How to swing a golf club – A different way of thinking

I was in a neuroscience meeting yesterday and it inspired me to write this post on how to swing a golf club. I’m not going to discuss different parts of the brain. Instead I’m going to give you a different approach to thinking about how to swing a golf club. This approach may even make golf simpler and helps you lower your scores.

Below is the video that inspired me to think about this approach. This robot teaches itself to walk. It isn’t programmed, it doesn’t even know how many limbs it has, or how they work. This is known as unsupervised machine learning.

In a way this robot is just like you picking up a golf club for the first time. The first time you pick up a golf club you are entering your own unknown black box. You’re holding a lump of metal and there is a ball laying on the floor in front of you.

You have just over 200 moveable joints to control, and 700-ish muscles to move them with – what do you decide to do? Now that is a seriously tricky problem.

I don’t know about you, but that thought really makes me smile.

In this post I’m going to make the problem of how to swing a golf club easier for you to think about.

We will look at the precise problem you are trying to solve, based on your current ability. Then I will give you two technical tips and a way of thinking that will help at every stage of your journey.

How to swing a golf club

How to swing a golf club – Understanding the problem

Answering the question of how to swing a golf club depends what stage you are at in your golfing journey. As much as every golfer can feel they have different problems. There are actually three broad categories that all golfers fit in to:

  • Beginner – Trying to make contact and get the ball up in the air.
  • Intermediate – Controlling the direction of the golf ball, whilst maintaining good contact.
  • Professional – Controlling the trajectory and distance of golf shots, whilst stabilising the two points above.

Based on what stage you fit into you can now simplify the problem you are trying to solve.

The statements below are really important. Many golfers skip over their actual problem and get lost down a rabbit hole of golfing technique.

Other golfers try to solve all three stages at once. This is akin to the robot above trying to run, before it knows how its limbs work. Be sure to pick the statement that applies to your current golf. I understand that many of you may feel you fall between stages i.e. beginner and intermediate.

Try to focus on perfecting the previous stage before moving forward.

How to swing a golf club – Beginner

If you’re trying to get the golf ball up in the air and moving forward your key aim is this and only this:

Aim to strike the ball out the middle of the golf club

 

That is all you should be focusing on. When you hit the ball close to the middle of the golf club, you are guaranteed to hit a shot up in the air and forwards. If you achieve this goal, and the golf ball flies 50 yards right, congratulate yourself. You solved your problem. For more detail on how to strike your irons well, and to stop hitting thin and fat shots please read this piece.

How to swing a golf club – Intermediate

If your strike is relatively consistent then your goal when swinging a golf club is very simple.

Aim to control your swing path and club face through impact

 

I’m not suggesting the rest of your swing isn’t important, but the only reason to control other parts of your swing is to achieve the above. Have you every tried practicing only with this aim above in mind? If you haven’t, you must, it is useful and thought provoking.

Please read the statement again. It reads through impact, not at impact.

How to swing a golf club – Professional

I hope there are a few people reading this article who fit into this category. When you achieve the Zen-like state of hitting the ball straight, your focus shifts. You goal is now to dial in your distance control.

Here, your key aims are to maintain all the stages above and control your club head velocity, angle of approach, and dynamic loft through impact. The combination of these factors will take care of spin loft (for you geeks out there). Your problem to solve is as follows:

Aim to ACHIEVE a CONSISTENT launch for every shot…Then aim to ACHIEVE the same outcome with different shot shapes

 

How to swing a golf club – Choose your goal

Based on your current stage of golfing prowess you now have one of three problems to solve. This problem should be the soul focus of how you swing a golf club.

#1 Aim to strike the ball out the middle of the golf club
#2 Aim to control your swing path and club face through impact
#3 Aim to ACHIEVE a CONSISTENT launch for every shot…Then aim to ACHIEVE the same outcome with different shot shapes

 

Just like our robot in the video, you are now off on a problem-solving quest. Every attempt you make to hit a golf ball is you trying to work out how to control your 200 odd joints to achieve this aim.

This is an odd approach, as it gives you no other instruction. I haven’t told you how to achieve this aim, there aren’t 16 swing thoughts attached to the problem statement. Is this a problem? Think about of how you learned to walk, run or pick tings up. This problem solving approach is the most natural way we can learn.

I’m not saying technical instruction is wrong – I am after all a golf coach and biomechanist. What I do feel is that many golfers lose sight of their actual problem and replace it with many loosely related swing thoughts.

 

How to swing a golf club – your journey ahead

To begin with, you will have two struggles:

  1. You will not have the right solution.
  2. You will have  a lot of variance between each attempt.

This leads to golfers not only being bad at golf, but also being very inconsistent.

You shouldn’t beat yourself up about this outcome. It is the learning process we all go through. You should actually be pleased your body is exploring all of these different solutions. Keep it focused on your true goal.

Over time, your body will hone in on a solution. It will also reduce the variability between attempts. This is your body refining its solution for your golfing problem.

How to swing a golf club & golf coaching

When you think about how to swing a golf club from this perspective there are four clear problems.

  1. We have way too many degrees of freedom (joints) to control.
  2. We have a near infinite set of possible solutions (different swings we could make).
  3. We don’t know how to create an optimal solution (what does our ideal swing look like).
  4. We don’t know what this optimal solution feels like (what does our ideal swing feel like).

In essence, these are the problems we as golf coaches aim to solve. We can’t actually give you a golf swing. But through words, feelings, drills and practice structures we aim to speed up your learning process.

