Do you hit the golf ball, or does the ball simply “get in the way” of your swing?
While there's no right or wrong answer, the latter concept provides a good image for developing a fluid, rhythmic swing which accelerates into and through the ball. Building this type of swing requires an ability to feel the clubhead from the start of your motion to the finish, a trait which all top golfers share.
To get an idea of what it means to “feel the clubhead,” take your driver and waggle it above the ground in small circles, back and forth, up and down. Do you feel the weight of the clubhead, or does the entire club feel like one piece?
If you can't differentiate the clubhead from the rest, your grip pressure is too tight. Try the same routine with a lighter touch. Feel the clubhead now?
In an effort to muscle up for extra distance, golfers often squeeze the driver too hard. This has the unintended effect of causing tension and actually slowing down the swing. Before each tee shot, use the waggle drill described above to find a grip pressure allowing you to feel the clubhead, then duplicate this pressure when you hit the shot.
The same concept applies throughout the bag, of course. Hold the club loosely enough to feel the clubhead and you'll swing more freely, engage your body's big muscles and enjoy the sensation of the ball just getting in the way of your swing.
The Importance of Feeling the Club Head
When you make a golf swing, there are plenty of moving parts to consider. Nearly every part of your body plays a role in moving the club through the backswing and downswing, and the club will hopefully be traveling at a high rate of speed when it reaches the ball – meaning everything has to be just right if you are going to hit a good shot in the direction of your chosen target. It is easy to get distracted by everything that is going on in the swing, but there is really only one thing that you need to focus on – the club head. If you are able to control the club head through the hitting area, in terms of both face angle and swing path, you will be well on your way to quality ball striking.
Most amateur golfers don't 'feel' the club head during their swing. Instead, they simply whip their arms around their body as fast as possible, trying to smash the ball in the general direction of the hole. However, golf is a precision game, and this power-first approach is unlikely to be effective. Instead, you need to learn how to manage the position and path of the club head throughout the swing if you are going to have control over your ball from the first hole to the last. Professional golfers do a great job of feeling the club head during their swings, and you should strive for the same sort of feelings in your own swing.
One of the most important things that you can gain by feeling the club head is tempo that will carry throughout your game. Good tempo is imperative to good golf, yet most players don't make this part of the game a top priority. Feeling the way the club head is moving throughout your swing is an excellent way to improve your rhythm overall, as you will be keenly aware of the speed of your motion. It is easy to let your hands get carried away during the swing, but by placing the focus on the club head, you make it more likely that you will be able to achieve a smooth, whole-body swing.
Once you are able to feel the club head with all of your swings, you will have a much better chance of producing a variety of shots based on the situation in front of you. Altering your ball flight to change the direction or the curve or the height of the flight takes great skill, and you have to be able to feel the club head in order to develop that skill. If you don't know where the club head is at all times, or what it is doing, you won't be able to manipulate your shots effectively. If you have the desire to lower your scores over time, shaping shots is going to be a big part of that progress. Emphasize learning how to feel the club head and your overall ball striking ability will take a great step forward.
All of the instruction 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.
It Starts with the Grip
In order to actually feel the movement of the club head throughout your swing, the first thing you need to do is ensure that you are using a light grip pressure from address all the way through to the finish. A light grip pressure will keep your fingers relaxed around the handle of the club, giving them improved feel and sensation while the club is in motion. Most amateur golfers squeeze the grip tightly during the swing, and they pay the price in the way of losing feel. Have you ever wondered how professional golfers can make the swing look so effortless while still hitting the ball amazing distances? It starts with a light grip pressure, as the hands stay out of the way while the club does the work of hitting the ball. To feel the club head as well as create power and freedom in your swing, light grip pressure is critical.
Unfortunately, the process of changing from a tight grip to a light one can be challenging to say the least. Many players feel like they are going to lose control of the club when they use a light grip, so they hold on tighter simply to make sure nothing slips as they go through impact. There is a fine line between controlling the club and squeezing too hard, and you will need to learn how to walk that line effectively if you are going to succeed on the course. A grip that is too tight will make it impossible to feel the club head, and a grip that is too light will run the risk of losing control over the golf club (potentially putting those around you while you are swinging in danger).
