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This is the 8th post in my instructional series on the golf swing. If this is your first time here, I suggest starting from the beginning, as these posts are in sequential order and build on each other.
Every time I hear a golf instructor say that “the backswing doesn’t matter,” I cringe. Although I’m on board with the idea that impact is the only part of the swing that physically dictates where the ball goes, I do believe that developing a sound backswing is key for most golfers to arrive at impact properly. That being said, backswings vary far more than downswings, and therefore I will attempt to cover many of these variations.
Please note that throughout this chapter, as well as the remaining chapters, I will be attempting to present the simplest and most useful information for the general population of golfers. I realize that there will always be an exception to the rule, and there is no “right” way to swing a golf club. Nevertheless, I am confident that there are methods that make the golf swing easier to execute, and will be discussing these methods here.
This is the introductory post in the backswing chapter, which covers the backswing setup check, waggle, and trigger.
It pains me to see this part left out of instructional texts, because it may be one of the most important parts of early backswing. This portion of the golf swing bridges the gap between the posture, setup, and alignment procedures, and the initial movement of the backswing.
When addressing the golf ball, it is extremely important to ensure that you have properly setup to the ball. This check all happens in the matter of a few seconds, but ensures a good start to the golf swing.
Think of the process that you go through before leaving the house for school/work in the morning. I can’t speak for all people, but most will do a quick check to make sure that the lights are turned off, wallet/phone/keys are in the pockets, and the doors are locked. This last minute check ensures that nothing terrible goes wrong throughout the day, and happens almost unconsciously after doing it enough times.
I want you to get to this point with your golf swing. Before making any backswing motion, you should quickly go through a small checklist of setup keys that you have created for yourself. These keys may change over time, and will be golfer-specific. Generally, a golfer should only check those parts of the setup that he/she struggles with. Personally, when I first setup to the ball, I quickly make sure that I am:
- Standing tall and erect (I tend to slouch when I get tired/lazy)
- Right forearm is on plane (I tend to let my right arm get over my left, causing my shoulders (plane direction) to shift left at setup, which causes a faulty backswing)
- Club-face and body alignments are correct for the shot I am going to hit
- Swing thought AND target are clear in my mind (this is the final check, and happens while I am waggling the club, and immediately prior to the first move of the takeaway)
This all sounds like a lot, but through many years of practice, I can quickly check all four of these things between the moment I set the club behind the ball and the moment I initially pull the club back.
Jack Nicklaus preached about the importance of this phase of the golf swing, and was quite deliberate in his own setup accordingly.
Chances are, if you haven’t practiced this “setup check” much, you will need to spend several days on the range practicing it before successfully implementing it on the course. Just like you must practice your swing on the range, you must also practice your mental routines.
Ben Hogan has famously noted the critical importance of a “waggle,” which loosens the body and prepares the body for the golf swing. Hogan describes in his book that a golfer should rehearse the the specific golf swing that he/she is trying to make during this waggle.
For example, if a golfer is trying to hit a long drive, he/she should have a more abrupt waggle, which prepares the body for this powerful swing. On the contrary, if a golfer is attempting a soft and high lob shot around the greens, he/she should waggle with a much slower and relaxed tempo.
Personally, I find all of this to happen naturally, and never consciously think about it, but Hogan presented the information as if the golfer was consciously making an effort to think about it. I think the ultimate goal of the waggle is to keep the body loose and comfortable, and prime it for the full swing. Whatever effectively accomplishes this is sufficient.
Below is a video of Jason Dufner, who demonstrates the waggle that Hogan recommends:
Now, look at Jordan Spieth’s “waggle,” which is similar to what I prefer. It is simply a series of short and quick subtle wrist and body movements that keeps the golfer agile and ready to take the club back:
Finally, look at Rickie Fowler’s waggle, which includes almost a half takeaway at 10:02 in the video. He is rehearsing his full takeaway during the waggle:
The trigger is something that is largely overlooked because many golfers do not even realize that they are doing it. I wanted to mention it because it is a crucial moment of the golf swing, and can be the difference between a drive down the middle and a drive that finds the water.
After you have checked your setup and loosened up via the waggle, it is time to get the swing started. This is such a critical moment because it is the brief moment when you settle in on your swing thought (whatever it may be), and start the swing. My “trigger” involves a slight alteration of my grip, and a slight “sit down” motion to where I become completely motionless for a split second before the club goes back. During this motionless time period, all I am thinking about is my swing thought. It took me years and years before I could successfully clear my mind at this moment. If I find my mind wandering at this critical moment, I will step away from the ball and start over. Having this discipline can be the difference between a great round and a terrible one, so it cannot be overlooked.
Think of the trigger as an “all systems go” indicator which you do on every shot. You want this trigger to become completely habitual and unconscious.
And if you are struggling to get the swing started, just be patient and keep working on it. Even the pros struggle with the trigger sometimes as seen in the video of Kevin Na at the Players:
In this post, we have covered everything that happens from the moment you step over the ball to the moment immediately prior to taking the club back. In the next section, we will be talking about the takeaway.