Golf's best-known mantra – “Keep your head down” -- is also its most misleading.
The well-meaning phrase instructs golfers to focus on the ball until contact has been made. But taking this advice literally can cause unintended headaches.
Trying too hard to keep the noggin immobile creates tension in the shoulders and neck. The first result: A short, power-sapping backswing. The second: An inhibited release through the shot.
Some instructors teach golfers to keep the head still or steady, instead of down. It's a subtle difference, allowing for the fact that the head will naturally move slightly right on the backswing, left on the forward swing, as it follows the shoulders.
Regardless of the head's lateral movement, everyone agrees the player's crown should stay as level as possible from start to finish. This ensures a consistent spine angle, cohesive swing plane and unwavering clubhead path.
To check this fundamental, have a friend stand behind you at setup, place the butt end of a golf club on top of your head, then hold it in the original spot as you swing. The head should not move up or down more than a few inches.
Should Your Head Move During the Golf Swing?
It is one of the first pieces of advice that you hear when getting started in the game of golf – keep your head still! But is it true? Do you need to keep your head still while swinging the golf club, or is there some 'wiggle' room that is permissible while still hitting great shots? The answer to that question is a little more complicated than you might think. While it is important to keep your head relatively still during the swing, it is also okay to allow it to move somewhat in order to facilitate some of the other important elements of your technique.
It really comes down to necessary vs. unnecessary head movement when trying to determine how much you can let your head move during the swing. There is a certain amount of movement that you want to allow because it is going to enable you to swing the club in the right way. At the same time, excess head movement is going to do nothing but complicate the swing, and you should always be striving to keep your swing as simple and repeatable as possible.
Early on in this discussion, there is one thing that is very clear – your head should not be absolutely still during the swing. If your head isn't moving at all while you are swinging the club, you are likely making a very limited swing that will offer minimal power at impact. If you watch videos of some of the best golfers in the world making their swings, you will see that their heads move a moderate amount from address on through to the finish. They don't move all over the place, of course, but there is some movement to be seen. Take this as a lesson for your own game. Knowing that the best players in the world do allow their heads to move slightly during the swing, you will be free to allow yours to do the same in the pursuit of better ball striking.
The amount of head movement that is going to be ideal for your swing will depend on the style of swing you use and the type of player you want to be. If you are hoping to make controlled swings to become a precision player, the head movement you use should be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, players who are interested in launching the ball as far down the fairway as possible are going to need to accept a little more head movement as part of the overall swinging action. There is no right or wrong answer on this point, either – you are free to play the game however you wish, just make sure that you are creating a swing with fundamentals that match your intended style.
All of the instruction that is included 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.
Advantages of Minimal Head Movement
While this article is making the point that it is actually okay to move your head somewhat during the swing, there is no doubt that a stable head position has its advantages. As with everything else in this game, it is all about finding a balance that allows you to be successful. Somewhere in between keeping your head perfectly still and allowing it to move dramatically in all directions is a happy medium that can be achieved. It might not be easy, but your job is to find that appropriate middle ground for your swing.
Following is a list of three points that can be considered advantages to keeping your head mostly still during the golf swing.
- Solid contact. Playing good golf is all about making solid contact, and that task is much easier to accomplish when you are keeping your head mostly still. Think about it this way – you need to see what you are trying to hit in order to hit it cleanly, but it is harder to get a good look at the ball when you head is moving all around during the swing. Just as a baseball player wouldn't jump up and down while trying to hit a curveball, you should also avoid excessive movements in order to center up impact to the best of your ability. You will never hit every single shot solidly, but you can improve your contact quality just by stabilizing your head position.
- Consistency. As any golfer knows, it isn't actually that hard to hit a solid golf shot once in a while. The challenge of the game is trying to hit solid shots time after time, all day long. One of the best ways to improve your consistency is to simply your swing to the point where it is easy to repeat over and over again. A swing with an excessive amount of head movement is not going to be easy to repeat, as there will be a large degree of timing involved to get everything to come together just right at the bottom. You can reduce how much timing is required in your swing by limiting your head movement, and you should become a more consistent player as a result. Also, another added benefit to making your swing easier to repeat is that you should perform better under pressure.
