The term “swing plane” causes quite a bit of confusion among golfers, but there's an easy way to check if your swing is, in fact, on plane.
It helps to have a friend, a full-length mirror or other reflective surface stationed behind you facing the target (to the right of a right-handed golfer). The three easy steps:
- Using any club, stick a tee or similar object into the hole at the end of the grip.
- Set up to the ball normally, then begin your backswing.
- As the arms move upward and the wrists hinge, the tee should point at the target line. (Picture or draw a straight line running from behind the ball and through it.) This means your swing is on plane.
If your club points between the target line and your feet, your plane is too upright (vertical). If it points outside the line, your swing is too flat (horizontal). However, a small deviation from perfection is acceptable.
Check the plane of your downswing the same way, moving in slow motion from the top of the backswing to the ball.
Is Your Swing on Plane? Club Should Point at Target Line in Backswing
The ability to swing the club on plane is one of the most important skills you can have in the game of golf. Consistency within your swing is the best way to regularly shoot low scores, and you are only going to be consistent if you are able to swing the club on a good plane over and over again. Sure, it is possible to 'run into' a good shot now and again without swinging on plane, but those good shots will never be the norm. Take the time and effort to learn how to find a good plane and your game will be quickly improved.
Basically, swinging the club on plane means that you are following a good path down into the ball. An off plane swing will be coming in dramatically from the outside or inside, making it nearly impossible to strike a solid shot that follows a relatively straight path. Nearly every professional golfer you see on TV uses a great path both in the backswing and the downswing, and the results speak for themselves. If consistently striking the ball on your intended line seems like a faraway dream at the moment, it is likely because you are swinging along a poor path. It is only when you find a good path and stick with it that you will see just how reliable your ball striking can be.
One way that many golfers track the plane they are swinging on is by monitoring the spot on the ground where the club is 'pointing' at any given time. To picture in your mind where the club is pointing, imagine a line coming straight out from the end of the shaft and going into the ground. So, for example, at address, your club would be pointing to a spot just barely behind the ball. As you start your swing, that point will continue to move back to the right and away from the target. At some point, when you lift the club head up toward the top of the swing, you will have to switch to picture a line coming out of the grip end of the club instead of the club head end. No matter which end of the club is pointed down at any given time, you can still use this method to observe and evaluate your swing plane.
It is important to note that this method of tracking your swing plane is something that you should only be thinking about on the practice range. When you are out on the course playing a round, you want to put these kinds of thoughts out of your head so you can focus only on the task of hitting your target. You should always strive to keep technical thoughts – whatever they happen to be – on the range and away from the course.
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.
Tracing the Target Line
Before every shot, you should be selecting a specific target line that you will use to guide your swing. Hopefully, this isn't breaking news to you. If it is, you need to first work on learning how to pick a target line (and aim down that line) before you proceed with using this technique for evaluating your swing plane. Many amateur golfers overlook the importance of using a clear target line on every shot, and they pay the price with inaccuracy and inconsistency.
Assuming you do have a target line in mind before every shot that you hit, you can use that line to determine how well you are keeping the club on plane. The goal is simple – to trace that target line with the end of the club throughout the swing. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. After all, the club needs to be directly behind the ball at impact, so wouldn't the swing be simpler if the club traced that line all the way back and through? Of course it would. Many golfers overcomplicate the swing and they wind up with poor shots as a result. Keeping the swing simple should always be one of your top goals, as it will lead you to the best possible performance on the course.
Since the swing happens rather quickly in real time, the best way to check on your ability to hold the line is to pause your swing at a variety of points. If you are successfully pointing one end of the club at the line when you pause your swing, you can feel confident that you are staying on that line throughout the motion. Following is a list of three points during your swing where you can stop and check on your progress –
- One foot back. Stopping your swing only a foot or so into the backswing is a good idea because many players get off plane almost immediately upon starting the takeaway. If your swing is off plane while the club head is only a foot behind the ball, there is almost no chance that you are going to recover later on. You should be able to trace the club head in a straight line back from the ball with a high level of consistency, so work on fixing your takeaway mechanics if this part of the swing proves to be an issue.
