Swing Thoughts

Often our badly missed shots are the result of inconsistent alignment and setup. Fix this and we have a decent chance of achieving more consistent shot making.

Swing Thoughts #2

Many times, our badly missed shots are caused by inconsistent preshot planning and setup rather than the personal swing faults that we have learned to manage. This is because these inconsistencies confuse our internal targeting system which then often makes subconscious swing adjustments that seldom turn out well.

All of us who have played this game for a while have a personal swing style that may not be fundamentally correct, but it enables us to at least reasonably well get the ball in play. We know that improving our swing fundamentals will provide better results and we also know that achieving this will require a greater dedication to instruction and practice than we are prepared to invest. We may not, however, realize that there is something other than swing lessons that we can do to improve our chances of good performance.

We all have an internal subconscious targeting system that enables us to do things like throw a ball to someone and no matter where or how far away they are we can accurately throw to them. I do not know how the system works, but I know that it does, and no matter what the activity is, the more we practice our distance and direction targeting the more reliable it becomes. This internal system requires pre-effort consistency for it to properly perform and when that is not there our targeting system makes subconscious hand muscle generated swing changes that rarely turn out well. Actually, it can be said that most of our badly missed shots are the result of improper or inconsistent setup, alignment or ball position prior to each swing and these factors are quite easy to control and correct.

In golf it is easy to become careless with our pre-shot routine of targeting, alignment, and ball position. When this happens, we are on the road to shot inconsistency because our hands begin to take over our swing in an attempt to correct subconsciously perceived errors. If we become consistent and fundamentally sound in our pre-shot preparations and routine we at least have a chance of reliably hitting good shots. Unlike the effort required to change our swing, the work needed to become fundamentally sound and consistent in our pre-shot preparation and routine is relatively easy to ingrain and it is the basis upon which any real game improvement must stand. Misconceptions about how each shot should be planned, setup for and executed can become self-fulfilling prophecies of disaster.

I do not pretend to be a swing trainer, however in my golf club fitting work I have learned to observe many playing styles and become aware of many fundamental swing errors. As a club fitter my objective in these observations is to build clubs with specifications that can mitigate the degree of ball flight problems these errors cause, but in the final analysis, a really poor and inconsistent swing can override the intended benefits of club specifications. If we do not know the basics of each golf swing, where the ball should be in our stance, or how it should react when struck we will not be successful. In my studies I have also learned a little bit about the mechanics of fundamentally sound swings and how they can be implemented. For many of us, even a little practice with these tips can be beneficial. For serious training on fundamental swing changes we need to consult and commit to a professional swing instructor. Following are a few pre-shot thoughts that may be of benefit.

Every good preshot routine has a preparation phase followed by a preshot ritual and then finally the actual shot. Our preparation can be variable from shot to shot, as we consider our lie, target distance, wind conditions, landing area, miss hit risks and alignment marks. Then we choose a club, visualize and commit to the shot, then imagine and commit to our swing. Finally, we internalize our desired swing with previews until we make the one that feels perfect. Now we must immediately go to our preshot ritual where the last five seconds are always the same. We concentrate on our personal rhythm and the feel of our last perfect preview swing, then promptly play our shot and watch how good it is. On alignment, - it is impossible to stand at the side of the ball and properly align to a distant target! Stand behind the ball facing the target and see the line you want to start your shot on. Then pick a recognizable intermediate spot on that line a few feet in front of your ball and set up with your feet, hips, and shoulders parallel to that line. When over the ball look from your intermediate target to your real target and "see" in your mind the shot you want to hit. Pay special attention to the shoulders as it is easy to get them out of square when looking at the target and because our swing follows shoulder alignment incorrect shot direction will result.

On teed up shots the ball should be close to perpendicular with your front heel so that your contact is slightly on the upswing. For shots from the grass the ball should be just behind the spot where your swing touches the grass, but never behind the center of your stance. A couple of preview swings will show you where your swing bottoms out. Always set up with your head behind the ball and keep it there through your swing.

The Pre-Shot Setup:

We should set up parallel to our target line, standing solidly with our feet comfortably apart, knees slightly bent, and our upper body comfortably bent over with our arms hanging down from our shoulders. Our head needs to stay quite still and always be behind the ball. When we properly grip the club with the back hand low, our spine will tilt back, thus moving our head back. We need to grip our club lightly and ensure that there is no conscious hand action in our shoulder turning arm swing. As our backswing starts to turn around our solid back leg we must insure that our shifting weight does not move to the outside of our back foot as from there we will be stuck and unable to properly move weight to our front leg on the downswing. Any tension in our swing will work against our desire for a good shot.

The Full Shot Swing:

Our full shot power swing is a shoulder starting one-piece takeaway where everything rotates away from the ball together until the hips become restricted, then the upper body continues to rotate storing energy as tension builds against the lower body. During most of the backswing the hands and arms remain in front of the chest, the wrists begin to automatically cock when our arms reach the 9:00 o'clock position and in the final backswing motion the arms, elbows, and hands stretch against the upper body as the clubhead reaches the top.

