While most teaching pros advocate maintaining your spine angle during the swing, others prefer to phrase this as keeping your forward bend at the hips. The difference may seem like mere semantics, but it could help you achieve this critical fundamental.
First, note that you should bend at the hips, not the waist. Bending from the hips promotes a straight spine and easy rotation of the hips and shoulders, while bending from the waist causes the back to arch. This makes it difficult to turn properly and can lead to injuries.
Another note: Tests show that the average tour pro sets up with a bend of 36° forward from the hips. The typical amateur bends either too far, then lifts up during the swing, or not enough, forcing him to crouch or lean forward to hit the ball. Both actions produce ugly results.
To check your hip bend and posture, stand with a full-length mirror to your right (for a right-hander) and set up to a ball. Ideally, the shaft will intersect your body at a 90° angle. Teachers also recommend tilting the spine slightly to your right at address, about 5°.
This allows you to transfer weight to your right side on the backswing. A good way to maintain your hip bend is to visualize your head propped against a wall at address, then keep it touching the wall from takeaway to finish.
Maintain Forward Bend Throughout Swing
As a golfer, it is easy to get wrapped up in what the club is doing throughout the swing. After all, it is the club that strikes the ball, so it is only natural to focus most of your attention in that direction. However, if you think too much about the actions of the club itself, you are going to lose track of how your body is working during the swing. It is, of course, the movements of your body that are going to dictate how the club moves through impact, so you need to pay attention to each and every move that you make. In fact, if you are doing a good job of using your body properly, you can be sure that the club will be right where it needs to be when impact arrives.
To make it easier to put your body in the right position during the swing, you first want to ensure that your body is positioned correctly at address. Starting with your body in a great position before the club goes in motion is one of the best things you can do for your game as a whole. Most amateur golfers fail to work on optimizing their address position, and they struggle to strike the ball cleanly as a result. One of the things that you should be doing at address is tilting your upper body out over the ball, and that is exactly the topic that we are going to focus on in this article.
Okay – so it isn't as simple as just tilting your upper body forward and then swinging away – you are going to need to maintain that forward bend throughout the swing, as well. So, in the end, there are two tasks that we are going to cover in the content below – the act of setting up with the proper upper body tilt, and the act of maintaining that tilt from start to finish in your swing. Only when you can hit on both of those points in your game will you be able to check this important item off of your to-do list.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that things like this just aren't that important in the overall scheme of the game. After all, can maintaining upper body tilt really make you that much better out on the course? Well, in a word, yes, it can. It is the small pieces of the puzzle that make the biggest difference in golf, so those who are committed to improvement need to dedicate themselves to mastering the details. If you are willing to go a step further than your competition in terms of your preparation, you will be far more likely to come out ahead in the long run. Improving at golf takes dedication and hard work, and that hard work includes a willingness to practice subtle details such as the one highlighted in this article.
All of the content below has been written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Mastering the Address Position
The game of golf and the word 'mastering' don't often go together in the same sentence. After all, this is a game that is famous for being extremely difficult, and even the best players in the world still hit poor shots in each and every round. Golf is a hard game, and that isn't going to change any time soon.
With that said, the address position is one of the few things in the game that you truly can master. Since address takes place before the club actually goes in motion, you don't have to worry about things going wrong on the fly with regard to this part of your technique. You have all the time you need in order to take a great stance, and practice time is the only thing standing between you and an excellent address position. It is unrealistic to aim for perfection throughout most of the game of golf, but that can actually be your goal in this case. Work hard on your address position and watch your game quickly improve as a result.
To help you move in the right direction, please review the key address position points listed below.
- Tilt from the waist. Of course, since this is the overall topic of this article, it only makes sense to get started with this point. When you stand over the ball, you want to make sure that you are tilted from the hips in order to allow your upper body to bend out over the ball. It is important to understand that you want to keep your back straight while taking your stance – the tilt should come out of your hips, while your spine from your waist up to your neck remains as straight as possible. This tilt is crucial to the quality of your swing overall, as it will allow you to turn back and through the shot properly. A player that stands up straight at address is going to have a hard time making solid contact, and that same player will lack for power as well.
