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You Tried It: How a tension-free swing solves lots of problems

December 14, 2011

*On Wednesdays at the Instruction Blog, we often turn to our readers for the best tips they ever received. *Please submit your favorite tip to This week we hear from Alastair Plowman, who emailed us the following, all the way from The Grange Golf Club in Auckland, New Zealand:

"For decades I have battled getting stuck on the back foot and pulling my shoulders across the ball and slicing, like tens of thousands of golfers, I guess. Many instructors teach starting the downswing with a lower-body movement, or a bump. I could not get this action going. I have asked many pros for a thought to initiate this action.

"I read somewhere that you should hold the club as if you had a baby bird in your hands. I went to the driving range and took a pitching wedge and just made a few loose swings. It felt like a rubber band, to be frank, and it felt far from a structured swing. I hit a few balls without thinking anything, and then tried a bump action. It felt fluid for the first time. I tried several swings without a ball and thought I was onto something.

"A month later I am using this swing thought--very soft hands with a full turn, bump and swing. The key revelation I think is this: A setup with arm or hand tension spreads to the chest and shoulders, and when you get to the top of the swing the tension prevents a bump action from happening.

"I usually play to a 10-11 range, but last week I hit every green, for the first time ever. It has made me more accurate by far, and is keeping me more in play. I certainly feel I have a major breakthrough routine to work on and grow with."

Editor's note: I have written most of Jim Flick's articles in Golf Digest through the years, and he drums me with the exact same principles that Mr. Plowman speaks of: Tension ruins the natural swinging and releasing of the club through impact and robs you of clubhead speed. Moreover, Flick says, tension usually starts in the hands and arms and then extends into the shoulders. I'll give you a sneak preview into the upcoming March issue of the magazine, in which Flick asks if swinging the club has become obsolete. From that article, here's a drill Flick provides to illustrate his point about tension:

Take an alignment rod (or one of those sticks they sell in the hardware store to mark your driveway before the snowplow comes) and place it firmly under your left armpit. Get into your normal address position, and turn back as if you were making a backswing. Now turn through as fast as you can. Not much speed there. Next, hold the rod with your normal grip and whip it through using your hands and arms. Not only will you see the difference, you'll hear it. And the more relaxed you keep your hands and arms, the faster you can swing the rod. The same is true for your golf club. Tension destroys speed.


Regarding the bump to initiate the downswing, Flick also contends that if you are tension-free in your shoulders, it's much easier to start the downswing in the proper order to support the swinging of the club: Without a ball or club, get into your setup and make practice swings, as Flick is demonstrating here. Focus on rolling your ankles toward your target so your downswing starts with your left foot, knee, thigh and hip, in that order.

Roger Schiffman

Managing Editor

Golf Digest

Twitter @RogerSchiffman