Tour pro's 'flying thumb' trick is a clever anti-slice fix—here's how to do it
For slicers looking to start drawing the ball, there is no better swing in professional golf to study than Tommy Fleetwood’s. The Englishman, who birdied his final two holes in Dubai last weekend to win his seventh DP World Tour event, hits a draw on nearly every shot, due in large part to his transition move.
Fleetwood told Golf Digest in 2022 that he has always liked to work the ball from right to left, and if anything, he fights a tendency to turn it over too much. There are many factors that contribute to Fleetwood’s draw (as David Leadbetter breaks down here), most prominent being his head moving back and away from the target in the downswing.
But if you look closely, Fleetwood also uses a subtle transition move to get the club coming from the inside. For amateurs looking to get rid of their slice, this is the aspect of Fleetwood’s swing that you can quickly incorporate into your own. Let’s break it down.
The "flying thumb" trick
In the second half of Fleetwood’s backswing, he takes his right thumb completely off the shaft. Take a look below. He continues to keep his trail thumb off the shaft at the top of the backswing, and most importantly, in transition. Once he is about halfway through his downswing, he reconnects his thumb to the shaft.
The benefit of this move is that it promotes something called external rotation of the right shoulder in the downswing—a key move to draw the ball.
To feel external rotation in your shoulder, lift your arm to 90 degrees and bend your elbow at 90 degrees, with your fingers facing the sky. That's your shoulder in external rotation, and golfers often struggle creating enough of it in their golf swing. (To learn how to test your external rotation capability, check out this post.)
David Leadbetter does a great job of explaining this move in the downswing in this video, but essentially the feeling is that you’re throwing a ball at the target. Slicers often lack the mobility and only create a limited amount of external rotation. It can cause their golf swing to get steep— as if they are chopping the ball with an ax.
Those who swing from in-to-out and hit draws often like to feel like they are throwing a ball side arm. Ben Hogan frequently compared the downswing to an athletic throwing motion.
This is the brilliance of Fleetwood’s thumb move—it promotes this external rotation of the shoulder and prevents the dreaded grabbing and pulling down motion that leads to weak slices. When your thumb and index finger in your trail hand are tense and gripping the club hard, it can restrict your shoulder's ability to move and promote an over-the-top move.
Try it for yourself at home: Take your trail thumb off the club at the top of the swing and feel how it’s difficult to come over the top in the downswing. If you like the feel, also take your index finger off the club in transition to feel the club move into the slot. With the thumb off the club, you’re not able to make that chopping move. Instead, the shaft naturally wants to move toward an inside path, with your shoulder externally rotated.
It’s a subtle move but one that can quickly have a significant effect on your downswing.