That headline may have caused you to do a double-take.
Indeed, the concept of starting down before you've finished going up seems to defy logic.
Indeed it does, unless you separate golf the swing into upper-body and lower-body segments. The idea is to begin shifting the hips toward the target while the shoulders and arms are still taking the club to the top. Does it make more sense now?
Now let's move to the “why.” An early hip turn toward the target creates separation between the upper and lower body; great power is stored in this coil. When the shoulders and chest snap back in response to the hips' movement, the power is unleashed.
Watch 2013 FedEx Cup winner Henrik Stenson for a fine example of this subtle action. It's a major key to his prowess with the driver and irons. It's certainly not the easiest swing technique to emulate and ingrain, but if you've got the time to work on it, your practice will pay off in longer, straighter shots.
Use this drill to ease the transition to your new downswing sequence; start with a mid-iron and no golf ball:
- Place your feet a couple of inches apart and set up in your usual posture.
- Take the club back slowly; when the clubhead has moved 12” – 15” from its address position, gently lift your left (lead) foot off the ground.
- As your arms continue rising, move the left foot toward the target. This engages the hips to shift to the left.
- Place the left foot on the ground under your left shoulder, as it would be in your normal stance. You'll feel weight pressing into the ground through your left leg, with the knee flexing a little.
- Try several repetitions without finishing the backswing, stopping when your left foot meets the turf.
- When you can do this smoothly, move on to completing these slow, short swings all the way through. As you become more comfortable, add a little length and speed to each swing.
- Got the hang of it? Good. Move on to hitting golf balls using the same steps.
Be patient – you won't nail this move in one practice session. But with regular reps, it will become automatic before you know it.
So will better, more consistent golf.
How and Why Downswing Starts Before Backswing Ends
The golf swing is one continuous motion. Despite the fact that it has to change directions at the halfway point, your swing should look flowing and smooth from start to finish. Players who are able to 'even out' the transition of the swing will be the ones who can develop plenty of power while also staying on balance and delivering the club accurately into the ball. Those who are unable to make a smooth transition, however, will be left with an awkward swing that lacks speed and typically leads to poor contact.
As you might suspect, the concept of beautifully transitioning the backswing into the downswing is one that the average professional golfer has mastered. This is why the pro golfers you see on TV are able to make such effortless-looking swings while still hitting the ball 300 yards or more with regularity. The rhythm that they maintain from the start of the swing through to the finish is incredible to watch, and it leads them to some amazing shot making out on the course.
On the other hand, most amateur golfers are not nearly as adept at this part of the game. Rather, they struggle to make a clean move from backswing to downswing, instead hesitating or even pausing as they try to get all of the necessary pieces in order. You can almost see the average golfer thinking about how to move through the transition as they make the swing – and that is obviously no way to play great golf. The swing should be natural, automatic, and comfortable. Unfortunately, those are not words that are commonly used to describe the swings seen on the driving range and a public golf course on Saturday morning.
The best way to bring fluidity to your golf swing is by starting the downswing before the backswing has actually finished. What does that mean? It means that your lower body should start moving left toward the target (for a right handed player) prior to your arms having completed the backswing. Going through the transition in this way will allow you to turn your swing into a single, fluid action rather than a series of steps. Since the downswing will already have started when your hands arrive at the top, the club and your arms will naturally be pulled down into position automatically as a result of your lower body motion. When done correctly, this is a beautiful move that leads to powerful shots.
To learn this move, you are going to need to dedicate yourself to some serious practice time. This is not the kind of change that you can make with just a quick range session or two – you should plan on needing several range sessions (at the very least) to become comfortable with this technique. However, if you are willing to put in that effort and be patient through the process, you could be left with a great golf swing when you are finished.
All of the instruction contained 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.
The First Step Is Proper Mechanics
Before you can time up your transition just right, you first need to make sure you have the right fundamentals in place in your swing. After all, if you aren't really using your lower body in the downswing anyway, it won't matter how to try to time the transition – you still aren't going to hit the mark. Learn all of the proper moves to get the club from address up to the top of the swing and back again, and then worry about the timing.
Following is a list of the basic points that are going to need to be present in your swing if you are going to have success with your transition. You may already be hitting on some (or all) of these points in your current swing, but it is important to review them nonetheless. Once you feel confident that you have each of these points covered, feel free to move on to the next section.