- Flex your knees. You are probably already familiar with this point, but it needs to be included on the list nonetheless. It is important to flex your knees as you stand over the shot because having your knees bent will allow you to engage your lower body in the swing – which is going to be crucial for power generation in the downswing. It is the job of the lower body to start the turn toward the target in the downswing, but your legs will simply be a bystander if you fail to have flex in your knees. Not only do you need to have your knees flexed at the start of the swing, but you also need to make sure they are still flexed when you get up to the top.
- Eyes on the ball. Another point that might sound obvious, but it is still quite important. You aren't going to hit good golf shots if you don't look at the ball while you swing, so make sure you have a good look at the ball at address before your swing begins. You shouldn't have to strain to see the ball – it should be right in the middle of your field of vision.
- Relaxed grip. This is a point that is gotten wrong by most golfers. When you get ready to hit a shot, your grip should be relaxed so that the club feels light in your hands. If you are squeezing tightly onto the handle as you stand over the ball, it is going to be difficult – if not impossible – to make a smooth, rhythmic swing. You need to walk the line between holding on tight enough to keep control, and not so tight that you lose your feel for the swing. Practice your grip pressure on short shots and gradually work up into full swings with a comfortable grip tension.
- Chin up. The last point on our list is one that rarely gets mentioned with regard to the address position, but it is critical to your success with the golf swing. Why does your chin need to be up away from your chest at address? It's simple – your shoulders need to be able to move freely through that space in order to complete the swing. If your chin is down, your shoulders will be blocked from moving back and through the shot, and your rotation will always fall short of its potential. Unfortunately, many golfers keep their chin down thinking that they need to keep their 'head down' during the swing, but that isn't true. Get your chin up off of your chest, and keep your eyes down on the ball.
The list above might look a bit long, but it is actually pretty easy to work through if you spend some time on the driving range working on these points. Since you can take your time to put together a great stance – especially in practice – there is no reason to miss on any of fundamental elements of the address position. During your next practice session, keep this list in mind and only start your swings when you are confident that you have done a great job of creating your stance.
For most players, it isn't going to be particularly difficult to create a quality stance over the golf ball. Sure, you are going to have to put in a bit of time to make it happen, but this is one of the easier parts of your game to improve, relatively speaking. Once you do build a great stance, however, you are still going to have work to do. From there, you are going to need to learn how to maintain the forward tilt in your upper body throughout the swing in order to live up to your ball striking potential.
The first key to holding your spine tilt over the ball during your swing is making sure that you do a great job with your lower body. This point was made briefly earlier, but it needs to be repeated here because it is so important to your success. If you allow your knees to straighten up during the swing, it will be extremely difficult to keep your tilt from the waist. A good golf swing is often built from the ground up, and that is the case here to be sure. Focus on keeping your knees flexed properly throughout the backswing and it will be much easier to hold on to your spine tilt as well.
Another important piece of this puzzle is to turn your left shoulder down toward the ground during the takeaway. As you stand over the ball with your tilted upper body in place, it is easy to allow yourself to straighten up during the takeaway as you lift your left shoulder up and back away from the target. This is a common mistake, and it is also a big problem in the swing. While in your address position, think specifically about moving your left shoulder down under your chin to start the swing. When you get started this way, you will be able to maintain your tilt easily and your shoulders will be the main driving force in your golf swing.
There are plenty of golfers who lose track of their spine tilt early on in the takeaway, and there are likely even more who get out of their stance up at the top of the swing. Why? Generally speaking, players lose their upper body tilt at the top because they are trying to swing back too far. As you let your arm swing go farther and farther back, it is inevitable that you will be pulled up and out of your stance. Don't let that happen. You aren't going to gain anything from making an extra-long backswing anyway, so keep your swing under control and stop the club as soon as your shoulders are finished rotating. Maintaining connection between your upper body turn and your arms (and the club) is crucial if you want to hit on target golf shots time after time.
