In general terms, golfers should be looking to match their swing plane around their body.
Players who are tall tend to favor and enjoy more success with an upright swing plane and smaller players tend to favor a flatter plane although it is perfectly possible for either profile of player to use either swing.
A very upright golf swing sees the club head trace a very straight path away from the ball during the back swing. It travels more straight back than around the golfer. When viewed from down the line (looking down the target line from behind the player) at half way back, during the back swing when the wrists begin to hinge upwards, the butt end of the club will point straight down at the ground with the club shaft pointing straight up at the sky. At the top of the back swing, the hands will be pushed upwards towards the sky with the left arm almost pointing vertically up. The down swing follows along the same path with the club head traveling along a very straight path into the ball. During the through swing the shaft quickly rises and points upwards towards the sky with the right arm, almost pointing vertically up at the top of the follow through. This is a very extreme upright swing and many players would struggle hitting the ball with such a technique. However, using an upright swing does have its advantages.
Swinging with an upright technique allows the feeling of swinging straight back and down the target line, keeping the swing traveling along a straighter path can help people square the club face at impact.
An upright golf swing can also help some players steepen their angle of attack into the ball making it easier to hit down on the ball and take divots.
People who are struggling with the dreaded 'shank' shot (when the ball is struck from the club's heel and flies horrifically off to the right) can also benefit from an upright swing. A shank is normally, but not exclusively, caused when the club travels from an inside path and the heel of the club is presented first to the ball. By taking the club away on a more upright swing path, it is possible to help stop the shank shot and find the middle of the club face.
An upright swing plane has some benefits as does a flatter swing plane. Both should be tried and experimented with to find which one works for you.
Upright Golf Swing Technique and Benefits
The plane of your golf swing has a lot to do with the shots that you are able to hit out on the course. Generally speaking, there are two different schools of thought when it comes to swing plane – flat, and upright. Golfers who use a flat swing plane keep the club on a lower path at it moves around their body. At the top of the club, the handle of the club is down close to the right shoulder (for a right handed golfer).
By contrast, an upright swing is one that moves the club higher into the air, and the grip end is well away from the shoulder at the top. Both of these methods can be used to hit quality golf shots, so you should simply pick the one that works best for your game.
An upright golf swing has a number of benefits that you can use to help lower your scores. One of the main advantages to using this method is the ability to get the ball started on the proper target line time after time. As you swing down from a steep angle, the club head will be able to stay on to the target line for a longer distance through the hitting area. Since the club will be 'chasing' the ball toward the target, you will have more opportunity to get the face square and hit a good shot. In a flatter swing, the face only remains square to the target line for a very short period of time, meaning your timing has to be just perfect in order to hit the ball toward the target. Players who choose to build their swings with an upright plane often do so because of the potential for great accuracy that it offers.
Another benefit of the upright approach is a steep angle of attack into the back of the ball. While this might not be a great thing with your driver, it is certainly an advantage when playing iron shots – especially from the rough. If you find your ball in the rough, you need to make a swing that allows the club head to miss the grass behind the ball in order to make solid contact. An upright swing plane is perfect for this job. Many flat plane swingers will have trouble from the rough, while those who use an upright plane will be able to get back onto the short grass in no time at all.
If you are used to playing the game with a flat plane, it will take some time and effort in order to convert your swing to an upright path. It is important that you don't get stuck between these two options, as there are specific fundamentals that apply only to one, and not the other. Pick a direction you want to go with your golf swing and be committed to that choice going forward.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Is an Upright Swing Right for You?
An upright swing isn't the right choice for every golfer. In fact, it can be harmful to your game if you force yourself to use an upright plane when the rest of your swing is ill suited for the change. Before you start altering any parts of your golf swing, you need to first determine if you should be using an upright swing path at all.
Following are three points that all indicate an upright path may be a good option for you and your golf game.
- You like to use your hands in your golf swing. This might be the most important point of all when it comes to an upright swing. You will need to use your hands more to manipulate the club when making an upright swing, so that should not be something that goes against your natural tendencies. If you are a player who is more comfortable making a 'body swing' where your hands play a passive role, you will be better served with a flat swing plane.
