The transition from backswing to downswing might be the trickiest split-second in golf. Many amateurs take the club back slowly, then jerk it downward with a violent slash. Others lift it quickly to the top only to hang back and decelerate into the ball.
Watch any pro swing and you'll notice that the clubhead is moving fastest at the bottom of the arc – in other words, at impact.
The swing gathers speed all the way down, releasing maximum stored energy into the ball. While some pros have lightning-quick moves from backswing to downswing, most transition smoothly and build speed as the arms pull the club down.
When you complete the backswing, try to mimic the same pace as you start the downswing. On the way down, imagine your clubhead reaching maximum velocity in the space from 12” before impact to 12” after, finally decelerating as you pull into the finish position.
This motion will also sync your upper and lower body for more potent rotation.
Accelerate at Bottom of Swing Not Top
Do you hit the ball at the top of your swing, or at the bottom? Obviously, the answer to that question is easy – the ball is struck when the club reaches the bottom of the swing. Despite having such an easy answer, that is a question that most golfers should take some time to think about carefully. Why? Because most amateur golfers, whether they know it or not, actually swing faster near the top of their swing than they do at the bottom. If you are ever going to truly maximize your distance potential, you need to correct the sequencing of your swing so that the fastest moment is the exact point when the club strikes the ball.
If you ever watch golf on television, you have probably been struck by how easily it seems that the best players in the world can launch the ball 300 yards or more. How do they swing so smoothly and still hit the ball such incredible distances? While fitness and equipment have something to do with it, most of it comes down to maximizing the efficiency of their swings. Instead of trying to swing full-out right from the top, the pros are able to gradually build up the speed in their swings until it hits maximum velocity right at the point of impact. The swing looks easy because it is such a gradual acceleration, but the moment when the club meets the ball is downright violent. The ball is smashed into the air, and it doesn't come down until it has flown a great distance down the fairway.
This concept seems simple, and it is relatively simple to understand. However, it is much more difficult to actually integrate into your golf swing. It is one thing to know that you should be swinging fast at the bottom, but it is another thing altogether to actually do it. If your swing currently wastes most of its speed at the top, you will have to work hard on the fundamentals of your technique in order to move that speed down to the bottom. It can be done, but you shouldn't be expecting an overnight fix.
Accelerating at the bottom of the swing instead of the top isn't just helpful in terms of power – it will also help you make better contact with the ball, which can lead to improved spin rates on approach shots. Again, think back to a time when you were watching pro golf on TV. Did you see any of the pros hit a wedge shot into the green that took one or two bounces before spinning backwards? That is a shot that is made possible by great acceleration. As the club gains speed through impact, it rips down through the ball and passes on an incredible amount of spin. When the ball lands, that spin grabs the turf and the ball stops almost immediately.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
The Cause of the Problem
It's always dangerous to lump a whole group of golfers into the same category because of the vastly different swings used across the world of golf. No two swings look exactly alike, so it is often a mistake to assume that the same problem is plaguing a large percentage of the golfing population. However, in this case, it is most likely safe to assume that the vast majority of players are accelerating the club too early because of the same mistake.
So what is that mistake? Rushing to hit the ball. Most golfers are simply in a hurry to get the swing over with so they can look up and see where the ball is going. When the swing is rushed, the natural tendency is to push the club down from the top of the swing as fast as possible. That means releasing the hands too early, and using wrist action in the transition instead of later on down toward the bottom of the swing. There is tension and pressure in your mind and body while hitting a golf shot, and those feelings can make you speed up everything that you do. The best golf swings are the ones that take time to develop properly – but most players never give themselves the chance to work gradually through the swing. The average amateur golfer takes the club up to the top and then immediately rushes to hit the ball as quickly as possible.
Does that sound like you? Do you ever feel like you are rushing through your swing? If your club is moving faster at the top than it is at the bottom, you are almost certainly rushing through your swing progression. While that is a problem that needs to be fixed, you can feel good knowing that you aren't alone – most golfers struggle with this problem at some point, and some never even figure it out. Now that you know what the issue is, you can get to work on solving the problem successfully.
