The swings of professional golfers vary markedly in both style and fundamentals. Contrast the picture-perfect positions of Adam Scott with the baffling loops of Jim Furyk, or Rory McIlroy's graceful rhythm with the lightning flash of Rickie Fowler's downswing.
Differences aside, there are a half-dozen or so characteristics you'll find in nearly every pro's swing. Each of these elements plays a part in achieving the No. 1 similarity found among pros – a clubface that's square to the target line and accelerating at impact.
Here's a snapshot of the commonalities in pro golfers' swings; naturally, they're all worth emulating:
- Light grip pressure: You won't see any bulging veins or rippling forearm muscles when a pro grips the club. They put just enough pressure on the handle to keep it secure, but not to enough to cause swing-killing tension. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being tightest, a grip pressure of 4 or 5 is recommended.
- One piece takeaway: Maintaining the triangle formed by your arms, wrists and hands is critical in the early stages of the backswing. This helps create a wide swing arc, boosting power, while engaging the shoulders and preventing the hands from taking over.
- Full shoulder turn: While the degree of backswing hip turn varies among pros, nearly all of them rotate the shoulders to a 90° (or greater) angle to the target line. This is one of the biggest keys to generating power.
- Starting the downswing with the lower body: It's almost imperceptible at full speed, but slow motion reveals that pros begin the downswing by pressing the left heel to the ground and rotating or sliding the left hip toward the target. This starts a chain reaction that pulls the torso, shoulders, arms and club in order.
- Clubhead lag: The above sequence causes the arms and hands to “drop” from the top of the swing, actually increasing the amount of wrist cock and narrowing the angle between the left forearm and club shaft. This power-storing angle, called “lag,” is maintained as the pro's body continues unwinding toward the target and the arms approach the ball.
- Iron shaft lean at impact: How do the pros hit their iron shots so far, with so much spin and control? By getting their hands ahead of the clubhead at impact. This “traps” the ball against the turf and compresses it to the clubface, maximizing distance and backspin.
How many of these moves and positions do you share with golf's best? The more the better.
Swing Elements All Pro Golfers Share
One of the enjoyable parts about watching a professional golf tournament on TV - or in person, if you get the chance - is the opportunity to see just how many different ways the swing can be executed. Obviously, every pro golfer on Tour is able to hit plenty of great shots, as it is impossible to even get to that level in the first place unless you are a quality player. However, you will quickly notice while watching any tournament that there is no one right away to swing the club. Every player has a swing that is uniquely his or her own, and yet they are all able to play to a high standard. Therefore, when thinking about your own game, it should be obvious that you don't need to copy anyone else's technique - find your own way and you can be successful.
With that said, there are still some fundamentals within the game of golf that aren't going away anytime soon. Despite the fact that every swing on Tour looks a little bit different from the rest, they all still share some common characteristics that are important for good ball striking. Unfortunately, most amateur golfers don't share all of these swing characteristics with their Tour-level counterparts. If you would like to take your game to a new level of consistency and quality, adding each of these points to your technique should become a priority.
The things that pro golfers have in common within their swings tend to be the very basic building blocks of the game. You have probably heard all of these points before, and you probably think of them as being too basic to worry about during your practice sessions. It is easy to get caught up in the complicated parts of swing theory on the driving range, while simultaneously losing track of the basics. Want to play your best golf? Simplify your swing and focus all of your practice time on the true fundamentals.
It is important to remember that you still don't need to 'copy' the swing technique of any specific golfer. You need to swing like you. However, the goal here is to continue to swing like you while also adding in the fundamentals that are going to allow you to be successful from a ball striking standpoint. In the end, you will ideally be left with a swing that is uniquely your own and is also highly effective based on the groundwork that you have laid during your driving range sessions.
All of the instruction contained 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.
Element #1 - Balance
If you are a serious golfer and you have spent some time previously reading about golf instruction or taking lessons, the first point on this list should be no surprise. Balance has always been one of the top fundamentals within the golf swing, and it will remain that way as long as people are playing this great game. For the amateur golfer, balance should always be right at the top of the priority list when practicing at the range. Without balance, you will never be able to play your best golf – it is just that simple.
Why is balance so important? It all starts with the point of contact. In order to hit good shots, you have to be able to strike the ball cleanly time after time. If you don't make clean contact, it won't matter how hard you are swinging because much of that energy will be lost when you strike the ball on the toe or in off of the heel. Remaining balanced makes it far easier to deliver the club accurately into the ball, even when the club head is travelling at 100 miles per hour or more.
