Quick quiz: Which pair should initiate the backswing?
a) Hands and wrists
b) Arms and shoulders
The correct answer is b. Many golfers, however, start the swing with the hands and wrists, jerking the club away and sending everything out of whack.
The simplest way to start a sound backswing is with the left arm and shoulder (for right-handed players). By gently rotating away from the ball, the left side puts the club on plane and signals the left hip to turn in the same direction. The result is an efficient, in-sync swing that’s connected and coiled.
When the hands and wrists command the takeaway, the club is lifted into a steep, off-plane position. The arms, shoulders and hips move independently, robbing the golfer of power and forcing mid-swing compensations to bring the club on line.
Similar problems occur if the arms move separately from the shoulders. The big muscles (shoulders, hips, torso) fail to engage, leaving the arms to supply all power and direction. No matter how strong your biceps may be, they can’t perform a sound golf swing on their own.
Start Golf Swing
Watch any elite player and notice how effortlessly they swing the club. Good players understand the fundamentals of the swing and create an effortless power with the correct sequence of movements. The golf swing actually begins by setting up correctly. However, the takeaway is the beginning backswing.
An effortless swing begins with a low and slow takeaway. In fact, low and slow is a very common phrase used to describe the start of the golf swing. Bobby Jones once said, It is not possible to take the club back too slow, while Jack Nicklaus is famous for stating the takeaway is the most important 18 inches of the golf swing. Nearly every other PGA or LPGA player will agree on the importance of the start of the golf swing.
The golf swing is often broken down into a cause and effect relationship. Most mistakes in the downswing are the result of a poor set up or backswing. There are several incorrect and excessive movements before the club is even waist high. Common mistakes in the takeaway include picking the club up too quick or snatching the club back too fast. Remember, you never hit the ball going back during the backswing. However, snatching the club back quickly will potentially pull the club and body completely out of position. Getting set at the top of the backswing correctly increases the likelihood of the club head returning with a square club face at impact.
Learn how to start the golf swing with a low and slow takeaway. Begin the takeaway by allowing the bigger muscles to initiate the movement as the left shoulder starts the club back. Avoid using the hands or wrists in the beginning movement. The takeaway continues while the club head travels back as low as possible for as long as possible. Therefore, the hands stay low while the club head is traveling back. The slow tempo promotes the correct sequence of movements during the rest of the swing.
The lower body creates minimal movements during the takeaway. In fact, most movements begin once the club reaches waist high when the wrists hinge, hips rotate and shoulder creates a wider turn. The lower body provides the necessary stability for efficient and powerful golf shots.
The club face should remain in a square position in the set up and maintained throughout the swing. Grip the club correctly since your hands have a direct impact on the club face position throughout the swing. A weak grip will potentially leave the club face open while a strong grip will likely close the club face throughout the swing. During the takeaway, the left arm stays straight and extends back. When the club is parallel with the ground the left thumb and toe of the club should point up toward the sky. Additionally, the back of the left hand should face in front of you rather than up toward the sky or down toward the ground.
Swing the club head straight back from the ball to start the swing. This motion is created by pushing the left arm back to start the takeaway. Swing faults occur when the club head begins to swing back inside or outside the target line. In addition, a common mistake during the takeaway results in a pulling motion from the right side rather than the desired pushing motion of the left hand and arm.
How to Start Golf Swing
Ask any professional golfer or instructor and they will put emphasis that the takeaway can make or break the golf swing. Starting the swing correctly is imperative for solid golf shots. It is fairly simple to start off correctly and extremely difficult to recover from incorrect movements.
Many amateurs create extra unnecessary movements or just over think the golf swing. Keep the movement as simple as possible with a one piece takeaway. In fact, one of the common misconceptions of how to start the golf swing surrounds the concept of a one piece takeaway. The one piece takeaway refers to the start of the swing and continues to the point when the club is parallel to the ground and target line. When the arm and club is parallel to the ground, the hands are positioned approximately level with the hips and wrists are straight or slightly hinged.
The first part of the one piece takeaway begins with the arms swinging the club back while the shoulders begin to rotate. The central aspect of the one piece takeaway requires no hinging of the wrists and separation of the hands and arms from the front of the body. It is essential the lower body, including the hips, knees and feet, remain still and balanced throughout the one piece takeaway. The head stays almost stationary with only a slight move to the right during the backswing. Therefore, avoid the head, left shoulder or weight to shift to the left during the one piece take away. There is a significant swing fault if the body is moving toward the target during the backswing.
