When you're driving a nail into a board, do you: a) Ease up just as the hammer meets the nail, or b) Give it a solid, authoritative whack?
If you answered “a,” you're doing it wrong. It probably takes you several swings just to pound the nail all the way in, and it likely ends up crooked as well. Right?
Think of the golf swing the same way. In order to hit the ball with power and accuracy, you've got to accelerate the club into and through impact.
Many amateurs' swings actually decelerate as they approach the ball, creating all kinds of weak, wayward results – slices, pulls and fat shots, to name a few. Davis Love III has noted that the primary difference between pros and ams is that pros' swings reach their highest speed a split second after impact; with amateurs, it often happens before impact.
What can cause a decelerating golf swing? Any number of factors. The most obvious is a tentative mindset, with the fear of hitting a poor shot or finding a hazard overtaking the body. Another is tension. The golfer whose muscles are tight can't make a full backswing turn or a free-flowing downswing. Then there's our old friend the reverse pivot, an improper weight shift that robs us of clubhead speed.
No matter what's causing you to decelerate, this simple, classic drill – which you can do at home – will train you to hammer the ball with authority:
Deceleration Deadly During the Golf Swing
There are a few mistakes that you just can't afford to make during the golf swing. For instance, lifting your head up prior to impact is a serious no-no. Also, rushing through your backswing in order to get to the downswing as fast as possible is another mistake that will only lead to trouble. While there is plenty of room in the golf swing for individual style, all golfers need to avoid the basic, fundamental mistakes that will cause poor shots time after time. Speaking of basic mistakes, decelerating the club prior to impact is an error that certainly deserves a spot on that list.
Unfortunately, decelerating during the downswing is a problem that is common among amateur golfers, both in the long game and the short game. Usually, this is a problem that arises from a lack of confidence in the swing. If you don't feel good about the swing you are making, you will naturally slow up prior to making contact, in an effort to keep the ball close to your target line. Of course, you are only doing yourself harm when you decide to slow up prior to hitting the ball. Confidence is key in golf, even if your swing isn't perfect (which it isn't, because nobody possesses a perfect swing). There is nothing you can do to save your shot once the swing has started, so you might as well swing through impact with confidence while accelerating the club on through to the finish.
Even quality professional golfers will make the mistake of decelerating the club from time to time. You shouldn't feel bad about yourself or your game just because you make this mistake – but you should get down to work on learning how to fix it. The corrections that you will need to make on this point are both mental and physical, so you shouldn't consider your work done until you have addressed both halves of the equation. Plenty of golfers ignore the mental side of the game while trying to improve, which limits the amount of progress they can actually make. In fact, there is probably more room for the average golfer to improve from a mental standpoint than there is for that same golfer to improve from a physical standpoint. When it comes to the problem of deceleration or any other issue in your game, it is crucial that you respect the importance of the mental element in golf.
If you suspect that you are decelerating the club on some (or all) of your shots, it is important that you deal with this problem as soon as possible. The issue is likely to get worse over time, and it could get to the point where you have trouble getting your ball around the course at all. To avoid that fate, tackle this problem head on right away, rather than just ignoring it and hoping it goes away all on its own.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
There are a few possible signs of deceleration that you may begin to spot in your game. If you think that this is a problem which is giving you trouble on the course, you should look for the signs on the list below to determine whether or not you are decelerating the club on some of your swings. You never want to try to fix problems that don't actually exist in your swing, so take the time monitor your current technique for deceleration before you work on any fixes.
The list below contains three potential signs of deceleration that you may spot within your game. If you feel like one or more of these points applies to you, it would be wise to take a closer look at the possibility of deceleration in your game.
- Coming up short. Obviously, this is one of the first signs that you are decelerating the club. If your shots consistently come up short of the target, there is a very real possibility that you are slowing down your swing prior to impact. Of course, one or two shots falling short of the target shouldn't be cause for alarm – every golfer leaves the ball short from time to time. It is when you are coming up short on a regular basis, round after round, that you should start to think about the possibility of deceleration at the bottom of your swing.
