Too often I see golfers trying to swing in a way that doesn't work with their physical capabilities. They end up never realizing their potential or, even worse, getting hurt. For the young, limber player, a body-driven swing is often the way to go. It involves swinging from the center outward, with the big muscles in the trunk and legs doing all the work. The preferred shot is often a fade. For the older player in search of more power, the draw usually works better. By focusing on the hands and arms and incorporating more lateral body movement in the swing, a less flexible golfer can become more of a free swinger, and that means more distance. Here I'll walk you through two model swing sequences: one for young, athletic types and one for older, less flexible golfers.
YOUNG, ATHLETIC SWING
1.) AT ADDRESS FEEL CENTERED, AND ENGAGE YOUR CORE MUSCLESYounger players are able to make a big rotary swing, so the setup should accommodate that. They should feel as if the upper body is stacked vertically over the lower body, with very little tilt away from the target. A centered feeling at address will help the body stay centered during the backswing. Another good feeling is that the stomach is pulled inward; that helps create energy in the core.
2. ) TO THE TOP MAKE A FULL TURN, BUT KEEP YOUR HEAD STEADYDuring the backswing, the big muscles in the back, shoulders and core have coiled, transporting the club to the top with little contribution from the hands and arms. The hands set at the top almost automatically. There is minimal head movement off the ball, but the weight has moved into the right leg. Although the body stays fairly centered, tremendous energy is stored in the coil.
3.) COMING DOWN SQUAT INTO YOUR LEGS, AND MAINTAIN WRIST HINGEThe downswing starts with a distinct squat or sit-down action, and the body appears to drag the club toward the ball. The hands and arms remain passive and the wrists fully hinged, as the lower body and core lead the way. The clubhead is lagging behind, which sets up a late burst of speed. The left arm stays tight to the chest, and the right elbow tucks in close. The body is driving the action.
4.) THROUGH IMPACT TURN HARD, AND LET YOUR BODY PULL THE CLUBThe lower body and core have fired through and slung the club into impact with a pulling action. There's no feeling of flipping or twisting the club with the hands. The right heel has come off the ground, indicating a full lower-body release. The hands are only along for the ride, so there's little hand or arm rotation. This type of swing usually produces a fade and lessens the fear of hitting a big hook.
5.) AT THE FINISH KEEP ROTATING AS YOUR ARMS SWING AROUNDBody rotation continues to drive the motion, and the hands and arms wrap around the torso in tandem with the big turn. The shoulders have unwound at a fast pace and, with the release of energy stored in the core, produce tremendous power. There is a fair amount of curvature in the lower back because of the explosiveness of the core and lower body. This is a classic young player's finish.
DRILL: FEEL THE ARMS FLY OFF THE BODYMake some swings without a club, and let your body turn fling your arms to the finish. The rotation of the core and hips powers the motion, dragging the arms through. This explosive finish by the arms is a result of the momentum of the turn, not any hitting or swinging action. The big-muscle swing creates a "heavy" hit, as if the ball stays compressed on the face for a long time.
DRILL: TURN THROUGH AND FACE THE CLUBChoke down on a club, and practice turning through with the club staying in front of your chest in an abbreviated finish. You want to ingrain the feeling that the body turn controls the club; the arms catch up through impact. One potential downside of the big-muscle swing is that the club can get "stuck" behind the body, forcing the hands to flip it through. This drill makes sure the arms stay in sync with the turn.
LESS FLEXIBLE SWING
1.) AT ADDRESS PLAY THE BALL BACK, AND TILT YOUR BODY TO THE RIGHTLess flexible players usually need more distance, so they should learn to hit a draw. To accomplish that, they should move the ball back a couple of inches and drop the right foot away from the target line, creating a closed stance. This will facilitate body turn on the backswing and set up an inside approach into impact. A little more spine tilt away from the target will also help the windup.
2. ) TO THE TOP LET THE SWINGING MOTION PULL YOUR BODY BACKA little lateral motion off the ball, with the head moving freely to the right, creates more windup. That said, this player should focus on extending the arms back and making a full wrist hinge. There should be a distinct sweeping motion to start the backswing, with the arms pulling the body into rotation and weight to the right side. This player needs more motion overall to increase power.
3.) COMING DOWN RELEASE YOUR WRISTS, BUT STAY TO THE INSIDEStarting down, the hands and arms should make a beeline to the ball. The right elbow and shoulder drop from the top, setting up an inside path into impact. Although often discussed as a fault, "throwing the club from the top" is a great move for the less flexible player: Speeding the arms and unhinging the wrists creates a gradual power boost for the golfer unable to rotate the body quickly through the ball.
4.) THROUGH IMPACT SLING THE CLUB WITH YOUR HANDS AND ARMSYou can see here the body is not rotating through as fast as in the young-player sequence. This is a result of less flexibility and body speed. The right foot stays planted, and the body faces the ball at impact. To make up for this lack of rotational speed, this player has to sling the club through with the hands and arms, which is set up by the earlier release, or throw, discussed in the previous frame.
5.) AT THE FINISH LET YOUR ARMS FOLD, AND DON'T STRESS THE BACKAgain, limited range of motion is the major obstacle in the follow-through. Instead of the big, wrap-around finish, this player should let the arms collapse comfortably, with both elbows down and relatively tight to the body. The hips and shoulders turn through roughly the same amount, so there's less stress on the back. It's a straight-up finish with little curvature in the spine.
DRILL: START YOUR SWING AT THE FOLLOW-THROUGHMake practice swings starting from a fully extended follow-through. This will teach you to extend your arms away from the target in the backswing--a critical move for players needing more motion. As you go back, try to swing the club through a mirror image of this starting position. Your arms will pull your body into the backswing, just like you need in your normal swing.
DRILL: CREATE MORE WHOOSH FOR CLUBHEAD SPEEDTurn a club over, grip it with your right hand only and try to produce a loud whoosh where the ball would be. This is a good way to learn to unhinge the right wrist and release the club through the ball. Going back, you have to fold your right elbow and hinge your wrist to store power. Coming down, release those angles into impact. This throwing action not only increases speed, it helps produce a draw.JIM McLEAN, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional, is based at Doral Golf Resort & Spa, in Miami.