Golf is a rotational game.

Senior Rotation Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

We really can’t say it any more plainly than that, yet many golfers never manage to get the message. As you swing the golf club, the idea is to swing it around your body, back and through. As a right-handed golfer, you would swing the club to the right in the backswing, and to the left in the downswing. However, rather than sliding your body from side to side to move the club, you should be turning. The turn will happen mostly in your shoulders, although your hips may rotate a bit, as well.

It is the idea of lateral movement in the golf swing that gives so many players trouble. For some reason, the concept of a lateral weight shift has made its way into the world of golf, despite such a move not being an important part of the swing. Many golfers think they need to ‘shift their weight’ onto the right side (for a right-handed golfer) during the backswing. Then, those players think they need to shift back to the left during the downswing. This concept is simply incorrect, and it leads to many, many problems. If you only learn one thing from this article, let it be that you don’t need to focus on shifting your weight as you swing the club. Sure, your weight is going to move around a bit during the swing, but that movement is a byproduct of your other moves, not a fundamental move in and of itself.

The goal of this article is to help you understand the way rotation should work in the golf swing. Will you naturally be able to rotate properly as soon as you finish reading this piece? Of course not. A player who has struggled with rotation up until this point still will have a lot of work to do in order to master the art of the turn. With that said, you should have a good grasp of how the rotational part of the swing works when we are finished, so you can get out to the range and work on your game with a renewed purpose.

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.

Setting Up to Rotate

Setting Up to Rotate

Before your swing even begins, you can get into trouble with regard to your rotation. If you don’t establish yourself in a good position over the ball at address, you won’t have much of a chance to create a successful turn. It’s important to build a stance that is going to make it as easy as possible to rotate away from the target nicely. Golf is a hard game already – you don’t need to make it harder by starting out in a poor stance.

What is it that makes a good golf stance? There are a few key elements listed below –

  • A Wide-Enough Stance. The right stance width is going to vary from player to player, so we can’t tell you exactly how far apart to place your feet. Some golfers succeed in a rather wide position, while others fare better when they keep their feet in a bit closer. The important thing is this – you should feel grounded and well-balanced as you swing. If it feels like you are going to fall off balance just because you are turning your shoulders away from the target, you may be standing with your feet too close together. Experiment during practice with various stance widths until you settle on foot placement that gives you confidence in maintaining balance throughout the swing.
  • Flex in your knees. This piece of the address position puzzle is one that can undo your entire swing and you may not even know that it’s a problem. Without flex in your knees, it’s going to be extremely difficult to maintain your balance as your swing. Since you’ll struggle to stay balanced, you will probably give up on the idea of making a big shoulder turn, instead just lifting the club up with your arms before swinging weakly through impact. By sitting down into your stance through the use of sufficient knee flex, you will be making the task of staying balanced much easier. You can think of your knees as shock absorbers, helping to even out the bumps in your swing as you go back and through. Just as was the case with stance width, knee flex is something that will vary somewhat from player to player. You need to flex your knees at least to some degree, but exactly how far is going to depend on the dynamics of your swing (and other factors). Your best bet, again here, is to experiment on the range. Through trial and error, you are likely to wind up with a stance that includes just the right amount of knee flex for your game.
  • Chin up! If you get this one wrong, it really isn’t going to matter what else you have done with your stance – your chances of making a good shoulder turn will pretty much be sunk. The problem here dates back to one of the first pieces of golf advice you likely received when you started playing this game. It is common for beginning golfers to be told that they need to ‘keep their head down’ while making a swing. Trying to do just that, the average golfer will push his or her chin down to their chest. That is an easy way to keep your head down, but it also puts your chin directly in the way of your left shoulder when you start your swing. The chin is going to be a roadblock, and you won’t be able to make a good turn. So, at address, be sure to keep your chin comfortably up and away from your chest. You can still look down at the ball, of course, but don’t force your head down into a position that is going to make things harder later on.
  • Relaxed arms. This last point on our list is one most golfers don’t think much about when building a stance. If you tighten up your arms at address – contracting your muscles and squeezing onto the handle of the club tightly with your fingers – you’ll have trouble turning freely. It’s always helpful to remember that tension is the enemy of rotation – and speed – in golf. If you are used to having a lot of tension in your arms at address, it is going to take some time and practice to adjust to a more relaxed feel.

