by David Lake
Let’s start the backswing, and we will do it from a right-handed perspective so as not to get too confusing. From the address position discussed in Part I all you need to do is to turn your torso to the right so that your back faces the target. You want to keep your arms and hands/wrists in exactly the same position that they were at address in relation to your shoulders. In other words, move your shoulders and arms together as if they were one piece (hence the term one-piece takeaway) so that the triangle formed by your shoulders and arms at address now face to your right. Viola! You are now half-way through your backswing.
- Do not sway laterally to the right when making your turn but simply rotate your torso around your hips.
- Try to keep your hips stationary and facing forward. The more stable the hips, the more torque you will create between them and your torso. This torque is where the vast majority of your power comes from in a golf swing and is the reason we said to have your right foot square to the target line at address instead of flaring out to the right. This helps to prevent the hips from turning.
If you feel that you can rotate your torso further than this then check your hips and you will find that they have rotated to the right – big mistake if you are trying to generate power. When your back faces the target and you shoulders and arms face to the right it is time to stop your torso turn and let your left arm keep moving around your chest and to the back. This stretches the shoulder muscles and creates additional torque between your chest and left shoulder. Remember, keep your left arm as straight as possible (no bending of the elbow) and keep your wrists in exactly the same position as they were at address (do not break your wrists). Your right elbow will naturally fold in to your right side (like a chicken wing) allowing this additional stretching. A very important point here is to keep your right elbow in against your side with your right forearm folding backwards from the elbow. One of the biggest swing flaws (and the reason that 95% of all golfers slice the ball) is that they let the right elbow fly out to the side at this point. The two major problems with a “flying elbow” are:
- Lack of power: If you watch a tennis player hit a side shot you will notice that his right elbow is folded in against his side and bent backwards to maximize stretching. When this forearm/upper arm position unleashes through a shot the power generated is scary.
- Slicing: A flying elbow in a golf swing always results in an outside-to-inside swing path which is the recipe for a slice.
Once your left arm is unable to stretch further around your torso and your right elbow is fully flexed you should have a momentary pause before starting your downswing.
A few important points to keep in mind: Keep your left arm as straight as possible and do not break your wrists. One of the worst instructional tips in golf is to bring the club back until the shaft is behind you and parallel to the ground at the top of the backswing. Believe me, there may be only 1 out of 300 people in the world who have the suppleness to achieve this position without bending their left elbow and breaking their wrists. However, 95% of all golfers will try to attain this impossible position at the top of their swing by utilizing these two devastating swing flaws. The next time you watch a tournament on television watch where the majority of pros end up at the top of their backswing. Typically, with an iron, the shaft of the club is perpendicular to the ground or maybe a little further behind them but certainly not completely behind them and parallel to the ground. Also, you will note that their left arm is rigid and their wrists never break.
The reason that I stress keeping the left arm as straight as possible with no elbow bend is one of power and control. Once you bend the elbow you eliminate the torque created between the left shoulder and arm which eliminates the built up power of this torque. As you start your downswing with a bent elbow the first thing you will do is cast the club outwards to straighten your arm which throws your balance and swing plane off and always results in a slice or push to the right with little power.
The reason for not breaking the wrists in your golf swing is the same: power and control. If you let your wrists break at the top of your swing (and you will feel it happen) you will automatically cast the club outwards when starting your downswing. In fact, you will cast it so far that your knuckles will be leading the heel of your hand through impact (just the opposite of the wrist position you were in at address). The majority of the time you will either hit the ball fat or top it and you will certainly have no power.
Once you have stretched your torso and upper arm to the max with a straight left arm and no wrist break, you have achieved the highest level of potential power that you are capable of. Trying to artificially exceed this through the swing flaws mentioned will only destroy this power and result in a weak and off-plane swing. I have known many golfers who can only take the club half-way back due to their level of flexibility but they attain their maximum torque and stretch which allows them to generate considerable power and tremendous control shot after shot. Personally, I can only take my irons back a little over half way yet I can out-drive most of my playing buddies using only my #3 iron.
As mentioned, pause momentarily at the top of your golf swing before initiating your downswing. This is very important because it allows you to set your position. If you do not have this pause and the club is still going back when you start the downswing everything will get out of position and you will be fighting to get back on plane throughout the rest of your swing. To start your downswing simply rotate your hips fully to the left. Bear in mind that I said rotate your hips to the left, not sway them to the left. Lateral swaying has absolutely no place in a golf swing. By the time you reach impact your hips should be close to facing the target. This is why at address you should flare your left foot out somewhat which clears the way for your hips to fully turn. Personally, I like to have the feeling that I am hitting the ball with my right hip. As the hips start rotating to the left they will force your torso to rotate to the left as well. Due to the torque created between your hips and torso during your backswing, your torso will rotate exponentially faster than your hips (primary power move). As your torso rotates, the stretch created between your left shoulder and left arm will cause your shoulders to literally whip your arms around at an exponentially faster rate than your torso is traveling (secondary power move). As you approach the impact zone your stretched right elbow/forearm will unleash and, again, exponentially add to your speed (third power move). At impact, due to centrifugal force, your right forearm will roll over or literally whip over your left forearm (I refer to this as the “crack the whip” effect) which produces another exponential speed factor to your swing. In summary, your hips rotate first which causes your torso to rotate which brings your arms around. It is important here to stress the last sentence – read it again. Never, and I mean never, start the downswing with your arms which is exactly what all high handicappers do. Always think about swinging with your body while the arms just go along for the ride.
Past the point of impact everything will happen naturally. You should finish your follow through with your hips facing the target and the club raised high and pointing down the target line. To clarify this, if you were to let go of the golf club in the last moments of your follow through it would fly straight towards your target.
One final point that I should clarify, we have heard over and over about the unhinging of the wrist through impact. This is a misnomer that causes the high handicapper constant trouble as it implies that the wrists should break or unhinge through impact. The fact is that the wrists should never break or unhinge throughout the swing. The unhinging referred to is the natural act of the right forearm rolling over the left at the lowest point of the swing arc. This occurs naturally due to centrifugal force and there is nothing that you can do to accentuate or delay it. We have all heard of the “late hit” and if you consciously try to do this you will certainly destroy any chance at developing the ideal swing. Remember that the downswing takes but a fraction of a second and there is certainly nothing that you are consciously going to do to affect any of it.
A few final tips:
- As far as swing plane is concerned, you set this up at address. When you rotate your torso to the right to initiate your backswing remember that your torso is bent over slightly based upon your address position so that when you turn to the right your arms will actually be traveling in an upwards arc and continue to the top of your backswing.
- Do not read Part I and Part II of this series and try to incorporate them in your next round of golf as you will be wasting your time. The only place to initiate a swing change is on the range – never on the course. Numerous trips to the range are necessary in order to get the feel and timing down.
- You should only consciously be thinking about your swing, position, etc. at the range and never on the golf course. Conscious thought on the first tee will destroy your whole round because it is impossible to think your way through a golf swing. The idea is to develop your swing at the range so that it becomes automatic and just bring it with you when playing a round of golf.