Many golf swing faults are rooted in overuse of the arms and hands. Slices, hooks, fat shots, tops, shanks, lack of power – if you fail to involve the body's big muscles, you'll inevitably suffer from one if not all of these problems.
By big muscles, we're referring primarily to the hips, shoulders and torso (aka the core). Most modern golf teachers consider these the engine of the swing, with the motion of the hands and arms coming in reaction to the work of the big muscles.
Develop the proper big-muscle movements and you'll not only boost power and accuracy, your swing will become more efficient, consistent, and easier to diagnose and fix when things go wrong. Start by following these keys:
- Light to moderate grip pressure: Tension restricts your chest and shoulders. Using a pressure scale of 1-10 (1 being extremely light, 10 much too tight), grip the club at about 4-5. For further advice, watch this video on grip pressure.
- One-piece takeaway: At address, the arms and shoulders should form a triangle. Keep this triangle intact by dragging the club slowly away from the ball, keeping it low to the ground. The “one-piece” takeaway move engages the torso and shoulders as you swing to the top.
- Full shoulder turn: When making a full swing, your shoulders should rotate on the backswing until they're perpendicular (90°) to the target line. Try to turn until your left shoulder is underneath your chin.
- Left hip leads the downswing: This is where many golfers allow their arms to take over, “casting” them downward toward the ball. The correct move is to begin the downswing by pressing the left heel to the ground; the left knee and hip then turn toward the target, pulling the torso and shoulders, then the arms and club in a powerful chain reaction.
Correct Golf Swing Flaws by Using Big Muscles
Improving your golf swing isn't about searching for perfect technique – because perfect doesn't exist in golf. Rather than aiming for some imaginary goal that you will never achieve, your focus should be on making incremental progress until your game is improved all around the course. Many golfers think they need to overhaul their mechanics in order to make progress, but the opposite strategy is usually the most effective. Simply take what you are already doing in your swing and make minor corrections until you achieve the ball flight you desire. There is a good chance that your current swing is better than you think it is – you just need to iron out the flaws that are holding you back.
As you are looking for things that can be corrected in your golf swing, try to find ways to use your big muscles more and your small muscles less. Your big muscles are easier to control throughout the swing, allowing you to achieve greater consistency. Many amateur golfers rely too much on the smaller muscles in their hands and arms, leading to a swing that will never be repeatable from shot to shot. If you watch the professionals play on TV, you will notice that their swings are very simple, as they allow the big muscles to do the majority of the work. Place control of your golf swing into the big muscles of your torso and legs and you will soon begin to see better results.
Beyond taking the flaws out of your swing, there is another great reason to use your big muscles – additional power. Using the big muscles of your body to move the golf club through the backswing and follow through will open up the potential for power that you may not have known you were capable of creating. If you have ever seen a player use a seemingly simple and smooth swing to blast long drives down the middle of the fairway, it is a safe bet that player was using his or her big muscles nicely. The big muscles contain the 'secret' to powerful golf shots, so it is certainly worth your time to explore improving your swing in this area.
Just like any other changes you try to make in your game, using your big muscles to swing the club may feel uncomfortable at first. Of course, that uncomfortable feeling is actually a good thing, as it indicates that you are making real changes to your technique. If you want to improve in golf, you have to embrace the reality that you will need to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time. By committing to using your big muscles more actively in the swing, you will be using a technique that may feel unfamiliar – but has the potential to pay off in a big way in the end.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Find the Flaws
Locating the flaws in your golf swing is the first step to getting them corrected. If you don't know what is wrong with your swing, how can you fix it? The good news is that you don't need to hire an expensive golf instructor to help you work through the problems in your game. In fact, you can probably discover your own swing flaws simply by using the tips below. Most golfers struggle with the same few problems within their swing technique, so by looking for the most likely problems first, you should be able to greatly improve your game.
Following are a few common swing problems that can all be improved by using your big muscles.
- Inside takeaway. Getting the club stuck to the inside during your takeaway is one of the most common mistakes made by amateur golfers. This usually happens when your hands are too active early in the swing, causing the club head to be pulled to the inside of the proper swing path. Avoiding this mistake is as easy as using your big muscles – instead of your hands and wrists – to control the takeaway. As you start to move the club back away from the ball, focus on turning your shoulders away from the target while your legs remain stable to support swing. Your hands and arms should be quiet at this point while your shoulder rotation is doing all the work. When you are successfully able to keep your hands out of the takeaway you will notice that the club begins to trace a better path away from the ball.
