Simplify Your Swing
The modern swing is all about using the bigger muscles in the torso - the stomach and the shoulders. Controlling the turning motion from here, the 'core’, is the key to consistent ball striking. That’s what the strong young players coming out on tour have been brought up on. The key is to start from a good athletic set-up and focus on combining a dynamic turn with a positive weight shift for a simple and repeating backswing.
For me, the benefit of controlling your motion with the bigger muscles is that you don’t have to worry about what the hands are doing, which for too many golfers seems to have become something of a preoccupation. As long as you have a good grip and you set up to the ball correctly, you will find that a natural hinge is created as you turn and swing the weight of the clubhead.
All this fiddly business of hingeing the wrists early and 'setting’ the club with a conscious hand action is likely to have you picking the club up too early in the backswing, losing width and not turning your body properly.
Strong players today such as Tiger, Ernie Els, Charles Howell and Luke Donald all make a simple move away from the ball and continue on with a big turn. Of course, to achieve that you do need to be reasonably flexible, so within this article you will find a few simple exercises that will help you to develop your flexibility and make this simple two-step backswing easy to repeat with every club in the bag.
First base - a primed athletic set-up has to be everyone's starting point
Count "one" as you make your first move, keeping both arms relatively straight and your grip relaxed as you establish the width and the tempo of your backswing
A count of "two" coincides with a full turn of the shoulders to complete this simple two-step backswing. Note that a braced right thigh provides the resistance as your weight flows into the right side
From a good set-up, I want you to focus on this concept of a 'two-step' backswing.
The first move again sees the left arm work comfortably across the chest as you gently turn your upper body away from the target.
There is nothing complicated about this move.
All you are doing is controlling the swing with a gentle turn of the stomach and shoulders, the hands passive to this point.
Check the position of the clubface when you get it to here.
As the shaft reaches parallel, the toe should be pointing up towards the sky.
Iron Play - Follow basic principles for a compact swing
The way you set up to the ball naturally determines the shape and plane of your swing with the irons. That's why it is so important you work on your posture and your alignment, to give yourself the best chance of repeating a good swing.
Here I have a 6-iron, for which I like to have the ball pretty much in the middle of my stance, while my weight is evenly balanced between the feet. As you can see, my hands are only fractionally ahead of the ball with this mid-iron, the hands relaxed on the grip.
To create a good athletic posture, you simply bend over from the hips, flex the knees, and stick your butt out. That's important as it enhances the quality of your spine angle, leaving your arms free to hang down comfortably from the shoulders. As you can see, the alignment of the feet, hips and shoulders is square to my target.
Use legs for balance as you turn to the top
Once you have negotiated the first move, completing your shoulder turn is all it takes to arrive at a compact backswing position. And this is as far as you need to swing back with the irons - you don’t need to worry about getting the shaft all the way to parallel.
This is compact and easy to repeat. The legs work like shock-absorbers to balance the turning motion and you have established good width - all the ingredients you need for solid ball-striking.
The key to realising long-term benefit is to train a little and often.
Long Game - Think "Width" and "Tempo"
If anything you have to be even more disciplined with the longer clubs, as there is always a tendency to want to over-use the hands, pick the club up and hit 'at' the ball. But look at this: it doesn't take too much effort to keep my arms relatively straight to reach the first checkpoint, and then it's all about completing the rotation of the upper body to get to the top.
If you are prone to hitting down too steeply on the ball (and consequently sacrificing distance with the driver), there's every chance you are simply too 'handsy' in the early part of the swing. As I mentioned earlier, a tendency to hinge the wrists too early is very #dangerous for most players. The more you are inclined to do that, the more the right arm gets trapped to the side of the body and the less width you create on the backswing. By focusing on that wide first move away from the ball you will go a long way towards eliminating those problems and, as a result, enjoy the width and the freedom that alllows you to sweep the ball off the tee with a driver.
Let it flow, naturally
The longer shaft of the driver results in a longer swing, but otherwise this is the product of the same 'one-two’ backswing thoughts I use with the irons. The wrists must be allowed to hinge naturally in response to the length and the weight of the club you are swinging. With a driver, you make the longest and widest swing of all; with a short iron, the arc is less and the wrists hinge less. Those details take care of themselves. For your part, all you have to do is maintain a relaxed grip pressure that allows you to feel the weight of the head on the end of the shaft - and, ultimately, swing it.
Iron Play - Improve your flexibility for a better body motion
How often have you taken lessons with a pro only to find yourself let down by 'tight', inflexible muscles? For the amateur, I see this as perhaps the single biggest obstacle to sustaining any kind of meaningful improvement. And it's so frustrating. You may be on the receiving end of some excellent technical advice but unless you are at least some way flexible in the area of the torso and the shoulders, you are simply not going to be able to turn properly and get into certain positions that form the basis of a good swing.
Exercises that will help you make a better swing
Turn your trunk, and stretch your midriff/torso
Let's start with probably the best exercise of all for improving the flexibility in the trunk. All you need is a golf club - or a broomstick!
Hook the club across your shoulders, as I have, and settle into a good athletic set-up position. The key is then not to do it like a golf swing but keep the weight anchored on the balls of both feet a#nd begin to turn. It's almost like you make a deliberate reverse pivot (which helps you to keep the lower part of your back straight). Keep the knees flexed and braced, spine angle maintained, head still. Feel the stretch in the midriff. Do this as often as you possibly can through the week - it can only do you good.
Side-to-side trunk stretches
Again, the emphasis here is on stretching the muscles in the trunk and hips. From a standing start, and with your arms extended up as high as possible, work on arching your body from side-to-side. Arch your back to the left - hold it! - and then to the right.
As you do this, be aware of flexing the opposing knee (i.e. as you arch your body to the left, let your right knee 'give' a little to compensate).
Don't try to keep your legs straight. Repeat the stretch five to ten times in both directions. Push your hands up high as you stretch from side to side, using your legs to counterbalance the motion
Thigh squat for strong legs
This one is really tough. The idea is that you stand up tall (left), and then slowly bend your knees to lower yourself down towards the ground on your haunches, keeping your back straight, eyes looking forward. I cannot get any further than here (although I know plenty of player's who can).
The difficulty is in keeping back straight all the way down and all the way up, the benefit being felt in the calf and thigh muscles. Lower and then raise yourself 10 or 15 times. Over a period of a few weeks, you should notice a real improvement in terms of how far down you can go.
For the maximum benefit, try to keep your back straight as you lunge, alternating between your left and right side. Repeat on each side 10 or 15 times.
Really push yourself up from the extended position - that’s where the real benefit is to be had. I do this at home regularly, almost every day. All of these exercises will help to improve your general levels of strength and flexibility that directly benefit your ability to make and repeat a good golf swing.