What is it about the ball? A player can make a decent practice swing--not perfect, but smooth and on-plane--then do something completely different to hit the ball. You start thinking hard about where the club should go in the seven-tenths of a second the swing actually takes, and everything gets jerky and off-balance. The club seems like it's getting tangled on its way to the ball. Why? All teachers have "positions" they like to see players reach during the swing, but the swing is a dynamic, fluid motion, and good players get to those spots as part of the overall motion. Players trying to improve--and I'm putting tour players in that group, too--try so hard to get into good positions that they manipulate the club out of balance. The swing becomes a tangled mess of compensations and re-routing. Look at the three common tangles I'm demonstrating here, and see if you recognize your swing. If you do, look below and try the drills there. You already have a good swing: You use it every time you make a practice swing. I'll help you make that same untangled motion when you step up to hit the ball.
TANGLE 1: THE PULL INSIDE
CLUB GETS STUCK ON DOWNSWING
Quickly sweeping the clubhead back behind you (left) is one of the most common tangles of the average player. Your body races ahead on the downswing (right), and you have to sling the clubhead out from behind your right side to get it "unstuck." It's a very inconsistent way to swing. Letting your arms and chest move back together keeps the club balanced and lets it come back to the ball in front of your body.
TANGLE 2: THE GRIP-END YANK
SWING BECOMES TOO UPRIGHT
This tangle gets pulled tight immediately from the start, mostly by high-handicappers. If your first move is grabbing the grip tightly and jerking it back (far left), your swing gets really upright at the top (near left). From there, the club tends to come back to the ball from outside the target line -- and without much power. Instead, let the clubhead move back first, and focus on making a complete shoulder turn.
TANGLE 3: THE TENSION EXTENSION
ARMS COLLAPSE AT THE TOP
You've heard a hundred teachers and tour players say extension is what creates power. But what extension creates (if you aren't careful) is tension (far left). Trying to extend the clubhead away from you on the backswing (near left) causes your arms to collapse at the top, making the swing narrow and less powerful. It's like a rubber band stretching and snapping back. Relax your neck and shoulders at address, and let the club flow back. Don't be afraid to let your wrists hinge naturally as you swing to the top.
STEP 1 / LET IT SWING
Without a ball, make some practice swings using only your right arm. It's hard to pull the club off plane like this, because centrifugal force works to keep it in balance. You want to feel that same balance after you add your left hand to the club--and try to keep the same grip pressure, too, throughout the swing.
STEP 2 / MOVE THE WHOOSH
Once you feel the club balance with one hand, grab it by the clubhead end and make some baseball swings at waist height. Because you're not bent over, it's a more intuitive, natural movement. Feel your weight transfer back and through. Next, make the grip end whoosh through the air early (off your right side), then late (in front of you). You can move the point where the whoosh happens by changing when you release your hands and arms.____
STEP 3 / SPEED OVER THE BALL
Before you hit a shot, make full-speed practice swings a few inches over the ball so that the clubhead whooshes at the bottom of the swing arc. Focus on making that sound of acceleration, not on the ball. After three or four practice swings, set up and hit it--and keep thinking about speed instead of impact.