- Hitting the ball fat. For many golfers, this is the point that leads them to the realization that they are decelerating. If you slow the club down during the downswing, there is a good chance that you will wind up hitting the ball fat. As you slow things down, your body rotation will slow down as well, meaning you won't quite get to the ball by the time your swing bottoms out. Since the bottom of your swing will now be located to the right of the ball, you will hit the shot fat (and the shot will likely come up short as a result). Again, hitting the ball fat is something that happens to every player from time to time, so a single fat shot shouldn't lead you to make drastic changes. If it keeps happening, however, a bigger underlying problem such as deceleration is likely the culprit.
- Missing the sweet spot. On the surface, it might not seem like deceleration would have anything to do with missing the sweet spot. In fact, these two things are closely related, as slowing down your swing coming into impact will throw off your timing – and timing is everything when it comes to hitting the ball flush. As was the case with the first two points, this is something that you are going to have to monitor over time before it will be a reason to worry about your technique. Most golfers are only able to hit the sweet spot a handful of times per round, and even professional golfers miss the sweet spot regularly. So, only when you find that you are basically never hitting the ball on the center of the face should you start to think that there is a problem.
There are multiple potential causes for any of the three points above, so simply making the mistakes on this list does not automatically mean that you are decelerating the club. With that said, deceleration is one of the potential causes that you need to watch out for if you are doing things like leaving the ball short, hitting it fat, or missing the sweet spot time after time. Once you determine that you are regularly making some of these mistakes, the next step will be to take a closer look at your swing in order to break down your technique.
A Closer Look
Now that you believe you may be guilty of decelerating the club coming into the ball, the next step is to record your swing on video in order to see the problem for yourself. There is nowhere to hide on video, so any problems within your swing mechanics are going to be revealed in this step. Many players are afraid to watch their swing back on video because they don't want to see exactly what is wrong with their technique. Of course, this is the wrong way to think about your game. Rather than running away from your mechanical problems, you should face them head on and work to correct them as quickly as possible.
To record your swing on video, all you will need is a video recording device (your cell phone probably will take care of this point), and a friend. Ask someone to accompany you to the driving range for your next practice session so you can have them record the video. If they are a golfer, you can return the favor and video their swing in exchange. When making swings for the purposes of recording a video, be sure to not adjust your technique in any way just because you are 'on camera'. You want to get an accurate representation of your normal golf swing so you can make accurate evaluations regarding your mechanics. If possible, record video of yourself hitting at least a handful of shots with two or three different clubs.
Once the video has been taken, it will be tempting to view the results immediately on the range. However, it is usually better to wait until you get back home to watch your swings back. Why? For one thing, it will be easier to focus at home than it will on the driving range with other people hitting and moving about. Also, you could choose to display the video on a bigger screen once at home, giving you a much better look at your swing. So, in order to achieve the best possible results, save the video review for later and simply finish out your practice session as you normally would before heading home.
When the time comes to review the video, you are going to want to pay specific attention to the points below.
- Angle between left arm and club shaft. The angle that is formed between your left arm and the shaft of the club during the downswing is one of the most important mechanical points to monitor in the golf swing. Ideally, this angle will remain at 90* or more well into the downswing. Unfortunately, many amateur golfers are not able to hold this angle as the club comes down – in fact, many begin to give up the angle shortly after the downswing begins. Watch your swing video specifically for this point and determine how long you are holding the angle in the downswing before releasing the club toward impact. If you are giving up the angle early on, you can be sure that your club is decelerating by the time you reach impact.
- Head coming up out of the shot. This is a mistake that can have a number of negative consequences, with deceleration being one of them. If you allow your head to move up and out of the shot before you have actually made contact with the ball, the club will likely decelerate on the way into impact. While you don't have to keep your head completely still during the golf swing, you do want to stay 'down' over the ball all the way through impact and on into the follow through. Only after you have struck the club should your head start to move up so you can watch the ball fly. Early head movement is a common problem among amateur golfers, and it is a mistake that is among the leading causes of deceleration.
- Short follow through. After the ball has been struck, your club should continue on up into a full finish position. This is the position that you see professional golfers hold after they have hit a shot – the club is wrapped around the player's back, and the player is well-balanced while watching the shot fly. Are you reaching this finish position after your swing? If not, there is likely a problem somewhere in your technique. A short follow through is a common sign of a swing that is decelerating because there is not enough speed left after impact to move the club up into the finish correctly.
