There are many different check points golfers can use throughout the swing to ensure they achieve the best technique. One such check point is where the club is pointing at the top of the swing.
Many great players have strange, unique and sometimes downright weird club positions at the top of the back swing. These unique positions, such as the huge over swing deployed by John Daley, work fantastically well for those players but may not have the same benefit for the average golfer.
In general, players want to see the club shaft parallel to the ground at the top of the back swing with the club head pointed towards the target. This position has been shown with countless players to be the best starting point for the down swing although getting to this point can be difficult. Use the following steps to help achieve a great top of the back swing position.
1. After taking a solid set up with the club face and body aligned correctly to the target, begin to swing back keeping the club head long and low to the ground.
2. At halfway back, the left arm and club shaft should be parallel to the ground and point straight back along the body aim line (the toe line). Try to ensure the toe of the club is pointing toward the sky.
3. From the halfway back position, begin to hinge the wrists upwards until the arms have traveled past parallel with the ground and the club shaft begins to point towards the sky.
4. The shoulders, arms, hands and club should all be rotating away and upwards until the extended left arm points towards the sky (for a right handed golfer).
5. When the left arm hits this position, the shoulders should be fully turned underneath the chin with the middle of the back facing the target.
6. The club, after being lifted by the arms, hinged with the wrists and turned with the shoulders, should be parallel to the ground and pointing towards the target.
If you can get to this position with the club pointing down towards the target, the down swing becomes much easier to accomplish. However, players need to be careful of not hitting the following two positions.
Across the line
Across the line is a term used to describe the club's position at the top of the swing when it points not at the target but off to the right. This position often causes a player to swing from out to in during the down swing, cutting across the ball to produce a left to right ball flight (for a right handed golfer).
Laid off is a term used to describe the club's position at the top of the swing when it points to the left of the target. If golfers become too laid off, the down swing tends to swing through the ball from in to out. From this position, the club face needs to rotate very quickly though impact to get a ball on target.
Where and Why Should the Club Be Pointed at Top of Swing
One of the best ways to evaluate the quality of your golf swing is by checking on various positions throughout the move. When you pause your swing in a number of positions – either by physically pausing while you practice, or by pausing a video recording – you can check on your technique and make adjustments as necessary. Even the best players in the world regularly use this kind of evaluation for their own games, so you can be sure that it has the potential to help you.
In this article, we are going to be talking about one specific key position in the swing – the top of the swing. This point is defined as the moment when the club transitions from backswing to downswing. In order to change directions, the club actually has to come to a stop, and that point at which it stops is known as the top of the golf swing. When viewed in live action it doesn't appear that the club actually stops, but you will see the very slight pause if you review your swing in slow motion on video. It is important to be able to find this exact point when reviewing your swing, at it is the position of the club (and your body) at this moment that we will be using to determine if any changes are necessary to your technique.
Most likely, if you are going to use the information below effectively, you will need to take the time to have someone help you record a video of your own swing. It only takes a couple of moments to capture a swing video or two at the driving range, as most people today have access to a video camera right within their cell phone. Capturing a video of your swing is important for two reasons – first, you can't get a clear view of your swing in action, since you are the one making the swing. By using video, you can effectively 'step back' from your own swing and video the action from an outside position. Also, the swing happens rather quickly in real time, making it tough to come to decisive conclusions. With video, you can slow the action down and watch your swing over and over again until you figure out exactly what is going on.
When you do head out to take a video of your swing, it is important that you ask the person shooting the video to stand in the correct spot. For the purposes of checking on your position at the top, you want to be videoed from what is called the 'down the line' angle. What does that mean? Basically, the person holding the video recorder is going to be standing behind you on an extension of the target line. In other words, the video should be pointed directly over the ball and out toward the target. By telling the person holding the video recorder which target on the range you are using to set your stance, they should easily be able to get into position. Obviously, the person taking the video needs to stand safely back while you swing in order to avoid any risk of being hit by the club.
All of the instructional 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.
Clearly, you need to have a specific goal in mind when you are evaluating the position that you find at the top of your golf swing. If you don't know what you are looking for, after all, you aren't going to be able to evaluate your performance. So what is it that you should hope to find when you check on the top of your swing? Ideally, you would like to see the club in a position that is pointed directly at the target you have picked out for the shot. Put another way, when the club stops to change directions, the line that is formed by the shaft of the club should directed as closely as possible to your target. This is a simple way to evaluate the progress of your swing at the halfway point, and those who are able to hit on this objective successfully will stand a great chance of hitting good shots.
