Is your swing more important than having correctly fitting clubs?
Which is more important to improving your game, your clubs or your swing? – All about the swing
As a follow-up to the article: “Are correctly fitting clubs more important than your swing?” here’s a lengthy article on how vital the swing is. This article answers the question: is the swing itself more important than having correctly fitting clubs? You decide.
Let’s start by taking a look at what happens when we swing a club.
Ponder this: at its most simple level hitting a golf ball involves three things made of matter.
One is the ball, the second is the club, the third is YOU.
Matter defined is anything that has mass and takes up space.
Two of the three (the ball and the club) are inanimate objects, and won’t move without an outside force moving them. You’re the outside force. So you have complete responsibility for the outcome of your shots. Slices, hooks, topped shots, and straight shots are all caused by how you swing your clubs.
If it rains, or the wind blows, or you find your ball behind a tree, you still control how you move your body – we call this your swing. And how you move your body determines how your club moves, and how your club moves determines how your ball moves.
So you see, you get credit for your good shots, and are the cause of your poor ones.
To get your golf ball to fly consistently straight, you need to understand some basic principles of cause and effect.
Next, the golf swing. Just how important is it in comparison to properly fit golf clubs? If you were to purchase a set of top-notch, properly fitted golf clubs for thousands of dollars, and you have a fundamentally poor set-up and golf swing, the odds are high that you’ll play terrible golf.
From a physical standpoint, there are only five things at the core of hitting a golf ball that really matter. Going into the mental part of playing golf with confidence could fill an entire book! We’ll save that for another article.
The views I’m about to share come after nearly 35 years teaching golf, and watching the many variables that make a golf ball fly straight or crooked, up in the air or on the ground, or in some cases not move at all.
I’ve thought from time to time if I had to pick one of these five things to teach a person and I couldn’t show them the other four, which one would I pick. I’d start by teaching them a fundamentally sound grip.
These five things will not be in any order of importance, as they all influence your ability to hit a golf ball solidly and control its direction.
Very Important Note: Instructional changes to your game (mental game aside) come in two types. The first is called pre-swing adjustments. These are adjustments to your set-up, and they occur BEFORE you swing. I’d estimate 90 percent of mistakes golfers make are in their set-up and therefore affect the outcome of their swing.
The second instructional change is called in-swing adjustments. These are adjustments you make DURING your swing while your club is in motion. Since most mistakes are in the set-up, in most cases pre-swing adjustments should be made prior to making in-swing adjustments.
The grip I’ve said before on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest in importance – to me is a 50! If you do everything else correct in your set-up and swing, and you grip the club poorly, you’ll never control the direction of the ball consistently.
Most golfers have never been taught what a proper grip feels like and they struggle for years when a simple grip adjustment would solve the problem and give them more joy from the game.
Swing fact: Misplacing your top hand by just half-an-inch toward the target when gripping your driver, can cause a slice of 15 or more yards. Move this hand another half-an-inch toward the target, and you’ll make it impossible to hit your ball straight.
The grip on the left is perfect. The grip on the right is doomed to hit balls to the right virtually every time unless he aims left, or attempts an exaggerated compensation during the swing.
The interesting thing about when we grip our club incorrectly is that it’s not a flaw in how we swing that’s causing so many shots to go off line, but something that happens before we begin to swing the club back. A grip adjustment sometimes as small as a quarter of an inch often has an enormous impact.
More than once I’ve heard students say: “I can’t believe that just changing my grip straightened out my ball so much.”
Remember: if you hold the club wrong, you’ll never consistently control the direction of your shots.
Alignment of your feet and shoulders.
The next pre-swing point we’ll discuss is the alignment of your feet and shoulders. If you’re going to hit shots at your target with any level of consistency, at address you must set your body in a position that allows your ball to go toward your target.
If you could imagine you were standing on a set of railroad tracks and I placed your feet on top of one rail, and placed your golf ball on the other rail, the two rails would remain parallel to each other going into the distance and never meet.
Setting your feet and shoulders parallel to your target line keeps you from having to make compensations for aiming off line when you swing.
When you set up to a golf ball you want the railroad track with your ball on it aimed toward your target, and the second track with the line of your toes and shoulders aimed a couple feet left of your target.
By keeping the railroad track visual in mind, once your body is aimed correctly and you’ve gripped the club properly, you have a better than average chance of hitting your ball toward the target. By setting your body in proper alignment it becomes easier to create a natural arc around your body, one that will square your clubface at impact.
So far we’ve explained the foundational importance of the grip, the alignment of your feet and shoulders. So what’s next?
The fourth set-up key is posture. This simply means when you stand and address a golf ball that you’re standing the proper distance away from it so you’re in a position to make a fundamentally sound swing, one that gives you a good chance to make solid contact with the ball.
Notice how Tiger has a slight bend in his knees, a straight back, and his arms hang down in a relaxed manner under his chin. You may not swing like Tiger, but you can try to emulate his set-up.
To start out you should feel a slight amount of flex in your knees, and then bend forward from the waist with your back relatively straight, and the weight balanced between your heels and the balls of your feet. Once your arms are hanging in a relaxed manner in front of you and the club is resting behind the ball and square to your target, you’re ready to swing.
