Let Your Head Move on the Backswing, Golf Tip 1

Discussions about the role of the head in the golf swing tend to focus on the downswing. You know, all that “keep your head down” business?

But what about the backswing? Should the head remain as still as possible over the ball? Should it rotate with the shoulders, or move horizontally away from the ball?

Like every other part of the swing, there's no single, correct way to move (or not move) the head while taking the club back. This much is true, however: If you keep the head locked in place and your neck tense, you'll restrict your shoulder turn and hit the ball weakly.

If you're making a proper backswing turn, it's practically impossible to prevent the head from a) swiveling a little with your shoulders, and b) moving slightly away from the target, horizontally. In moderation, neither move is a killer.

In fact, a small amount of head movement is necessary to allow the shoulders to coil, and to transfer weight to your right (back) foot. Jack Nicklaus is a great example. One of the Golden Bear's signature moves was to turn his head to the right, behind the ball, just before starting his takeaway. This enabled Nicklaus to make the enormous pivot that gave him such immense power.

One other key – no matter how much your head swivels or sways, keep your eye on the ball. That's a pretty critical fundamental.

Let Your Head Move on the Backswing?

Let Your Head Move on the Backswing?

In order to make a quality golf swing, it is important to have all parts of your body working together toward the same goal. That might sound simple enough, but it is actually easier said than done. Most golfers have at least one part of their body out of place during the swing, and those players pay the price in the way of poor performance. Only when you can sync up everything from your head to your toes will you be able to hit solid shots time after time.

Speaking of your head, this article is going to focus on the movement of your head during the golf swing. Specifically, we are going to discuss whether or not it is okay to allow your head to move as you make your backswing. This might seem like a rather minor point in the overall context of the swing, but it can have powerful implications on how you play. In many ways, your head can be used as a marker for the movement of the rest of your body. If your head is moving left, right, up, or down as you swing, your body is likely to be doing the same. By controlling your head properly, you will control your body as well and it will be much easier to hit good shots.

The way your head moves in the swing is not really a matter of personal preference. Sure, there is a little bit of room for your own style and comfort on this point, but you want to stick as close as possible to solid golf fundamentals. If you are doing something completely unorthodox with your head as the club moves, there is a good chance you will struggle to reach your goals. If you watch the top players in the world swing the club, you will notice that they tend to move their heads in much the same way – even if they have varying technique in other areas. Your best bet is going to be sticking close to the 'standard' head movement in the golf swing, as other options are just too complicated to execute consistently.

One of the nice things about working on something like head movement is the fact that you won't have to worry about this fundamental changing from swing to swing. You are going to use your head in the same manner on every shot you hit, regardless of which club is in your hands. Once you master the right head movements, that work will be done and you should be able to move on to other things. Improving in golf often comes down to simply checking off steps as you go, one by one. With head movement and control checked off, there will be other areas in which you can focus on improvement.

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.

The Goal of the Backswing

The Goal of the Backswing

In order to determine whether or not your head should move during the backswing, the first thing we need to do is think about the goal of the backswing in general. What are you trying to accomplish when you swing the club up to the top? What are you trying to avoid? By thinking about the topic in this way first, we should be able to quickly determine how your head should behave.

The list below contains a number of goals that you should be trying to accomplish when you make a backswing.

  • Turn away from the target. One of the key things you need to accomplish during the backswing is to turn fully away from the target. Your rotation is what is going to power the swing, and the backswing is when you can set yourself up for a powerful downswing. If you don't get loaded properly going back, there will be almost no way to build speed going through the ball. While the exact length of your backswing will vary based on your own personal flexibility and other factors, you should be striving to have your back face the target at the top (if at all possible). It is important to remember that it takes time to finish a big backswing like this, so don't rush yourself in the early stages of the swing. Allow the backswing to develop naturally, and only start down in the other direction when you are sure the turn is finished.
  • Stay on balance. Another important goal in the backswing is to keep your balance as effectively as possible. You don't want to be fighting your balance at the top, as doing so is going to take away from your ability to make a great turn. You should start the swing in a balanced position and you should still be in that position when the club arrives at the top of your move. Amateur golfers frequently struggle with poor balance, and their results suffer in turn. Make balance one of your top priorities on the course and you will be amazed to see how quickly you can improve your overall play.
  • Get everything in position. The downswing happens fast – the whole thing is over in just a fraction of a second. With that in mind, you want to make sure that you are as prepared as possible at the top of the swing for a great downswing. There won't be time to make adjustments once the downswing starts, so everything has to be just right at the top. Since you can take your time during the backswing – a luxury you don't have in the downswing – it is much easier to get everything sorted out at this point. Work hard to learn how to position yourself properly on the way back and you can look forward to consistently solid ball striking.

