Shape of things to come
Nick Faldo / Nick Dougherty
At just 17 years old, Nick Dougherty is one of England's finest young golfers, with a handicap of plus-2. The lessons he works on can similarly improve your game.
The set-up: Look like you mean business - 'dominate' the ball
Nick's address position is that of a player who obviously works hard on his golf and follows the basics to the letter. I particularly approve of the way in which he stands up tall over the ball, with his chin up off his chest, and arms hanging comfortably.
Also, note that the upper part of each arm rests lightly on the upper part of the chest. That's a good point to copy. The knees are flexed for balance and stability in the swing and will provide the resistance necessary to create a dynamic motion, which I like.
Bending from the hips, Nick creates a
good spine angle, which, as we shall see,
he maintains beautifully throughout his
I know we beat on about the set-up
position, but how often do you actually
work on improving yours?
The takeaway: Work on perfecting your first move with the 'one... two... three' drill
No matter how good your set-up may be, it's all too easy to get off track with a poorly coordinated first move away from the ball. A tendency Nick suffers from time to time is to turn his shoulders too quickly, the right shoulder working back too quickly, which gets the club too much on the inside and into a flat position early on.
The drill you see above helps Nick to tone this down, and it can help you to get a feel for the proper takeaway movement. It works like this. After setting up to the ball, take your right hand off the club and hold it out in front of your body. Then, gently move the club back with your left hand and arm, maintaining that contact between the upper
part of your left arm and your chest. Ease the club back to what we term the '8 o'clock position', then return your right hand to the grip. There, in three easy moves, you have put yourself in a perfect position.
As you can see, the right shoulder is working up, not behind, the body, and that's a good key to have as you start your swing.
Relaxed hands and arms help you to get 'set'
In the golf swing, one good move leads to another. With his hands and arms relaxed as he moves the club back from the ball, Nick is on track to set the club correctly and achieve a good position at the halfway stage.
As he hinges his wrists, the butt-end of the club points between the ball and feet. The back of the left arm is in line with the club face (on plane) and the right arm bends comfortably at the elbow. From here, a full turn of the upper body will finish the job.
Play 'brush-back', and drill your way to a better back swing
Having something positive to work on is the only way to practise effectively. That's why drills are so beneficial. They help to ingrain good habits without you having to think too much about the technique involved. To get Nick comfortable with the feel of
the takeaway move I talked about earlier, I suggested that he place a second ball six inches inches behind the one he was about to hit, and brush that ball away as he tried to replicate the movement.
Keeping his arms and shoulders relaxed,
he simply brushes that second ball away as he makes his takeaway, and then goes on to complete his back swing in one smooth motion. Secure in the knowledge that his swing is on track as he reaches the top, he can then unwind with confidence.
Drill your way to a better swing
One of the great feelings in golf is being able to release the club as hard as you like through impact without any danger of the ball going left. As you unwind your body through the shot, it's as if you squeeze the ball off the turf, firing your irons with a low fizzing trajectory.
The secret to doing this lies first in building a solid back swing, getting the club on a good line and plane at the top, and then working on this delayed release on the way down. You want to sense that the club is above your hands for as long as possible as you unwind. Then, when you can hold off no longer, you rip the club face hard into the back of the ball. Take a good look at this exaggerated image and visualise this same position when you practise.
Advance lesson: Swing hard and left through the ball
Until I got my hands on him, Nick's stock-shot with the mid- to long irons was a high draw - a nightmare to control in any sort of right-to-left wind. But as we have worked on this principle of holding off the release, and 'covering' the ball with the arms and upper body on the way towards impact, so the quality of his striking has improved.
In tandem with the sensation of keeping the club outside the hands, I have also encouraged him to feel that he swings the
club hard to the left immediately through impact. And the beauty of it is, the harder he releases the club and the more he tells himself to pull left through the ball, the better he hits it and the straighter it flies. The result is a much more controlled, neutral flight - a more professional strike all round. With this new release he found that for the first time in his career he was able to hold the ball against a right-to-left wind - an essential skill for a player with ambition.