Two of the main drivers in the golf swing are the shoulders and the hips but to use them both effectively players need to know how to control their movements.
During the back swing, the body follows what's known as a kinetic chain with different parts of the body moving in sequence away from the ball.
The first thing to move will be the hands which slowly begin to take the club away from the ball. Next the arms, then the shoulders, then the torso, then the hips and finally some movement in the legs, knees and feet. It is this kinetic sequence and in this order that the majority of the world's best players have found success.
At the top of the swing the shoulders should be turned until the middle of the back faces down the target line. Because the shoulders move first in the sequence, they turn more than the hips. For someone of average fitness and flexibility, the shoulders turn almost twice as much as the hips during the back swing. For older and less flexible players the hips may turn more than this, however, the more the hips turn during the back swing the less 'coil' is created between the hips and shoulders, this usually results in a lack of distance.
During the down swing, this is reversed and the kinetic sequence begins from the ground up. First, any movement in the feet is reversed back towards the ball, then the legs, then hips, then the torso, then the shoulders and arms all rotate and turn into the ball. The last thing to come through are the hands and club. This is the correct sequence in which the body should move.
To practice the correct movement away from the ball golfers can use the slow motion drill.
- Set up with the club over an imaginary ball.
- Move the club away from the ball slowly with the hands, ensuring the body remains rock solid and doesn't shift.
- Allow the arms to follow and then the shoulders start to rotate and turn away from the target.
- Keep the swing moving incredibly slowly as the torso and hips get pulled around by the shoulders until they are fully rotated under the chin.
- If the shoulders have turned fully, the hips should have also rotated slightly but only just the right knee should be still flexed.
- After completing the slow back swing, the sequence reverses with the lower half driving the down swing turning towards the target.
- The entire slow motion swing should take 30 seconds or more.
If you practice the slow motion swing it will be easier to control the body movements and easier to transfer the same feelings into the full speed swing.
Backswing - Should the Hips Turn or Shoulder Turn First?
The sequencing of your golf swing is extremely important. If you are going to hit good shots throughout the day, you are going to need to have all your mechanics working in the right order. It isn't enough just to make the right moves – you have to make those moves at the right time so that all of the pieces can come together in a cohesive unit. Golfers who struggle with their sequencing will always struggle with consistency, and consistency is the true key to success on the course.
As far as the backswing is concerned, it is important that you use your shoulders and hips in the right order. Both will play a role in the backswing eventually, but which goes first? Getting this point wrong can have disastrous consequences for your swing, so you should work on this part of your technique on the range until you have it mastered. Fortunately, once you understand the concept behind this part of the swing, it is actually a relatively easy move to make. After just one or two practice sessions you should feel comfortable enough with this part of the swing to move on to other, more-challenging elements.
So, to answer the question that was posed in the title, you are going to want to turn your shoulders in the backswing prior to any turning of the hips. In fact, the turning of your shoulders should be the very first thing that happens in the backswing. As you stand over the ball at address, it is easy to fall into the trap of using your hands to start the swing – but that would be a mistake. Instead, you should use your shoulders to turn away from the target and move the club up into position. Your hands – and your hips – will get involved later, but it is really your shoulders that should be thought of as the engine of the swing. A great shoulder turn is crucial when it comes to developing power and making solid contact with the ball time after time.
Of course, nothing in golf is ever simple, so there is a lot more to learn than the simple fact that you should be starting the swing with a shoulder turn. If you want to polish up your golf swing as a whole – and get it to the point where it can consistently produce great shots for you all around the course, you are going to need to have everything else in place as well. The content below is going to examine not only the relationship between the shoulders and hips in the backswing, but also how the shoulder turn plays into the rest of the swing. In the end, you should have a clear picture of the proper sequencing that needs to be in place in your swing, and it will be up to you to run with it from there.
All of the content 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.
Shoulders and Hips in the Backswing
As was already pointed out, it is your shoulder turn that should be responsible for getting the swing started. But does that mean your hips play no role at all in the backswing? Not necessarily. While they aren't going to actively get the swing going like the shoulders, your hips do need to be ready to spring into action when the club transitions from backswing to downswing. Therefore, when you get to the top of the swing, you need to be sure that your hips are well-positioned to do their job perfectly on the way down.
The relationship between your shoulders and your hips in the backswing is one of cause and effect. The shoulders cause your body to move, and your hips follow along in suit. Ideally, your hips will not be doing anything actively during the backswing. They will 'tag along' with the shoulder rotation and only get involved once the downswing starts. For a clear picture of how this operation should work going back away from the ball, read through the following points –
- At address, your shoulders and hips should both be nicely square to the target line. Your body should be relaxed at this point, and your chin should be up off of your chest (to give your shoulders room to turn).
