Two extremely common swing faults are 1) Failing to transfer weight from right to left on the downswing, and 2) The reverse pivot, where the weight shifts left on the backswing, right on the downswing.
Both flaws cause slicing and a host of other problems. And both can be cured with this great drill:
- Tee up the ball for your driver and assume your normal stance.
- Keep your right foot in place, and move the left foot next to it. The ball will now be well left of your body, but keep the clubhead behind the ball.
- Swing back, and an instant before you reach the top, return the left foot to its original position.
- Make your downswing and hit the ball.
The backswing, left foot movement and downswing should happen without stopping, in one seamless motion. It may take several attempts to get the hang of it, but keep working.
You'll ingrain the feeling of transferring weight from right to left on the downswing, and also instill a dynamic transition from backswing to down that's led by the lower body.
Improve Your Downswing Transition to Add Distance and Accuracy
There are a few points during the golf swing that can be described as 'make-or-break'. If you make a wrong move during any of these points, your shot is likely to go awry. One of the make-or-break moments is, obviously, impact. If you aren't in the right position when the club impacts the ball, you won't have any hope of hitting a good shot.
Another make-or-break moment in the swing is the transition from backswing to downswing. This is the only point during the swing where the club changes direction, so it is absolutely essential that you get it right. If you lose track of your fundamentals at this crucial point in the swing, you will likely be disappointed in the outcome of the shot at hand. Sometimes, a poor transition could simply lead to a slight loss of distance. Other times, however, it could lead to a complete shank. To say the least, the transition in your golf swing is something that requires plenty of time and effort to get just right.
The reality of the golf swing is that you have very little time to correct anything that has gone wrong once you start down toward the ball. The downswing takes just a fraction of a second, so you don't have enough time to make corrections to your body position if you have made a mistake in the backswing or the transition. Once you start aggressively turning toward the target and pulling the club down toward the ball, your fate is sealed. The downswing is simply the payoff for everything that happened earlier on in the swing. When you are able to make a great backswing and a perfect transition, the downswing will take care of itself nicely.
Most amateur golfers get the downswing transition completely wrong. That might sound harsh, but it is true. The majority of golfers transition into their downswing by moving their hands and arms down toward the ball. That is the move that leads to a slice, weak contact, and overall poor performance. If you wish to be a solid ball striker who can consistently hit long and straight shots, you will need to learn to engage your lower body at the start of the transition. It is your legs that should be leading the way, not your arms and hands. When you can master this simple but tricky concept, better golf will be just around the corner.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
Setting Up for a Good Transition
You can't make a good transition without making a good backswing first. Each part of the golf swing builds on the last, so you need to make sure that your body and the club are both in a good position when you reach the top of the backswing. Only when you have ironed out any issues that are present in your backswing will you be able to work on improving your downswing transition.
Below are three key elements that you want to make sure are present in your backswing.
- Balance. If you were to go take lessons from a local teaching professional, you would probably get tired of how often they reminded you to focus on your balance. Maintaining your balance throughout the backswing – and then through the rest of the swing as well – is crucial to hitting good shots. Everything starts with balance. If your weight is drifting to the right or left during your swing, it won't matter what else you do well because the poor balance will have ruined the shot. Proper balance makes it possible to swing hard and still make solid contact with the ball. Before you do anything else to your golf swing, make sure your balance is as good as it can be. Once that key fundamental is under control, you can then move on to other areas of the swing, such as the downswing transition.
- Right elbow in tight to your side. This is a tip that will make is much easier for you to properly transition into the downswing. Technically it is possible to make a good swing while allowing your right elbow to get up and away from your side, but it isn't recommended. The golf swing as a whole is much simpler when you are able to keep your right arm in tight and connected to your body. As you work on your backswing technique, make sure that your right elbow remains pointed down at the ground as long as possible. Keeping your right arm in tight to your side will require you to make a downswing that is centered on your body rotation rather than your arms – which is perfect.