You aren't trying to do anything too complicated during the backswing. This is certainly an important part of your swing overall, but the things you are trying to accomplish should be kept simple. By positioning yourself properly, staying balanced, and turning your chest away from the target, you will be all set for a great downswing. One of the nice things about working on your backswing is the way it can help you develop a newfound sense of confidence in your game. Knowing that your backswing is on the mark, you can start each swing with a great feeling in the back of your mind. Even if you don't hit a perfect shot every time, which nobody does, you can move on to the next shot always feeling good about your chances.

What Should Your Head Be Doing?

What Should Your Head Be Doing?

In the previous section, we didn't actually mention anything about what your head should be doing during the backswing. There is a good reason for that, as your head should not be doing anything at all during this time. That's right – your head should not move in any significant way during the backswing. As you move the club from address up to the top of the swing, you want your head to stay as steady as possible. Keeping your head still is going to simplify your swing as a whole, and a simple swing is one which will be repeated in a consistent manner over and over again.

If you think about it, keeping your head still during the backswing makes perfect sense. After all, moving your head is not going to do anything for you in terms of checking off the items listed earlier. Will moving your head help you to keep your balance? Of course not – in fact, it will make it more difficult to be balanced. Is head movement going to make it easier to turn away from the target? Again, the answer is no. When you look at what you need to do in the backswing, it becomes perfectly clear that head movement has no place in this part of the game.

It is important to differentiate between holding your head mostly still and freezing it in place. You never want to restrict movement in your swing, so you should resist the temptation to hold your head completely, perfectly still. Rather, you should just be trying to keep it mostly in place, without any dramatic movements in any direction. If it moves just a little bit to the right or left while you swing, that shouldn't be a big deal. You should start to become concerned when your head moves dramatically, as such significant movements are sure to cause trouble in your swing.

To make a good swing without much head movement in the backswing, you need to make sure your head is in a good spot at the start of the swing. While you head is naturally going to be evenly placed between your shoulders – you don't have any choice on that point – you also need to make sure that your chin is up away from your chest. Countless golfers bury their chin into their chest at address, thinking that they need to 'keep their head down' to hit a good shot. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for disaster. With your chin down, your shoulders will not have a clear path to complete the backswing. As a result, your shoulder rotation is going to cause your head to move, and you will end up out of position after all. Keep your chin up at address and clear a path for your left shoulder to swing freely under the chin and on through the rest of the backswing.

It's find to keep your chin up because you are still going to keep your eyes down on the ball. This is where many people get confused. Having your head up doesn't mean your eyes have to be up as well – they should be looking down at the ball just as you would imagine. Keep your eyes trained on the ball throughout the swing to make it as easy as possible to achieve solid contact. As a side effect, watching the ball intently will make it easier to hold your head still, as you will be more likely to notice dramatic movements when your eyes are trying to stay fixed on a single spot. If you head moves too much in the backswing, your eyes will be affected and you will notice immediately. It should always be very easy to watch the ball from address up to the top of the swing. With your head now under control throughout the backswing, one big piece of the puzzle will be in place and your game will take a step forward.

What About the Downswing?

What About the Downswing?

At this point, we have established that you should not be moving your head in any significant way during the backswing. But what about the downswing? Should you be just as stable on the way through, or is there some room for movement during this phase of the action? Well, for the most part, you want to continue keeping your head as still as possible. However, you should feel free to allow your head to move a little more at this stage, if only because there is more action taking place from the neck down. With the aggressive motion of your hips and torso turning your body toward the target quickly, it is naturally for some extra head activity to take place. As long as this movement doesn't get out of control, you shouldn't have too much trouble.