- As the swing starts, it is the rotation of your shoulders to the right that will get everything going. If you feel that your hands, or any other part of your body, are trying to start the swing before your shoulders get going, stop and try again. It is extremely important that you initiate the swing with a turn of the shoulders away from the target. To make this easier, try focusing your thoughts on the left shoulder – simply turn it under your chin and you will be good to go. It may take some practice to learn how to start your swing with shoulder rotation, but you will be rewarded with better ball striking when you finally figure it out.
- Now that your shoulders are in motion, all you need to do is continue that turn all the way up to the top of the swing. Remember, as mentioned above, your shoulders are the 'engine' that drives the backswing. Anything else that happens in your backswing is secondary to that crucial shoulder turn. The best golfers in the world all do a great job of turning their shoulders away from the target, and you should strive to do the very same thing.
- When it comes to your hips, they are going to be a passenger in this backswing action. As the shoulders continue to turn away from the target, your hips are going to naturally want to follow along. By the time you reach the top of the swing, your left hip will likely be turned in toward the ball, and that is just fine. However, as this hip turn is happening, you want to make sure that your knees remain flexed just as they were at address. It is common for amateur golfers to stand up out of their address position as the backswing develops, and this mistake can lead to serious trouble. Feel free to let your hips follow along with your hips as you go back, but be sure to maintain your knee flex as fully as possible.
- Hopefully, if you have executed everything listed above properly, your backswing will end with a picture-perfect position at the top. Your shoulders should be turned fully away from the target, your hips should have followed along to some degree, and your knees should have remained flexed as they were at address. Continue to practice your backswing technique until you can check off all three of these boxes.
The role of your hips in the backswing needs to be a passive one. The shoulders are doing the 'work' of moving the club up into position, while the hips are waiting their turn patiently. Yes, they are going to move, but only as a result of what your shoulders are doing. If you feel that your hips are taking an active role in the backswing at any point, stop what you are doing and restart from the beginning. This might seem like a small point within the swing, but it has a major impact on the shots you are going to hit. The backswing is what sets the stage for great ball striking, so make sure you spend as much time as necessary to iron out the perfect relationship between your shoulders and your hips.
Importance of the Shoulder Turn
Along with staying on balance, the shoulder turn is right up there as one of the most important things you need to do in your swing. There are countless benefits to making a great turn, and it isn't an exaggeration to say that you are always going to struggle to hit good shots if you fail with your turn. So why is this particular part of the swing so important? The following three reasons will highlight the point –
- Power. If you are going to hit the ball long distances – whether from the fairway or off the tee – you are going to need to develop plenty of swing speed on the way down. To do so, you are going to need to make the longest possible downswing, and that will only happen when you make a big turn. A short shoulder turn leads to a short swing, which means you will be limited in the amount of club head speed that you can create. The club needs time to accelerate if it is going to reach its maximum speed, so you want to put as much space as possible between the ball and the club at the top. With a great turn and good extension at the top of your swing, the club will have all the time it needs to speed up before it slams into the back of the ball.
- Rhythm. Making a good shoulder turn automatically instills your swing with a great sense of timing and tempo. It is important to have rhythm in your swing because it is that timing that will allow you to present the club to the ball in the same manner time after time. Swings that lack rhythm will struggle to make clean contact, and they will often fall apart under pressure. Most amateur golfers struggle to get into a good rhythm with their swings, but a big shoulder turn will go a long way toward correcting that problem.
- Quiet hands. Without the shoulder turn doing most of the work in the backswing, that work will be left to your hands. A good golf swing features quiet hands throughout most of the action, but your hands will have to become rather active if your shoulders come up short of their responsibilities. Active hands are a bad thing because it is hard to replicate the same swing time after time when your hands are too involved. Also, you will struggle find a consistent tempo when it is hand action that is driving the club back and through. Turn the backswing over to your shoulders and enjoy the consistently that comes along with having quiet hands.
You can actually practice your shoulder turn without even being at the golf course or using a club. When you have a free moment to practice your swing at home, stand in front of a mirror and take your stance (without a club). Use your shoulders to make a fake backswing and hold your position at the top when your backswing is finished – how far did you turn back? If your back is now facing the imaginary target, you have done a good job of turning to the right. If not, work on moving your left shoulder farther under your chin until you are happy with your progress. Make it a habit to practice some pretend backswings at home like this from time to time and you will quickly get comfortable with a full shoulder turn.