Common errors of the one piece takeaway involve additional movements to the relatively simple motion. Creating stability in the lower body is essential for solid shots. Therefore, avoid allowing the club to move inside or behind the body with any early or excessive hip rotation during the takeaway. Consequently, the arms separate from the body and fail to catch up and work cohesively. When the arms can not catch up shots tend to push right of the intended target.
Another common swing fault of how to start the golf swing results from an early wrist hinge. Hinging early causes the club to swing up on a vertical plane and away from the body. The vertical plane leads to a steep downswing with an outside to inside swing path. The vertical plane leads to several potential pitfalls rather than a fundamentally sound golf swing.
Finally, flexing the left knee leads to a reverse pivot where the weight remains on the left side at the top of the backswing. The weight then moves to the right during the downswing resulting in an avalanche of incorrect and excessive movements. A key check point of the one piece takeaway occurs when the shaft is parallel to the ground and target line the left knee should not drip down or bend forward. Again, try to limit any lower body movement during the takeaway. Once the one piece takeaway is completed, the left knee should remain stationary, the wrists will start to hinge and the club and arms are parallel to the ground and target line. As the hands raise up the hips will begin to rotate, therefore allowing the arms and body to cohesively and efficiently work together throughout the swing.
Starting the Golf Swing
Have you ever heard the saying, The first mistake is the worst mistake? Starting the golf swing efficiently increases the likelihood of setting the club correctly at the top of the backswing. When the club is set properly at the top, it becomes much easier to correctly return to impact. Some of my favorite drills can be performed on the practice range or the comfort of your own home. The following drills demonstrate the necessary sequence of movements for starting the golf swing correctly.
Shake with the Left Hand
Begin by placing a club on the ground to represent the target line. Continue with the correct set up position where the feet are shoulder width, slight knee flex and proper spine angle at the hips. Basically the same set up position without a club in your hand. Allow the left arm to hang straight down and place the right arm at your side. The left thumb points directly in front of you while the outside of the left hand faces the target. Take the left hand and reach to the left like you are about to shake someone’s hand. The left hand stays low while the left arm extends straight back.
Once the left arm is parallel with the ground (and club representing the target line) the left thumb points up toward the sky and the outside of the left hand is faces in front of you. The only movement is the left arm and shoulder moving, identical to the start of the golf swing.
The lower body does not create any vertical or lateral movements. Stability in the swing is the result of the lower body providing only the necessary movements to keep balance and create power. This drill is an easy way to ingrain the proper movements necessary to start the golf swing.
Low and Slow Takeaway
Tempo is also a major concern for a repeatable swing. A slow and smooth start helps develop a consistent takeaway. Practice the low and slow takeaway by placing a tee on the target line approximately 20 inches behind a ball. Set up in a normal position to the golf ball and swing the club back, focusing on striking the tee by extending the club head back low and slow. The goal is to swing the club back as low as possible for as long as possible. The club head should hit the tee to assure you are starting the backswing correctly. In addition, the takeaway drill addresses the correct swing path. If the club head misses the tee to the right or left then the swing path is too far outside or inside. If the club head swings over the tee then you picked the club head up too quickly. Focus on swinging the club head straight back the target line low enough to hit the tee.
There are several variations to the takeaway drill. Another popular drill requires you to take your normal set up position. Place a ball 6 inches behind the club head on the target line. Next, swing the club back and push the ball back two or three feet down the target line. Again, this drill requires the club head to remain as low as possible for as long as possible.
Square the Club Face Drill
Avoid the first mistake by learning how to keep the club face square throughout the entire swing. Mistakes are often multiplied due to a previous error which ultimately force compensations throughout the swing. Common mistakes during the takeaway include rotating the hands and turning the club face back resulting in an open club face. When the face opens during the backswing there must be an opposite movement to close the club face on the downswing to avoid a slice. As result, it becomes difficult to square the club face. This leads to additional mistakes such as the arms and club return above the original shaft angle (shaft points into belt buckle), while the body opens up and left shoulder points left of the intended target.
This drill focuses on how to start the golf swing with a square club face. Take a normal set up with a club and place tee in between the thumb and index finger on the glove hand. Next, initiate the backswing and keep the tee pointed out toward the target line. Do not allow the tee to point back, rather only in front of you. The glove hand should remain above the other hand and the club face should feel as if it’s pointed toward the ground.
The drill will eliminate mistakes in the takeaway help maintain a square club face throughout the swing.
Start Golf Swing with Shoulder Turn
One of the key aspects of any good golf swing is completing a full shoulder turn. Starting the golf swing with a shoulder turn helps create a longer swing that leads to additional club head speed and power. Players who fail to generate a good shoulder turn often create a wild slice.