- Flexed knees. It is very important that you arrive at the top of your swing with your knees flexed. Your lower body is going to need to take over the swing starting with the transition, and that is only going to be possible if your knees are slightly flexed when the backswing concludes. Many amateur golfers reach the top of their swing with their legs locked straight, meaning they have no way to engage their lower body in the downswing. This is one of the mistakes that most-commonly leads to a slice. Pay attention to the position of your knees when you finish your backswing so that you can be sure you are ready for a proper downswing transition.
There is nothing particularly complicated about the three points above. As long as you have kept your balance nicely, kept your right elbow in close to your side, and maintained the flex in your knees, you should be ready to go. Many golfers make the game harder than it has to be when it comes to swing theory and technique. Focus on these basic fundamentals and you should be well-prepared to transition into the downswing.
A Step-by-Step Look at the Downswing
Before you rush off to the driving range to work on your transition, take a moment away from the course to read through the section below and understand exactly what you should be trying to do during the transition. Many golfers get this wrong, so they end up practicing the wrong things on the driving range. Better golf starts with a clear understanding of what your objectives should be during the whole swing – and specifically during the transition.
The five steps below happen quickly when you are actually swinging the club, so it is helpful to read through them slowly and think about each as an individual movement. When you start to put it all together on the driving range, it will begin to meld into one smooth process that leads to great golf shots.
- The backswing ends. When your shoulders stop turning to the right away from the target, your backswing should be over. If you allow your arms to continue on after your shoulders have stopped, you are going to put the club in a bad position. Focus on the rotation of the shoulders, and make sure that everything stops as soon as you are done turning. Also, don't force your turn to go any farther than it wants to naturally – doing so can cause you to lose your balance.
- Your left hip goes first. As the backswing is ending, your left hip should take over the golf swing and begin the process of moving everything toward the target. Be aware that the swing can all go wrong if you miss this step. Most golfers start with their hands instead of their hip, and there is no way to recover later on from that mistake. Your left hip should begin the downswing by moving left and back, away from the golf ball. This doesn't need to be a sudden movement, but rather it should be smooth and gradual to allow the club to transition beautifully from backswing to downswing. If you have ever wondered how pro golfers are able to make the swing look so easy, it is because they use their hip perfectly during the transition of the swing. With your lower body doing the work, everything else can begin to fall into place.
- Arms stay back. When the transition is in progress, there should be a growing separation between your lower body and your upper body. Your lower body should be turning toward the target, while your upper body hangs back and waits to be pulled into action. It is important that you keep your arms back during this portion of the golf swing. The arms need to hang back so that they have plenty of room to accelerate into the ball once the lower body has cleared through the shot.
- Rotation continues. One of the worst swing mistakes that you can make is starting out the transition perfectly – and then giving up on it halfway through. Some golfers stop their lower body rotation prematurely, leading to a weak swing, and often a hook. Once you have started your lower body rotation toward the target, don't stop it until the shot has been hit. Keep your legs turning toward the target aggressively so that the rest of your body can come along for the ride.
- Pull down with your hands. Only when the lower body has done its work can your hands finally jump into action and bring the club down onto the path that it will take into the ball. The idea at this point is very simple – feel like you are trying to take the butt end of the club directly toward the ball. By pulling the grip of the club down toward the ball, you will be creating a great angle that can later be unleashed through impact. You will only be able to accomplish this correctly if you keep your right hand passive during the transition. Allow your left hand to pull the club down toward the ball while your right hand is just used to stabilize the swing. Once you begin to pull the club down toward impact, the transition phase of the swing will be complete.
In reality, the entire process outlined above takes place in just a fraction of a second. If you were to try and think through the mechanics of what is contained in those five steps while you were making a swing, you would never be able to keep up. You will need to work on some swing drills on the practice range which will help you make a great transition without having to consciously think through the process step-by-step. Don't worry – while it might seem like a tall task at first, it shouldn't take too long before you are able to condense the five steps above into a cohesive downswing transition.
Simple Transition Drills
As mentioned above, there is no way to consciously work through that checklist of mechanics while you are actually swinging the club. You need to spend some practice time working on drills that will help you learn these movements so that they come naturally when you actually hit a shot. Putting in the time on the driving range to get comfortable with the mechanics of a good transition will pay big dividends when you start hitting great shots out on the course.
