While the idea of “feeling the clubhead” has been around forever, it's well down the list of golf's most-discussed instruction topics. If you can learn to feel the clubhead as you swing, however, you'll rank among a select – and skilled -- group of players.
Amateurs tend to grip the club with too much or too little pressure. An overly firm grip causes swing-slowing tension; grip too softly and you'll lack sufficient control of the club. In either case, your feel for the clubhead will be short-circuited.
Here's a simple way to understand the concept:
- Take any club and grip it normally.
- Hold the club in front of you so the shaft points straight up, perpendicular to the ground.
- You shouldn't feel the clubhead at all in this position.
- Now lower the club so it points directly in front of you, parallel to the ground.
- Here you should you feel the clubhead pulling downward, putting mild pressure on your wrists.
- Finally, hold the club at a 45° angle between the two positions.
- Provided your grip pressure is correct, that's the feeling you should have when swinging the club.
Develop a feel for the clubhead and you'll open a new world of shotmaking possibilities.
How Should the Clubhead Feel During the Golf Swing?
Golf is a feel game. Despite a recent movement toward a more analytical approach to swinging the club, the best players remain the ones who can feel the position of the club head at all times during the swing. That isn't to say that analyzing your swing and trying to improve mechanics is a waste of time – not at all. In reality, a blend of the two approaches is likely to lead to the greatest amount of success. If you can learn how to improve your swing from a technical standpoint while still maintaining great feel in your hands, you will be on a path toward some excellent golf.
In this article, we will address the matter of feeling the club head throughout the swing. This is a bit of a tricky point to teach, since feel is such a personal thing. However, by having a general idea of what you should be feeling at each point along the way during the swing, you should be able to get yourself on track. For instance, if your feel at a particular swing point is nothing like what is recommended, there is a good chance that something has gone wrong from a technical stand point.
Having feel in your golf swing will help to make you a better overall player, and it will make you a better player under pressure. If you are just trying to make a ‘paint by number' swing where you check off each position as you get to it, your mechanics are likely to fall apart when the nerves set in. That shouldn't happen if you have great feel for the club head all the way through your swing. Feel contributes to rhythm, and it is rhythm that will allow you to perform well even under pressure.
Before getting further into the discussion on feeling the club head in the golf swing, there is one point that needs to be made right off the top – it is important to have a light grip pressure while swinging the club. If you are squeezing tightly on the handle of the club, you are never going to have much of a feel for your swing or for the position of the club head. There simply is no reason to squeeze tightly on the club, as doing so will only lead to trouble. As long as you are holding on tight enough to maintain control throughout the swing, you should be good to go. Whether you are hitting a long drive from the tee or just a short putt only a few feet from the hole, your grip pressure should be light and relaxed throughout the round.
All of the instruction 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.
Feel at Address
Before the swing even begins, you should have a good feel for the club head at address. You want to feel the club head at address because that feel will help you get started with a smooth and gradual move away from the ball. Too many amateur players ‘rip' the club head back from address, which gets the swing off to a bad start in terms of rhythm and tempo. Instead of making that mistake, feel the weight of the club head as you stand over the ball and allow it to dictate how you get started.
That means that you are going to move slowly at first, feeling the club head hanging down from your hands in a relaxed fashion. There should be nothing at all rushed about your takeaway – it should be deliberate and effortless. It is the turning of your shoulders that is responsible for moving the club head back away from the ball, so you want to keep your hands out of the picture at this point. Not only will using your shoulders to move the club back help you stay on plane, it will also allow your hands to be ready to get involved when the moment is right (later on in the backswing).
One of the best ways to get more feel into your hands at address is through the use of a waggle. In golf parlance, a ‘waggle' is simply a back and forth motion that is made with the club head prior to starting the swing. To waggle the club properly, pick the head of the club up just slightly off the ground and move it back and forth with your hands and wrists. This is a great way to avoid tightening up before starting the swing, and it can also help you remember to keep a light grip pressure on the club. After just a few quick waggles, you can place the club head back down on the ground behind the ball and start your swing. All players waggle just a little bit differently, so this is actually something you will want to practice on the range until you find a waggle pattern that makes you comfortable and gets you ready to perform the swing correctly.
