So you want to know what makes a good golf swing good, and which techniques are essential to succeeding at this often frustrating game.
You might as well ask, What is the meaning of life? OK, so maybe the golf swing isn't that mysterious. In fact, there's a simple answer to the headline question: One that hits the ball long and straight.
Put another way, a swing that delivers the club to the ball with a clubface and path that are square to the target line is a proper one. Of course, it helps if the clubhead is moving at a high rate of speed, on an angle that produces optimum launch and spin conditions.
Golf is, indeed, a complex game.
Let's back up for a moment to the square-clubface-and-path concept. One thing all good golfers have in common is their club position at impact. In fact, most of them look remarkably similar in the arms, hands, hips, shoulders and head at the instant the club contacts the ball. This in spite of some drastic differences in how they get there.
While there's no single “textbook technique” for swinging the club, there are some basic methods and positions that are nearly universal among better players. For instance, most make a full shoulder turn on the backswing, lead the downswing with the hips, and exhibit excellent balance.
But they all end up in the same place – square at impact. Any swing that achieves this critical goal can be called “proper.”
What is the Proper Golf Swing?
The title of this article is rather general, to say the least. Trying to tackle the topic of a 'proper golf swing' could easily fill up several books – let alone a single article. With that said, this article is going to attempt to lay out the basics for you. If you would like to gain a solid understanding of the overall workings of the golf swing, you have come to the right place. This is not going to be the right source for the intricate details of the swing – rather, we are going to touch on the major points which will help you strike solid shots time after time.
First, it should be said that there is no one 'proper' golf swing which will work for all players. If you ever watch professional golf on TV, you already know that there are a wide range of swing types among the best players in the world. Obviously, if the players at the top of the game can use their own individual styles to swing the club, you can as well. However, within those individual styles you will find some consistencies from player to player. There are certain fundamentals which you are likely to see almost across the board, once you know where to look. It is those basic fundamentals and core concepts which we are going to address in the content below.
When you head out to your local driving range for a practice session, you should have a clear understanding of what you are going to be working on for the day. Too many golfers hit range balls without any specific purpose – and they waste their time as a result. It really can't be considered practice unless you actually have something in mind that you are practicing. Whether it is a simple adjustment to your address position or a major change to your backswing, there should always be some specific goal in your mind while on the practice tee. This applies for the short game as well. Mindless practice is essentially useless, and no one can afford to waste time on such an exercise. Be prepared before you visit the course and know exactly what it is you are going to work on before you arrive.
There is one last point which needs to be made before we move into the discussion on a proper golf swing. The point is this – there is a big difference between making solid swing and shooting great scores. You may be able to dial in your mechanics nicely after some focused practice time, but that doesn't mean you will automatically shoot in the 70s or below. Most likely, you will still need to work hard on a variety of other skills – such as course management – before you can turn your reliable swing into impressive results. Golf is a hard game, and good scores are never just given away – they have to be earned.
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.
It All Starts with Balance
When talking about the 'proper' golf swing, you have to start the discussion with the topic of balance. Often overlooked or misunderstood, balance is the foundation on which the rest of your swing will be built. Great balance can make solid ball striking seem rather simple, while poor balance will take a difficult game and make it nearly impossible.
Maintaining balance is something that beginning golfers often struggle with to some degree. If you are just getting started in golf and you would like to work on improving your balance before paying attention to other fundamentals, review the tips below for assistance.
- Flex your knees at address. One of the best things you can do for your balance is simply to flex your needs when taking your stance over the ball. Many new golfers stand with their legs straight, feeling that staying tall will put them in a powerful position. That is a mistaken belief, however, as you need your legs to be involved in the swing if you are going to generate power and maintain balance at the same time. You don't have to flex your knees deeply at address, but you do need at least a little flex to make sure the big muscles in your legs are engaged right from the start.
- Start in a balanced position. This might seem like an obvious point, but it is surprising to see how many amateur golfers actually start their swing in an unbalanced position. You need to have your weight evenly distributed when standing at address, with your center of gravity perfectly over the middle of your stance. If you take the time to make sure you are balanced before the swing even begins, it will be much easier to stay balanced once the club goes in motion.