Video is one of the best tools a golfer can use to make improvements to his or her game. Thanks to modern technology, it is quick and easy to take a video of your swing, and you can take that recording with you anywhere you go. As it relates to deceleration, using video is a great idea because you can look for the three points above within your swing as sure signs that the club is decelerating.
Fixing the Problem
It can take a little bit of detective work to determine whether or not you are actually decelerating the club in your golf swing. However, once that work is done and you have decided that you actually are guilty of deceleration, the obvious next step is to work on a solution to the problem. In this section, we are going to look at four tips that you can use to avoid the dreaded deceleration mistake in your downswing – two of these tips are physical, and two are mental. Work through all four of these points one by one, and you should be well on your way to cutting the deceleration problem out of your game once and for all.
- Hips right from the top. If there is one 'best' way to put a stop to any deceleration problem, it is to fire your hips right from the top of the swing – and keep them moving all the way through impact. As long as your hips are turning hard toward the target, you shouldn't have to worry about slowing down prior to making contact with the ball. Focus on the action that is taken by your left hip, as it is the one that leads the way in the downswing. As soon as the club reaches the top of the swing, you will want to put that left hip to work turning quickly toward the target. With a great hip turn, you will have plenty of speed coming down and the deceleration issue should be a thing of the past.
- Back of the left hand. Some players have trouble focusing on the lower body when it is the upper body that is actually swinging the club. If that sounds like you, the best thing to do is to focus on the back of your left hand as you swing down. The goal of your downswing should be simple – to keep the left hand moving all the way through the swing and into the follow through. If you can keep the left hand moving through impact without any slow down, you can be confident that the club is keeping up as well. It is when your hands start to slow down that the club will immediately slow up also, so use this point of focus to make sure there is no deceleration through the hitting area.
- Pick a specific target. This is the first of our two mental game points, and it is an easy one to overlook if you are caught up in thinking about your physical technique. Each shot that you hit throughout a round of golf should have a specific target, whether you are hitting a tee shot, an approach shot, or any other kind of shot around the course. Most golfers pick a target on approach shots, but many just aim 'for the fairway' off of the tee. Swings made without a specific target are more vulnerable to deceleration, simply because your mind won't have a goal for the swing. You need to have purpose in order to make a confident and aggressive swing, so zero in on a target and do everything you can to hit the target perfectly with your shot.
- Be confident. There is nothing like confidence when it comes to performing your best on the course. All of the driving range time in the world isn't going to do much for your game if you aren't confident in your ability when you actually play a round of golf. Golfers who lack confidence will frequently decelerate the club as they are unsure of the swing that they are making or the shots they are hitting. If you have put in plenty of time on the practice range to dial in your technique, draw confidence from those practice sessions and believe in yourself on the course. When your mind is filled with confidence prior to starting the swing, you will be much less likely to decelerate on your way into impact.
You probably aren't going to be able to fix this problem instantly, but you should be able to make progress toward a deceleration-free game using the tips above. Remember, this is a problem that has both a mental and physical component, so you will need to address both sides of the equation before you can be successful.
Decelerating in the Short Game
For as damaging as it can be to decelerate while hitting full shots, it is an even bigger problem when you get into the short game. Deceleration is actually more common in the short game than it is in the full swing, a fact which is owed mostly to nerves. When golfers get nervous over chip shots and putts, they tend to slow up prior to impact – leading to all kinds of negative outcomes. For your short game to become as reliable as you need it to be in order to post good scores, you will have to stop decelerating as soon as possible.
In the short game, there are really two causes of deceleration that need to be addressed. One of these problems is mental, and the other is physical. On the physical side, deceleration can be caused by a backswing or backstroke that is too long. If you swing the putt or wedge back too far away from the ball, you will have to slow up on the way into impact to avoid hitting the ball too hard. When that slow down happens, you will run the risk of hitting the shot fat (in the case of a chip), or leaving the club face open (in the case of a putt). On the mental side, the leading cause of deceleration in the short game is fear. If you are afraid of failure – afraid of hitting a bad shot – you will likely decelerate prior to impact. To get over your fear, you need to put in plenty of practice time and build confidence in your ability to execute short game shots of all kinds.
It is never good to decelerate the club prior to impact, but this is a problem that you should be able to correct with a little bit of practice time – and some help from a video recording of your swing. As long as you are willing to think critically about this problem while searching for a solution, you should be able to kick the deceleration habit soon enough.