If you’ve watched much professional golf on television, you’ve heard commentators opine about players getting “stuck” on the downswing, causing either a push or a hook. Here’s what they’re talking about – and how to avoid it.
Getting “stuck” refers to a downswing in which the arms and hands lag too far behind the hips and chest. This is also called getting the arms “trapped” behind the body. Typically, two things happen: Either the clubhead fails to catch up at impact, sending the ball right (called “blocking” the shot); or the player, subconsciously sensing the timing error, slows the lower body and/or speeds up the arms and hands, flipping them at the last instant and producing a hook.
Getting stuck produces an exaggerated inside-to-out clubhead path into the ball, often with the arms and hands too close to the body. Try this practice drill to overcome the tendency:
1. Place a light object, such as a clubhead cover or water bottle, a foot or so behind the ball and about six inches inside the line.
2. Make a backswing that takes the club outside the object (in other words, the object is between you and the clubhead).
3. Hit the ball with the club again traveling outside the object, along the line of your takeaway.
This drill will force your arms farther from your body and help keep the hips, chest and arms in synch.
A Great Golf Downswing is about Getting the Sequence Right
The downswing portion of your golf swing takes so little time that it is essentially impossible to make any conscious changes to your swing at that point. Once you make the move to start down toward the ball, there isn’t much left that you can do to affect the outcome of the shot. In order to hit a good shot, you need to have done all the right things leading up to that point – and then swing through the ball, trusting your mechanics to do the job. From the top of the backswing down to impact only takes a fraction of a second, but there is a lot going on in that time.
This is why sequencing is so important within the golf swing as a whole, and the downswing specifically. Since you don’t have enough time to make last-instant adjustments to your mechanics, you need to be sure that everything is working in the right order to deliver the club to the ball accurately. Getting all the moving parts in your swing to come together properly one after the other is one of the biggest challenges that you face as a golfer. Get your timing and sequencing right, and good golf can’t be far off.
Of course, the golf down swing is where so many amateur players go wrong. Rather than focusing on the right golf downswing sequence, they instead just think about rushing to club down to the ball as fast as possible. There is no rush – as the ball isn’t going to move anywhere – but still many average golfers feel like they need to be in a hurry to make contact and get the ball up into the air. One of the best things you can do for your game is to remove this sense of urgency and allow your swing to build speed naturally on the way down. The best players are the ones with an even tempo in their swing, and you should strive for the same kind of rhythm in your own game.
There is good news when it comes to this part of the game – the golf downswing sequence actually isn’t complicated at all. It is a simple concept that you need to understand, and from there you will just need to work on rehearsing the proper technique until it becomes natural. You don’t have to understand some complicated swing theory in order to play good golf. As long as you learn the right golf downswing sequence and put in enough effort to get comfortable with it, you can hit better shots in the very near future.
The golf downswing tips contained below are written in reference to a right handed golfer, so make sure to reverse them as needed if you play left handed.
Setting Up for a Good Downswing
Before there can be a golf downswing, there needs to be a backswing. The backswing is crucial because it sets the stage for the downswing and impact to come. Think about the backswing like the foundation of a house. If you pour a solid concrete foundation before you start building the house, it will stand a much better chance of being sturdy when it is completed. However, if you were to just build your house right on the soil, even the best construction above wouldn’t make much of a difference – the house would fall eventually. Give yourself a good foundation by paying attention to the details in your backswing and your downswing will stand a far better chance at success.
The best way to evaluate your backswing is by taking a look at the positions you reach at the top of the swing. Try to get a video of your swing so you can look for the following points.
- Great balance. This is the top priority for your backswing. Whatever you do, make sure that you are balanced and ready to rotate toward the target when you transition from backswing to downswing. Good balance is crucial for every shot on the golf course because it helps to eliminate one variable from the swing. If your weight is moving around too much during the swing, it becomes that much harder to make solid contact at impact. With your center of gravity under control you can feel free to turn the club loose in the downswing and still feel confident that you are going to strike the ball in the center of the club face.
- Club pointing at the target. When you finish your backswing and the club is wrapped around you, the shaft of the club should point almost directly at the target. This is a good sign that the club is ‘on plane’ and ready to swing down directly into the ball. If the club is pointing to the right or left of the target at the top, you will have to do some kind of re-routing on the way down – which only complicates the swing and makes it more difficult to achieve consistency.
