing fundamental. With a good golf shoulder turn in place, one of the biggest hurdles to playing good golf will be out of your way. Remember to pay attention to your shoulder turn on an ongoing basis so that it doesn’t become a problem again later on down the road. Thanks for reading, and play well!