Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)


Smooth From The Top

By Jack Nicklaus Illustrations by Jim McQueen
January 21, 2013


The first move down from the top is one of the most important in the golf swing. No matter how you take the club back, the transition into the downswing has to be smooth, and the club needs to come into the ball from inside the target line. And the overall downswing has to start from the ground up.

I think of a sprinter coming out of the blocks (I ran some track back in high school). The best sprinters get off to a fast start, but they do it smoothly, with a minimal amount of motion. I want to be coiled at the top with my shoulders and hips turned fully over my right leg, which is well braced. I never want my right knee to straighten on the backswing, and it should never sway to my right. That way, I can spring out in a dynamic but stable fashion.


I've noticed over the years that players who let the right knee move in the backswing from where they set it at address are prone to inconsistent shots. So I agree with what I said: The knee's position shouldn't change.

At the top of the backswing, I like the club to be at what I call 5 o'clock. If you viewed my swing from behind, looking down the target line, the clubface would be hanging at the 5 on an imaginary clockface—this is an open position. It allows you to freely release the club from that open position to a square position and on to a closed position at the finish. Think of it as completing the circle of the swing. I always try to have the toe of the club travel on a greater arc than the heel. This allows you to swing freely, utilizing your natural power as much as possible.

—Written with Roger Schiffman

JACK NICKLAUS writes articles exclusively for Golf Digest. This is the second in a series of pieces in which Nicklaus looks back at his earlier writings in Golf Digest.