- Stable head position. The final thing you should watch for in your backswing is that your head is not moving around unnecessarily. You want to see that your head position is relatively stable and make sure to avoid any large movements up or down. The position of your head is a good indicator for the movements of the rest of your body, so seeing a steady head position is a good sign that you are keeping the backswing simple and controlled.
Many golfers overlook the importance of the backswing and just lift the club up to get ready to hit the ball. By paying attention to the three simple points above, you can be sure that the club is in a good position as you are ready to strike down aggressively. Before you go on to use the following golf downswing tips to improve your game, take some time to evaluate and correct your backswing mechanics.
The Magic Order of Operations
At this point, you should be all set for your downswing. You have arrived at the top of the swing in good balance, using a smooth tempo, and the club is pointing right at your target. So, what’s next? This is where so many golfers get it wrong.
The first thing that needs to happen from the top of your swing has nothing to do with the club. Or even your hands or arms. The first ‘domino to fall’ needs to be your lower body rotating toward the target. Before the club moves even one inch back toward the ball, you should be uncoiling your lower body toward the target. For most golfers, it is easiest to think about the hips driving this movement as they are the main rotational element in the swing. Not only should you move your lower body toward the target before the club, you should actually start that rotation while you are still completing the backswing. By having some overlap between the end of your backswing and the start of your downswing, you can develop a seamless transition that will help you to generate power.
It is important to understand the difference between rotating and sliding your lower body. Rotating your lower body is ideal – sliding it can lead to disaster. While there will be a little bit of movement to the left in the downswing, the majority of the motion should be rotation to the left. Your center of gravity shouldn’t move all that much, if at all. You don’t build speed with lateral movement in golf, you build it with rotation. The faster you can turn, the harder you can hit the ball. It really is that simple.
Now you know that the lower body needs to go first when the downswing is initiated. But what is next? Picture the swing like a spring that is being uncoiled. If your lower body successfully starts the golf down swing by turning left, the rest of your body should gradually follow in turn. Your torso and shoulders will be pulled into action by the rotation of your lower body. Then, finally, the arms and the club itself will get into the act. The great thing about the golf swing is that when it is done correctly, it can almost become automatic. As long as your hips start the motion, it should be pretty easy to have everything else follow along naturally. At this point, all you need to do is stay out of the way and don’t do anything actively to mess it up.
What could you do to mess it up once it is started? Simple – force the club down toward the ball before the time comes. Plenty of golfers will start the forward swing with their lower body, but then they get nervous and rush the club down ahead of the rest of the rotation. Remember the image of the uncoiling spring. Each piece has to wait its turn, and the club is the last piece of the puzzle that gets to move through the hitting area.
The swing almost seems too easy when you get the golf down swing sequence correct. You will be creating speed in your swing like never before, and you won’t need to exert much effort to do it. Hitting the golf ball long distances is not about using raw power – it is about putting together a mechanically sound swing that is executed in the correct order. Spend enough time learning the golf downswing sequence and you just might feel like you have unlocked the secret to playing the game the right way.
Making the Change
Most likely, swinging the club in the manner that has been described above is going to represent something of a change for you. If you are used to making a golf downswing that consists of only arm motion pushing the club down to the ball, this adjustment could be a significant one. You can do it, but it is going to take a little bit of time and effort. Rather than just walking out to the driving range and hoping for the best, you should have a plan and then get to work putting that plan into action.
The best way to make this new golf downswing a reality is to have a golf downswing trigger that your mind is focused on. Think of a golf downswing trigger as a reminder to your body to move in a certain way at just the right time. Since you want to be using your lower body to initiate the downswing, your trigger should be centered on one part of your lower body that you can use to get started toward the target.
For most golfers, the left hip is a great area to focus on. So, you could make your left hip rotation your ‘trigger’ and keep your mind focused on that action. You will make your backswing like normal, but your mind will be thinking about that left hip move the whole time. When the club arrives near the top of the swing, you start to rotate your lower body by putting your left hip into motion. Of course, more than just your left hip will be moving – your whole lower body will start to rotate as a result. However, keying on the left hip will help your brain to keep things simple and give you a specific move to complete.
