Generating power in the golf swing is all about storing and releasing energy. It's a concept that's lost on most amateurs, but mastered by the pros.
Storing energy happens on the backswing, when the shoulders, torso and hips – the “big muscles” – rotate away from the ball. Energy is released with the uncoiling of these parts on the downswing, bringing the arms, hands and clubs into the impact zone with accelerating speed.
What happens in the instant between backswing and downswing is the key to maximizing your energy usage.
Watch Swedish golf star Henrik Stenson, preferably in slow motion. Notice that while his arms are still moving to complete the backswing, his lower body shifts back toward the target. This minute move creates tremendous tension in his midsection; the shoulders and arms are “whipped” downward by the force of his lower body. Next thing you know, Pow! Stenson has launched a 320-yard drive.
This move may look and sound relatively simple, but time it wrong and things can go haywire. In other words, it takes a good deal of practice to get a feel for how it's done, and to make it a natural part of your swing.
As always, we won't send you to the range without a drill for learning this power-boosting move. In fact, you can work on it in your living room or back yard:
- Stand as though hitting a normal golf shot with a mid-iron (but without a ball), then move your feet just a couple of inches apart.
- On the takeaway, slowly lift your left foot completely off the ground as the clubhead moves about one foot behind the ball. Do this without stopping your backswing.
- As the arms continue rising, move your left foot slowly toward the target; when the foot is below your left shoulder, put it back on the ground.
- At this point, focus on feeling your weight pressing into the ground beneath your left foot; make sure your left knee is slightly flexed as well.
- Stop right there. Your hands should be at or near the top of your backswing.
- Repeat the same motion several times without swinging down. When you can do this smoothly, try making full swings the same way.
- Once the drill feels fairly comfortable, move on to hitting some very soft shots, and proceed from there.
Expect this motion to seem awkward at first, but keep working on it. If you can master this intricate move, you'll hammer the ball with effortless power.
Why Start Downswing Before Finishing Backswing?
On the surface, it would seem like the backswing and the backswing are two completely separate components of your overall swing. You finish the backswing, then you worry about making your downswing, right? Not so fast. In a good golf swing, these two elements are actually going to overlap during the transition. In order to strike the ball with plenty of power and the consistency needed to post low scores, you will need to start the downswing before the backswing has even been completed.
You may not be surprised to learn that this is a point which most amateur golfers struggle to master. There is plenty to think about during the swing anyway, so few players find a way to overlap their backswing and downswing properly. In the pro ranks, however, this is a move which is seen across the board. You won't find a pro golfer who doesn't have this move mastered, as it is essential for quality play. Have ever noticed how the golf swings of the pros look effortless and powerful at the same time? They are able to achieve that look thanks to this smooth transition. The pros don't have to violently jerk the club down toward the ball because they are building speed throughout the swing which will be maximized perfectly at the moment of impact.
Power is a big part of the reason why you want to start your downswing prior to completing the backswing, but it is far from the only motivator. This type of transition is also going to allow you to strike the ball cleanly on a consistent basis. There is a nice rhythm created in the swing when you overlap the two phases of your swing – and that rhythm will make it easier to hit the ball solidly. Tempo can be hard to find in this game, so you should take it any way you can get it. From the driver all the way down through the wedges, overlapping your back and forward moves is a great way to iron out any rough edges in your swing.
One of the other advantages to this type of swing is the way it will help you perform from round to round. Many amateur golfers complain of wild inconsistencies in their game – they will play rather well one day, only to be completely hopeless during their next round. This is frustrating, to say the least. Most likely, if you struggle with this kind of inconsistency, your swing is lacking the necessary rhythm to repeat itself over and over again. To even out those 'bumps in the road', try learning how to start your downswing before your backswing has finished. If you do so successfully, you should find that your scores are more predictable from round to round – and you will have very few bad days on the course as a result.
All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Top and Bottom
You can overlap these two parts of your swing thanks to the fact that they are performed by different parts of the body. Your upper body is in charge of the backswing, while it is your lower body that is responsible for bringing the backswing to life. While most amateur players understand that they need to use their shoulders to perform the backswing, fewer realize that the lower body needs to jump into action during the transition. If you only take one point away from this article, let it be this – your lower body needs to power your downswing time after time. With your legs and hips leading the charge forward, your swing will be more powerful than ever before.
To start your downswing before the backswing has finished, your job is actually quite simple – you need to begin the action of turning your hips toward the target before your shoulders have finished turning to the right. When you read it in the previous sentence, it sounds easy. And, for some, it is easy. However, not all golfers take to this point naturally, so you need to be committed to putting in some hard work if you are going to successfully learn this important move.
