In the world of golf, we hear so much about “swing changes.” Thanks to Tiger Woods, the golf world has an extremely biased understanding of what a swing change actually entails. He has laid claim to making several swing changes over the years. In this post, I will clarify what the announcers on T.V. are really talking about when they refer to a "swing-change" so that you can effectively conduct a swing change in your own game!
Tiger has made several swing changes thanks to the guidance from several different swing coaches. From 1996 (his professional debut) to 2003, he worked with Butch Harmon, and recorded 8 major victories, including a 15 shot victory in 2000 at Pebble Beach. From 2004-2010, Tiger was under the guidance of Hank Haney, who led him to 6 major victories. From 2010-2014, he worked with Sean Foley, and recorded a total of zero major championship victories. From 2014-present day, Tiger has been working with Chris Como, and has had zero major championship victories.
This post is not meant to criticize Tiger, or give a detailed history of his past. I think he has done well for himself, and surely shouldn’t be criticized for wanting to improve his golf game. I bring up Tiger because his story illustrates many of the points that I would like to make. In the following paragraphs, I will take you through the checklist that I go through before making a swing change, but first, I would like to define what a “swing change” means.
In my opinion, there are two types of swing changes, both which require different approaches:
Minor Swing Change
A minor swing change is nothing more than adjusting your fundamentals (grip, stance, alignment, posture, ball position). Often, you will read or listen to someone tell you how making a swing change is a bad idea, but what kind of swing change are they talking about? Are they referring to the swing changes that Tiger went through over the course of several years? Or are they talking about adjusting something as simple as your posture? I often become frustrated when an instructor or other source tells me not to make swing changes. Making minor swing changes are essential for playing quality golf! What would happen if we never worked on our grip, stance, posture, alignment, tempo, etc.? As golfers, we must constantly monitor these little minor details, and make sure that they are looking good.
What we need to avoid divulging in too often is the major swing change:
Major Swing Change
A major swing change would represent some of the things that Tiger has talked about working on over the years. This type of swing change will involve altering your takeaway, position at the top of your swing, your transition into the downswing, impact positions, and post impact positions. In most cases, these type of changes require a greater understanding of the golf swing, or a skilled and knowledgeable instructor to help you. Making too many of these changes at once can get to your head if not approached correctly.
Now that we have distinguished between the two types of swing changes, I want to explain my process for making both types of changes. Let me start with the “minor swing change:"
When making a small adjustment in my swing, such as my posture, I will often work on it at home in front of a mirror. I have studied the fundamentals to great lengths, but if you are unsure as to how you should stand over the ball, check out my instructional post on posture and alignment. Once you have a clear vision of what your posture should look like, practice it over and over in a full length mirror until you can naturally get into the correct posture. Honestly, you don’t even need to hit golf balls to improve these fundamentals. I would much rather have my fundamentals in good shape than beat a bucket of balls with bad fundamentals.
If you happen to be a bit more advanced, and have a solid foundation already in place, you might want to make a major swing change at some point. There are several things that I think about before going through with a “major swing change.” The following is my checklist:
How are your fundamentals?
Before making any major change in your swing, you must first check to make sure that your grip, stance, alignment, posture, and ball position are in a good place. If you are shaky on any of these, it will be awfully difficult to effectively change the dynamic of your swing.
Over the years, my biggest mistake when making swing changes has been trying to force my body into certain positions. This goes back to the first point on the checklist. Often, my fundamentals were off, and I would try to make a major swing change anyway. Without the proper fundamentals, my body wasn’t capable of getting to the positions that I wanted to get to. In attempts to get a “flat left wrist” at the top of my swing, I even injured myself for a few months.
Where are you getting your information from?
If your fundamentals are solid, you must then ask yourself why you are changing your swing? Did some random guy on the range tell you that your backswing plane is too upright? Did your coach tell you? How trustworthy is your coach? Before attempting to make a swing change, you might want to assess the credibility of the information you are receiving. The worst thing that you can do is jump from instructor to instructor, making endless amounts of major swing changes. By doing this, your game won’t get anywhere in my opinion. You must receive your information from one trust-able source, and one school of thought.
Set a period of time that you plan to work on the swing change
While minor swing changes can be a constant work in progress, I think that major swing changes have a defined beginning and end. If you are planning on competing, or playing lots of rounds of golf in the next few weeks, hold off on the swing change until you have a period of time that you can dedicate solely to the swing change. Generally, I give myself five to ten days in a row of hitting buckets of balls at the range to make a swing change. During this period of time, I don’t play at all, because I know that if I tried to play prematurely, my old habits would re-surface.
Record your swing frequently
During your 5-10 days (or 10-? days if you don’t practice often), you must video-tape your swing constantly to monitor your progress. Often, what we “feel” in the golf swing is dramatically different from what it looks like. Having a video camera at your side will help you monitor what different “feelings” actually look like in your swing. Check out my post on how to analyze your own golf swing for more assistance on this topic.
Integrate your swing change on the course
The last step in making a swing change is being able to bring it to the course. You will have the tendency to return to your old positions in the swing, but you must trust the swing change that you have made. For the first couple of days back on the course, you might have to come up with a simple swing thought that will help you get into the correct positions. After a week or two of playing, the swing change should feel natural, and you can get back to playing golf without constantly thinking!
Beware of overcompensation
If you are like me, you will have the tendency to overcompensate when making a swing change. At the beginning of the swing change, the new position you are trying to get into will feel awkward. As you practice it, the change will begin to feel natural. When I am nearing the end of a swing change, I tend to take it too far, and this is why having a video recorder is important. If I am trying to flatten my backswing plane, the last thing that I want is to go from being too upright to being too flat!
Let’s review, because this post has covered a great amount of material…
- There are two types of swing changes: minor, and major.
- Minor swing changes should be a part of every golfers practice sessions
- Minor swing changes will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before they start to feel comfortable
- Major swing changes should only be attempted given that you have solid fundamentals, have a good source of information, have a period of time where you don’t have to play, and have a way to record your progress.
- Major swing changes will take several weeks, and will take even longer to get them working on the course. If you don’t want to practice, don’t try to make a major swing change!