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Subtract, Don’t Add for a Better Golf Swing

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Speed and power sell, but repeatability and simplicity lowers scores. Now with swing coaches partnering with with fitness companies, I see more swings on the range getting longer with the body moving in every direction. Students come to me saying they can’t hit a draw because they aren’t flexible.

Don’t get me wrong; fitness has a place in the game. It can be very beneficial, preventing injuries and creating longevity. Cross-sport training is even better. Just make sure it’s a supplement to your swing, not adding movements to try and swing like certain Tour players.

Golfers are better served looking to subtract from their swing, not add. Whenever we can eliminate moving parts, we have a greater chance of repeatability with no loss of speed or power. Simplicity equals consistency.

Quoting Steve Elkington, PGA Championship winner and host of Secret Golf, “Your golf swing has to be as simple as possible or you can’t repeat it.” So how do we simplify the swing? Simply look to rid your motion of those needless movements.

Don’t Set Up Like a Shortstop

The common instruction of “feel like a shortstop, be athletic” works great for baseball, but not for golf. We don’t need to set up to the ball so we can move left or right.

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Rather, the closer we set up to our impact angles, the less movement is required to get back to the correct impact position. To do this, set up with slight pressure on your left foot (right-handed golfer) and make sure you have your upper half set behind the ball.

Look back at the article “The difference between pressure and weight” to get the proper setup. This is nothing new, as many of the greats — past and present — have addressed the ball this way. Below is a photo of Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson.

IMG_8288Make sure you address the ball so you can coil behind the it with no lateral movement necessary.

Stop the Shift

If you set up to the ball correctly, there is no need to shift laterally in the backswing. A shift will just require you to move even more in downswing to make solid contact. In fact, not only is shifting a wasted movement, it will actually slow you down. Think of a swimmer, who wants to swim in a direct line. The more side-to-side movement the swimmer has during their stroke, the less speed they produce.

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Below is a great way to get the proper feel of a coil. Set up in your posture with your arms tucked in at a 90-degree angles. Pull your right arm back and move your left arm out. Let your right glute move back slightly as well. You will notice your shoulders have naturally moved back and there is no shifting of your hips.

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Think of your backswing more as a coil, not as a shift and turn. Work on rotating or coiling with your body in the same position for the most efficient swing possible.

The Over-Swing

A common swing complaint among first-time students is they feel their swing is too long and tough to repeat. They are usually correct.

Getting too long with your golf swing is usually a product of your body motion. The “shift-and-turn” tip leads to several faults, the most common being too much rotation. Add a long swing with a shift and a player will usually tilt back toward the target, which is a difficult position to recover from.

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A great drill to shorten your swing and develop arm speed is to simply hit balls with your feet together. Below is an example.

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When doing this drill, feel like you are holding your body and swinging the shaft with your arms. You will notice your shoulders will still have moved back and around without a conscious “turn.” For more speed, hold your body and swing the shaft faster. Soon, you will notice you can hit the ball close to the same distance with much less movement than before.

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Remember, anytime we can limit wasted movement in the golf swing we have a greater chance of better contact. Better contact and a simplified swing will equal lower scores.

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Kelvin is a Class A PGA golf professional in San Francisco, California. He teaches and has taught at some of the top golf clubs in the Bay Area, including the Olympic Club and Sonoma Golf Club. He is TPI certified, and a certified Callaway and Titleist club fitter. Kelvin has sought advice and learned under several of the top instructors in the game, including Alex Murray and Scott Hamilton. To schedule a lesson, please call 818.359.0352 Online lessons also available at www.kelleygolf.com

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. lef

    Mar 5, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    I think this is great advice for someone like me at a 10 hdcp. A few months ago I started locking my left elbow. This has the effect of abbreviating my backswing to as far as my hips and shoulders can rotate, which isn’t very far compared to DJ or Rory. So I have a pretty short back swing, but I make consistently better contact than when I would allow my left elbow to bend at the top. On average I haven’t lost any distance, but I have gained consistency. I’ll admit I was a little self-conscious about how short and un-manly my swing was. A week ago I went to the range with a friend who is a 2-3 hdcp, and he noticed almost immediately that I was puring most of my irons. But he didn’t say “wow you swing like a old man now”, instead he said, “wow, you’re striping it”. So, at least for me, a smaller more simplified swing is helping me make better contact and hit more greens and fairways.

  2. Bobalu

    Mar 5, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Wow. I do not agree with what you are advocating here. Virtually all top coaches teach that at address that your hips should start centered between your feet, and then secondary tilt of spine away from the target is added (only a couple of degrees with an iron), while keeping the hips centered. You are advocating creating this upper body secondary tilt by bumping the left hip toward the target at address, rather than starting with hips centered, then tilting back the upper body. Your way restricts clearing hips on the downswing. The correct way results in a centered pivot and no obstruction to clearing hips on downswing. A small amount of linear motion of the hips towards the target will naturally occur on the downswing of course, but pre-setting the hips forward, then tilting back- like you advocate in your picture- is just flat out wrong and harmful.

    • Bobalu

      Mar 5, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Shawn Cox (on Secret Golf) recommends this left hip forward setup at address for ‘short’ shots. I don’t really follow his logic on why, and I disagree when he states that virtually all PGA players set up for short shots this way.

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Mar 5, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      B, Thanks for the comment, I guess the impact position is “harmful”. All great players find the proper “shape” on the downswing. Clearing of your hips will come natural.

  3. ButchT

    Mar 5, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Thank you! One of the very best explanations I have seen posted on Golfwrx! Butch.

