The classic low-and-slow takeaway is a seemingly simple technique, but golfers often forget a crucial element – moving the shoulders in tandem with the arms.
Some players focus so intently on maintaining the triangle between the arms, wrists and hands, and on keeping the clubhead hugging the ground, they move only those parts necessary to get the job done (i.e. the triangle).
If the shoulders don't engage, however, several problems can result. For instance, the club doesn't rotate properly, forcing the face into a closed position relative to the target line; the shoulders don't make a complete turn, limiting power and impeding a proper weight shift; and the rotation of the hips is inhibited, yet another power killer.
To make sure your shoulders are in sync with the arms and hands on the takeaway, analyze your swing using these checkpoints:
- Hands at hip height: When the hands reach this point, the shaft should be parallel to the ground and the club's toe pointed straight up. If it points in front of you, the face has under-rotated, possibly (though not necessarily) because your shoulders aren't turning.
- Top of the backswing: With the driver, your shoulders should be at or near a 90° angle to the target line. Put another way, your back should face the target itself. If you've failed to reach this position – provided you have the flexibility to do so -- you've under-rotated the shoulders.
Ensure that your shoulders are free to make a full turn by keeping your chin up at address, which allows the left shoulder to pass underneath it. And always relax the shoulders, arms and hands before starting your swing. Light grip pressure (4-5 on a scale to 10) is a must.
Takeaway Don't Forget the Shoulders
As you stand over the ball preparing to swing, it is easy to have a number of different thoughts running through your head. Unlike in other sports, the golf swing takes place on your own terms – no one else influences the timing of when you start your swing. This is a nice advantage in some ways, but it can make things difficult as well. Many golfers over the years have become 'frozen' in their address positions, unsure of what to do first in order to start the swing. To make sure you don't become one of the many golfers prone to freezing at address, it is important for you to understand the value of using your shoulders to initiate the action.
At first, you might think it makes more sense to use your hands to start the swing. After all, your hands are the only part of your body actually touching the club, so shouldn't they be in charge of the action? While they will eventually take control, you don't want to let your hands do too much work early on. In order to set yourself on a nice swing plane with a smooth rhythm, it is best to use your shoulders at the outset of the motion. A simple rotation of your shoulders is all that is needed to move the club head back away from the ball. Once the takeaway is complete, other parts of your body can get involved in order to produce a quality golf swing.
One of the best things about focusing on the use of your shoulders in the takeaway is the simplicity that this technique offers your game. It is hard to find simplicity in golf, as this is a difficult and complicated game. However, if you are willing to focus only on your shoulders when you start the swing, your mind will be uncluttered and relaxed. It is unlikely that you will wind up frozen over the ball when thinking this way, as there won't be conflicting ideas clogging your mind. With clarity and purpose now present in your takeaway, your swing can get off to a great start.
Obviously, the takeaway is only but one small part of the overall swing as a whole. With that said, it is an important part and one which should not be taken for granted. Most amateur golfers never actually practice their takeaway, as they are too busy focusing on other parts of the swing. Spend some time on this specific element during an upcoming range session and you should notice almost immediate improvement. Practicing your takeaway might not be the most exciting part of your next trip to the range, but it could be the most productive. With an improved takeaway led by the rotation of your shoulders, the sky will be the limit for what you can accomplish on the course.
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.
The Benefits of a Shoulder-Based Takeaway
There are a number of ways in which to swing the golf club successfully. Is it possible to make a good swing by using your hands instead of your shoulders to start the swing? Sure, it's possible, but that technique would not be recommended for most players. In this section, we are going to highlight a number of advantages which will be enjoyed when you use your shoulders to drive the takeaway motion. You might not see all of these benefits come through immediately, but they should show themselves in time if you stick with this style of takeaway.
- Stay on plane. Without a doubt, this is the biggest advantage of starting your swing with your shoulders. If you were to use your hands to initiate the takeaway, the club would almost certainly be moved immediately to the inside of the proper swing path. This would create a 'flat' plane early in the backswing, and you would spend the rest of your swing trying to get back on track. Most likely, you would never find the right plane again, and your shot would be off target. Instead, by putting the control of the takeaway in your shoulders, the club will naturally trace the appropriate plane for the first foot or so of the swing. You would still have work to do in order to stay on plane, but at least you would be going in the right direction initially. Many amateur golfers go wrong on the issue of swing plane immediately as their swing begins, and the rest of the action is a lost cause as a result. Don't put yourself in the position of having to scramble to recover from an early mistake – start out on the right plane and stay there throughout.