Opposite in the Downswing
We have established that it is important for your shoulders to lead your hips in the backswing. However, once you make the turn at the top and start down toward the ball, that process should be reversed. It is the hips that should be leading the way in the downswing, with your shoulders following along all the way down to impact. Just as your shoulders were the engine of the backswing, it is the hips that take over that title in driving your body through the shot. Powerful golfers are able to use their whole bodies in order to develop speed through the hitting area. An arms-only swing will always be limited in its potential, but a swing that uses the hips to rotate aggressively through the shot will be capable of impressive feats.
It is important that the hips get started in the downswing right from the top. In fact, they need to be the very first thing that starts to move toward the target. As the club is arriving at the top of the swing, your left hip should begin to open up to the left. Once you have mastered this timing, the swing will look seamless from start to finish. If you have never before used your hips effectively in the downswing, you might be surprised to find just how much power is waiting to be unlocked within your motion. Good hip turn in the downswing will lead to smooth acceleration of the club head, and the end result should be a swing that is able to launch the ball high into the sky and well down the fairway.
Unfortunately, some golfers run into trouble when they start trying to use their hips in the downswing. If you are struggling on the range while trying to make this adjustment, check the following tips for help –
- Stay down. It is tempting to stand up out of your stance at the same time that you are starting to turn to the left. Obviously, this is not a good idea, as it will throw off the entire level of your swing. While your left hip is starting to open up to the target, make sure your left knee maintains its flex nicely. You don't want to crouch down into the downswing, but you shouldn't be standing up either. Make it a point to hold your level throughout the swing and everything will get quite a bit easier.
- Keep it moving. You need to start the downswing with your lower body, but you also need to keep your lower body rotation moving throughout the rest of the downswing as well. Many golfers figure out how to start the downswing with their hips, only to stop that rotation soon after while the shoulders and arms finish off the swing. You want to use your hips all the way through the ball in order to maximize power and accuracy. Make it a goal to turn your hips through the shot until the point where your belt buckle is pointed out toward the target. If you can do that, you can feel good about how you are using your lower body in the swing.
- Don't jump the gun. It is true that you want your hips turning to the left to be the first thing that happens in the downswing, but make sure you don't jump the gun on this point. It is important that you give your backswing enough time to finish – otherwise, the overall timing and tempo of the swing will be thrown off. Keep your patience during the swing, and give the backswing all the time it needs to finish up before you get things moving in the other direction. It might be hard to stay patient when you are trying to hit the ball hard, but that extra moment you take at the top will only serve to give you more power.
The hip turn that you use in the downswing is just as important as the shoulder turn that you made during the backswing. One would be useless without the other, so make sure you focus on both of these elements as you work on your swing. Bringing together a great shoulder turn back and a great hip turn through will likely lead to the best golf shots of your life.
Simplicity is King
As you spend time on the driving range working on your swing technique, remember that you should always be striving to keep things as simple as possible. The golf swing needs to be consistent and repeatable, and you are only going to hit those goals if you keep the technical thoughts to a minimum. Many players make the mistake of overloading their brains with a variety of mechanical directions, and the result is a swing that gets quickly out of whack. Even worse, players who have too many technical thoughts usually have trouble fixing their swings quickly, meaning it can take a long time to get your game back on track if you are a mechanical player.
This is why it is such a good idea to focus on your body rotation while swinging the club. As you stand over the ball, you can place just two simple thoughts in your head – turn the shoulders going back, and turn the hips going through. That's it. That is one swing thought for the backswing, and one for the downswing. This is an incredibly simple, yet effective, way to think about the swing. You won't have to worry about your mind getting overloaded with thoughts during the swing, and yet you will be doing everything you need to do to succeed. As long as those turns are taking place as they should, your body should be able to naturally do the rest.
Your entire golf game should be kept as simple as possible, starting with your swing thoughts and going from there. Likewise, you should keep your strategy simple, your short game simple, and so on. Remember, golf is a sport, and you should be having fun while you are playing. If your mind is overloaded with technical thoughts that are preventing you from moving freely, it is doubtful that you will be having much fun. Allow your mind to relax, keep your thoughts simple, and enjoy the game like never before.
The simple answer to the question posed in the title of this article is as follows – your shoulders should turn first in the backswing while your hips follow along for the ride. Beyond that, the rest of the content above should help you to understand how the swing needs to work as a whole. Once you place all the right pieces in all the right places, your game will come together and your ball striking will take a big step in the right direction.