It is not the intention of this article to convince you to change your swing.
This is also not a guide on technique – that’s for you and your golf instructor to iron out.
Instead I will be diving into the science of components of your swing that I believe almost anyone can improve simply by having a better understanding this information.
My HOPE, is that it will allow you to swing in a way that is healthy for your body, while dropping strokes off of your scorecard.
First, I will cover the set up:
What it should look like, and where there is some wiggle room.
Next, I’ll go over a few features of the swing itself, and what your body should be able to accomplish in order to get a clean swing, as well as prevent injury.
Then, I will cover the most important skill a golfer can learn to help him/her whip the ball down the fairway.
And finally, I will give you examples of drills and techniques YOU can use to sharpen your swing.
I would ask that you keep an open mind while you read this article. It’s entirely possible that there will be something in here that may directly contradict something that you’ve learned in a golf lesson in the past.
Understand my primary goal is to keep you safe and healthy.
Different swings and set ups are taught by golf pros in order to help you continue to play golf in lieu of a movement dysfunction (as in – a lack of hip rotation, or some core weakness).
That is their job, AND, is exactly what they should be doing.
It’s a poor golf pro who would tell you to just “swing through it” if they see something is clearly off in your movement that they are not able to help you fix.
So again, the information in here is intended to keep your body healthy from a movement standpoint.
Let’s get after it!
The set-up is fairly straight forward. Feet are roughly hips width apart, and you are slightly hinged at the hips.
The most important part about the set-up is that you maintain a straight, neutral spine.
The easiest way to check yourself is to take a club, and line it up on your back (as shown in the picture above).
In the hip hinged golf stance position, you should be able to have 3 points of contact with the club: 1) the back of your head, 2) between your shoulder blades, and 3) on your sacrum (right above your butt crack).
Any variation outside of this would be considered a non-neutral posture.
The spine handles loads the best in a neutral position. Period.
And with all of the twisting and shearing loads being placed on the spine during the swing, it’s imperative that we keep it in the most resilient posture possible.
If you’d like to learn more about how we check/test the golf set up, as well as some suggestions for fixing your posture, you can learn more in the video below:
Ball impact is the point in time where you want your body to be as stiff as possible.
I want to give you a couple of ways you can achieve that stiffness, but first let’s understand what that looks like.
Generally speaking, at the moment of impact, you want your ribcage to be “locked into your pelvis.”
In other words, you want your ribcage and pelvis to be aligned, with a tight brace of the core muscles between them.
Consider the picture below.
My rib cage is facing the camera, and locked into my pelvis by a tight abdominal brace. My pelvis is likewise facing the camera.
Now consider this picture:
His ribs and pelvis on the right side are much closer together, and those on the left are much further apart.
This suggests that abdominal bracing was not as strong as it could have been at the point of impact, and contact with the ball was weak (and it sliced straight to the right).
Furthermore, if he were to repeat this motion with every swing, he would be risking injury to his low back (anecdotally he does complain to me about low back and R hip stiffness after playing).
Below I have a brief ~2 minute video where I teach how you can achieve this “locking in” of the rib cage and pelvis if you’d like to teach yourself how:
But why do we need to lock the rib cage to the pelvis?
Along with helping you keep the spine in neutral, a stiff core is needed to transfer energy between the hips and the shoulders.
Torque (aka rotational force), is generated in the hips during the back swing, but somehow we have to get all of the force from the hips to the shoulders and ultimately, to the club head.
Sparing you a horribly long and boring physics lesson, a stiff core allows us to efficiently transfer all of the energy from the hips to the club head.
A cliche perhaps, but the idea that a “weak link” in the fence makes the entire fence weaker is a fitting metaphor.
Any lack of stiffness in the core leaves your body vulnerable to “energy leakages,” effectively dampening the force transferred to the ball.
But we can’t expect you to stay rigid and stiff throughout the entire golf swing, that would be next to impossible and wouldn’t make for a very effective swing.
Without the ability to relax, we lose that “whipping” effect that is so crucial to the swing.
And we all know what happens when we try to hit the ball as hard as we can. If you’re lucky enough to actually make contact it goes anywhere but straight, and weirdly, seems to travel even less distance.
The most important skill I believe a golfer can have is the ability to pulse muscle stiffness.
It’s for this reason that the time in my life when I was playing my best golf was when I was a college boxer.
I practiced on a daily basis (without realizing it) the ability to stiffen up really tight, explode forward, immediately relax, and the tense back up with timed muscle contraction and breathing when I made contact with the bag.
When a muscle contracts, it creates force and stiffness.
Force initiates motion, but stiffness slows motion.
Only by learning to quickly pulse our muscles from active to relaxed can we master the ability to create the full body whip that ends with that incredibly satisfying “SMACK” that you know means you made perfect contact.
The good news for you, is that you don’t have to have any fancy equipment or see a special trainer to learn this technique.
I’m going to lay out a few of my own drills, combined with a few from Dr. Stuart McGill and former world’s longest driver Lee Brandon.
These drills will show you, as they say, why muscle timing is much more important than muscle strengthening when it comes to being the best golfer.1
I won’t spend too much time on breathing (which I will cover some in the videos), but the ability to sharply exhale while tightening your belly also creates extra stiffness of that core.
It’s the same idea behind hearing a boxer make the “sssst” sound, or any tennis player grunting when they serve. It’s a short, quick exhalation that is quickly cut off in order to increase abdominal stiffness, and ALL expert athletes do it.
I’m not telling you to scream when you tee off, but these quick little breaths are immensely helpful and make an immediate difference.
Master the ability to pulse your muscles and breathing during the swing, and I guarantee you will hit the ball farther while remaining safe.
The last thing I want to do is leave you with a few drills you can use to warm up your ball and socket joints before playing.
Your ball and socket joints (shoulders and hips) are where the majority of you rotation occurs during the swing. If they’re tight and immobile, the rotation will be taken over by your spine.
We do not want that.
Furthermore, by improving the freedom of movement in the hips and shoulders, you’re increasing the amount of time you’re applying force to the ball – translates to hitting the ball further.2
Your hips have an incredibly important job. They must have the freedom of movement to allow you sufficient rotation during the swing, while also having enough control and strength to provide the torque needed to strike the ball.
It’s every bit as important to warm up your ball and socket joints as it is your spine.
This isn’t EVERYTHING I would be doing before I play, but these 2 drills will grease the grooves of your hips and shoulders, and allow you to “loosen up” while maintaining a stiff core.
These drills are: the hip airplane and the kettlebell halo
Now hang on!!!!
You don’t have to have a kettlebell to do the halo so don’t worry.
The nice thing about both drills, is they also have aspects of core stabilization and balance.
One final note:
The effects of these drills are meant to carry over for roughly 30 minutes. If you’re the member of a clubhouse, it’s probably best to get them in while you’re in the locker room.
If you aren’t, my best advice is try to avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes after completing them, or they may need to be repeated.
In order to achieve more consistent, maintainable results, a consistent and well rounded exercise program is the best way (see core stability 101 for details).
- McGill, Stuart, Brandon, Lee. The New Science of Golf. backfitpro.
- Functional Movement Systems. On Par With Your Golf Movement. Movement Podcast. 2020. Available at https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5idXp6c3Byb3V0LmNvbS84NDc4NTUucnNz/episode/QnV6enNwcm91dC00NDA4MjUz?hl=en&ved=2ahUKEwiZ1vvIsObqAhVV_J4KHdzABTgQjrkEegQIBhAE&ep=6. Accessed Oct. 20, 2020.