With that said, there are a few things you want to avoid doing with your head during the downswing. The list below highlights mistakes which need to be avoided if at all possible.

  • Dipping your head down. As the club swings down, some players get in the habit of taking their head with it. In other words, they move their head down closer to the ground as they lean out over the ball. Not surprisingly, this is a great way to get in trouble with your swing. When your head moves lower, your shoulders are going to move lower as well – and you will almost certainly hit the ball fat as a result. If you don't hit the shot fat, it will be because you lifted back up right before impact, meaning the shot will likely be hit thin. Any way you look at it, this mistake is trouble. Avoid this issue altogether by keeping your head on a level plane from the top of the swing down to impact and beyond.
  • Tilting your head to the right. Another common error at this point in the swing is to tilt the head to the right while the club swings down. It isn't exactly clear why some golfers make this move, but it is a damaging one to be sure. Tilting your head to the side is going to disrupt your view of the ball, and it is also going to affect your center of gravity. If you can, try to keep your head straight up and down during the swing. You will have a better look at the ball this way, and you will be much more likely to strike the shot cleanly as a result.
  • Lifting up out of the shot. This is a huge problem in the amateur game. As the club approaches the ball, many golfers lift their head up out of the shot in an effort to see where the ball is going to go. There is only one problem with this plan – the ball hasn't gone anywhere just yet. The ball is still on the ground at your feet, waiting for you to deliver a powerful blow with the club you have chosen to use for the shot. So, before you start looking up to see where the shot is going to go, you need to have enough patience to actually hit the ball. Only when you have sent the ball on its way should you feel free to look up and check on its progress.

It's great to make it through your backswing without making any mistakes with regard to your head position. However, that good work is going to be wasted if you make a big error on the way down. Review the list above carefully and make sure you aren't making a mistake which is going to cost you the chance to strike the ball cleanly.

Head Movement in the Short Game

Head Movement in the Short Game

You never want to neglect your short game. Yes, the full swing seems like the bigger challenge when trying to improve your game, but the short game is just as important – if not more so. As you work on managing your head movement in the full swing, it would be smart to spend a minute or two thinking about your chipping, putting, and sand play as well.

As there are individual points which need to be touched on for each of the three areas of the short game, we are going to go through them one by one below.

  • Putting. When putting, your head should not move at all. It is just that simple. In fact, head movement is one of the major problems amateur golfers face on the greens. It is tempting to move your head as you hit your putts, either to watch the putter swing or to watch the ball as it leaves the face of the putter. However, just as is the case with your full swing, you are going to find better performance if you are able to keep your head steady and still. The only time you should be willing to allow your head to move slightly while putting is when facing a particularly long putt. If you are trying to roll the ball all the way across the green, it may be necessary to allow for a little bit of side to side head movement. Other than that, do your best to stay perfectly still and allow the rocking motion of your shoulders to send the ball toward the cup.
  • Chipping. As is the case with putting, you are going to want to have your head stay mostly still when you are chipping the golf ball. However, depending on the type of chip shot at hand, you may need to allow for a little bit of movement on the way through the shot. If you are chipping the ball out of some long rough, for example, you will need to make a strong swing and your head may move. The key here is to make sure your head is staying down through impact. It is common for golfers to lift up while hitting chip shots, which is why so many chip shots are hit thin on the typical public course.
  • Sand play. If you need to blast the ball out of the bunker, you again need to keep your head still. The main point with this kind of shot is to keep your chin up away from your chest, just as you need to do on a full swing. It is necessary to make a big swing in a greenside bunker in order to blast the ball out successfully, and you can only make a big swing if your chin is out of the way. Once the swing starts, use a big shoulder turn to create power and release the club aggressively into the sand in order to lift the ball up out of the trap and onto the green.

Overall, your head isn't going to do much in the golf swing. For the most part, it should be staying still, allowing your body to remain properly balanced as you move back and through. With the advice provided in this article, you should be able to point your practice sessions in the right direction in the days and weeks ahead. Working on your head positioning and movement isn't very exciting, but it is important as you strive for better play. Good luck!