- Club reaches vertical. When you get to the point in the backswing where the club is in a vertical position, stop and check again on your plane. At this point, the butt end of the club should be pointed at the target line while your club head is pointing up toward the sky. It is possible to get off plane between the first check and this one, so don't assume that you will be in good shape at this point just because your takeaway was successful. It is common for golfers to get into a 'laid off' position at this check, which means that the club is laying down too flat and the butt end of the club is pointed off into the distance. If you find yourself too laid off at this point, work on using your wrists more actively in the backswing to hinge the club up toward the sky.
- At the top. This point is a little bit tricky to check, but it is important nonetheless. Since the club should be roughly parallel with the ground at this point, you really won't be able to tell where the end of the club is pointing. Instead, you are going to evaluate your plane by checking on the shaft of the club compared to the target line. At the top, the club shaft should be parallel (or close) to the target line that you have picked out for the shot. When the club is on plane at the top of the swing, there is a great chance that the downswing will track perfectly right into the back of the ball. However, if you are off plane at this point, there will need to be some kind of a 'make up move' on the way down in order to find solid contact. To keep your swing simple and your results consistent, make this parallel position at the top a high priority in your game.
Get in the habit on the practice range of stopping your swing from time to time at these various checkpoints in order to evaluate your technique. Also, you could periodically record your swing on video in order to get an even better look at the position of the club. With your swing on video, you will be able to pause the reply at any point you choose, so you can get a great overall impression of your swing plane. The combination of these two evaluation methods should leave no doubt as to whether or not you are swinging along the right plane.
Even if you already have a pretty good golf swing, there is a good chance that you are getting off plane at least once or twice in your swing. Very few golfers are perfectly on plane from the takeaway through impact – and those who are usually can shoot scores in the 60's and 70's. Unless you are already an accomplished golfer there is a good chance that you have some room for improvement in your swing plane.
Following is a list of some of the common swing plane mistakes made by many amateurs, along with the appropriate fix that will help you get back on track.
- Inside early. It is extremely common for amateur golfers to drag the club to the inside of the plane during the takeaway (meaning the club head is closer to your body than it should be). This happens due to an overactive right hand at the very start of the swing – something that many players do in an effort to get the club moving fast. Remember, you only need to swing fast through impact, so it does you no good to start off your swing with extra speed. Instead, you should methodically work your way through the takeaway, using your shoulder turn to move the club while your hands stay quiet. If you can manage to keep your hands out of the early stages of your backswing, you should find that the club stays nicely on plane.
- Outside at halfway back. This is basically the opposite of the problem listed above. While it is a good thing to keep your hands quiet in the early stages of the swing, they do need to get involved at some point. Once the takeaway is complete, your hands and wrists should start the task of setting the club and getting ready to reach the top of the backswing. Without that set, you are going to be outside (or over top) of the proper swing plane. Specifically, focus on hinging your right wrist back on itself and you should find the club in a good position when it is vertical in the backswing. The timing of this move is one of the trickiest parts of the golf swing, so take your time on the range to iron out this detail if you want to keep the club on plane for as long as possible.
- Laid off at the top. This just might be the single most-common mistake among the ranks of amateur golfers. Many golfers struggle to get the club all the way to a parallel position at the top, and they pay the price in the way of a slice when the club gets back down to impact. If the club is laid off at the top – meaning is is pointing to the left of the target – you will be set up for an outside-in swing path and a likely slice. To correct this problem, look to your shoulder turn. If you are able to complete your shoulder turn fully going back, the club should get into a great position and you should be able to hit the slot nicely on the way down. For golfers who have long struggled with the slice, this is the first place to look for answers. Get the club on plane rather than laid off at the top and you will be surprised at how quickly that slice can disappear.
Of course, there are more ways that you can get off plane than just these three. However, these three points are a great place to start, as the majority of swing plane problems are going to relate to one of these issues. After taking some time to review your swing and determine where you may be going wrong, set aside some practice time to specifically work on correcting your error. The problem isn't just going to go away on its own – you need to take action and correct your mechanics if you hope to improve your ball striking over the long run.