A great address position can work wonders in your game. Not only will you find it easier to turn properly when you stand over the ball in a good position, but you should also notice many other benefits. It might not be particularly exciting to work on your stance, but this is one of the best ways to invest your practice time. Get down to work on building a great stance and look forward to reaping the benefits for many years to come.

A Crucial Moment

A Crucial Moment

If there is one single moment that is more important than all the rest when it comes to swing rotation, it is the moment that the club goes into motion. This very first move you make in your swing is going to say a lot about how the rest of the swing unfolds. If you get it right, you are likely to make it through the rest of the swing in good shape. Get it wrong, on the other hand, and it will be nearly impossible to recover.

So, what should the first move back away from the ball look like? Not surprisingly, your swing should start by turning your shoulders away from the target. More specifically, think about turning your left shoulder away from the target while keeping your hands and wrists passive. Many golfers use their hands to start the swing, but that really isn’t how you want to go about it. It’s a better plan to use your shoulder turn to initiate the action, keeping your hands out of it for now. This is going to feel quite strange if you are used to starting your swing with your hands, but any change you make to your golf technique is going to be strange at first.

Keeping your hands out of the picture during the takeaway while turning your left shoulder away from the target is a great start. But is that it? Nope. The other key for getting your swing off to a great start is to make sure you are rotating and not sliding. For this, you are going to need to pay attention to your lower body. As the swing starts, make sure your right knee is holding its position and not sliding away from the target. If you notice that the right knee is sliding to the right as the swing begins, you’ll want to work on correcting that error right away. Even a minor slide to the right can cause balance problems and make it much more difficult to strike the ball cleanly at impact.

You may be surprised to find just how powerful an improvement it can be to take the early slide out of your swing. Letting that right knee move to the right at the start might not seem like a big deal, but it will typically set off a chain reaction of events that will put you in all kinds of trouble. First, your center of gravity will immediately have moved too far to the right, so you are going to have to adjust for that at some point coming down. Also, it’s going to be hard to get as much shoulder turn as you would like in the backswing, since you are spending time sliding instead of rotating. The simplicity of the swing you can create without a lateral slide during the takeaway is a beautiful thing. Make this one of your top priorities and you’ll almost certainly be happy with your progress down the line.

Before wrapping up this section, we want to make one more point – you need to make sure that you have a ‘trigger’ to start your swing, so you don’t get stuck over the ball. This is an issue that impacts many golfers, even professionals. You work hard to get into a good stance and plan out your shot properly, only to freeze at address and struggle to put the club in motion. Don’t fall into this trap. By planning ahead and having a swing ‘trigger’ that you use time after time to get started, you shouldn’t have to worry about freezing up. Some golfers like to push their hands just barely to the left before the swing starts – sometimes called a forward press – while other players will take one last look at the target before looking down and swinging away. Experiment with different ideas until something clicks for you.

Getting your swing off to a good start is crucial. The entire swing from start to finish only takes a couple seconds, so there really isn’t time to get it back on track if you make an early mistake. Just as was the case with working on your stance, it might not be too much fun to practice your takeaway – but it is worth it in the long run.

The Time It Takes

The Time It Takes

There is no way around it – making a good shoulder turn takes time. If you are going to rotate properly and generate the power you are capable of in the golf swing, you’ll need to give your swing time to develop. Rushing through the swing is one of the main reasons golfers never manage to get back into a good position at the top. The average player is simply in a hurry to get the shot over with, and as a result, is robbed of the potential for power and quality ball striking.