- Don't swing too hard. Many golfers lose their balance during the swing simply because they are trying to swing too hard. You don't have to swing hard to play good golf – you just have to apply the sweet spot of the club to the back of the ball time after time. You can actually achieve great distance with a controlled swing as long as you make solid contact on a consistent basis. While there is nothing wrong with trying to apply some speed and power to the swing, you should never do so at the expense of your balance. Think about it this way – you should feel free to swing as hard as you want up until the point you begin to lose balance. If your effort is causing you to lose balance, back off until you find a happy medium.
- Wear golf shoes. You probably didn't expect to see this point on our list, but it is actually quite important. Some new golfers think they can get away with just wearing regular tennis shoes on the golf course, rather than buying a pair of golf-specific shoes. This plan can work in some situations, but generally speaking, you will be better off with actual golf shoes. Golf shoes are designed for the rigors on the golf swing, and they have the traction you need to maintain your balance while swinging back and through. If you fail to use golf shoes, an ill-timed slip will always be just around the corner. Do yourself a favor – pick up some decent golf shoes, keep them in good shape, and enjoy the firm footing and balance you gain as a result.
It is going to be hard to make much progress in your game if you fail to find good balance. As far as priorities in the game of golf, this one should be near – or at – the top of the list. Everything else you do in your game is going to be based on having good balance from the start of the swing on through to the finish. Take some time as soon as possible to work on improving your balance and you just might find that your performance on the course takes a quick leap in the right direction.
One of the difficult things for new golfers to learn is the fact that many of the important parts of your swing take place before the swing actually begins. If you can stand up over the ball properly at address, you will make the game much easier for yourself. It might seem like an easy task to take a proper stance, but this is a subtle part of the game which is actually quite difficult. It takes practice and attention to detail in order to master a quality setup position.
The list below contains a number of the top fundamentals to check on prior to starting your swing. Of course, flexing your knees should be included in this list as well, however it was mentioned in the prior section, so we won't repeat it here.
- Aim accurately at the target. Golf is a target-based game. You need to have a target for each of the shots you hit, and you need to aim properly at that target before starting your swing. This is a point that many amateur golfers take for granted. Some players simply walk up to the ball and swing away, giving little thought to the specific target they are going to use for the shot. It should go without saying that you are going to have trouble hitting a target which you never aimed at in the first place. As part of your pre-swing process, be sure to both pick out and aim at a very specific target.
- Ball positioning in your stance. Even if you have rock-solid fundamentals within the moving parts of your swing, you will still struggle to produce quality results if you fail to position the ball correctly relative to your stance. Here again, we see a point which is not exactly exciting to work on, but is crucially important nonetheless. When hitting a driver, you should have the ball positioned up near the inside of your left foot. On the other hand, the correct ball position for wedges and other short iron shots is going to be approximately in the middle of your stance. Spend some time on the range identifying the right ball position for all of your clubs and remember this detail when it comes time to play out on the course.
- Clear your mind. This is a mental game point, but it is just as important as the physical points on this list. During the course of a long round of golf, it is easy to get distracted prior to some of your shots. Maybe you find yourself thinking about the water hazard that is lurking in front of you, or maybe you are thinking about something other than golf entirely. Whatever the case may be, you aren't going to play at your best until you learn how to clear your mind prior to making a swing. Once you have picked out your target and taken your stance, do your best to quiet your mind so you can naturally perform your swing. To help you do this, try focusing in on something very simple and specific. As one option, try drawing something on your ball that you can use as a point of focus when starting the swing. Train your eyes on that point of your golf ball and keep your focus there until the ball has been sent on its way.
- Get comfortable. You can find yourself getting so wound up in technique that you fail to find a comfortable position for your body prior to swinging the club. Golf is a game which does require some athleticism during the swing, and you need to be comfortable if your athletic ability is going to shine through. As you are building your stance and swing, make sure that you feel comfortable and relaxed over the ball. Your results will speak for themselves when this is the case.
It might seem like there is a lot to think about before you can make your swing, and to some degree, there is. However, as you gain more and more experience on the practice range, you will find that many of these points become second nature. An experienced golfer can check off the entire list above without even thinking about it, and you should be able to do the same relatively soon.