As with any other swing change, the driving range is the right place to start working on this adjustment. Since you don’t need to worry about the outcome of your shots like you do on the course, try to clear your mind and hit some practice balls with only one single though – left hip. Work on engaging your left hip at just the right time during the transition from backswing to downswing. At first, you shouldn’t expect the results to be very good. You have built up the swing you currently have based on the timing necessary to make contact with your old transition and there are a lot of moving parts that will need to adjust. That’s okay – just keep hitting shots while thinking about ‘left hip’ and the other parts of your swing will start to correct themselves naturally.
This kind of transition applies to all of your clubs, and every full swing that you make on the course. Even if you are hitting a modified shot such as a punch, you will still want to make the same kind of transition. In this way, the golf downswing can be pretty simple – once you have it mastered for one club, you should have no trouble making it work with the rest of them.
One word of warning as you start to hit your longer clubs using a lower body-led transition – they take longer to swing. The longer a club is in terms of shaft length, the more time it will take to swing that club properly from start to finish. Therefore, your driver is the club that will take the longest to swing. Many golfers struggle with getting in a rush and cutting their driver swing short. Not only does this mistake hurt you from a distance perspective, but it will also make it rather difficult to get the ball on-line consistently.
A good golf downswing and good rhythm are two things that are forever connected and intertwined. You really can’t have one without the other. Rhythm is so important because it is what keeps everything working in the right order. As you start to take this swing out onto the course, there are going to be distractions that cloud your thinking as compared to hitting shots on the range. You will be thinking about the hazards sitting by the target, or about the score you need to make in order to beat your buddies. Whatever it is, your mind will rarely be as clear on the course as it is on the range. Because of this, you need to count on your rhythm to maintain order in your swing while your mind is distracted. Good tempo will come through for you in the clutch even if you are nervous or distracted. There is a reason that almost every golfer on the pro tours has such a beautiful tempo to watch – because it is a crucial part of being a good player.
A Few Related Points
The content above should give you a good idea of what you are trying to do with the golf downswing – especially during the crucial transition between the backswing and downswing. If you are able to start leading the downswing with your lower body, your power and consistently should quickly improve.
While the lower body rotation is the main point to understand for the downswing, there are a couple other things to keep in mind as well.
- Don’t swing too hard. It is true that the faster you rotate toward the target, the more speed you should be able to create in the swing. However, there is a limit to how fast you want to try and go without losing balance and the ability to hit the ball solidly. As a general rule of thumb, you should only turn toward the target at about 80% of your total maximum effort. Make a few practice swings on the driving range (without hitting a ball) where you completely turn the club loose at 100% and you will see why this isn’t a good idea on the course. It is difficult to maintain good timing at max effort, and your chances of finding the sweet spot go way down. Remain in control and value balance and timing over raw power.
- Footwork matters. You probably don’t think about the footwork in your golf swing very often, but it is actually quite important – especially as it relates to the downswing. Trying to keep your left foot flat on the ground throughout the swing is a good goal, as it will improve your traction and give you a stable base to rotate around. If you allow that left heel to come up off the ground during the downswing, your hip rotation will slow down and making solid contact will become much more difficult. Stay connected to the ground throughout the swing and you will feel a greater sense of control as well as power.
- Accept physical limitations. Every golfer is different in terms of their physical capabilities. If you watch video of the downswing of a PGA Tour player and expect to be able to copy it exactly, you might be disappointed with the results. Many of the players on Tour are great athletes who spend hours each day on their physical fitness – specifically their flexibility. Try to make the best swing that you can, but understand the fact that you have to remain within the limitations that your body sets out for you.
- Have no fear. Outside of technical mistakes, simple fear is the biggest thing that stands between most golfers and reaching their goals. When you start down toward the ball, it is imperative that you have complete confidence in what you are doing. That confidence should come from spending plenty of time on the practice range getting your mechanics ironed out. If you have doubts as to the swing you are making, it will be nearly impossible to get good results on the course. Believe in yourself, turn it loose, and expect good results for every single shot that you hit.
The downswing is where all of the hard work that you have put into the swing jumps into action and sends the ball flying toward the target. The key takeaway from the instruction above is to make sure you are leading the way with the rotation of your lower body toward the target. As long as you are doing that part right, and you are letting the club lag behind on the way down, you should be getting closer and closer to a productive swing.