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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: [email protected]

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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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Instruction

Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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