  4. Ronny

    Mar 3, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    Can’t disagree. Video would have been better to prove his point. Thx

  5. Jack

    Mar 3, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    The correct top of the backswing shortened just doesn’t look right with the hips and body shifting back and hips bumped forward. The incorrect one has a better shoulder turn but the correct one didn’t just reduce shoulder turn the entire plane changed. Looks like a push slice waiting to happen.

  6. chip

    Mar 3, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    It is a pretty universal idea that for an amateur, shortening the swing is a great idea. I hover around scratch and shortening my swing has done wonders.

  7. Howard

    Mar 3, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Excellent article and excellent advice. Agree with your basic philosophy. Many thanks.

  8. N. D. Boondocks

    Mar 3, 2017 at 10:51 am

    About a million years ago, when I was a kid (yah, the dark ages were still a fresh memory), I had the only golf lesson I ever truly remember that still works when I need help. There were 4 ‘rules’.

    Think of roating around your back leg for the driver.
    Think of rotating around your bum for fairway woods.
    Think of rotating around your front leg for irons.
    Don’t rotate for a putter.

  9. Scott

    Mar 3, 2017 at 9:24 am

    One of the best articles on the swing this site has ever had.

  10. Someone

    Mar 3, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Didn’t an article from golf wrx before, say that the feet together drill was in the top 5 worst drills for golfers?

    Anyhow, what did you mean by “tilt back toward the target”? Sounds a little contradictory, no? While I’d be putting pressure on the left, I don’t think there’s ever a time I’m leaning toward the target. Could you elaborate please?

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Mar 3, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Tilt meaning your upper half of your body starts too bend or tilt back towards the target. The opposite of the preferred set up position. Hope this helps.

      • Someone

        Mar 4, 2017 at 11:33 pm

        So basically straightening up and moving your weight forward?

        • Kelvin Kelley

          Mar 4, 2017 at 11:42 pm

          At the top of the swing, a tilt would be your upper half (torso) moving back towards the target from face on view. Check out the pressure and weight article, I think the pics on that article will help.

  11. Tim

    Mar 2, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    If you watch the Golf Channel, just today they had Gary Player on (not a bad record as golfer) and what did he say “the first wrong thing you hear from instructors today is shorten the back swing..NO you need to get more back swing….. Is Gary Player wrong>>>>>>>>>>

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Mar 3, 2017 at 12:33 am

      There have also been several great players that have had what you think/call “shorter” swings. It’s more about understanding how not to lose your body shape when you coil, turning in the right direction. Think of throwing a ball, do you turn down and rotate your back all the way to to the target to throw the ball? You wouldn’t. It’s a false sense of power. With the concept you have you may as well run into the ball and do a 360 before you hit it.

    • Steve S

      Mar 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm

      Is Gary Player wrong? Maybe. If you watch videos of Gary Player he never had a long backswing that I can find but he did have a “wide” backswing. Sometimes pro golfers say one thing(because that is what they think) but do or mean another. And most times the best golfers are not the beat teachers because most of the rest of us CAN’T do what they do and many of them don’t understand it. One of the greatest examples of realizing this was Mickey Mantle in baseball. He was offered many managerial and coaching jobs and turned them down. He claimed that he couldn’t teach what he did because he really didn’t know how he did it; he just PLAYED!

  12. mikee

    Mar 2, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Excellent!…..tilt (as in the pictures),pivot (as in the pictures),separate (start the downswing with the lower body) and extend (down the target line)….all done without “overswinging”…….simple!.

  13. Jay

    Mar 2, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Doesn’t this general swing philosophy contradict the swing philosophy of Shawn Clement, who had an article this week also ?

    I am not trying to start anything, just a bit confusing for an average guy like myself to figure out which is more helpful for an average golfer

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Mar 3, 2017 at 12:43 am

      Jay, I would suggest anything that simplifies the golf swing for you, making solid contact!

    • Scott

      Mar 3, 2017 at 9:31 am

      Are you talking about cutting the dandelion? If so, I think that these are complementary. This article appears to be able to get you in a simpler position do do what Shawn suggested. Shawn’s video had too much head bobbing up and down for me. I think that you can accomplish the same smooth swing – probably even easier – with what demonstrated in this article.

  14. jacob

    Mar 2, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Great article…thanks

  15. SoCal

    Mar 2, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I’d rather set up like a shortstop instead of the setup in the pic. Horrible position for his feet. Just look at Jack in his pic… And about not moving left or right, you need to get on a force plate. Check out COG and COP… SHANK

  16. Jalan

    Mar 2, 2017 at 9:44 am

    On the occasions I’ve been able to watch tour players practice, I’ve been amazed at how efficient their swings are; and how little excess movement they have in their swings. They rotate back, and then they rotate through the ball.

    Easier said than done.

  17. NolanMBA

    Mar 2, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Man I can totally relate to the over swing. I have plenty of hip and shoulder turn but my arms just keep going back… and back… and back…

  18. Markallister

    Mar 2, 2017 at 8:15 am

    the pictures are obviously misleading. bad advice.

    • Ronny

      Mar 2, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Okay so- why?

      • Markallister

        Mar 3, 2017 at 8:57 pm

        the so-called “overswing” position, is no overswing. it is pretty good.

        • Dave

          Mar 8, 2017 at 8:51 pm

          To me, it looks far from “pretty good”… the overswing pic on left looks like the spine tilted toward the target…which prob causes and imbalance….then the pic on the right looks like the golfer needed to sway his hip toward the target in order to counter that and initiate the downswing, instead of rotating… probably a hundred different faults could happen from there (I’ve had them all)… getting stuck, stalling your hips, spinning out, flipping, etc… think that’s in the ballpark of the point he was trying to make.

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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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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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