To learn how to find the perfect balance between the two grip extremes, start small and work your way up to faster and faster swings. In fact, the best place to start is on the putting green. Head over to the practice green and roll some putts while using a very light grip pressure. Obviously, while putting, you don't have to worry about the club flying out of your hands because you will only be making a small swing. Even if you did lose control of the putter at impact, the worst that would happen is the putter could fall to the ground. Hit a series of putts with a light grip to learn how it feels as you move through the ball. Make gradual adjustments to your grip tension until you settle on a point that you are happy with for putting purposes. The grip tension you wind up using should be tight enough to control the club, and no tighter.
Once you have successfully dealt with the challenge of putting with a light grip, you can then move on to chipping. While chipping, use the same process of starting out with a light grip and make adjustments as needed until that 'sweet spot' has been reached. After chipping, move up to pitching, and then to hitting some full wedge shots. Eventually, you should be able to make it all the way to the driver while using a grip that is neither too tight or too relaxed.
Working your way up is the best way to learn how to relax your grip – and you should find that you have a much better feel for the club head after you take the time to go through this process. If you were to start out by hitting drivers immediately while relaxing your grip, the results may be ugly. Not only will you have trouble hitting good shots, you might even lose the club through the hitting area – which would be a dangerous result for both the condition of your club and the health of those around you on the practice range. Working your way up through the set by hitting longer and longer shots is a great way to learn as you go, instead of diving in all at once.
After the practice sessions have been completed, you should be able to use a relatively light grip pressure for almost all of your shots on the course. The only exception to that rule is when you are playing from the heavy rough. If long grass is surrounding your ball, go ahead and hold on a bit tighter because you will need to control the position of the club head through impact. While you might lose a bit of feel for the club head on these kinds of shots, that is a necessary trade off in order to make sure your club face holds as square as possible to the target line. For all other shots, however, prioritize a light grip pressure and your feel for the club head throughout the swing will quickly improve.
Holding the Lag
One of the most-common amateur mistakes in the game of golf is losing the angle between the left arm and the club shaft in the downswing. This angle is commonly referred to as 'lag', and it is critical when you are trying to build power in your swing. Without lag, your swing will be limited in the power that it can create, and you will never be able to blast the ball down the fairway with the longest hitters in your group. To learn how to hold lag and maximize your power, you will need to have great feel for the club head throughout the downswing.
As the club changes direction from backswing to downswing, there is going to be a nice angle formed between your left arm and the shaft of the club – and angle that should be somewhere in the area of 90* or even more. As you start down, it is your job to keep that angle, or possibly increase it by a few degrees. It is during the start of the backswing when most amateur golfers waste this angle, choosing instead to use their hands to force the club head down toward the ball prematurely. The result is wasted power, as the club will inevitably be slowing down by the time it reaches impact with this swing method. Instead, you need to save that hand action until the last possible moment, using it to unleash all of your stored up energy into the back of the ball.
When you have a good feel for the club head, you will know when you have reached exactly the right time to use your hands to fire through the ball. You will be able to feel the club head lagging behind your hands all the way down, and you will then be able to work hard to hold on to that sensation for as long as possible. The feeling of keeping the club head back is a powerful one – once you have experienced it and witnessed its potential. If there is a 'secret' to hitting long shots, it is holding your lag for as long as possible. Lag is a notoriously difficult thing to learn, but having an awareness of the position of the club head in your downswing is a great start. Pay attention to where your club head is at all times, and only ask your hands to move it through the ball when the moment finally does arrive at the bottom of the swing.
To practice holding your lag and feeling the club head on the way down, try making some practice swings with only your left hand on the club. You don't need to swing hard while doing this drill – just use your left hand to swing the club back and forth as you feel the club head accelerate through the downswing. Without your right hand to 'get in the way', you will be free to use your lag properly on the way down. After making several one-handed practice swings, put your right hand back on the grip and hit a few shots. As long as you don't allow your right hand to interrupt the process of lagging the club down into the ball, you should be able to quickly unlock some additional speed that wasn't previous present in your swing.