Unfortunately, this position is one that proves to be elusive for many amateurs. A large percentage of average golfers will have the club pointed either to the right or the left of the target at the top. With the club off-plane at this point, there are any number of things that can go wrong with the swing – and it will be very difficult to get back into position to strike an accurate and powerful blow. While you might be able to hit a good shot out of a poor top-of-the-swing position from time to time, you should never expect to achieve the consistency required to post low scores.
Assuming you have already taken a video of your swing, spend some time away from the course reviewing that video to determine how you are doing with your current technique. It is extremely important that you are honest with yourself in the evaluation of your technique – don't just decide that your swing is 'good enough' when it is actually off-plane at the top. You need to be particular about the position you are in, and be willing to admit that you have some work to do in order to improve. Rather than a negative, you should see this as a positive – finding problems within your technique opens up new opportunities for improvement.
While the use of video can go a long way in determining what kinds of changes need to be made to your mechanics, you might be able to figure out that there is a problem in your swing just based on the results of your shots. If you struggle to start the ball on your chosen target line – meaning the ball starts out immediately to the left or right of the target just after impact – you very likely have a swing plane problem. As long as your stance is aligning you correctly with the target, missing your line on contact usually means the club is out of position at the top.
When professional golfers start to struggle with their ability to hit their target consistently, the position at the top is one of the first things they will check because of just how important it is to the swing overall. Don't waste your time trying to pursue other methods of improvement without first checking to make sure that the club is pointed directly at the target when you reach the top. Only when you have confirmed that you are in a great position with the club during the transition should you move ahead to other issues.
As you would expect, a golf swing that is off-plane at the top is going to have a number of problems. These problems will usually be relatively consistent in nature – meaning the same kinds of misses will keep happening again and again out on the course. While it is frustrating to miss in the same way time after time, you can actually take some comfort in the fact that you are producing the same swing over and over again. Yes, that swing has a flaw at the moment, but correcting that flaw could quickly lead you to a consistently reliable swing that generates great results.
There are two general categories that your swing can fall into if it is off-plane at the top – you can either be 'laid off', or 'across the line'. Both of these mistakes lead to serious ball flight issues, but they are completely opposite of one another. When the club is laid off at the top, it is pointing to the left of the target. On the other hand, a swing that is 'across the line' will be pointed to the right of the target (this is the more-common mistake for amateur golfers). The misses that you are hitting are going to be a byproduct of the position that you find at the top. Below is a quick explanation of the type of miss that you can expect from each of these two errant positions.
- Across the line. When the club is across the line at the top of the swing, a slice is the likely outcome once the ball is sent on its way. The slice is likely to take place since the club is almost certainly going to attack the ball on an outside-in swing path, due to its position at the top. From an across the line position, it would take a dramatic adjustment early in the downswing in order to find a path that could deliver the club on a straight path into impact. Most amateurs don't make that adjustment, so they wind up swinging across the ball time after time. When you see a collection of golfers on the range all slicing consistently to the right, it is a safe bet that most of them are across the line at the top. Of course, not all swings which are across the line will wind up in a slice. Alternatively, you might find that your swing creates a pull instead of a slice. While a pull sends the ball left and the slice sends the ball right, these two shots are actually closely related. The only difference between a pull and a slice is the way your hands work through the hitting area. If you release the club aggressively prior to impact, the face will be pointed left and you will hit a pull due to your swing path. Or, if your hands are slow and the club face stays open, the ball will slice. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to actually produce a straight shot from this type of swing, so most of your shots are going to be classified as slices or pulls.
- Laid off. As you would likely assume, the results of a laid off swing are going to be generally the opposite of one that is across the line. From a laid off position at the top, the two likely ball flights are a hook and a push. A hook is a shot that quickly turns from right to left in the air, while a push is a shot that starts to the right of the target line and remains there as it flies relatively straight. Neither of these are desirable ball flights, although the push is usually going to be more playable than the hook. Swinging from a laid off position will almost always lead to an approach into the ball from inside-out, which is why the hook is such a real possibility. If your club face is closed at impact after an inside-out approach, the ball is going to hook hard to the left. If you happen to leave the club face hanging open instead, your shot will be pushed and you will again miss the target. As is the case with an across the line swing, it is very difficult to consistently hit accurate shots when you are significantly laid off at the top.