So, to summarize what it is you need to do in order to keep your upper body in the right position during the backswing, we have provided you with the following checklist –
- Set up with your lower body in a great position, and then hold your knee flex throughout the backswing
- Start the swing by moving your left shoulder down and under your chin in the takeaway
- Stop your backswing when your shoulders have finished turning away from the target
Those three points should be all you need to do in order to maintain your forward bend throughout the swing. Work on each of them individually on the driving range before trying to pull it all together into a finished product.
Even if you pay attention to all of the small details that are involved with this point, you are still likely to run into a bit of trouble along the way. As was mentioned earlier, golf is a hard game and no improvements are going to come easily. Rather than giving up at the first sign of trouble, you need to have a plan for how you are going to work through the issues that develop in order to come out on the other side with a much-improved golf swing. To help you toward that end, we have compiled the following list of troubleshooting points for you to review.
- Hitting the ball fat. This is likely a case of going too far with your upper body tilt. When your upper body becomes too tilted out over the ball, your swing plane will be steep and you will likely stick the club into the ground prior to making contact. It may be that you are setting up with too much tilt, or you may be allowing your upper body to bend out over the ball during the process of the swing. Either way, work on maintain a better position throughout the swing from the waist up and you should be able to get rid of the tendency to hit the ball heavy.
- Hitting the ball too high. One of the mistakes you need to watch for while working on this part of your game is leaning back away from the target through impact. When you swing the club down toward the ball, you might feel like you need to lean to the right in order to create enough room for a solid strike. Of course, if you do make this adjustment, you are going to add loft to the club and your shot is going to fly higher than intended – and it will almost certainly come down short of the target. Resist this temptation and keep your body as balanced as possible all the way through the hitting area.
- Hitting a slice. If you are consistently fighting with a slice despite doing a good job with your upper body in the swing, the problem could come down to an issue with the way your lower body is being used during the transition. Ideally, your lower body will lead the way from the top of the swing, clearing the way for your arms (and the club) to drop into the 'slot' on the way toward impact. However, many golfers fail to use their lower body to rotate toward the target, instead just swinging down with an arms-only action. If you make that mistake, the club isn't going to have the room it needs to swing from the inside, and a slice is the likely outcome. Make it a point to use your lower body aggressively right from the top of the swing and you will stand a much better chance to eliminate your slice.
If you do run into trouble as you are working on your upper body tilt, it is very likely going to be due to one of the three issues above. There are other problems that could pop up, of course, but most likely you are going to have to sort through one (or more) of these problems. Remember – it is crucial to keep your patience as you work through setbacks on your way to a better swing. Hitting a rough patch or two along the way is to be expected, and you will be glad you stuck it out when you wind up with a reliable, consistent golf swing.
Forward Bend in the Short Game
It should go without saying that you need to have a forward bend in your upper body just as you do with your full swing. However, the way you tilt over the ball is going to vary a bit in the short game depending on the exact kind of shot you are trying to hit. To get your body in the right position based on the shot at hand, read through the following points –
- Putting. When putting, you want to be tilted out over the ball farther than you would be on any other shots. Ideally, you will be able to position your eyes directly over the top of the ball, or just to the inside of that line. You can afford to bend this far out over the ball when putting because you do not need to make a full rotation – you only have to swing the putter a short distance in each direction to roll the ball toward the hole. If you fail to bent out over the ball properly, you will have a hard time seeing the line and you may be prone to pushing your putts out to the right.
- Chipping and pitching. While playing shots from around the green rather than on it, you will want to go back to something that is closer to your normal full swing stance. You are going to be standing closer to the ball while chipping and pitching than you would be on a full swing, but your upper body tilt should be similar to your regular address position.
- Bunker shots. If you need to hit a greenside bunker shot, you will want to keep your upper body is a mostly upright position to encourage a flat swing through the hitting area. Hitting down steeply in the bunker is usually a bad idea (unless you have a bad lie), so keep your upper body mostly vertical in order to shallow out your approach into the sand.
The positioning of your upper body during the golf swing is another one of those seemingly minor points that can have a big influence on the quality of your game overall. Use the content above to improve on your ability to maintain forward bend during the golf swing and you will love what happens to your game as a result.