Give Your Game Focus
Deciding what to focus your mind on during the swing can be a major challenge for the average golfer. It is easy to think about a million different things as you are standing over the ball – which way is the wind blowing? What hazards do I need to look out for on this shot? Who is watching me swing? If you allow your mind to get pulled in a variety of different directions, you will fail to focus on the actual execution of your swing. For that reason, it is important that you have a single point that you can focus on from address all the way through until the shot is complete. Thinking about the the club head is a great way to get your mind off of the results of the shot and onto the process of sending the ball toward the target.
Learning how to think during your swing is almost as important as learning the actual mechanics of the swinging motion. Your mind plays a big role in the golf swing, so using it to your advantage (instead of to your disadvantage) can take you to a new level on the course. Most players allow their mind to get in the way, providing doubt and fear instead of positivity and confidence. If you can think about the club head during your swing, you will be directing your brain activity away from fears and onto something productive and useful. It might not be easy at first to direct your brain onto the movements of the club head, but this is a trick that is certainly worth a try.
As you stand over the ball, look down and pick out a spot on the top of the golf ball that you can use to focus your eyes throughout the swing. Once you are locked in on your spot, go ahead and start your swing by thinking about the movement of the club head. Don't think about how you are moving the club, or what muscles need to get involved at what point. All of the work on the mechanical side of your swing has been done on the range already, and it is too late to change it now. Think only about how the club head needs to move, and count on your body to respond properly in order to get the job done. This kind of thinking during the swing takes trust, but your trust will be rewarded with impressive performance.
By thinking about the club head during the swing, you can avoid another one of the common pitfalls that average golfers run into – cutting the backswing short and rushing the downswing. If you are thinking only about your hands or arms during the swing, you might be tempted to cut everything short and start down before the backswing is actually finished. However, it is unlikely that you will make that same mistake when you are thinking about the club head throughout the swing. The club head has to trace a long arc before it is ready to change directions, so keeping your focus on that part of the swing should help you to avoid rushing at the worst possible time. This is especially important with the driver, as it has a long way to go around your body before it can make its way down into impact.
Short Game Concerns
The club head is obviously just as important in the short game as it is in the long game. If you can't feel the position of the club head in your short game shots, you will stand very little chance of placing the ball close to the hole. The short game is all about 'feel', and a big part of feel is understanding how the club head is moving throughout your short game swings. Whether you are putting, chipping, pitching, or hitting a bunker shot, the club head is equally critical to your success.
One of the key components to using the club head properly in the short game has already been covered in this article – using light grip pressure. A tight grip makes it nearly impossible to have a consistent short game, so this technical element of the game should be near the top of your to-do list. Fortunately, it is much easier to learn how to use a light grip pressure in your short game than it is in the long game, so this point shouldn't take long to incorporate into your technique. In fact, once you are using a light grip pressure on all of your short shots, you might be surprised to learn just how much easier the short game has become.
While you might think that it would be a good idea to simply use the same method of thinking about the club head during your short shots that you learned above for your full swing, that probably won't be the best course of action to take. Since your short game shots require only short swings, there won't be much time to think about the movement of the club head – therefore, you won't gain much benefit from using that mental technique. So what should you think about? Your target. On a putt, you should be focused solely on the line that you are trying to hit (not necessarily the hole, as you will have to account for the break of the putt). On a chip, pitch, or bunker shot, you will be focused on the landing spot that you have picked out ahead of time.
Being target focused in the short game will have the same effect as being focused on your club head in the long game – it will get your mind off of the potentially negative outcomes that could arise after you hit the shot. Worried about missing a three footer? Focus only on the line that you are trying to hit, and forget about the hole itself. Need to chip it close for a par save? Pick out a specific landing spot and think only about that spot while swinging the club. Many amateurs doubt the power of the mental game at first, but it is incredibly important to your overall success or failure on the course.
Most amateur golfers don't do a good job of feeling the club head, and they don't do a good job of controlling their ball flights as a result. If you would like to be different, use the content above to work on your ability to feel the club head throughout your swing. Once you understand what the club head should and should not be doing, you will stand a much better chance at delivering it into the ball properly time after time.