- Start slow. One of the problems with using your hands to start the swing is that the initial action is going to be quite sudden when the club moves back from the ball. It is hard to be smooth when using your hands only, as your hands are full of small muscles which are built to move quickly. By shifting control of the takeaway to your shoulders, the start of the move should be smooth and your tempo should get off to a nice start. Your swing can and will pick of speed as it moves along, so let it start slowly and save the speed for when you really need it – at the moment of impact.
- Keep things simple. This point was mentioned in the introduction, but it should be highlighted again here due to its importance. When you are preparing to start your swing, the last thing you want is a collection of thoughts clouding up your mind. If your mind is overrun with various ideas, you may not be able to start the swing at all. That isn't going to be a problem when your shoulder turn is the primary focus at address. Once you are set into your stance, shift your attention to making a great shoulder turn and you will find it easy to start the swing. This simple approach will help you stay relaxed throughout the round because you won't be trying to sort through all of your different swing thoughts prior to every shot.
- Promote a shallow angle of attack. Many amateur golfers swing down steeply into the ball at impact, taking big divots and creating excessive amounts of spin. As a better option, you want to try bringing the club in on a relatively shallow path. You still want to hit down with your irons, of course, but only from a moderate angle. By sweeping the club back thanks to the use of your shoulders, you will be set for a shallow attack angle when you eventually return to impact. If you usually take huge divots when you hit your irons, and you have trouble controlling your ball flight as a result, learning to use your shoulders in the takeaway could be a huge help.
Overall, your swing stands to improve dramatically when you put the control of your takeaway into your shoulders rather than your hands. Will this be an easy change to make if you are used to using your hands to start the swing? No – not necessarily. It is certainly possible to make the adjustment, however, as long as you are willing to put in some effort at the range. As you start to see improvements in your game thanks to this adjustment, you should only become more and more motivated to make this technique a permanent part of your swing.
Making It Happen
While using your shoulders to start the golf swing is a relatively simple action, you still need to know exactly how to complete this move properly. Any mistakes you make early in your swing are going to be magnified later on, so it is essential to get this right. It will take a little practice to get comfortable with the technique required, but once you master it you will find that it's easy to repeat over and over again.
- Before any action in the swing can begin, you need to go through your pre-shot routine carefully. Make sure you select the right club for the shot, pick out a specific target to use as your aim point, and clear your mind of any distractions. When you walk up to take your stance, you should only be focused on executing a great swing at a precise target.
- Once you do take your stance, it is important that you keep your chin up away from your chest at address. Pushing your chin down into your chest will block the path of your left shoulder as it turns away from the target. Many players make a mistake on this point, thinking they have to 'keep their head down'. You do need to keep your eyes down on the ball during the swing, but you don't have to force your chin down into your chest. Your head needs to stay up throughout the swing in order to let your shoulders turn freely, so the saying 'head up, eyes down' is a great one to keep in mind as you practice.
- With all of your preparations complete, it will finally be time to put the club in motion. To do so, simply turn your left shoulder under your chin. That's it. While that sounds incredibly simple, it really is all you need to do. Your hands should be quiet, your wrists should be quiet, and your head should be steady during this early stage of the swing. Rotate your left shoulder under your chin, let the club move away from the ball slowly, and then continue on with the rest of your backswing.
Simplicity is the key word throughout this process. You want to make your takeaway as simple as possible by eliminating all unnecessary moving parts. The only thing you need to do to get the swing off to a good start is to turn your left shoulder under your chin. Do that time after time and your swing will be perfectly positioned to finish with a powerful strike and an accurate shot.
Finishing the Job
Once you learn how to use your shoulders to trigger the backswing, you can be confident in the fact that your swing is starting correctly. Unfortunately, simply starting off on the right foot does not guarantee a quality shot when all is said and done. You are going to need to string together a collection of further mechanics in order to finish of your swing properly. In this section, we are going to walk through the key pieces of technique which should take you from the takeaway on through to the finish.
As you work on putting together a complete golf swing, check on the points listed below.