A Rotational Action
The golf swing is meant to be a rotational action. While many golfers think that they need to slide from side to side in order to swing the club, that simply isn't the case. In order to build speed and deliver the club on an accurate path, you need to rotate beautifully both back and through. There will be a little bit of lateral movement in your swing as a result of the rotation, but you shouldn't be deliberately trying to move from side to side. As long as you focus on making a great turn, your body will be in the right spot when the time comes to strike the ball.
When you start your swing, your main goal should be to turn your back to the target at the top. If you are able to successfully turn your back on the target, you will be in a great position from which to swing down into the ball. Sadly, most golfers never manage to get into this position at the top. Most players cut their backswing short as they are in a rush to get the swing over with as quickly as possible. Golf is not a game which can be played well when you are in a rush. Take your time, make sure you finish your turn, and only start the downswing when you are sure you have finished a great shoulder rotation.
Once the backswing rotation as finished, the attention turns to your hips for the downswing. In order to propel the club through the ball with plenty of speed and aggression, you need to use your hips to fire up the downswing immediately from the top. Even before your shoulders have finished their turn to the right, you can get things started by opening your hips to the left. Try focusing on your left hip at this point in the swing. Open up that left hip quickly while allowing the club to hang back waiting its turn. By building your downswing from the ground up, you will be able to gradually accelerate the club all the way down into the ball.
Getting your mechanics in order with regard to your rotation is key to a proper golf swing. You need to not only make a great rotation, but also make that rotation in the right order and with the right parts of your body. Put your shoulders in charge of the backswing, your hips in charge of the downswing, and make sure there is a nice overlap between the two at the top. This will be one of the most challenging parts of the golf swing to master, but your game will take a big step forward when you get it right.
Proper Short Game Technique
We have talked throughout this article about the importance of basic mechanics in making a proper golf swing. But what about proper short game technique? The short game is just as important as the long game, meaning much of your practice time should be spent on this area. Most amateur golfers neglect the short game, a fact that is proven when you see the performance of most players on and around the greens. Improving your short game is something that can offer tremendous results on the scorecard, so don't take this discipline for granted.
The points below are going to touch on the basics of proper technique for three short game components – putting, chipping, and bunker play. Keep these simple tips in mind when you head out to practice your game.
- Putting. Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to putting. You want to take out as many moving parts as possible when putting, since you need to be extremely accurate in order to consistently hole putts. There should be almost no hand action in your putting stroke, and your lower body should be perfectly still as well. Speaking of staying still, you want to keep your head stationary throughout the stroke to promote solid contact. Anytime you practice your putting, work hard on being as 'quiet' with your technique as possible. The best putters are usually those who hold still while smoothly swinging the club back and through.
- Chipping. When you step off of the green and into the rough, you will need to alter your technique slightly from what you used when putting. Some hand action is going to be necessary in order to pop the ball out of the grass and onto the green. Also, you will need to hit down on the ball for solid contact, so make sure to lean slightly left at address to encourage the downward hit. Chipping is one area of the game which intimidates many amateur golfers, but that doesn't need to be the case. By investing some practice time in this part of your game, and focusing on a downward hit and a little hand action, you can turn a weakness into a strength.
- Bunker play. Much like chipping, bunker play is a part of the game which strikes fear into many amateur golfers. And also like chipping, that doesn't need to be the case. To conquer your fear of sand traps, try opening up the face of your wedge while swinging quite hard. You might not think you need to swing very hard from a short distance, but you need enough speed to cut through the sand effectively. To make sure you build enough speed, try turning your back to the target as you swing back in a bunker, just as you would with a full shot. Also, it is important to actually practice this part of your game. Drop a few balls in the practice bunker at the start or end of every practice session and you should make progress quickly enough.
Making a proper golf swing comes down to executing your mechanics correctly time after time. While there is no one perfect golf swing which works for every player, there certainly are fundamentals which apply across the board. Use the content in this article to point your practice sessions in the right direction. By working on the basics and keeping things simple, you should see gradual improvements in both your swing and your score. Progress is usually slow to come in golf, but it is quite exciting when you see your hard work pay off in a big way. Good luck!