As you move the club, you must maintain the angle of your back throughout the swing until about halfway through your follow through.
This sense of staying over the ball well past impact keeps your back and body in a position to make solid contact. When your upper body and club have swung far enough around on the follow through, the rotation of your body will automatically pull your head up and lead you to a finish facing your target.
And the final piece is what we call swing planes. To keep this as simple and easy to understand as possible, I’ll explain this in terms of a right-handed golfer. Just reverse everything if you play left-handed.
Ideally the club will swing back away from the ball so it travels around your body somewhere above your right shoulder and behind your back. When your shoulders turn sufficiently on the backswing, your hips will naturally rotate to the right. Done properly, you’ll feel the weight on the instep of your right foot. Do not let the weight move to the OUTSIDE of your right foot!
The downswing path will feel as if you’re swinging well to the right of your target. This is the feeling you want to sense when learning to hit straight shots.
On the forward swing the club swings around your body, but as you start your club forward you’ll sense that your hands are falling straight down toward the ground as your weight shifts toward the target and rotates (pivots) onto the outside of your left foot. On the follow through your hands, arms, and club swing up and over your left shoulder.
If at address you visualized a large red circle extending from the golf ball and following the angle of the golf shaft right through your body, so the upper end of the circle was above and behind you at address, we’d see how the club travels along this arc on your downswing until you reach the finish of your swing.
If any of these core fundamentals: your grip, the alignment of your feet and shoulders, your posture, and following the basic swing planes around your body are not properly set in place, you’ll have trouble playing consistent golf and controlling the direction of your ball.
There’s an old saying: If you give good clubs to a person with a bad swing, they’ll still play poor golf. If you give poor clubs to a person with a sound swing, they’ll still play good golf.
A solid game is based on a balance between…
A Fundamentally Sound Swing
Properly Fit Golf Clubs
I am absolutely an advocate of having properly fit clubs, and when built by a professional clubmaker, you can expect your clubs to help you play better golf for 10 or more years.
There are times when even perfectly fit clubs may need to be adjusted or replaced throughout the life of your set. However, this is typically when a player’s distance increases or decreases due to rapid improvements in their swing, getting physically stronger or weaker, or due to aging, surgery, or injuries.
In these cases either the set should be replaced, or the current set should be refit and the shafts replaced with stiffer or more flexible ones. Stiffer shafts are installed when there’s a marked increase in distance, and more flexible shafts installed when players have lost distance.
Regarding the swing, I can’t stress the following point enough: when a golfer is taught the basic fundamentals of a correct set-up and swing, the game can create far more joy and a higher level of control over the ball than many students think possible.
The challenge is this: While golf clubs can be properly fit and delivered within a period of two weeks or less, and having correctly fit clubs is an important step in playing your best golf, developing a sound golf swing can take months or even years. But after some quality instruction and practice time has been put in, and you begin to gain a true understanding of why a golf ball flies as it does, you’ll have a golf swing that can last a lifetime.
Here’s what Ben Hogan who’s widely known as the finest ball striker in history had to say about improving our swings.
“By continuing to practice and apply these fundamentals, the golfer will continue to improve his game-quite often, far beyond his fondest dreams. I do genuinely believe this: THE AVERAGE GOLFER IS ENTIRELY CAPABLE OF BUILDING A REPEATING SWING AND BREAKING 80, if he learns to perform a small number of correct movements and conversely it follows, eliminates a lot of movements which tend to keep the swing from repeating.”
When Mr. Hogan referred to ‘these fundamentals’ he was talking about the chapters in his book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. In 120 pages he explains in detail and with the use of precise illustrations, The Grip, Stance and Posture, The First Part of the Swing, The Second Part of the Swing, and then devotes 20 pages to Summary and Review.
First published in 1957, this book is still one of the best instruction books ever written.
This is an image of the original artwork of Ben Hogan I once owned, that appeared on the 1949 Time magazine cover. The artwork for the cover was drawn by famed artist Boris Chaliapin and is on exhibit in the Ben Hogan Room at the USGA’s museum in Liberty Corner, New Jersey.
As we age and lose flexibility and strength, it becomes of utmost importance that we have a swing based on sound fundamentals, and proper timing and rhythm. If on the other hand as we age, we rely on our declining physical strength as our main source of power, our swing will eventually break down.
We’ve all seen or heard about the man in his eighties who hits his ball 150 yards straight down the middle, and still manages to shoot respectable scores, and on occasion shoots under his age. For him, golf still brings him joy instead of frustration.
The fundamentals of the golf swing have been around for centuries, with the basics remaining unchanged, never going out of style. These handful of fundamentals are as immutable as gravity and will remain that way.
Please feel free to go back and read the article: “Are correctly fitting clubs more important than your swing?“
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Next article: How important is your swing?
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Dedicated to your best golf ever,
Michael Riso, Teaching Professional, PGA Associate
EFT Advanced Golf Practitioner
Clearwater Country Club and Largo Golf Course