- Long backswing. Those same overactive hands that can mess with your takeaway can also be blamed for creating an extra-long backswing. When you start to carry the shaft of the club well past parallel at the top of your swing, you will begin to lose control over your ball flight. Some players are able to succeed with a long swing, but most players would benefit from limiting their backswing to right around parallel to the ground at the top. Stopping near parallel is a nice balance because it provides you with enough potential for power while still keeping the swing compact and controlled. If you notice that your swing is going way past parallel, there is a good chance that your hands are too involved in the backswing. Again, focus on turning your shoulders to create a backswing while keeping your hands quiet – the shaft of the club will stop sooner, and the quality of your contact will improve.
- Over-the-top move in the transition. The number one ball flight issue face by amateurs is the slice, and an over-the-top move during the transition from backswing to downswing is the main cause of that error. As the club reaches the top of the backswing, it should ideally drop slightly to the inside as your prepare to attack the ball. However, many players use their hands to push the club up and away from their body, leading to an over-the-top motion. Once the club goes over-the-top, there is basically nothing that can be done to save the swing. The club head will attack from the outside, and either a pull or a slice will result. To fix this common problem, use your hips and legs to initiate the downswing, rather than your hands. By starting to rotate left with your lower body from the top of the swing, you will encourage the club to drop into position before it ever has a chance to move over the top.
- Getting up on your toes. Your hands and wrists aren't the only 'small muscles' that can get in way of a good golf swing. As you start down toward the ball, avoid the temptation to stand up onto your toes. While you do want to be using your legs in the downswing, you should be using the big muscles in your thighs to drive toward the target – not the small muscles in your feet. Remember, a powerful golf swing starts from a powerful base, so engage your big leg muscles throughout the swing to maximize speed. Ideally, your left foot will remain flat on the ground as your body rotates aggressively toward the target.
Each of the four swing flaws list above is extremely common. You could stand on just about any driving range in the world on a busy Saturday morning and find plenty of golfers committing each of the sins on this list. As you have seen, all four problems can be fixed simply by using your big muscles to control the golf swing. If you are able to successfully transfer power from your small muscles to your big ones during the swing, you should be able to eliminate all of the swing flaws above that are present in your game.
Big Muscles Move Slower
Many amateur golfers believe that if they want to hit the ball a long distance, they must swing the golf club as fast as possible. This is a myth. In fact, swinging the club slowly throughout most of the backswing and downswing is advised. The only moment the club needs to be moving quickly is the split second that the club face is in contact with the ball. Other than that, a swing that moves slow and steady is likely to be more reliable and more consistent. Your entire swing should be gradually building up tempo so that you can max out your club head speed right at impact.
It is easier to make a smooth, consistent golf swing when using your big muscles as opposed to your small muscles. The muscles in your hands and wrists move quicker than your big muscle groups, meaning they are harder to control in a rhythmic manner. If you can make a golf swing that is controlled by the large muscles in your torso and your upper legs, you will have far more success repeating that swing over and over again. This is how most professional golfers swing the club, and you should be following their lead.
During your backswing, you should be focused solely on your shoulder rotation while staying balanced. If you can do those two things – get a full turn out of your shoulders and keep your center of gravity in the middle of your feet – you will be poised to make a great downswing. Remember, you can't carry any of the speed you build in the backswing down into the forward swing, because the club has to completely stop to change directions. Since none of that speed will carry over, there is no sense in making a fast backswing. The tempo of your backswing should be slow and steady, as dictated by the speed with which you turn your shoulders away from the target. With practice, you will get more and more comfortable with the idea of using your shoulders to start the swing while your hands and arms pretty much just come along for the ride.
Moving on to the downswing, the large muscles groups in your legs and torso are going to take control of the swing by turning you back to the target. This concept was mentioned above, but it bears repeating because it is so crucial to the success of your golf swing. From the top of your swing, your legs and hips should quickly begin to uncoil toward the target, leading the way for the rest of your body. It is important that your lower body leads your upper body into the downswing – this is how power is created. If you get this part backwards, you will wind up hitting shots that are both weak and off line. Your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and abdominal muscles all play a part in getting the downswing moving, so let them take the lead right from the transition all the way through impact.
It may take some time to learn how to use a slower overall tempo to strike solid golf shots. It will be worth your time, however, if you can remain patient and spend enough time on the practice tee to learn these techniques. Your big muscles can unlock the secret to hitting powerful shots with minimal effort, but you have to engage those muscles to give them a chance to perform for you.