- Balance. This is the starting point for everything in golf. Without balance, you really have nothing in your swing. Balance is important from the start all the way through to the finish, but the top of your swing is a good point to check on the status of your weight distribution. Many golfers think that they should have 'shifted' their weight onto the right side by the top they get to the top of the swing, but that simply isn't true. Instead, you want to stay nicely balanced all the way to the top, and your weight should be split 50/50 between your feet when you transition down. Work on keeping yourself centered throughout the backswing and the downswing will get much easier.
- Big shoulder turn. Without a good shoulder turn, you won't have the separation necessary between your upper body and lower body to execute the transition properly. Ideally, you will be able to turn your shoulders to the point where your left shoulder is behind the golf ball. If you can do this without losing your balance, a powerful strike should be soon to follow.
- Hip rotation. This is really the key when it comes time to start down toward the ball. After making a balanced, controlled backswing, you need to be able to start the downswing with your lower body by turning your hips toward the target. If you can't make this move, you won't be able to start the downswing before the backswing is finished. This is the move that you see professional golfers making on every swing, and you should be doing your best to follow their lead. As your hips open toward the target, you should be moving your weight to the left and the club should be falling into the 'slot'. Once this hip rotation is started, there should be nothing left to do except swing down confidently and watch the ball sail toward the target.
With balance, a good shoulder turn going back, and an aggressive hip turn going forward, there is no limit to what you can accomplish on the course. Once those three elements are present in your swing on a regular basis, you can move on to learning how to stitch them all together just right.
Master the Timing
Now that the right pieces have come together, you need to get them working in the right order – and at precisely the right time. The best way to think about this part of the golf swing process is to compare it to a band or orchestra. Each instrument within the band has its own part to play within a song. However, it isn't good enough for the instruments to just play their part – they have to play in time with the rest of the instruments in the group. If each instrument just played their own part with no regard for the timing of the rest, the final result would be terrible. Only when the instruments are synced up perfectly will the end result be the beautiful music that everyone wants to hear.
Think of the parts of your swing as the instruments within a band. They have to all play nicely with one another if you are going to be successful on the course. With each part of the swing doing its job at the right time, the big picture of the swing can come together and you can strike quality shots all day long. For the purposes of this article, there is one piece of the timing puzzle that we are going to focus on specifically – the relationship between the end of your backswing and the start of your downswing. This is the most important timing element within the whole swing, and getting this part right will mean you can hit the ball where you are looking more often than not.
So the question is this – when should your downswing start, in relation to your backswing? Ideally, your downswing motion, which is started by your hip turn toward the target, will start a split second before your backswing is finished. As your hands are closing in on the top of your swing arc, your hip should begin to turn toward the target and the downswing will be underway. There should be an overlap of just a fraction of a second, so that your swing never really 'stops' at the top. Sure, your hands will have to stop to change direction, but your hips will have already started so that they can continue the motion on into the downswing.
Unfortunately, the nature of golf dictates that it is impossible to attach a specific amount of time to this overlap in your backswing and downswing. For instance, you can't say that your downswing should start two tenths of a second before the backswing finishes, because it would be impossible to quantify that out on the course. You wouldn't be able to measure the swing that accurately, and even if you could, your body wouldn't be able to react quick enough to do anything with the information.
In order to use this kind of timing in your swing, you are going to have to learn how to 'feel' it properly. You will have to feel how the two parts of the swing should overlap, so that eventually you know automatically when to start the downswing without any prompting. This isn't something that you want to be thinking about during the swing since it happens so fast. It should be installed into your mechanics on the driving range to the point where you can simply execute it over and over again on the course. Most golfers never reach the point of learning how to reliably start their downswing before the backswing has even finished – if you can get to that point with your game, you will love the results.
Practicing the Move
You are going to need to practice the connection between your hip turn and the top of your backswing if you want to be able to execute it correctly on the course. It isn't just a matter of walking out onto the first tee and thinking about starting your downswing before your backswing finishes – you have to rehearse this move as frequently as possible in order to add it to your game successfully. Nothing comes easy in golf, but the progress you do make will be rewarding when it arrives on your scorecard in the form of a lower total.
In order to get a good feeling for how this move works, you want to slow everything down to the point where you can actually think about it as it is happening. In a full-speed swing, you don't have nearly enough time to process the moves you are making while they are underway. However, by slowing down your swing, you can take everything one step at a time until it all makes sense and comes together in your head. Then, with the concept in place, you can gradually add speed into the process until you are making full swings with excellent technique.