- Rhythm. Believe it or not, you will probably have an easier time maintaining the rhythm in your swing if you are able to hold your head mostly still. It is important to have good rhythm in the golf swing, but many amateur golfers get in a rush to swing the club as hard as they can – forgetting about tempo in the process. Don't let that happen to you. Make your rhythm a top priority within the swing and you will see plenty of rewards in the way of quality ball striking and even added distance.
This part of your swing is going to be all about compromise and finding a good balance. You certainly don't want to force your head to stay perfectly still, but you will see benefits such as those above by keeping it 'mostly' still. There is no definition of mostly still, either – it is something that you are going to have to find for yourself. In reality, the best way to find this magical point in the swing is to do everything else right. If you can make a fundamentally sound swing which includes all of the basic techniques that should be seen in a golf swing, there is a good chance that your head will behave as it should.
Fundamental Building Blocks
Putting the rest of your body in the right positions is probably the single best way to 'teach' your head how it should behave. This way, you really aren't thinking about your head at all – you are thinking about everything else in your swing, and your head is reacting to the action. This is the best way to go, and it is the method that will lead to the most natural swing in both look and feel.
The first one of the building blocks to put into place is great knee flex at address. You should think of your knee flex like the shock absorbers on your car. Having flex in your knees both at the start of the swing and throughout the swinging motion will enable you to even out the 'bumps' and create an action that is smooth from start to finish. Without knee flex, you will be in for a rough ride throughout your swing, and your head may move around excessively as a result. Also, you will probably find that you can't make a full turn when your knees are locked out straight, meaning you will lack power as compared to someone who is flexing their knees nicely. It is not necessary to get down into a deep knee bend at address, but you do want to sit down into your stance at least a few inches in order to have the balance and support necessary for an aggressive swing.
The next fundamental that you should add in to your swing is a good head position at address. By thinking about where your head is before the swing starts, you should be able to mostly forget about it after you put the club in motion. Ideally, you will be standing over the ball with your chin up so that your head is out of the way of your shoulder turn. This is a huge part of being able to keep your head mostly still during the swing. If you bury your chin down into your chest at address, it is inevitable that you will have to move it up and out of the way at some point. Your shoulders need room to turn, so give them that room by setting up with your chin well off of your chest.
With your knees flexed and your chin up, the next step is to make sure you are balanced over the ball before starting your swing. This is likely the single most important fundamental in the entire game of golf. Without balance, you really don't have a swing at all. In addition to the long list of other problems that it can cause, poor balance can also lead to excessive head movement as a result of your body trying to make its way back to center. Don't give yourself an uphill battle before you even start your takeaway – get nicely balanced at address and stay that way throughout the rest of the swing.
At this point, if you have been able to integrate the three previous elements into your swing, you should be in good shape as far as head movement is concerned. A balanced golf swing that moves on top of flexed knees and has the chin up at address is unlikely to go wrong in a major way. That doesn't mean that you will hit solid shots every time you make a swing if you use these fundamentals, but it does mean that you will be able to hold your head relatively steady while making an athletic action.
Good vs. Bad Head Movement
There are some movements that you can make with your head during the swing which won't do any damage to the quality of your swing, while there are other movements that will cause serious trouble. By knowing what kind of movement is okay – and what kind is not – you should be able to continue to move your swing in the correct direction. Every golf swing is a little bit different, but the rules for what kind of head movement is acceptable will apply pretty much across the board.
The following points highlight specific movements that you could make with your head during the swing which would be categorized as 'bad' movements.
- Dramatic up and down movement. This is really the worst way that you can move your head during the swing. If you are moving dramatically up and down during the swing, you are going to have a hard time finding solid contact at the bottom. This is often known as 'losing your level' in the swing, and it is a major problem. In addition to making it more difficult to make solid contact, losing your level will also cost you swing speed as you will be wasting energy going up and down that could have been used to rotate faster toward the target. Moving up and down is a swing fault that can affect even the best players, so don't be surprised if you find this issue in your swing at one point or another.