Big Muscles Matter in the Short Game
You might think that the short game would be the time where you can use your small muscles, since you aren't hitting the ball very far when chipping or putting – but you would be wrong. Your big muscles might be even more important in the short game than they are in the long game. To hit quality short game shots, you need to carefully control the movement of the club through impact, and the best way to do that is by engaging your large muscles successfully.
Following are a few tips to help you better use the big muscles of your body while playing short game shots on or around the green.
- Putting is all shoulders. While putting is something that continually frustrates nearly every golfer, the act of moving the putter back and through the stroke should be very simply. Ideally, your hands and wrists will stay completely out of the action while your shoulders do all of the work. With a gentle rocking motion, you can move the putter head back and through the ball beautifully. To start your stroke, move your left shoulder down toward the ground slightly, and then reverse that motion to make the forward stroke. When executed properly, there is very little that can go wrong in a putting stroke. Once you are comfortable with these simple mechanics, the challenge will become picking out the right line and speed to allow the ball to fall into the hole.
- Legs in the bunker. The big muscles of your legs are largely responsible for the shots you are able to hit out of the bunker. When you find your ball in a greenside sand trap, the first thing you should do is build a wide, stable stance. You don't want to lose your balance or your footing while playing a greenside bunker shot, so dig your feet into the sand and use plenty of knee flex at address. Once you can feel that your legs muscles are fully engaged in the stance, go ahead and hit the shot. Those muscles should remain engaged during the swing, as you need to stay down through the shot in order to float the ball up out of the bunker and onto the green.
- Torso (and shoulders) to chip. When hitting chip and pitch shots from around the green, you want to use both your torso and your shoulders to hit the shot. For short chips, you probably won't need to do much more than you do with your putting stroke – just a simple rock of the shoulders should be enough to get the job done. However, as the pitch shots get longer, you will want to use your torso a little more to add to the rotation of the swing. While it is important to focus on your big muscles while chipping, it is also okay to engage your small muscles in these shots as well. Especially when playing from a poor lie, it can be a good idea to use a little bit of hand and wrist action to elevate the club head above the top of the grass in the backswing. By getting the club head up off the ground, you will create an angle that you can use to attack from above on the downswing. A downward hit is a great thing when chipping and pitching, so blend the use of small and big muscles to hit good short game shots.
When you are practicing your short game, be sure to focus on how your big muscles can help you control the club through impact whether you are hitting a putt, a chip, or a bunker shot. The short game is all about control, as you don't need to develop very much club head speed in order to reach the target. Don't forget, your short game will have a lot to do with the score you shoot at the end of the day, so give this area of the game the practice attention that it deserves.
Other Important Points
There are a few other miscellaneous points which should be mentioned relating to using big muscles in your golf swing. Those points are as follows –
- Get warm first. It is important to have your muscles warmed up and ready to swing prior to hitting balls on the driving range or starting a round on the course. Even just going through a light stretching routine can be enough to get your body primed to make quality swings. Once you do start swinging the club, go slowly at first until your body feels ready to go full-out after a driver. Hit a few half-swing wedges just to get a feel for the club, and then build up from there. It shouldn't take very long at all to get your body warm enough to start making full effort swings at your driver and long irons.
- Trust your swing. Many players are naturally tempted to use their hands aggressively at some point in the golf swing – even if that is not necessary. In order to reach your potential on the course, you will need to learn how to trust your swing all the way through impact. That may mean that you keep your hands out of the action altogether as you allow your big muscles to rotate the club through the hitting area. Even if you are a player who uses some hand action at impact, you still need to trust your shoulder rotation and hip rotation to put you in a perfect position. Good golf is all about believing in yourself and the swing you have created.
- Fitness counts. It might not be as important to be in great physical condition in golf as it is in other sports, but it certainly helps. If you can get your body into better shape overall, your golf game will almost surely benefit as a result. Specifically, maintaining a healthy weight will make it easier to make a full shoulder turn in your backswing. Of course, before you start any kind of workout routine, check with your doctor.
The big muscles of your body should be doing most of the work when it comes to swinging the golf club. It is easy to allow your hands to do too much of the job, but they should really play more of a passive role throughout the swing. When used correctly, your big muscles will allow you to create a smooth, powerful golf swing that is capable of delivering the center of the club face to the back of the ball time and time again.