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Three thoughts to start your downswing

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Ah yes, the transition. It’s one of the most troublesome movements in the golf swing for everyone from beginners to professionals.

“What’s the best way to begin my downswing?” golfers ask me on the lesson tee. 

As I try to answer that question, I will break down the transitional feels into three areas for you to improve. These are not the only feels, obviously, they are just the most common. I have seen great players use each of these three feels, so if you’re struggling try one of more of these on and see if they suit your game.  

  1. Bump the hips
  2. Move the right shoulder back and down
  3. Shallow the shaft

These feelings are described on my YouTube Channel on a Playlist Called “Transitional Feels” that can be found on my website www.tomstickneygolf.com

Bump the hips

Every golfer in the world has heard the old adage, “Start the downswing from the ground up,” but what does this mean exactly? 

Basically, as the club moves into its last few milliseconds of the backswing, the hips begin to move weight back into the front foot, and your body leverages the ground as it completes the downswing into and through the ball. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.15.13 AM

The player’s club above is just about at the top of his backswing. In the next frame below, you will see that the hips will cross the vertical line I drew on his left hip before his club shaft passes the line I drew on the way back. This shows that the hips bumped forward first and the shoulders, arms and club followed, allowing his path to be from the inside at 1.5 degrees from in-to-out.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.14.35 AM

His shaft is in nearly the same position it was before at the top, but look at how far the hips have bumped forward! When he does this, you will see that this player’s weight is moving from his right side into the ball of his left foot. This diagonal hip motion, or bump into right field, allows the right shoulder to drop downward during the transition setting up the proper delivery into the ball.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.15.29 AM

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.15.47 AM

So to recap the hip bump:

  1. The hips bump into right field.
  2. The weight moves into the ball of the left foot.
  3. The right shoulder drops rearward to begin the downswing.
  4. The club follows into the delivery position (clubhead shown by green circle).
  5. The path is from in-to-out (shown by the blue line).

Move the right shoulder back and down

Another popular transitional motion is one where the player feels that he is keeping his back to the target longer in the downswing, holding the right shoulder back to start the downswing, and/or allowing the right shoulder to fall downward to begin the transition. The upper body dominates the feeling of this type of transition, which is led by the motion of the right shoulder. 

This is exactly the opposite of a transition that involves throwing the right shoulder outward, a common mistake that moves the path leftward — or “over the top.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.16.01 AM

Here you can see the right shoulder moving outward as shown by the yellow arrow, and the path (the blue line) is moving from out-to-in at -11.9 degrees. 

So what’s the secret move for this type of upper body dominated golfer? What “feel” will get them to stop throwing the right shoulder out and over?

It must be a downward-and-holding-back movement of the right shoulder for a golfer whose feel comes mostly from the upper body during the transition.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.16.17 AM

In the frame above, you’ll now see that in the delivery phase of this downswing, the shoulders are still pointing into right field and the right shoulder has dropped more downward, rather than outward. Thus, this path is 5.9 degrees from in-to-out as shown by the blue line. When this occurs, the player will tell me that they felt like the shoulders were closed to the target line for a longer time in the downswing, or pointing into right field longer than normal. This would be the correct feeling for a right-shoulder transitional player.

Shallow the shaft

Nick Faldo and Nick Price made this transition popular. When you looked at their swings from a down-the-line view, you would see a noticeable shallowing of the club shaft into the downswing. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.16.34 AM

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.16.51 AM

When the shaft flattens, or shallows, in the downswing, the shoulders don’t rotate forward quite as quickly, allowing the arms and club shaft to fall to the inside as shown above. 

The yellow arrow drawn down the club shaft in the second photo above shows that the club has flattened so that the butt of the club points just outside the ball. If the shaft gets steeper into the delivery position, the shaft will point inside of the golf ball, which forces the path leftward. 

The key to using the shaft-flattening technique is to make sure you have a slower transition from the top. If you jerk it down, then you will throw your right shoulder forward and your path will shift leftward.

I hope by now you have identified the type of transitional feel you have and can use these thoughts to improve your transitional move.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Yuni Triasih

    Oct 5, 2017 at 12:43 am

    i am always following this website to get perfect idea about golfing knowledge. thanks a lot for this necessary knowledge

  2. NuckandCup

    Mar 11, 2015 at 9:12 am

    The entire golf swing takes 1.5 seconds on average….and you have 3 thoughts on the downswing?

    One swing thought per swing……Free. Your. Mind.

  3. Barry S.

    Feb 24, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Good article! If you are using natural forces similar to twirling a rock on a string the hip slide puts the COG ahead of the SCC (swing circle center) setting up a holding force that resists the pulling force of the club head.

  4. Tanner

    Feb 21, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Tom,

    Thanks, for sharing and trying to clarify of the mysteries of the golf swing.

    Can one of these move save a bad backswing or if you have a bad badswing you are doomed?

    Tanner

  5. Aiden

    Feb 18, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Great article Tom, quick question… Will feeling the shoulder going back and down cause the shallowing of the shaft anyway or is it just a swing thought that works for some players and others have to think about a different swing thought to make it work for them.

    Enjoying reading your articles. Keep it up!

  6. tom stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Steve– try hitting balls off an uphill sidehill lie (ball above your feet) this might help your arms shallow out a touch

  7. tom stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Philip– love it

  8. tom stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Gub– go troll somewhere else

  9. tom stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Alvin– Sounds like you are spinning out a touch early in the downswing. Make sure when you bump you stay on your left side. Thanks!

    • Alvin

      Feb 17, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks! I’ll make note of that tip the next time out.