- Side to side motion. Moving your head side to side significantly is actually a problem because of what it says about the rest of your swing. If there is a major move to one side or the other in your swing, it means you have balance problems and you are having to sway to get back on track. If this sounds like you, there is a good chance you are already dealing with a slice in your game. Players who move all around from side to side frequently fight a slice, and they are almost always short hitters. When you find side to side head movement in your swing, take it as a sign that you need to back up a step and work on the basic fundamentals of your technique.
You can pretty much classify any dramatic head movement as a bad thing for your game as a whole. Any movement that is in taking place with your head during the swing should be subtle, controlled, and not taking anything away from the rest of your motion.
To take a look at your head movement during the swing, the best thing you can do is to ask a friend to record your swing on video. It might be a little bit difficult to identify head movement while you are making your swing – since you obviously can't see your own head – but you will have no trouble quickly pointing out problems on video. It only takes a few seconds to record a couple of swings on video at the range, and that short investment of time could allow you to make some dramatic improvements.
So, what does good head movement look like? To put it simply, good head movement is minor movements that happen in response to the rest of your swing. For example, if you make a big shoulder turn away from the ball, your head is likely to be turned slightly to the right as a result of the shoulder action – and that is just fine. Your head is connected to your shoulders, so it is only natural that it should move a little bit. As long as the motion isn't exaggerated, and it is in response to something that you want to be doing in your swing (like making a great shoulder turn), there should be no problem.
Head Movement in the Short Game
To this point, the content above has addressed only the full swing in regard to what kind of head movement is acceptable, and what head movement needs to be eliminated. That will be helpful information as you work on your game, but it is only half of the equation. The short game makes up a huge part of your score at the end of the day, so you need to understand how your head should behave during those shots as well. Many amateur golfers struggle mightily with the short game, but it doesn't have to be that way. By dedicating practice time to learning how to hit better chips and putts, it is possible to quickly lower your scores through the use of a better short game.
The instruction regarding head movement in the short game is simple and straightforward – it shouldn't move at all. While there is wiggle room within the full swing to allow for your head movement, that isn't the case in the short game. When playing short chip shots or putts, you want to position your head properly over the ball at address – and then leave it there until the ball is on the way to the hole. Any premature head movement during short game shots is likely going to throw your swing or stroke off track, and the results are almost sure to be disappointing.
Why do you need to keep your head still while hitting short game shots? These are precision shots that are focused on technical execution rather than any kind of speed or power. You don't need to swing hard to hit a good putt or chip – you only need to perform your fundamentals to the best of your ability. Making clean contact with the ball on the center of the club face is paramount on short shots, and that certainly is made easier when you keep your head still.
Fortunately, the task of keeping your head still on short shots is far easier than it is when you are trying to send the ball hundreds of yards in the air. There won't be any big shoulder turn to worry about, and you shouldn't have to struggle to keep your balance. Set up over the ball in a comfortable position, and simply rock the club back and through while keeping your head (and most of the rest of your body) as still as possible. Many players struggle with the short game because they make it too complicated – keep things as simple as you can when you are on or around the greens and your results will improve.
The best way to practice this element of your short game is to start with extremely short putts. With your ball resting just a couple of feet from the hole, knock the putt in while keeping your head totally still. This should not be much of a challenge from such short distance, so you will likely have no problem holding your head totally still while rolling in putt after putt. As you gain confidence, slowly back up farther and farther away from the hole until you are rolling putts from 20 feet or longer with no problem. Now that you are confident in your ability to putt with a stable head position, move off the green and hit a few chip shots using the same concept. This might be a little more difficult, as many players struggle with moving their head too much while chipping. Start with short and easy chip shots from good lies, and only add difficultly when you are ready.
Keeping your head still in generally a good thing in golf – as long as you don't take it too far. When swinging the club, you don't need to hold perfectly still, as there is nothing wrong with a little movement as long as the fundamentals of your swing are in place. However, in the short game, perfectly still should be the goal. With a clear picture of proper head movement in your mind, you should be able to go forward and practice your swing with confidence.