Another important element regarding feel at address relates to the timing of getting your swing underway. Commonly, amateur golfers will stand over the ball for an extended period of time, thinking about the shot or trying to decide exactly how to start the swing. When you freeze over the ball, the only thing that is going to happen is you will make it harder to get started with any kind of quality tempo. Think about other sports that you might play or watch on TV – do the athletes in those games freeze up before getting started? Of course not. A tennis player will move his or her feet rapidly before hitting a shot. A baseball player will rock back and forth and move his hands around until the pitch is on the way. No matter what sport it happens to be, the pre-action motion is perpetual. If you want to get your swing off to the best possible start, because sure to avoid the pre-shot freeze that catches so many players. Keep everything moving and maintain your feel for the club head until the swing gets underway.
Feel During the Backswing
Now that we have dealt with the address position, it is time to actually get the swing started. As mentioned above, the backswing should begin with a smooth rotation of your shoulders away from the target. It is extremely important that you don't engage your hands or wrists too early in the backswing, or you will lose your feel for the club head almost immediately. You want to feel the club hanging down as you gradually turn away. As your shoulders rotate, the club will move higher and higher off of the ground and it will start to feel heavier in your hands. At the point where the club shaft is parallel with the ground, the club should feel heavy as it is stretched out on a line that is running away from the target.
It is when you hit that parallel point that you should engage your hands and begin the process of setting the club. Once the club is roughly parallel to the ground, hinge your wrists vertically so that the club head moves up toward the sky. You don't have to rush this action, but you don't want to move too slowly either – ideally, you will have the club fully set by the time your left arm is parallel with the ground. Many golfers like to think of this process as ‘unweighting' the club. Where the club feels rather heavy while it is parallel to the ground, it will feel almost weightless when you have it set and pointing toward the sky.
That last sentence is really the key to how you should be feeling the club head during the backswing. Your feel should quickly go from having a heavy club in your hands to having one that weighs almost nothing. By the time the backswing is fully completed and you are ready to transition forward, the club should be light in your hands and ready to explode down into the ball. If you don't have the feeling that the club is light at the top of your swing, you need to work on doing a better job of setting your wrists in the middle of the backswing. Many amateur golfers never quite get the club set going back, and the club feels heavy throughout the swing as a result. While it should always feel heavy early in the swing, the best ball strikers tend to be those who can make the club feel lighter once they get deep into the backswing and the transition.
A good way to practice this concept is to make some half swings at the driving range without hitting any balls. For these half swings, you are going to move the club from address up to the point where your left arm is parallel with the ground. As instructed above, you should be making your takeaway with a smooth shoulder rotation, and your hands should only get involved when the club shaft is parallel with the ground on the way back. If executed correctly, these half swings should result in the club shaft pointing up to the sky while your left arm is level with the ground – if you aren't getting to this point, work back through your technique until you find the problem.
You can repeat these half swings over and over again as many times as you would like. If you can master this basic drill, you will be surprised at how easy the rest of the swing feels when you start to hit some balls once again. By getting into a great position in the backswing where the club head feels light in your hands, you should have no trouble finishing off the swing with power and confidence. The average amateur golfer fails to ‘unweight' the club going back correctly, so if you can hit on this point you will have a major advantage over your friends and competitors.
Feel During the Downswing
It is one thing to arrive at the top of the backswing in good shape – it is another thing entirely to take that good backswing and turn it into a solid golf shot. To do so, you need to make a great downswing that follows the basic fundamentals of the game. There is plenty of room for individual style during the backswing, but that isn't so much the case on the way forward. While swinging the club down into the ball, you want your mechanics to be in great shape so you can turn the club loose through the hitting area with confidence that it is going to head directly for your target.
Early in the downswing you want to feel the same thing you were feeling late in the backswing – a light club head. The club should be coming down with a rather steep shaft angle, meaning you aren't going to feel very much of the weight of the club head in your hands. As the club continues to fall, it will gradually pick up speed while heading in toward impact. By carrying that vertical shaft angle as deep into the downswing as possible, you will max out your potential swing speed.