With that said, we know it isn’t easy to take your time in the swing. You might be feeling a little anxious about the shot you are trying to hit, especially if you need to avoid a hazard or there is something on the line. So, with the tips below, we’d like to offer some advice on how you can properly take your time during the swing.

  • A deep breath. One of the simplest things you can do to improve the timing of your swing is to take a deep breath before you walk up and take your stance. It’s easy to become so focused on the planning of your shot that you forget to relax and prepare your body for the task at hand. A deep breath is a great way to let everything go and return your mind to the moment. This is something that can help with your full swing, to be sure, and it can also help with your short game. Build a deep breath into your pre-shot routine and you just may notice immediate results.
  • Don’t force your club selection. You might be rushing through your swing because you consistently fail to use enough club for the shot at hand. For instance, if you are facing a 160-yard approach shot, and you usually hit your 7-iron 155 yards, the 7-iron is not the right club for the job. Instead, use a six iron and either choke down on the grip or play a flatter shot to take some distance off. Trying to force your 7-iron shot to fly farther than it would normally is a recipe for trouble. There is a good chance you won’t make good contact, since you’ll be trying to swing extra hard. Even if you do hit the ball cleanly, you might not get the distance you expected since the swing may have been rushed (and the backswing shortened as a result). If you do find yourself in a situation where the only real option is to attempt to hit the ball farther than you do normally, do the opposite of what your instincts tell you – make a long, smooth swing and focus on rotation and rhythm. If you catch it cleanly, you might be surprised to find just how far this kind of shot can travel.
  • Careful at the top. It is the transition from the backswing to the downswing that is most problematic to a golfer that feels like rushing. If you try to hurry through the swing, you will almost certainly rush the transition – which means the club will be running out ahead of your lower body on the way down. That’s no way to hit a powerful, or accurate, golf shot. If you feel like you are having trouble with the timing of your swing, make sure you are giving yourself all the time you need at the top to change directions in a comfortable manner.

Timing is crucial in golf. It’s easy to take this part of the game for granted, since the ball is just sitting still while you swing. Unlike a sport like baseball, where you have to time the pitch in order to make contact, there is no hurry in golf. However, the timing of your swing needs to be spot on in order to deliver the club into the back of the ball at just the right moment.

Rotation Concerns for Seniors

Rotation Concerns for Seniors

So far, the content we have provided regarding rotation in the golf swing has been more or less applicable to all golfers. In this last section, we’d like to touch on a few points that are going to be specific to seniors. Of course, with a category as large as ‘senior golfers’, there is going to be plenty of variance within the group. Some of these tips may not apply properly to you, so pick and choose what you decide to work on in your own game.

  • If flexibility is limited, open the right foot. Some senior golfers will find that they have trouble turning as far back as they would like as they move into their retirement years. If your flexibility is not what it used to be, try opening your right foot a bit at address to make it easier to turn right. This is an easy little tip that can be surprisingly effective with just a little practice. You don’t even have to turn your right foot open dramatically – even as little as a few degrees can go a long way.
  • Use clubs that work with you. Using a golf club with a shaft that is too stiff will only make your job harder as a golfer. You’ll feel like you need to work extra hard to get the ball off the ground, and you might rush your swing as a result. Take the time to go through a club fitting process at your local course or golf shop to find gear that is a good match for your game.
  • It’s okay. At some point, you might need to cut yourself some slack and realize that it is okay to not quite turn back as far as you used to. Giving up a bit of turn doesn’t mean that you are no longer capable of hitting good shots. You may need to adjust and adapt your swing in other ways in order to get the results you are looking for – and that’s okay. As you work on your game on the range, you can get comfortable with where your turn is these days and build an overall swing that gets the ball around the course successfully.

Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself on rotation in the golf swing. We hope the information we have provided will be helpful as you work to play better golf. Whether you have aspirations of breaking par for the first time, or you simply want to break 100, rotating properly during the swing is an important part of the process. Good luck!