Later in this article, we will get into the specifics of how you can add this element to your swing. Before we get there, however, it is important to highlight a few general points related to this technique. Review the list below before getting ready to try this type of swing out for yourself.
- Be smooth. You can't execute this move properly if you are trying to rush through your golf swing. Resist the temptation to hurry through the swing, and instead remain smooth from start to finish. Remember, the ball isn't going anywhere until you hit it. Unlike other sports, such as baseball or tennis, you don't have to time your swing to react to the arrival of the ball. You have all the time you need, so take your time and let the swing build gradually from start to finish. Players with smooth swings tend to perform more consistently day after day.
- Don't try to smash the ball. Every golfer wants to hit the ball farther. However, distance is not the only important element of the game. In fact, it isn't even the most important element, as you should always prefer accuracy to power on the course. Short hitters who are extremely accurate always have a chance to play well, while long hitters who have no control over the ball are always going to struggle. Put your ego aside, forget about smashing the ball as hard as possible, and use your smooth swing to propel the ball toward the target.
- Stay down. Some amateur golfers feel compelled to come up on their toes as the backswing turns into the downswing. You need to resist such a temptation. By coming up onto your toes, you will make it nearly impossible for your lower body to function properly. Instead, stay down flat on your feet while rotating aggressively toward the target with your hips. If you can successfully eliminate any upward motion from your swing at the top, you will be a better ball striker when impact rolls around.
In addition to the points above, the rest of your swing should be in relatively good shape before you start working on overlapping your transition properly. For instance, you should have good balance in your swing, you should have a comfortable grip, and you should be able to reach a full finish position after each shot. If there are any glaring problems within your technique at the moment, fix those first and then move on to the timing of your backswing and downswing.
Making It Happen
Now that the groundwork has been laid, we are ready to head out to the range to work on this point. As with any other change you attempt to make in your golf game, you are going to need to be willing to work hard to bring this idea into reality. It is one thing to read about a certain technique or mechanic in an article – it is quite another thing to successfully implement it, first on the range and then on the course. You can do it, of course, but you shouldn't expect it to be easy.
When you have arrived at the range for your practice session, follow the steps below to get started working on this key swing ingredient.
- Take your seven iron from the bag and set up with a spot to hit and a bucket full of balls. For the purposes of this drill, you are only going to be using your seven iron. As you make progress with this move, you can gradually move up to longer and longer clubs. Don't be in a hurry, however, as trying to rush the process is only going to be a recipe for frustration and failure.
- With your seven iron in hand, pick out a target on the range that you can use for each of your shots. It doesn't particularly matter how far away the target may be, as you are only going to be worried about getting the ball online. As long as you are hitting your shots relatively straight, you can worry about dialing in your distance later on.
- Now that you have a target in your sights, set up for your first shot. Take your address position as usual, paying careful attention to your alignment. The ability to align yourself properly with a target is critical in golf, so you never want to waste a chance to work on that skill.
- With your stance set, start the swing and process through your backswing as usual. Take the club most of the way up toward the top, stopping just before you have finished your turn away from the target. Stop your swing just a bit before the top of the backswing, and hold in that position.
- From your still position near the top, you are going to initiate the backswing by turning your hips toward the target. It is imperative that you do not move your hands down toward the ball at the same time. You want to keep your hands back while your hips start to do their part. Begin your rotation toward the target as your hands hang back, and only allow your hands (and the club) to start forward when they are pulled into motion by the lower body. You shouldn't actively be swinging the club down toward the ball – the downswing should be a reaction to what is happening in your lower body.
- Continue on through impact into a balanced finish position. After you have watched the ball fly, set up again and hit another shot. Continue to hit shots with this pause at the top until you are finished with your practice session. Once you have decided that you have hit enough shots with the pause, remove that element from the swing and hit some standard shots. Hopefully, what you have learned from the drill will help you to overlap your backswing and downswing correctly.
By breaking your swing into two sections during this drill, you will have a chance to think through what you need to do before actually doing it. The full speed golf swing doesn't allow for that kind of time, which is why it is important to perform this drill frequently at the start of the process. As you hit more and more shots by breaking up your backswing and downswing, you will begin to get comfortable with the overlap at the top. Pretty soon, you will no longer need to overlap, and you will be able to make a beautiful swing as one continuous motion.