Of course, you will eventually need to release the club if you are going to actually make contact with the ball. However, make sure this doesn't happen too early in the downswing. Many golfers make the mistake of releasing the club right from the top of the swing, which will make the club head feel heavy almost instantly. If you feel like you are dragging the club down toward impact – that is exactly what you are doing, and you are wasting potential speed in the process. As long as the club feels light in the downswing, especially in the early stages, you can feel good about what you are doing from a mechanical standpoint. It is when the club feels heavy right from the start of the move forward that you need to worry about technical flaws.
In addition to using your feel for the club head to detect problems early in your downswing, you can also use the help of video to identify any issues that need to be corrected. By asking someone to record your swing on video from the face-on angle, you will be able to see what your club is doing in the moments after the transition into the downswing. If possible, watch the swing in slow motion so you can see how long you are able to keep the shaft of the club coming down on a steep plane. If the shaft flattens out almost immediately after starting down, you will know that you are making the club heavy and you are wasting swing speed. Beyond spotting trouble with your transition and downswing, a video recording of your swing can also help you monitor balance, shoulder rotation, and more.
Should you find that you are struggling to keep the club head light in the downswing, try making some practice downswings with just your left hand on the club. To perform this drill, follow the simple steps below –
- Find a place to make some golf swings. You aren't going to be hitting any actual shots during this drill, so you don't even need to be at the course or the driving range – anywhere you can swing safely will be fine.
- To start, take your stance while holding one of your mid-irons. Be sure to take your normal stance and take your time to build a realistic address position.
- With your stance in place, start the swing and take the club all the way to the top. Remember to use the backswing tips included earlier in this article to ‘unweight' the club going back and get it set nicely when you reach the top of the swing.
- When you arrive at the top, pause and hold the club in position. At this point, you are going to drop your right hand off of the club (you can put your hand in your pocket or behind your back). While taking your right hand off the club, do your best to hold the left arm and the club perfectly still.
- With the right hand out of the way, complete the swing with only your left hand on the grip. Swing all the way up into a balanced finish and hold that position as if you were watching the ball fly.
- Repeat this drill as many times as you would like.
When making the one-handed downswings in this drill, the key is to feel like you are pulling down with the back of your left hand. Try to take the butt end of the club toward the ball as quickly as possible from the top and you will be going in the right direction. Since your right hand isn't on the club to get in the way, it will be much easier to resist the temptation of an early release. Of course, your downswing isn't going to be able to reach maximum velocity with only the left hand on the club, but this drill can do wonders for your technique. After completing plenty of successful repetitions, go ahead and make some normal swings with your right hand remaining on the club from start to finish.
Short Game Feel
Unlike in the full swing, you want the club head to feel heavy at all times in the short game. When playing shots from on or around the greens, you don't need to make a very big swing – so the club head should be hanging down the majority of the time. Even on moderate pitch shots from 20 or 30 yards, you still want to feel the club head the whole time. When you are able to feel the head with your hands at every point in the swing, you will stand a great chance of making solid contact on the sweet spot.
To have maximum feel for the club head in the short game, it is extremely important that you remember to keep your grip relaxed. This is a point that was mentioned earlier in relation to the full swing, but it might even be more important on the short shots. The short game is all about distance control, and you will have a very difficult time controlling the distance of your shots if you are squeezing tightly onto the handle. Since your swing will be short and won't contain very much speed, you shouldn't need to worry about losing control of the club even if you use a light grip. Spend time practicing on and around the greens with a relaxed grip to get comfortable with this technique.
The other way to learn how to feel the club properly is simply to practice as much as possible. Where the long game is largely about technique and mechanics, the short game is all feel, all the time. There are countless ways to move the ball up toward the hole, but you need to be extremely confident in whatever method you use. Confidence only comes through repetition, so time spent practicing short shots is time that will likely result in lower scores in the near future. The majority of amateur golfers make the mistake of prioritizing the long game over the short game – if you reverse that equation, you can achieve a significant advantage over the other players on the course.
The ability to feel the club head is an advanced skill that many golfers never achieve. However, if you are serious about your game and you want to take yourself to new levels of performance, it is a topic that you need to address. With the help of the content in this article, along with plenty of practice time, you should be able to achieve an increased awareness of the club head at all points throughout your swing.