After reading through the two bullet points above, you should have a good idea of exactly why you want the club to point at the target when you reach the top of the swing. Rather than having to fight outside-in or inside-out swing paths, you can simply swing the club directly down the line toward the target when you are on plane. In the final two sections of this article, we are going to look at some ideas for how you can correct your swing based on your current top-of-backswing position.
How to Fix an Across the Line Swing
One of the first things you need to do when attempting to fix your mistake of swinging across the line is to take a deep breath and relax. It can be extremely frustrating to hit slice after slice, round after round, so you might be near the end of your temper with regard to your swing. However, being mad about the state of your game is no way to improve – you need to come at this problem from a logical, rational standpoint. It is absolutely possible to fix your swing, but patience is going to be required at every step along the way.
Once you have determined that it is indeed an across the line position that is causing trouble in your game, use the following tips to get yourself back on track.
- Less hand action early in the swing. For most people, this is the tip that is going to make the biggest difference to the position they find at the top of the swing. If you are across the line at the top, it is highly likely that you are using your hands too aggressively within the first foot or so of the backswing. That hand action will put the club to the inside of the line going back, which means you will be across the line at the top. Focus on using your shoulders to move the club back rather than your hands and you will quickly take a big step forward in your technique.
- Better shoulder turn. Speaking of using your shoulders, you need to make sure your shoulders are doing a good job of turning away from the target in the backswing. At the top, not only should the club be pointed at the target, but your back should mostly be facing the target as well. If that isn't happening, you need to work on improving your turn in order to take the slice out of your game. The combination of using less hand action along with a bigger shoulder turn is frequently enough to cure players of their frustrating slice pattern.
- Keep the backswing under control. If you are trying to hit the ball as far as you possibly can on each and every swing, you are probably over-swinging on the way back – and taking the club across the line as a result. Many amateurs think they need an extremely long backswing to generate power, but that simply isn't the case. As long as you are able to make a good shoulder turn, you can still hit powerful shots without letting the club run well beyond parallel. As your swing gets longer, it becomes easier to wind up across the line, so make sure to stop your arm swing as soon as your shoulders are done rotating back.
The fixes that are required in order to eliminate the across the line move from your game are actually quite simple. However, the implementation of those fixes is not going to be easy, as you have some habits in your swing that are going to take some time and effort to break. Range balls are going to be your friend in this process, as hitting as many shots as possible with your improved technique will make it feel natural sooner rather than later.
How to Fix a Laid Off Swing
It should be no surprise to you by this point in the article that the fixes you will need to employ for a laid off swing are pretty much the opposite from those listed above. Let's get right into the list –
- Setting your hands. While it is true that you don't want to use your hands too aggressively in the backswing, they do need to get involved at some point in order to set the club and prepare for the downswing. For most people, the best place to engage the hands and wrists is when the club reaches parallel to the ground on the way back. At this point, the takeaway is done and you don't have to worry about forcing the club too far inside. So, when you get to the halfway back position, go ahead and hinge your wrists up to set the club nicely. When done correctly, this hinge will help you find a perfect top-of-backswing position time after time.
- Take your time. Unlike those who make long backswings and wind up across the line, players who are laid off usually don't give their swings enough time to develop going back. If you cut your backswing short while in a rush to start the downswing, you will leave the club in a laid off position and a hook may be the ugly result. Remember, there is no rush, as the ball is going to wait on the ground for you to deliver the club. Take your time going back and finish your backswing fully in order to get the club into the right 'slot' needed for an accurate and successful downswing.
- Check your position from the ball. This is a point that is actually outside of the swing itself, but it can be extremely important when it comes to getting on plane. Before your swing begins, check on the positioning of your stance in relationship to the ball. Are you standing too far away? If you have to reach out just to set the club behind the ball at address, your swing is going to end up rather flat and round, and you might be laid off as a result. Simply by moving a bit closer you can change the shape of your swing and get into an improved position.
You can't see the club for yourself when you reach the top of the swing, but the position that it finds is going to say a lot about where the ball is going to go. By using the help of a video recording along with the information presented above, you should be able to get your swing mechanics back on track sooner rather than later. Good luck and play well!