The good news is that I have two tips that will dramatically speed up your learning process. They hold true for all three of the problems outlined.

Here is how I would view these golfing tips I’m about to share.

Imagine you’re standing in a giant 500-acre open field. Every place you stand in this field represents a different golf swing you could potentially try out. One tiny spot in this field lays a great golf swing that will solve your problem. Around this spot lie some pretty good solutions.

Practice is the process of you moving around this field trying to find a better solution than you have currently. The two tips I have below will push you into right quarter of the field.

They will stop you exploring thousands of solutions that are not optimal. When you think about how to swing a golf club from this perceptive it makes sense that both tips are to do with your golf set up. As your set up dictates what swing solutions are possible.

How to swing a golf club – Tip 1: Refine your golf posture

The first tip is to ensure you have great golfing posture. Watch the video below; it is the simplest way I have to help you achieve a great golf posture.

Most golfers have too much flex in their knee, and have too little hip flex – This causes their upper body to be too upright.

How does a great golf posture help you solve your problem?

#1 Aim to strike the ball out the middle of the golf club

 

If we stood upright and swung a golf club, our golf club would want to swing at shoulder height. As we tilt over more, the golf club will get closer to the ground. Most attempts a beginner makes to hit a golf ball end up with the golf club travelling too high above the ground, causing a top or thin. The main cause of this is a poor golf posture.

#2 Aim to control your swing path and club face through impact

 

Many golfers learn to solve stage one with a less than idea posture. The issue then becomes creating an ideal swing path and squaring up the club face.

With too much knee flex and not enough hip flex there is not enough room to swing the club squarely into the golf ball. Therefore, your only option is to create an out-to-in swing path. Alas we have many faders playing the game.

A secondary issue is the lack of space for your arms to freely rotate through to impact. You can read more on how to fix a slice here.

How to hit a draw golf set up
Showing set up, note the limited space between the hands and legs. No matter how good the following golf swing is, there is not enough room to deliver the club head squarely into the golf ball.
#3 Aim to ACHIEVE a CONSISTENT launch for every shot…Then aim to ACHIEVE the same outcome with different shot shapes

 

Posture is still a key focus with elite players. A sub-optimal posture means that elite players cannot freely rotate their pelvis and thorax during the downswing. The end results is too much variability in strike, club face angle and club loft.

How to swing a golf club – Tip 2: Build a proper golf grip

A proper golf grip is potentially the most important factor in how to swing a golf club. Your golf grip connects your 200 moving joints to the golf club and most golfers get this connection wrong.

This means they spend most of their time at the wrong end of that large field we discussed. They can’t even find the right area of the field, and ideal golf swing, until they have a proper golf grip.

Below is how to create a proper golf grip, set-by-step.

 

How to hit a draw: Start with your fingers extended, note the wrist angle to help the club run through the correct part of the hand and fingers
Start with your fingers extended, note the wrist angle to help the club run through the correct part of the hand and fingers

 

How to hit a draw left and right hand golf grip
Use this as a checkpoint in a mirror. Note how the hands sit together (bottom right).

I will write an entire post on the proper golf grip at some point. There is much to discuss. The affect a golf grip has on the golf swing is far-reaching and profound.

Below is a quick summary of how a proper golf grip links into your problems:

#1 Aim to strike the ball out the middle of the golf club

 

Most beginners hold the golf club more in their left palm (this is called a weak golf grip), rather than their fingers. This means they can’t hinge their wrists, which leads to many swing compensations. The end result is an inability to strike down into the golf ball. If you experience many thin/fat shots and hit shots out of the heel then check and adjust your golf grip.

#2 Aim to control your swing path and club face through impact

 

Your golf grip affects both your swing path and club face. Here I will discuss club face, as it has five times more affect on your shot direction.

If you have a weak golf grip (discussed above) your possible set of club face angles at impact range from square to wildly open. If you have a strong golf grip, your range goes from square to wildly shut.

Your golf grip doesn’t have to be textbook, but try to get it close to neutral. This means that the club face variability you have from swing to swing will be just open or just closed. It will remove the wild shots from your golf game.

#3 Aim to ACHIEVE a CONSISTENT launch for every shot…Then aim to ACHIEVE the same outcome with different shot shapes

 

I think many casual golfers would be surprised how often we refine the golf grip of elite players. A great golf grip allows elite players to make subtle changes in their set up to control their ball flight. A less than ideal grip leads elite players to always fight against an extremely destructive shot.

How to swing a golf club – Summary

What I wanted to propose in this article is a different approach to learning how to swing a golf club.

Do you have to dissect every movement of your golf swing? Is it always useful? With all of today’s technology and knowledge I feel we under-utilise our innate ability to solve problems. Golf can feel depart from the way we learn other movements such as walking, running and how to ride a bike.

If you ensure you have a sound golf posture and build a solid golf grip you have the foundations of a great golf swing. Why not get these in place then focus on solving the problem in hand.

#1 Aim to strike the ball out the middle of the golf club
#2 Aim to control your swing path and club face through impact
#3 Aim to ACHIEVE a CONSISTENT launch for every shot…Then aim to ACHIEVE the same outcome with different shot shapes

 

If a swing works, and solves the problem then it is a good solution. I feel this approach throws up a different way of thinking next time you head out to practice or play.

Care far less about what a swing looks like. Care far more about how well it solves your problem.

 

Golf coaching can be used to steer you in the right direction, but it is ultimately up to you to find a solution that works.

Take this approach and try it next time you practice. Set aside any swing thoughts you have, check your basics then get problem solving.

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Happy Golfing.