- You are a tall player. As a general rule, male golfers who stand more than six feet tall are good candidates to use an upright swing. For women, standing over 5'8'' or so qualifies. If you are shorter than those measurements, you might have difficulty creating enough room between the club and the ground to swing down on an upright plane. The club needs to be high in the air to reap the benefits of playing from an upright position, and shorter golfers may struggle to reach the necessary heights. With that said, this is not a hard and fast rule, and you can find short players excelling with upright swings. More often than not, however, a short player will benefit from a flat plane while a tall player will thrive using the upright technique.
- You are comfortable with a quiet lower body. Your legs will not play as much of a role in an upright swing as they will in a flat swing. An upright golf swing is one that is controlled by the arms and the hands, with the rest of the body working to support those moving parts. Of course, your lower body will still need to help you move the club down toward impact, but that movement won't be as aggressive as it is in a flat swing. With the upright approach, you are counting on the length of your downswing to enable you to build speed prior to contact. As the club swings down from a high position at the top of the backswing it gradually moves faster and faster until it tops out right at impact. If you are a player who is most comfortable swinging the club with your arms while your lower body plays a supporting role, the upright technique might be right up your alley.
It would be a mistake to go against these basic guidelines, because you will only be making the game harder than it needs to be. Golfers who don't fit into the criteria above may still be able to have success using an upright plane, but their path to lower scores will be far easier if they simply choose a flat swing plane. Think about your own game in regard to the three points above and decide if an upright swing plane is an idea that you should pursue.
What You Stand to Gain
Obviously, you should only make changes to your golf game if those changes are going to lead to lower scores. Otherwise, what's the point? Making changes to your swing requires plenty of time and effort, so you have to have a pretty good incentive on the other end of the process to it pay off. In this case, there are a number of ways that your golf game could improve as a result of using an upright swing. Two of those benefits – keeping the club face square longer through the hitting area, and improved performance from the rough – have been mentioned above.
Following are three more benefits that you will want to factor in to your decision as you choose which swing plane will be best for your game.
- Added distance in some cases. Not all golfers will hit the ball longer distances as a result of using an upright swing – but some will. If your change to an upright plane means that you are able to make better contact with the ball throughout the round, your distance will improve. You shouldn't switch to an upright swing plane specifically to add yards, but those extra yards may come along as an added bonus.
- Control over your trajectories. Good golfers have the ability to control the height of their shots, especially with their short irons. When you swing on an upright plane, it will be easier to adjust your ball flight up and down as necessary. The key to altering your trajectory is changing your ball flight at address, and those changes are easier to make when you use an upright swing. Players who use a flat plane have trouble moving the ball back in their stance – making it difficult to hit lower short iron shots on command.
- Great rhythm is developed. You have to have good rhythm to play well with an upright swing. Even if you don't have a naturally smooth tempo right now, you should notice that it improves over time as you hit more and more shots from an upright swing plane. Eventually, that rhythm will work its way into the rest of your game, and you may find that your chipping and putting are improved as a result.
There are plenty of reasons to use an upright swing. Plenty of the players on the PGA Tour use an upright swing plane because it is simply and effective way to hit great shots. Of course, that doesn't mean that it is going to be easy. Once you make the final decision to put an upright swing plane into your game, there will be plenty of hard work between you and the consistent swing of your dreams.
Making an Upright Swing
If you have decided to proceed with an upright swing, you will need to have a specific game plan in place for how you are going to put the right fundamentals into place. Without using the right techniques, trying to swing along an upright plane will be a failed experiment. All of the elements of your swing have to come together with a common goal of moving the club high up into the air on the backswing if you are going to be successful.
Following is a step by step process which highlights the proper way to make an upright golf swing.
- Everything in golf starts with your address position, and there are a couple of points that you need to hit on at address in order to set the stage for an upright swing. The first key is to stand slightly closer to the ball than you would with a flatter swing. You don't want to be reaching out in front of you at impact to make contact. Stand in a position that will allow your arms to hang down comfortably from your shoulders while the club head is resting behind the ball. The other address position point to keep in mind is the posture you have in your upper body. Your back should be straight, and you should not be bent over excessively from the waist. It is necessary to have a slight forward tilt from the waist at address, but make sure you aren't hunched over the shot.