Powerful golf swings are developed with a full shoulder turn. When players pick the club up rather than a shoulder turn the arms separate from the body. Once the arms and body are out of sync there is a significant loss of power and consistency. Remember, the golf swing is meant to create a rotational move that swings the club around the body in a circle and not vertically move that picks the club up and down.
Starting the golf swing with a shoulder turn should be a simple movement. Take a natural set up position with a club in your hand. Notice the amount of space between your chin and left shoulder. The left shoulder turns to the right and completes the turn under the chin at the top of the backswing. That initial space between the left shoulder and chin completely disappears when the left shoulder completes a full 90 degree turn and your back faces the target. Once the backswing is completed correctly is it much easier to make a consistent and repeatable downswing. The gap that disappears between the left shoulder and chin during the backswing returns at the impact position.
Now with the basic understanding of the shoulder turn in the golf swing the following drill explains how to start the golf swing with a shoulder turn. Perfect practice makes perfect so make sure you mimic the golf swing and avoid any lateral swaying or standing up and out of the original spine angle position. Begin with a normal set up position and place the club along your chest nearly even with your shoulders. Cross your arms and hold the club in place. The club and your shoulders should point toward the target in the set up position. Now simple turn your left shoulder to the right and under your chin. Try to achieve a 90 degree angle with your left shoulder in the drill. The club and left shoulder will point directly in front of you. However, be careful not to over rotate your hips in the process. The hips should movement is delayed while the shoulders begin their turn.
The correlation between the shoulders and hips can produce and powerful and consistent swing. Jim McLean developed what is known as the X factor. The original X factor is the differential between the hips and shoulders at the top of the swing. Therefore, the greater the differential the more power you create.
Achieving a desirable stretch between the shoulders and hips requires you to start the golf swing with a shoulder turn. Under the premise of the X factor avoid over rotating the hips with a full shoulder turn. Remember if you want to create an efficient and repeatable golf swing less is more. The more extra and bigger movements created going back must be undone during the downswing. The second part of the X factor requires the hips to fire through impact with the shoulders and clubs lagging behind, similar to nearly every PGA Tour player. Impact is the magic moment, however, efficient movements lead to more powerful, consistent and accurate golf shops.
Start Golf Swing with Left Shoulder
Depending on who you talk with the start of the golf swing is an ongoing debate. Some believe you start the golf swing with the left shoulder while others believe the hands or left arm initially make the first move. Either way, you may be correct. However, make sure to avoid pulling the club back with the right side of your body. If the swings first move occurs with the left arm the left shoulder eventually turns at the same time. Since the arms are connected to the shoulder, they move along with the shoulder turn. Essentially you want a cohesive movement with the left shoulder and arm to start moving the club head away from the ball. However, the lower body should remain still at the beginning of the swing. The hips will not rotate until the one piece takeaway is completed.
Sean Foley, Tiger Woods’s former swing coach, instructs the start of the golf swing with the left shoulder while the arm swing coincides with the shoulder turn. Foley wants students to utilize the hands and arms moving in sequence with the rotation of the upper torso. He firmly believes all three move together until the left arm is parallel to the ground.
Learning the correct shoulder turn can be achieved with practice. An easy way to think of the correct movement of the shoulders is to visualize a triangle in the set up position between the arms and shoulders. This triangle stays intact throughout the set up, backswing and downswing. The idea is to keep the elbows close together for a compact and efficient swing. During the takeaway motion, the left shoulder will turn to the right while the right shoulder will move back to the left. In fact, the left shoulder should feel a forward shift to help keep the club on the correct plane. The left shoulder moves from the set up position and completes a 90 degree turn under the chin.
Sam Snead used an effective drill to practice his backswing and create a perfect shoulder turn. Snead’s drill promotes stability, full shoulder turn and creates the prototypical backswing position. Best of all, you can actually hit balls from this position.
Begin with your normal set up. Next, raise your arms and lay the club on the right shoulder. Start the golf swing with the left shoulder and turn to the right and stay in your original spine angle (avoid any extra movements such as straightening the leg, standing up or swaying back to the right). Once you complete the turn, push your arms away from the body and extend them back. This places you in the perfect shoulder turn and backswing position. Additionally, you should feel the correct stretch where your back faces the target at the top of the backswing. Now you are ready to start the downswing. Practice the drill inside during the cold months or outside and hit balls from the correct shoulder turn and backswing position.
While the golf swing is a very complex movement it can be simplified with only efficient and necessary movements. Start the golf swing with the left shoulder turn and left arm and most importantly avoid lower body movement at the start of the swing. Limiting extra steps will help lead to more consistent and accurate shots.