The first drill only requires that you have a golf club in your hands, and that you are in a safe place to make some practice swings. You aren't going to hit any balls during this drill, so it is not necessary to be at the driving range. Any club will work for the drill, but a mid-iron is probably the best choice.
To start, take your normal stance as you would prior to any typical shot during a round of golf. Swing the club up to the top of the backswing, and pause. Hold your position at the top of the swing and make sure that you are on balance and your knees have maintained their flex properly. After holding this position for a few seconds, use your left hand to pull the club down in front of you with the butt end of the club pointing toward the ground. At this point, you aren't going to use your lower body at all in the transition – you are simply trying to practice the proper motion for your arms and hands.
Once you have pulled your hands down in front of your body, reverse that action and move them back up to the top of the swing. Repeat this motion several times, going back and forth from your position at the top of the backswing to having your hands down in front of your body. It is essential that you keep the butt end of the club pointing toward the ground, and make sure your right hand is playing a passive role in this drill. After doing plenty of repetitions, go ahead and make some complete practice swings while remembering what you have learned.
If you spend some time working on the drill above, you should quickly gain a good understand of how your hands are supposed to work during the transition. Of course, as you learned earlier, it is actually the lower body that gets the transition started. Before the hands can do their job, the lower body has to begin the action of turning your body towards the target. This next drill will help you learn how to engage your lower body properly so that it can get the downswing started in the right direction.
For this drill, you will need to be at the practice range because you are going to actually hit some shots. Again, any club will work for this drill, but a mid-iron is still the best choice. This drill is completed in three steps –
- Take your stance and pick out a target on the range. You should be going through your normal pre-shot routine just as you would before any other shot. Once you have taken your stance, go ahead and make your backswing. When you reach the top of the backswing, stop and hold your position.
- After stopping at the top of the backswing for a couple of seconds, use your left hip to initiate the movement of your lower body rotating toward the target. It is important to note that you shouldn't be sliding left in the transition – the motion of your lower body should be almost entirely rotational (with just a slight move to the left). Turn your hips to the left while holding your arms in place. Keep turning your hips until your left leg is straight, and stop. Your hands and the club should still be in approximately the same position that they were when you finished the backswing.
- Now go ahead and swing the club down through impact. You will have stopped twice during the swing for this drill – once at the top, and once after you have opened your hips up to the target. In this way, you should be able to think through the steps of the transition a little bit easier since you are breaking it down into portions. The shots you hit while doing this 'stop and go' drill probably won't look that great, but don't worry too much about the results. The whole point of the drill is to help you learn how the transition progresses from one move to the next.
Once you have worked on both of these drills, you can go ahead and start to hit some regular, full shots at the range. Pay specific attention to your transition and try to translate the work you have done in the drills into your full swing. Work on making solid contact at first, even if your ball flight still isn't great. Over time, your body will adjust to the changes you have made in the transition and you should begin to hit better and better shots.
Avoid the Temptation to Rush
Unfortunately, simply learning how to complete the transition in the right order isn't enough to keep you out of trouble on the course. Even when your mechanics are in good condition, there is still a problem that you need to watch out for – rushing. Even the best players in the world will rush from time to time during their transition, which can lead to ugly results. Your swing needs to maintain its tempo from start to finish if you are going to strike the ball solidly.
It is relatively easy to avoid rushing on the driving range, when you aren't nervous or trying to hit the ball as far as you can. When you hit the first tee, however, you might be tempted to swing a little harder to impress your buddies. There is nothing wrong with swinging hard, but it only works when you maintain a smooth tempo. If you rush through your transition in a hurry to smash the ball, your mechanics will fall apart and you will have a hard time even making solid contact with the shot. Use your pre-shot routine to focus your mind on what is important in your swing so you can stay in rhythm.
Because it is so tempting to rush your swing when you get on the course, it is important that you spend enough time on the driving range to engrain good habits before playing your next round. If you only work on your transition for one or two practice sessions before heading to the course, there is a good chance you will simply slip right back into your old habits. To give your improved downswing transition the best possible chance at success, you should take at least a few trips to the driving prior to testing it out on the course. Once your new transition is successfully in place, you should find yourself hitting longer and straighter shots more frequently than ever before.