The downswing is initiated by the re-turning of the lower body which pulls the upper body, arms, hands and club down through and past the hitting zone. In order to ensure an inside swing approach our back elbow needs to drop down close to our side. This chain of events creates centrifugal force and maximum energy in the hitting zone. In our full shot swing maximum distance will be determined by the club we select, then the goal of your power swing is to hit the ball as far as we can within the constraints of reasonable accuracy.
For good one-piece takeaway training try a Medicus hinged shaft club: http://www.medicusgolf.ca

The scoring Finesse Swing:

We need this swing every time we encounter situations where the needed distance of our shot is less than the full shot distance for any one of our clubs. When we include putting, 70% or more of our shots will be from inside our full shot zone and about 80% of lost shots will occur here either from poor wedge work or poor putting and more often than not our poor putting is caused by poor wedge work because the length of our first putt is a function of our wedge shots. If we learn how to often get wedge shots inside ten feet that will in itself improve our putting because we rarely miss putts from inside two feet and have a reasonable chance of making from up to ten feet with little likelihood of a three putt. It is a fact that improved scoring really comes from good finesse wedge play rather than the long full shot part of the game where we typically spend most of our time and money.

A good finesse swing begins from a well postured setup aligned parallel to our target with the ball centered between our ankles. Beginning with a one-piece full wrist cock takeaway, everything moves away together and stops together at a short backswing position. Our shot distance is controlled by the length of our backswing. There is no upper-body coil, no excess storing of energy, and our fully cocked wrists keep the clubhead on the correct swing plane, which extends high above and slightly behind your shoulders. Preferably, the takeaway should be noticeably slower than the downswing as this gives our body parts more time synchronize.

On the downswing, everything moves together nicely synchronized with dead hands through and past impact. The through-swing continues to a full, high finish because this ensures an accelerating stable clubhead through impact. You make a smooth body turn with no hint of a forward slide and no lateral motion of your front knee toward the target. Your front leg is almost straight as you hold your finish, standing on your front side, feeling the swing and watching the shot's result. With this finesse swing, direction accuracy is fairly easy to achieve and the critical distance accuracy is achieved by varying the lengths of our back swings.

Bump & Runs:

Bump and runs are low, running shots that land short of the green with little backspin, bounce, and run to your target. This shot normally requires closely cut grass and a hazard free entrance to the green. The mechanics of the bump and run are similar to the finesse chipping swing except, the synchronized turn is longer both back and through with a partial wrist cock being used to provide the required power. Place the ball in the center of your stance and make a low sweeping swing with a low lofted club.

Pitches Around the Green:

On a level green, expect the ball to roll out further with a pitch than a high distance wedge and vary this by the use of your best wedge for each playing circumstance. If you land your ball on an upslope it will bounce straight up and probably roll back down the slope. Land your ball on a downslope and it will seem to roll forever. Always try to land your ball on a level area of the green and create a lower trajectory if climbing an incline is required. The basic mechanics of the pitch shot closely resemble those of the distance wedge. Our feet will be a little closer together, and our backswing shorter, however, we still need to keep our upper and lower body movement synchronized so that we can maintain rhythm and adequate power. In order to maintain a stable and accelerating swing we need to ensure that our follow-through is noticeably longer than our backswing.

Chips Near the Green:

Most often a #7 or #8 iron works best for this shot but any club will suffice. Just be sure that the ball lands on the green with the speed and trajectory that will enable it the roll to your target. As always, our speed is determined by the length of our backswing and with practice, consistent setup and preshot routine, our subconscious targeting system will help us find what is correct for each shot.

The chip swing is a one-piece shoulder turning motion where the triangle of our arms and shoulders is maintained throughout. There is no wrist cock and similar to our putting stroke, no hand action. If you putt front hand low, you may want to chip the same way.

We must make crisp, clean ball contact and to achieve this, we play the ball well back in your stance and keep most of your weight on the front foot as this will encourage the needed downward approach angle. Setup with your feet fairly close together and square to your target, then turn your toes toward the target. The ball should now be no further forward than your back ankle. This setup can leave our clubface open so be sure that it is square to your swing and aim line. After taking your routine preview swings step up and make a stable swing with the follow through being a little longer than the backswing.

Basic Greenside Sand Shots:

The distance wedge, finesse swing discussed earlier works well from a normal sand lie if we make three important adjustments. In most situations, this shot will provide the best chance of success. A full high follow-through will produce a back spinning high soft-landing ball flight and a short follow-through stroke will produce a low spin low trajectory ball flight

  1. Set up and aim your body and swing line 15-20 degrees to the open stance side of your target with every part of your body square to this swing line.
  2. Set your clubface about 45 degrees open to your swing line. Be sure to set the clubface open before taking your neutral finesse grip.
  3. Position the ball forward in your stance on a line to the inside of your front heel. This will allow your clubhead to contact the sand well behind the ball.

Equipment Needs:

Good short game scoring requires practice and play with a quality set of well fitted wedges that have lengths, lies, lofts, sole bounces, and heel grinds that match well to our personal stance and swing. There should at least be a PW, AW, SW, and perhaps a LW. These wedges can either match our iron set or be specific wedge designs. In order to keep within the legal fourteen club limit, you may have to eliminate a seldom used hard to hit full shot club.


Effective putting setup and stroke style is a more individual choice than it can be in any other area of our game. Good Putting is all about distance and direction control and to best achieve this we must have a putter with the correct length, lie, loft, weight, and design for our personal setup and stroke style. For most of us, factory assembled putters are much to long and this forces improper lie angles and body positions that place us at a great disadvantage in our attempts at consistent putting results. Fortunately, most of the time these fitting errors can be fixed.