One of the biggest mistakes golfers make is trying to fix problems that don't exist in the first place. Before you work on the tips and drills that are included below, make sure that you are actually making the mistake of speeding up the club prematurely. Watch your swing back on video and track the acceleration of the club head. Only when you are convinced that it is actually slow down as it comes into impact should you get to work on finding a solution. If you realize that this problem isn't actually one that is present in your swing, you can go back to working on other fundamentals that will improve your performance.
Getting Your Hands Out of the Way
The root of this swing problem is mental. It is the feeling that you need to rush through the swing that causes you to hurry from the top. However, that mental mistake has a physical manifestation – overactive hands during the transition from backswing to downswing. If you want to improve the sequence of your swing so that you can swing your fastest at the bottom, you will need to correct both the mental and physical errors that are taking place.
Ideally, your hands will play a passive role in the golf swing right up until the last moment prior to impact when they release the club to unleash ever last bit of potential power that you have stored up. During the backswing, it should be your shoulders that take charge, turning your upper body away from the target while the hands simply carry the club to the top in a passive manner. Then, when you start turning back left toward the target, your lower body takes over and does the bulk of the work. Again, your hands still haven't entered the picture. If you can keep your hands out the action until the very last moment, you should have no trouble saving your speed for the bottom of the swing.
Of course, that probably isn't what is happening currently in your game. Instead, you are probably engaging your hands and wrists far too early, either in the backswing or during the transition. Either way, you are wasting speed that could have been used later by giving up the angle in your wrists so early. At the top of your swing, there is an angle created between the shaft of the club and your left arm – if you watch your swing on video, it is easy to see this angle. During the downswing, your goal should be to keep that angle for as long as possible. The farther you can carry the club down toward the ball while holding that angle, the more power you will have in your swing. In many golf circles, that angle is known as 'lag', and it is one of the most powerful forces in the game.
Lag is something of a mystery to most golfers, but it is really the central concept when it comes to saving your acceleration for the perfect moment in the swing. By 'lagging' the club behind your hands during the downswing, you will be saving up swing speed that can be deployed right at impact. Most amateur players waste this lag by releasing their hands from the top of the swing in an effort to get down to the ball faster. The outcome is predictable – the club speeds up from the top during the first foot or so of the downswing, then gradually slows as it approaches the ball. In the end, you are left with a weak swing that often produces a slice. It is actually possible to hit decent shots this way once you learn how to make the right adjustments, but you will never reach your full potential without learning how to hold on to the lag.
To help you better understand what it feels like to lag the club in the downswing, try working through the following drill. This isn't a drill that requires you to hit any shots, so you can do this anywhere you have room to safely swing the club.
- To start, take any one of your clubs out of the bag and take a normal stance. Be sure to get into your usual address position just like you would prior to any regular shot on the course.
- Make your usual backswing, but pause at the top and hold your position. It is important that you are well-balanced at the top, with your weight evenly distributed between your feet and your knees slightly flexed.
- As you are holding your position at the top of the swing, take your right hand off of the club. Move your right hand down into your pocket or behind your back, and continue to hold the club in place with only your left hand.
- Once your right hand is out of the way, swing partway down until your left arm is pointing down to where the ball would be if you were hitting an actual shot. As you move your arm down, make sure to hold the angle between the shaft of the club and your arm. That angle should be somewhere near 90*.
- Stop your swing once the club is parallel to the ground, and reverse the motion to take the club back up to the top once again. Go back and forth between the top of your swing and the position in the downswing with the club parallel to the ground. You can repeat this process as many times as you would like.
Of course, this drill doesn't address the release portion of your swing, but that's okay. You don't really need to practice the release – it will happen on its own. What you need to practice is holding the lag in your swing for as long as possible, and that is exactly what is addressed in this drill. By taking your right hand off the club, you will find that your left hand is less inclined to release the club early. Even just a few repetitions should help you understand what it feels like to hold the lag correctly. Then, when you put your right hand back on the club to make regular swings, you will simply have to prevent it from getting in the way.