We would love to tell you that your experience with this progress will be all sunshine and roses. You should know better, however, because that's just not how golf works. This is one of the hardest games in the world, and progress never comes easy. If you are going to improve, there are going to be bumps along the way. Those bumps are frustrating, but they also make it that much more rewarding when you come out on the other side.
So what kind of challenges are you likely to face during this process? Check out the list below.
- Timing issues. It is always hard when you change anything to do with the timing of your swing. Even if your current swing isn't great, it still has an inherent timing that you are going to change when you start to overlap your backswing and backswing. As you work through this process, you can expect the swing to feel 'awkward' for an extended period of time. This is perfectly normal. In fact, you should want your swing to feel uncomfortable while making a change. If the swing feels comfortable the whole time, you won't really be making any changes. Seek out those uncomfortable, awkward feelings, as they are sure signs that you are exploring new territory with your technique.
- Missing to the right. If you allow your lower body to slide toward the target, rather than rotating to the left as it should, you are likely to miss your shots to the right. Remember, the lower body action you are looking for is an aggressive rotation to the left – not a slide. There is no place for a slide in your golf swing, in either direction. The golf swing is all about rotation, and that is especially true when it comes to the action of your lower body in the downswing. If you find yourself missing right time after time with this new swing, make sure you are rotating properly rather that sliding your weight onto your left foot.
- Rushing the swing. As has been mentioned previously, you need to avoid rushing your golf swing in any situation. When trying to engage your lower body before your upper body has finished its turn away from the target, you are going to be tempted to rush. Unfortunately, rushing through the top of your swing is a sure way to ruin your game. You have to be patient, and you have to let the swing develop naturally. To help yourself get into a patient frame of mind, try taking a deep breath before you walk up to take your stance. This deep breath should help you to relax, and you may be less likely to rush as a result.
- Hitting a hook. Yes, this would be basically the opposite of the point above on missing your shots to the right. However, it is possible to both miss to the right and hit hooks when working on this new move. When you hit a hook, it is a safe bet that you have allowed your upper body to lean back away from the target in the downswing. This is another common mistake while trying to use the lower body aggressively. While your lower body is turning, keep your upper body in its posture so you can strike down on the ball cleanly at impact. If you let your right shoulder drop, your path will come too far from the inside and a hook will be the likely outcome.
In reality, you could have a wide range of problems come your way when you begin to add this move to your swing. Should you turn back at the first sign of a struggle when trying to make this change? Of course not. Stick with it, be as patient as possible, and look for any signs of progress to keep yourself in the right frame of mind.
Transition on the Putting Green
Everything we have covered up to this point has related to the full swing. But what about your putting stroke? A significant percentage of your strokes are going to take place on the greens, so it would be a mistake to ignore this part of the game. Too many amateur golfers ignore their putting while working only on the mechanics of the swing. Don't put yourself in that category of player – work on your whole game so you are as well-prepared as possible when you step onto the course.
With your putting stroke, there is no need to think about starting the forward stroke before the backstroke has been completed. This is not an issue on the greens because your lower body is not going to be involved in the stroke. Rather than playing the leading role in the forward portion of the stroke, as it does in the swing, your lower body is going to be doing nothing at all. There should be no action in your lower body at any point during the putting stroke. Once you have set up in a solid position at address, all you need to do is hold that position steady until the stroke has been completed. Players who allow their lower body to move around in the stroke are always destined for inconsistency. To deliver the putter into the ball the same way over and over again, keep your legs still and let your shoulders do all the work.
Speaking of your shoulders, they are going to be the key to a quality transition. In the backstroke, it is your left shoulder that will lead the way, moving down toward the ground in order to propel the putter back away from the ball. Once you have gone back far enough for the putt at hand, you will change directions by using your right shoulder. By moving your right shoulder down toward the ground, your left shoulder will move back up and the putter will move toward the ball.
There is no overlap between the backstroke and forward stroke like you will find in the full swing. However, that doesn't mean you can afford to get sloppy with this change of directions. You still need to make this a clean move, and you need to make it as smooth as possible as well. There should be nothing abrupt about your putting stroke. You want it to be smooth, and you want it to be nicely controlled at all times. That word 'control' is a common theme in golf. Whether making full swings or putting strokes, staying in control will take you a long way in this game.
Making a smooth, overlapping transition from the backswing to the backswing is not going to be an easy challenge to overcome. It is possible, however, as long as you stick with it. The advice in this article should point you in the right direction, so review the information we have provided as necessary as you work on your own technique. If you stick with it, the reward should be some of the best golf of your life. Good luck!