Staying balanced means that your body is in the same place swing after swing, so your hands and arms know what to expect as you reach impact. Many golfers struggle with hitting the ball solidly just because they sway from side to side during the swing. By moving all around during the swinging action, you are only making your job as a golfer that much harder. Hold your balance nicely, even if that means you can't swing quite as hard as you would otherwise, and your game is certain to improve.
Now that you understand how important it is to stay balance, you need to know what good balance looks like in the swing. It all starts with a stable, even address position. As you stand over the ball, your weight should be distributed evenly between your two feet, and you should feel comfortable and ready to make an aggressive swing. If you are even slightly off balance before starting the swing, things could go all wrong when the club goes in motion. Take the time necessary to build a comfortable and balanced stance over the ball, and then rehearse that stance over and over until it becomes second nature. Good balance, just like everything else in the golf swing, starts with a great address position.
With your address position sorted out, it is time for the club to start in motion. As you take the club back to the right and away from the target, your weight should not come along for the ride. This is the point in the swing when most amateur golfers go wrong, and they typically are not able to recover. It is a common mistake to allow the whole body to drift to the right along with the club head, but this move will put you off balance as the majority of your weight will end up out over your right foot. From there, you would have to slide left to recover – a move which is nearly impossible to execute with any level of consistency.
Instead of sliding right, focus on keeping your weight right in the middle of your feet throughout the backswing. In fact, when you arrive at the top of the swing, your weight should be in basically the same position that it was at address. Of course, your body will be in a different position, as your shoulders will have turned away form the target and your hands will be up near your right ear, but the center of gravity that you had at address should remain unchanged. When you execute this kind of backswing properly, the swing looks very simple and under control – which is the opposite of how you would describe most amateur golf swings.
Only when the downswing begins should there be any kind of change in your center of gravity. As you begin to move toward the target, your weight will shift to the left while the club begins to fall into position. However, this is another point where things can go wrong if you aren't careful. Many golfers make the mistake of sliding toward the target from the top of the swing, when it is actually a rotational motion that is needed. By turning left, you will naturally be moving your weight toward the target and onto your left foot. Focus on the turn and let the weight transfer happen – not the other way around. It is the rotation that is going to create speed and power in your swing, so make it the main objective in your downswing.
At the end of your swing, you can check on your balance by testing how long you can hold your finish position. When the club stops moving and you are watching the ball sail through the air, hold your body in position for as long as possible. Ideally, you will be able to hold your stance until the ball lands. If you can't hold for that long, there may be a problem somewhere in your balance. Go back through your swing and look for any points where you may be getting off track with the positioning of your center of gravity. There is no single point that is as important to your swing as balance, so only move on to other fundamentals when you are confident you have this one handled.
Element #2 – Eye Control
You would have to watch golf for a long time to find a player who wasn't looking at the ball when he or she made contact. It is crucial that you are looking at the ball when you reach the bottom of your swing, as this is one of the best ways to improve your quality of contact. It is hard to hit something you can't see, so make sure your gaze is locked on the ball all the way through the swing until it is sent on its way.
This is a point that often gets confused with 'keeping your head down' when amateur golfers pass tips back and forth amongst themselves. In fact, the idea of keeping your head down is one that has been far overused throughout golf history. It is true that you don't want your head coming up quickly prior to making contact, but it is okay if your head is moving a little bit during the swing. For most players, it is nearly impossible to keep the head perfectly still during the swing as it can get in the way of the rotation that is needed to hit the shot.
Rather than worrying about keeping your head down, focus your efforts on making sure you look at the ball throughout the swing. It is easy to get distracted, of course, because there is so much else to worry about in the swing. You might be tempted to follow the club head back with your eyes during the takeaway to see if it is on track, or you might want to look up early to see where the ball is going. It requires discipline to keep your eyes on the ball, but it can be done.
One easy trick you can use to help yourself focus on the ball is to draw something unique on the ball prior to starting the round. The standard golf ball is pretty boring and generic, with a white cover, a brand name, and a number. However, if you use a marker to draw something personal and specific on the side of the ball, you can use that point to focus your attention. For example, you could choose to draw a couple of stars on your ball. Then, each time you get ready to swing, you bring your eyes to one of the stars and you don't look away until the ball has been launched into the distance. It doesn't really matter what it is that you draw, as long as it will work for holding your attention from address all the way through impact.