Your hands are both the problem and the solution when it comes to accelerating the club at the correct moment in the swing. The key is to get your hands to work for you, instead of against you. If they are currently releasing the club right at the top of the swing, work on the left-hand-only drill above to learn how to hold your lag and delay that release. Once you start saving up your release for the bottom of the swing, you will unlock power that you never knew existed within your game.
The Role of Your Grip
Now that you know the importance of keeping your hands passive throughout most of the golf swing, you can get to work on making that a reality in your own technique. Of course, like most everything else in golf, it's easier said than done. You can use the drill above to help you hold on to your lag, but you still might have some trouble executing the technique when you get out on the course under actual conditions. If you find that the mechanics of maintaining quiet hands are still giving you trouble, you may need to look at your grip.
The grip that you use plays a big role in how your hands behave during the golf swing. Some grip styles put a lot of power and control into the hands, while others cause the hands to be relaxed and passive. It should go without saying that you would be best served to use a grip which takes your hands out of the swing for the most part. Specifically, the overlap grip is something you should strongly consider. In this grip, the pinky finger of your right hand rests on top of the pointer finger of your left hand when the grip is formed around the club.
What makes the overlap grip a good choice? By overlapping your right hand pinky finger on top of your left pointer finger, you take some of the power out of your right hand. If you were to interlock those two fingers, your right hand would have more control over the movements of the club. By using the overlap, you are somewhat protecting yourself against making a mistake. With less of your right hand on the club, there is less chance that you will use that right hand to steer the swing – meaning you should be able to hold your lag more easily in the downswing.
To go along with the overlap grip, you should also work on softening the overall tension of your grip. As you hold on to the club, you should be doing so with just enough pressure to maintain control over the club, and no more. If you are squeezing the club tightly throughout the swing, your hands will naturally play a bigger role in the movement of the club. Light grip pressure is something that many golfers don't ever think about, but it can have a powerful effect on your swing. Obviously you need to be holding on to the club tight enough to control it during the swing, but don't squeeze so hard that your hands are able to make sudden adjustments to the path of the club throughout the swinging motion.
If the overlap grip doesn't work for you, don't worry – it is certainly possible to play great golf with a variety of other grips. Players with smaller hands often struggle when trying the overlap method, as do players with quick swing tempos. The interlocking grip has been used by some of the best players in history, and it can certainly serve you well as long as you pay attention to the fundamentals in your swing. With an interlocking grip, your right hand will always have plenty of control over the club, so keep it as passive as possible in order to hold your lag and save your acceleration for the bottom.
Acceleration Takes Commitment
All of the content above has focused on the mechanics of your swing and how to position yourself to unleash all of your power potential right into the back of the ball. However, there is another side to this issue that must be addressed – the matter of committing fully to your swings. If you don't have complete commitment and trust in your downswing, you aren't going to be able to accelerate the club successfully. The act of accelerating the club is an aggressive one, and your body won't want to be aggressive if you are having doubts about your swing. Before the club goes into motion, it is necessary that you are fully dedicated to the shot you are going to hit.
Commitment is all about confidence, and confidence starts on the practice tee. If you put in the time to work on your golf swing on the driving range, you should feel better about yourself out on the course. There is no faking it in golf – if you haven't earned your confidence, it will show when you come under pressure. Even if you feel good about your swing all the way up to the top of the backswing, any lack of confidence can quickly be exposed when you make the turn for the downswing. There is no looking back after your downswing starts, so any brief hesitation is sure to cost you when it comes to the quality of your shot. Some golfers who are lacking confidence will make the transition quickly only so they can slow the club down into impact. Slowing down provides a false sense of security, so golfers who aren't committed to their swings will often slow the club down right before impact. Unless you are going to settle for hitting weak and inconsistent shots, you will have to work this habit out of your game.
Accelerating the club through the hitting area is one of the most important skills in golf, but it isn't something that can be put into your swing easily. It takes time and hard work, as you have to bring together a number of different skills. You have to understand the proper rhythm for your swing, you have to put the mechanics in place, and you have to trust those mechanics when the pressure is at its highest. A breakdown in even one of those areas will lead to trouble. It is a shame to waste some of your valuable swing speed at the top of the swing, so learn how to hold your lag and save up every last bit of that power to be used at the moment of impact.