For anyone lucky enough to watch The Masters on TV, we could only marvel at the quality of Jon Rahm’s golf, booming drives, crisp iron shots and rock-steady putting. When we see golf played so well, it looks effortless and makes us think ‘How hard can it be?’ For those of us who have been playing for years, the swift, and cynical, response is ‘Very hard!’
The other thing that catches our eye when watching the best players is that no two golf players have the exact same swing. Some have a very fast golf swing, others are more athletic. While the very best swings have a rhythm that never changes from back swing to follow-through. It is one of the beauties of the sport – getting the ball in the hole is a question of how, not how many.
However, while some of the aesthetics can be slightly different, the principles are the same for everyone. That is making sure the club arrives at the correct position at address to send the ball in the direction we want.
At first, swinging a golf club can often feel like one of the strangest and most unusual sensations. Here at AMERICAN GOLF, our aim is to try to make our golf swing feel as natural as possible so that we can get our golf game up and running. We’re just looking for that early shot of confidence to make us feel that we are heading in the right direction.
Swinging a Club
The first thing we have to do is decide on a club. Well, a putter is no good because we don’t swing a putter. We use that along the floor. And to work on how to swing a club, a driver is not the best place to start either. The ball can go further with a driver, but it requires more speed and is less forgiving than some of our other clubs.
With that in mind, we should opt for one of our seven, eight or nine-iron. I remember starting out with a seven-iron. These clubs are not as long as woods and because of the angle of loft, they give us a good chance of getting the ball in the air. And seeing that trajectory can provide a golfing newcomer with a vital shot of confidence in facing up to the challenges of golf.
Aim, grip and stance
Having chosen a short iron club, we now need to make sure that when we place it on the floor, we are aiming it at our target whether we are on the course or on a driving range. We need to give ourselves that focal point to know and understand what we are trying to achieve with our golf swing. By aiming at a specific target, that gives us the best chance to hit the ball straight.
Having chosen our aim, the next port of call is our grip. First, we take our gloved hand (left hand for right-handed golfers and right hand for left-handed golfers) and we place our fingers around the back of the grip and rest of the hand on top with the thumb pointing down the grip, but we must be mindful to leave a little gap between our hand and the top of the grip.
Then we need to take our bottom hand (right hand for right-handed golfers and left hand for left-handed players) and wrap the fingers underneath the club and then place the squishy part of the thumb to rest on top of the bottom hand’s thumb. In simple terms, that means right thumb on top of left (right-hander) or left thumb on top of right (left-hander). It will probably feel very odd at first, but it does become natural the longer we play the game.
Now that we have our hands on the club, we need to get into the correct position in terms of stance. What we must do is line up to the ball and stand with our feet shoulder-width apart. Then we need to stick our bum out a little bit but keep our back straight. This should provide us with the necessary balance through our golf swing. With our club resting on the floor, there should be a reasonable amount of space between that and our legs, so the way to do this is by letting our arms hang down in a relaxed manner from our shoulders. If we are too cramped up, with our club too close to our bodies, we will not be able to perform a successful swing.
The back swing
The three things we are looking for from our golf swings are to create power, consistency and to hit the ball straight. To do that, we have to use different parts of our body. A common mistake that beginners to golf can be lulled into thinking is that we only have to swing our arms. Wrong! We need to use the core of our body. We want a good rotation, so that means being balanced but relaxed in our set-up. Again, if we’re too stiff, that will only hinder us. We want to get our club going back around our body so that means rotating our hips, our shoulders and our torso, and at the same time we want our front arm straight but our back elbow bent.
The down swing
We have rotated our body into position and now we have to uncoil that spring which we have created. We rotate our body (shoulders, hips, torso) in the direction that we have just come from as we turn our body back towards the target at which we are aiming. We don’t have to worry about getting the ball in the air, because that’s the club’s job! What we are doing is generating the power that we require to make a solid connection. If the club arrives with everything rotating nicely and facing the target, the golf ball should go up into the air.
Practicing your swing
Now if we are new to golf or returning to the sport after a period away, it’s highly likely that swinging a club will feel very alien at first. The aim, the grip, the stance, twisting and turning our bodies in unusual positions. It can be an intimidating amount of information to take it all at once.
One thing we cannot do is expect it all to click straight away. Golf needs time and effort. So we have to practice. And the first thing we can do is practice our swing. This is something we can do in our own back gardens if there is enough space as we can try to repeat our swing without the ball there. What we are trying to do is get used to the motion of swinging a club. And we should be brushing the top of the ground with the bottom of our club, almost sweeping it through the grass. We don’t want to be coming down too steeply and digging into the ground with our club, we want to be sweeping it through in the same position shot after shot.
Tee it up
Once we feel confident enough in our golf swing to try striking the ball, a little tip is to put a tee into the ground, about one inch above the floor. Then we can put our ball on top of it. We have been practicing with how to swing the club and now we want to put that into action.
The secret with this drill is not to swing too hard or to attempt to use too much force. The motion and our technique will do the rest. We are aiming to almost brush the ball off the tee. With our follow-through and how we rotate our body through the swing, the ball should naturally go up in the air and hopefully on a nice straight trajectory.
Off the floor
Teeing the ball up is a good method to work on at the driving range or on the practice ground at our local golf course. Once we feel that we are getting the ball straight and up in the air by sweeping it off a tee, we can try it without a tee. There is no need to change anything about how we set up or grip the club. We want to replicate that same technique of rotating our body, then uncoiling it as we come back the other way before sweeping the ball away. This time, we are looking to catch a little bit of the ground before the ball – not too much – and if done correctly, the club does not get stuck in the ground and carries on to sweep the ball off the club and up into the air.
We can let beginners into a little secret here – when we first get that achievement of hitting a golf shot high into the air, there is a real rush of excitement. A mix of disbelief with then wanting to do it again as soon as possible. Even now, those of us who have been playing the game for a long time still get that same joy and excitement when we connect perfectly with one of our shots!
Now the final thing to remember is returning to what we were talking about at the top of the article is that no two golf swings are the same. Some of us will not be able to rotate our body as vigorously or as athletically as others. But the fundamentals do apply for everyone. We all need to get our aim, our grip and our stance right. If we do those, hopefully we can find the golf swing that works best for us as we embark upon what we hope will be a long and enjoyable time of playing this great game.
About the Author
Adam is a freelance news and sports journalist who has written for the BBC, The Sunday Post, The I, The Times, The Telegraph and more. He has been writing about golf for nearly two decades and has covered 13 Open Championships and two Ryder Cups. Not only does Adam cover golf, but he has played golf for as long as he can remember. He was a member at Northenden Golf Club for around 25 years until his children arrived and his last official handicap was 11, although on any given day his form fluctuates anywhere between eight and 18.