The nice thing about working on your eye control in the golf swing is how important this point is in the short game as well. You need to keep your eyes focused on the ball when chipping and putting just as when hitting full shots, so practice time spent on learning how to control your eyes should pay off all throughout the course. There might not be anything particularly exciting about practicing your eye control, but it is the little details that pay off the biggest in golf.
Element #3 – Lower Body Leads the Way
Have you ever wondered how Tour players are able to hit the ball so far with swings that look so simple and smooth? Most amateur golfers have stared at their TV in amazement on a Sunday afternoon while watching a skinny Tour pro launch the ball 300+ yards in the air. While it is amazing to watch, there really is no mystery – pro golfers are capable of great distances because their use their lower bodies to start the downswing.
There are obviously plenty of other things that go into a golf swing, but getting started with the lower body really is the crux of the matter. If you get to the top of the swing and start your motion left with a rotation of the hips, you will be capable of generating some nice speed. That doesn't mean you will instantly hit it as far as your favorite Tour pro, but you should be able to add distance quickly. On the other hand, if it is your hands and arms that start the downswing, you will always struggle to produce satisfactory distance off the tee or from the fairway.
Part of the problem that amateur golfers face is their tendency to rush at the top of the swing. When you rush, your lower body will never have a chance to get out in front of your hands and arms. There needs to be a good rhythm and plenty of patience in charge of your golf swing during the transition. Allow the club to 'settle' at the top of the swing while your lower body is kicking things into gear. Once the legs and hips have started the turn toward the target, you will be able to bring the club down into position to strike the ball.
The tendency to start the hands first in the downswing before the lower body is also responsible for the slicing problem that is seen throughout much of the amateur game. Countless players around the world struggle with the slice, and many are unaware that the fix could be as simple as learning how to start the downswing with the lower body. If you can kick your lower body into motion prior to letting your arms get started, you can mostly eliminate the slice without making any other changes. Starting your arms first forces them to go up and away from the body, which puts them over the proper swing plane and an out-to-in swing is inevitable. However, if the lower body starts first and it turns toward the target aggressively, the hands will drop into position and the downswing will be perfectly on track.
Learning how to start your downswing with your legs instead of your arms is one of the more-challenging tasks that you can give yourself on the driving range. Even still, it is worth your time to take up this effort. When you do manage to figure it out and your lower body starts to lead your upper body into impact, you will be left with a swing that is far more powerful than anything you have used previously. There is likely far more power contained deep within your swing than you ever knew, and letting your lower body go first will unlock it once and for all.
Element #4 – Confidence
You can't see this element when you watch a pro swing the club on TV, but you can be sure that it is there. It is simply impossible to get to the highest level of the game without a tremendous amount of self-confidence and belief in one's own abilities. Golf is an incredibly hard game, and the professional version of the sport is unforgiving to say the least. Just a single bad shot over the course of a four-day event can mean the difference between hoisting the trophy and driving home disappointed. The stakes are high at the top of the game, and a high level of confidence is required to perform under that kind of pressure.
Most likely, confidence is not something that you have much of in your own golf game. Most amateur golfers are happy to talk about how bad they are at the game, and only a few have the courage to trust their talent and talk about how many different shots they can execute properly. While you might not be the best golfer in the world, there is a good chance that you area better player than you give yourself credit for – and closing the distance between your belief and your talent is an opportunity for improvement.
If you want to be a good golfer, you have to think like one. There is no way around this simple fact. The best golfers in the world have confidence that they will make a good swing every time they stand over the ball, while amateur players assume they are going to make some kind of mistake. Think about this point honestly – when was the last time you truly trusted your golf swing to lead to a great result? If you are like most average players, the answer to that question may be 'never'. Amateurs are always look for ways that things can go wrong, while good players are always expecting to be successful. Learn a lesson from that difference in attitude and you can take a big step forward in your game.
It is important to note that you don't have to hit great shots every time you swing the club in order to have confidence. You know who else hits bad shots from time to time? Pro golfers. If you pay close attention while watching on TV, you will see plenty of poor shots mixed in with the great ones. Golf is a hard game, and failure is just part of the deal. Pro golfers don't allow a few poor shots to eat away at their confidence level, and you shouldn't either. Confidence is the hidden swing element that you can't see, but it is always necessary if good golf is the goal.
You will be well on your way toward being a quality golfer if you can successfully check off each of the four elements listed above. With good balance, consistent eye control, a leading lower body, and plenty of confidence, there won't be much that can go wrong in your swing. Take the time to address all of these points and the shots you hit on the course should quickly improve in quality and decrease in quantity. You may never quite rise to the level of Tour pro, but you can sure learn a lot from how they play the game.