To get started, follow the steps below during your next trip to the driving range.
- On the range, set out a bucket of balls and grab one of your short irons. It doesn't really matter which of the irons you choose to use – anything from an eight iron on down to a sand wedge will do the job just fine. It should be a club that you are comfortable with, and it should be a club that you can hit at least 80 yards or so in the air with a full swing.
- Before hitting your first shots, pick out a target that is only a short distance away from where you are standing. Most driving ranges don't have too many targets within close range of the tee line, but there is likely something at around the 50-yard mark that you can use. This target will be your intended line for all of the shots that you hit during the drill – don't worry about coming up short or going long over the target, as the purpose is just to track the line of the ball rather than its carry distance.
- For your first shot, you are going to make a full swing, but only at a fraction of the speed you would normally put into the shot. In other words, the club is going to trace the complete arc that it would usually make in your swing, but at half speed or even less. It will be awkward to swing this slowly at first, so make several practice swings before you even attempt to hit a ball.
- As you are making these slow swings, focus your attention solely on the transition. Remember, as the club is approaching the end of the backswing, you want to start your left hip in motion toward the target. Since you are moving slow, it should be much easier to time this out just right as compared to when you are going at full speed. Repeat this move over and over again, starting your hip to the left prior to the club getting all the way back. With experience, this move will become more and more comfortable for you to execute.
- You should be watching for two things with in the results of these initial shots – the quality of the contact you are making at the bottom of the swing, and the line that the ball is taking in the air. If you are striking the ball cleanly and holding a good line, you can be sure that you are executing nicely. If, however, you are hitting the ball fat routinely, you probably need to work on a more aggressive lower body move through the shot.
- As the practice sessions moves along, you should be able to gradually increase the speed of your swing. Don't try to go from half speed to full speed – instead, work your way up faster and faster a bit at a time while using the same club. Eventually, you will get to the point where you are making your full swing at top speed and you can perform the hip rotation at just the right moment. If you feel like you are losing control of the process anywhere along the way, stop and slow yourself down again to get back on track. This isn't something that you are going to conquer in just a single practice session, but you should be able to make a little bit of progress during each trip to the range.
There is no progress made in golf without practice. No matter what you might read or see on TV, you can't find a 'magic' tip or trick that will make you a better player. It takes hard work to become a quality golfer, and part of that work is improving the connection between your hip rotation and the top of your backswing.
Most of this process is going to come down to technique. You need to understand the right technique, and then you need to do the work that will install that technique into your swing. The way you move through the transition is one of the key fundamentals in the swing, so you will struggle to play well without hammering out this item.
However, in addition to technique, there is a mindset that you need to have as well. When you are standing over the ball preparing to hit a shot, you need to 'feel' smooth and relaxed prior to starting the swing. The golf swing should not be an angry, harsh action – it should be rhythmic and beautiful to watch. Too many amateur golfers attempt to overpower the golf ball, and the results are disappointing to say the least. Allow your swing to naturally build speed and the results will be greatly improved.
This kind of attitude should be carried over throughout the rest of your game as well. When you are on the greens, for instance, you should be relaxed and thinking about simply rolling the ball gently toward the cup. You can't force your putts to go in, no matter how much you may want to. Let the action come to you, both in the full swing and the short game. This has proven over the years to be an extremely difficult concept for amateur players to grasp, however you can get to that place if you focus on making it happen. Instead of making it your goal to smash 300 yard drives or hit towering iron shots, make it a goal to have a relaxed and confident mindset while standing over the ball each time.
Part of the problem in this case is that the typical amateur player doesn't believe that their mindset or attitude actually has that much to say about the outcome of the shots. Most players think golf is only about technique, so they grind away on the range trying to master their moves. Technique will always be important, but it will never be the only thing that determines how your shots travel through the air. Timing is a crucial part of the swing, and good timing only comes from being in the right state of mind.
Simply put, the downswing should have already started before the backswing has been completed. If you are not reaching that goal successfully in your swing, the content above should be of some assistance. Remember to learn how to use your hips in the swing before going any farther in this process, and take it slow at first until your body learn the correct order of operations. It won't necessarily be easy to teach yourself how to start up the downswing before the backswing is over, but if you can do it, longer and straighter shots will likely be your reward.