- Once you are ready to start the club in motion, you want to focus on getting the club head up off the ground quickly during the takeaway. This is the opposite of golf instruction you will hear that is based on a flat swing. When using a flatter swing, the idea is to keep the club head low to the ground for as long as possible in the takeaway. However, for an upright swing plane, you need to get the club started up almost immediately. Use your hands and wrists to elevate the club head while turning your shoulders to the right at the same time. It is important to note that you shouldn't be lifting your hands early in the swing – just the club head. Use your hands to elevate the club head, but keep your hands low as they follow along with the rotation of your body. Eventually, the high position of the club head will pull your hands up into position.
- At the top of the backswing, you want to find a position that has the shaft of the club pointing roughly at your target. With your hands high in the air and the club somewhere up behind your head, the shaft should be approximately parallel to the ground. As the club hits that parallel position, ask a friend to check the position of the shaft relative to your target. If the club is pointing near the target at this point in the swing, you can be confident that you are on the right track. Many golfers will find that they are laid off at this point – meaning the club is pointing to the left of the target. When that is the case, work on making a better shoulder turn early in the backswing to get the club into the correct position.
- As the club starts down toward impact, you should be aggressively moving your arms down in front of your body. This is one of the main differences between an upright swing and a flat one. In a flat swing, the focus on the downswing is a quick rotation of the lower body to the left. While you still want to use your lower body to some degree, you should be more concerned with swinging your arms down correctly. Getting your arms in front of your chest prior to impact is critical because it will allow you to make solid contact with a 'connected' feeling in your upper body. If your chest reaches the ball before your arms do, or vice versa, your impact position will lack power. Remember, the fastest point of your swing should be at the very moment you make impact, so continue your arm swing all the way through the shot to ensure ample speed at the bottom.
- The final step in making an upright swing is to finish the motion all the way through to a balanced pose on top of your left foot. While it might not seem like it is important to find a balanced finish position since the ball is already gone, your finish actually says a lot about the swing that you have made. For a player with an upright swing, you should finish with your hands high and the shaft of the club wrapped around the back of your head. As long as you are finding a great finish position swing after swing, you will know that you on the right track.
Contained in those five steps is all of the basic information you need to start working on an upright swing. It should go without saying that you aren't going to master this action in just one or two trips to the driving range. Making a change to an upright swing – especially if you have been using a flat swing up to this point – will take time to get right. Plan on hitting plenty of balls on the driving range in order to teach your body this new way to swing the golf club.
Using Your Upright Swing on the Course
With your range work done, you are likely excited about the opportunity to get back out on the golf course to put your new swing to the test. You have every right to be excited, but you need to temper that excitement with a dose of reality. Golf is a hard game, and it always takes time to get optimum performance from a new technique – even if it is working perfectly on the range. During your first few rounds on the course using an upright swing, expect to find inconsistent performance, where your good shots are mixed in with some bad ones. As you gain experience and become more comfortable with this type of swing on the course, your scores will gradually begin to fall.
To make the transition onto the golf course a little bit easier, consider the tips below –
- Focus on your rhythm. The biggest reason that your performance on the course will not match your performance on the range is a loss of rhythm. It is relatively easy to keep your tempo under control when hitting balls on the range, since there is nothing on the line and no pressure to deal with. That changes when you hit the first tee. Suddenly, people are watching and you are trying to live up to the expectations of yourself and others. When that feeling hits you, the rhythm of your swing is the first thing to fail. Focus on maintaining your smooth tempo and force yourself to slow down and take a deep breath prior to every swing.
- Start with safe targets. There is no reason to aim directly at every flag in your first round back after a swing change. Instead, pick conservative targets in order to provide yourself with more margin for error. When you come across a flag that is positioned near to an intimidating water hazard, select a target line that is comfortably away from the water. It requires patience to play this kind of golf, but you will be happy to stick with the game plan when you add up your score at the end of the day.
- Play a solo round. While it is always fun to play golf with a group of friends, you just might be best served to play a solo round for your first round back on the course after a swing change. Playing this round by yourself will allow you to solely focus on your technique without the distractions that come along with playing with your friends. There will be plenty of time for social rounds later on – use this first round back as a learning experience without any pressure from others.
Making the switch to an upright golf swing is a serious commitment, but it is one that can lead you to a better golf game when all is said and done. Before embarking on this kind of change in your game, be sure you are a good fit for an upright swing plane so you don't wind up doing more harm than good. Once you understand the basic fundamentals of an upright swing, it will be up to you to put in the hard work required to make this swing your own.