  10. Gubment Cheez

    Feb 17, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Don’t post anything about the swing or ask a question unless you can shoot mid 80s some of the time. Trust me, you got bigger problems than the start of your downswing

    • Alvin

      Feb 17, 2015 at 3:38 pm

      Notwithstanding your narrow-sighted and condescending recommendation, the writer is welcome to answer or not answer as he pleases.

  11. Alvin

    Feb 17, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks for the article! I’ve been struggling recently with being inconsistent in my swing, often coming over the top. I’ve been coached and have read about how I should feel, but it’s been difficult for me to put into motion. However, having Feel #2 as a conscious thought in my mind before every swing significantly increased my consistent during my last practice session. Moreover, where I tend to overdraw with my irons, I tend to slice with my driver (presumably due to the exaggerated motion of a driver swing). But applying that thought resulted in a drastic improvement in consistency and distance. Only time will tell if I can maintain the consistency. My main issue with Feel #2 is that when I’m driving, I tend to hit off my back foot or slightly lose my balance backwards through impact. I played around with widening my stance but came to the same results. I’m wondering if this is just a deficiency in my hip/core strength, where I’m unable to physically shift my weight forward when I’m dropping my shoulder back. Any suggestions on other things to try?

    Thanks!

  12. Philip

    Feb 17, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Nothing ever worked for me until I learned to apply the motion of walking and turning to the swing – which is similar to what we are trying to do. We are turning towards the target. If you place a your right foot forward and then turn counter-clockwise to the left you realize you turn by turning your right foot clockwise (equal and opposite actions). I apply that same turning of my right foot (I play right-handed) to trigger the downswing and let my body handle the rest.

    My grip controls the rest from setup, swing plane to follow-through. I don’t think I can get it any simpler. If my grip feels correct and I feel my swing trigger – all falls into place.

  13. Steve

    Feb 17, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Hi Tom, interesting article, I am really struggling to get enough arm swing in the downswing, on video my right arm stays locked to my chin for way too long. The obvious swing thought is to let my arms to drop, but I am really struggling to do this when it counts. Any thoughts on other transition thoughts I could use.

  14. tom stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 11:43 am

    SR- I would say that most students describe a feeling of the center of gravity moving from their rear foot into the front portion of the left foot…this helps to allow the rear shoulder to drop downward during the transition

  15. tom stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Simon- the range is the only place for mechanical thoughts. It’s there that you will produce a feel that you will then take with you to the course

    • simon

      Feb 18, 2015 at 2:35 am

      so how many balls do you think I need to hit to bring this ‘feel’ to the course?
      VIjay SIngh once said 1000 to know it 5000 to own it.

      How does the average hack do this? Well he/she cant thats why most cant take it to the course.

      1 thought to begin the downswing is more practical.

  16. tom stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 11:39 am

    SD- I would suggest slow motion swings until you have some “feel” and work your way back up to full speed

    • SteelyDan

      Feb 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks! Funny I never tried that before. I did try to pause on top, but the problem appeared again afterwards.

  17. SteelyDan

    Feb 17, 2015 at 5:43 am

    Hi Tom, once again, great article! I personally have the problem that I can’t feel the club in the transition at all. Everything looks fine on top in the practice swing, but when the ball sits down there, my left wrist will bow on top, shutting the clubface and the club will cross the line. I think all this actually happens while I’m already busy with the transition/downswing, so I am kind of “losing it” up there. Any idea how to control the club better on top? Thanks, SD

  18. simon

    Feb 17, 2015 at 1:27 am

    Too many thoughts for a split second

    paralysis by analysis

    good luck with that

  19. Tom Stickney

    Feb 17, 2015 at 12:56 am

    Billy– sounds like you could be too deep from the inside when you bump. Try one of the other ways.

  20. Billy

    Feb 17, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Tom, I tried the “Bump the hips” technique. I shank it when I try it since it’s new to me. I also still cast it, I still have same yardage’s on the simulator? Is it more of a right wrist issue for a RH player?

  21. Tom Stickney

    Feb 16, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    M– it should happen naturally if your pivot is correct for sure.

  22. tom stickney

    Feb 16, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Alan– Great thought as well

  23. tom stickney

    Feb 16, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    G– Hard for me to tell people what they will “feel” as we’re all different…that’s why I gave you three options to test

  24. gerald

    Feb 16, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Describing a physical action has been done many times by many authors.The reason this action is still evasive to many is, it is a ‘feel’, that people describe as a physical action and is never described as a feel. i.e. It ‘feels’ like you are skipping a stone with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand in a backhanded motion. Bumping the hips, dropping the right shoulder, shallowing the plane, relate to physical actions that have no reference to previous activity. Hard to develop “feels’.

  25. alan

    Feb 16, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    nice article. im sure i do some variation something mentioned but ive found what works pretty well for me is to keep my back to the target longer. i used to use my core to turn the club and would outrace my club and flip at at. now the club is more more in front of my body.

    • SRSLY

      Feb 17, 2015 at 6:43 am

      I agree. Tom, would you be willing to quickly describe physically what is happening in the first two ‘feels’? The third feel is more of a by product of the physical action.

  26. tom stickney

    Feb 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    T– Whatever thought works best for you is always better in my opinion! 🙂

  27. Trevor

    Feb 16, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Tom,
    I have always been a major offender when it comes to over the top move. Recently one thing that i have done that has helped is to make sure my at the top of the swing my left shoulder is lower than my right shoulder, then my thought process is to bring the right shoulder down to revert the process. This has helped in avoiding having the right shoulder move straight to the target (and the resulting pulling of the ball into the woods). Do this sound reasonable?

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