- Setting the club. Ironically, one of the key points in the backswing is to set your wrists properly in order to move the club into position. This is ironic because up until this point, we have been working on keeping your hands out of the swing. However, that only applies to the takeaway, as you will need to use your hands once you get farther into the action. As the club begins to move up away from the ground, hinge your wrists to create a 90-degree angle between your left arm and the shaft of the club. Forming this angle is essential if you wish to hit powerful golf shots. With your angle set in the backswing, you can then turn your attention to other matters before arriving at the moment of impact.
- Completing your turn. Even as your hands begin to get involved in the swing, you should still be using your shoulders to rotate fully away from the target. It is important that you give yourself sufficient time to turn away from the target before you transition into the downswing. Ideally, you will allow your left shoulder to pass under your chin as you turn, and your back should be facing the target at the top. Many golfers cut their turn short as a result of impatience, so be sure to avoid putting yourself in that group. Take your time, finish the turn, and start your downswing once all necessary backswing moves have been completed.
- Hips start the action. Just as you used your shoulders to initiate the backswing, you are going to use your hips to initiate the downswing. Specifically, you should be thinking about using your left hip to rotate toward the target aggressively. As the club arrives at the top of the swing, focus on getting the downswing started by turning your left hip open. At this point, your lower body should be 'turning away' from your upper body, creating separation between the two. That separation is going to become important later in the downswing, as the club will accelerate powerfully as your upper body catches back up to your hips.
- Hold the angle. Remember the angle you created earlier between your left arm and the shaft of the club? You are now going to work to maintain that angle for as long as possible into the downswing. Many golf instructors refer to this angle as the 'lag' in your swing, and it is one of the most powerful elements you have working to your advantage. It is common for amateur golfers to give away this angle early in the downswing, which is why so many players struggle to hit the ball long distances. Hold on to your angle by pulling the club down toward the ball with the back of your left hand. Don't worry about timing your release – the release will happen 'automatically' when you continue your turn all the way through impact.
- Reach a full finish. To complete the swing, you need to make your way up into a full finish. The majority of your weight should be on your left foot by the time you finish your swing, and your right heel should be up off the ground. It is important to swing all the way to a full finish because this will indicate that you have accelerated through the ball properly. If you quit on your swing prematurely, you will never live up to your distance potential – even if you do everything else properly.
As you can see, there is a lot to do in the golf swing. Navigating the takeaway properly by using your shoulders to start the action is a great start, but there is a long way to go before you can proudly watch the ball sail toward the target. Use the tips provided in this section to guide your upcoming practice sessions and you can slowly but surely see your results improve.
The Takeaway in the Short Game
Anytime you work on mechanics in your full swing, you should stop for a moment to think about how those mechanics are going to impact your short game. Of course, you have to make a takeaway in your short game just as you do in your long game, so this is a topic which is relevant across the board. The idea of using your shoulders to start the swing is going to apply to some, but not all, of your short game shots.
To start with, we can check putting off the list right away. You are only going to use your shoulders to move the putter, so naturally you will be using your shoulders to start the stroke. To put your putter in motion, simply move your left shoulder down toward the ground while keeping your hands and wrists as quiet as possible. The best putting strokes are those which simply rock the shoulders back and forth with no movement throughout the rest of the body.
When you step off of the green and put a wedge in your hands, things get a little more complicated with regard to the takeaway. Check out the points below to gain a clearer understanding of how to take the club back when chipping from around the green.
- Clean lie, use shoulders. If you have a good lie on the short grass around the green, use your shoulders to put the club into action. You will want to make a shallow swing in this case, so allowing your shoulders to start the swing is an appropriate choice.
- Rough lie, use hands and wrists. Should the ball be sitting down in the rough, you are going to need to use your hands to start the chipping motion. It is important to hit down on these kinds of shots, and using your hands to start the swing is going to establish the path you need to carve the ball out cleanly. Since you are only making a short swing, there is no need to worry about your hands forcing the club off-plane.
- Bunker shot, use hands and wrists. You are also going to engage your hands and wrists early in the swing when playing an explosion shot from a greenside bunker. It is important to create as much speed as possible on this kind of shot, and using your hands will help toward that end. Your lower body should be quiet on a bunker shot, so rely on your hands and arms to develop the speed you need.
Mastering the takeaway in your golf swing will improve your chances of playing at a high level. Is the takeaway the only important part of the swing which you need to practice? Of course not. It is an important piece of the puzzle, however, and it is one which is ignored by many golfers. Learn how to use your shoulders to start the swing and expect improved results sooner rather than later. Good luck!