Trust the Downswing
The downswing phase of your golf swing happens in just a fraction of a second. From the time you reach the top of the swing until the club gets down to impact, there is barely enough time to think, let alone react to what is happening. Since that is the case, you need to do all of your swing plane-related work in the backswing – there simply isn't time in the downswing to make any corrections that might be necessary. It is your job to iron out any problems that might exist in the backswing so that the downswing can take care of itself.
One of the common mistakes that is made by the average golf is trying to 'save' the swing on the way down. You probably know the feeling – you can tell something is wrong in your swing, so you try to save it by making an adjustment at some point between the transition and impact. As you already know, this attempt at a save is rarely a successful one. More often, this action makes the swing even worse, and a terrible shot is the outcome. It would require incredible reflexes to save a golf swing that is already in the downswing phase, so you shouldn't even try. Make the best backswing you can make each and every time, and then make an aggressive downswing into the ball with no fear or doubt anywhere in your mind. You aren't always going to hit good shots, but you can maximize your chances by placing trust in your downswing.
Trust is a hard thing to come by on the golf course, which is why it is so important to spend enough time on the practice range to hone your swing. Ideally, you will be able to swing on 'auto-pilot' on the course, but that is only going to happen if you are able to engrain your technique into your mind on the range. Hitting shot after shot while focusing on your technique will allow you to get out on the course and let it happen without much mechanical thinking. The best golfers are the ones who can leave their mechanical thoughts behind on the range while simply playing the course, but that is a goal that is easier said than done. In the end, it all comes down to practice time – those who put in the effort on the range are more likely to trust their swing when it counts the most.
If you are like most golfers, you would love to add a few more yards to your shots – after all, hitting the ball farther is always helpful, right? To do so, you are going to need to trust your downswing as described above. Players who lack trust in their downswing tend to slow up prior to impact as they try to guide the ball in the right direction. As you might expect, slowing down the club is going to lead to shorter shots rather than longer ones. So, not only will trusting your downswing help you to keep the club on plane and hit the ball straighter, it will also help you hit it farther as well.
Remember the Short Game
Swinging the club on plane is just as important in the short game as it is in the long game. In fact, since the swing is so short and the shots don't have time to turn in the air, you could argue that swing plane is even more important when you are close to the hole. Move your chipping and putting strokes along a good plane on a consistent basis and you should be able to regularly produce great shots.
Of course, since you aren't swinging back very far on your short game shots, it is only the first portion of the backswing that you need to worry about. Specifically, it is the takeaway where you need to put the club on the right plane. Whether you are chipping or putting, focus on keeping your hands quiet early on so the club can trace the line back nicely. When putting, your hands should stay quiet all the way through, with your wrists never playing a role in the shot. For chip and pitch shots, it is okay to get your wrists involved, but only once the takeaway is complete and the club has started its way back on a nice path.
Players who can consistently hit their target line in the short game are going to hole out more frequently than those who can't. While the short game can seem complicated and intimidating to many players, it is actually quite simple in the end – swing the club on plane, while getting the speed of the shot right, and you will have success. Get one of those two points wrong, however, and your ball will not come to rest within close range of the cup.
There is one part of the short game where you can basically ignore the idea of a good swing plane – the bunker game. If you are playing a shot from a greenside bunker, you actually want to swing along a plane that would be considered a disaster for any other kind of shot. You should intentionally be swinging the club dramatically from outside-in so you can cut through the sand and loft the ball up onto the green. To achieve this technique, take the club back well to the outside (away from you) and then swing down in a motion that brings the club head in closer to your feet as it moves toward the target. Slicing across the ball is a bad idea when playing from the grass, but it will be your best friend from a greenside bunker.
The concept of swing plane is extremely important. Staying on plane will help you hit the best shots of your life, and it all starts with the ability to trace the target line with the end of your club. Point the end of your golf club at the target line as you make your way through the backswing and excellent ball striking should be soon to follow.