Master the Transition

Over your golfing career, you may have asked yourself why you can’t just start the club at the top of the backswing, set it in a perfect position and swing down through the ball. The truth is, you could, and you may get fairly good at it. You wouldn’t have to worry about a takeaway, swing plane, wrist cock, etc. Just set it there and swing.

Unfortunately, you wouldn’t hit the ball very far. Like any athletic motion, the golf swing is a dynamic and flowing movement that requires a blend and sequencing of various body parts at the correct time.The backswing is how we load power into the swing, the transition maintains that load, and the through swing releases that power into the ball.

Think of throwing a baseball. If we were to stand flat-footed and not use our lower body, just flinging our arm, we wouldn’t be able to throw it very fast or far. Many golfers, for one reason or another, swing the club this way.

Now watch a good pitcher throw a fastball. You’ll see them load their weight on their back foot (backswing), stride towards the plate while their arm moves back (transition) and release the ball (through swing) with tremendous velocity. Good golfers use a very similar movement.

For many of us, this doesn’t come naturally, because it doesn’t feel very powerful. We’re not actually striding in golf, and we feel much stronger when we try to rip the club down from the top with our hands, arms or upper body. Yes, this does make the club move very fast, but it’s at the top of the swing, not at the ball. In fact, the club is decelerating tremendously long before impact, resulting in weak shots, bad contact and inconsistency.

Here’s a drill to try if you suffer from this common affliction. Go to the top of the backswing, moving your left shoulder over your right leg and making sure you can feel pressure in the ground under the inside of your right foot (1). Keeping your arms tension-free and your back to the target, press your left foot into the ground and rotate your hips so your belt buckle is facing the ball again (make sure to keep your upper-body behind the ball, don’t lurch forward). Your arms should have naturally dropped a bit (this is called “the slot” in golf lingo) and you may feel a stretch in your stomach/oblique muscles and/or hips (2). From here, go ahead and swing your arms through the ball into a full, balanced finish (3). Be sure to stop fully after each segment.

This is the sequence we must have to play good golf. Breaking it down into three segments lets us feel the correct movements in order. When you blend these together into a normal swing, the backswing (1) will smoothly move into the transition (2) and finally into the through swing (3). In fact, just before the backswing is completed (right around when the club is vertical in the backswing) we want the transition to begin with our lower body. The club will still be moving back as we start the lower body forward. This stretches our core muscles into a taught position that will release powerfully into the ball. If it helps, you can silently count 1, 2, 3 at each part of the swing when you practice.

This is actually how  that elusive “lag” is created. It happens naturally when our arms and wrists are tension free and we sequence correctly (try throwing a ball with your arm or wrist extremely tense, it won’t work). If you try to create lag by actively holding your wrists in position, the club won’t release and you’ll probably hit a monster push-slice, or flip the club at the last second and hit a hook.

This comes with a caveat…it’s not necessarily easy to do. If you’re just beginning the game, it’s best to focus on fundamentals like grip, aim and posture, and learn to hit the ball in the air consistently. Also, if you have injuries or lack flexibility, it’s going to be difficult to separate your upper and lower body and move them in two different directions at the same time. There are other ways to play golf, but this is how the vast majority of elite players get it done.
Next time you watch a PGA or LPGA Tour event, see if you can spot this sequence. Watch how smoothly they transition from backswing to downswing, with the lower body starting just before the backswing is completed. It’s challenging, and you don’t want to think about it while you play, but if you can master the transition, you’ll start to strike the ball much better. Good luck and happy golfing!