Creating a Swing With Tour-Like Beauty

June 26, 2005

Golfers often wonder how and why professional’s swings look so effortless. They wonder why their own swings look and feel so different. Instead of the fluid, quiet power of Ernie Els or Fred Couples, most amateurs have a swing that amounts to a patchwork of moving parts, compensations, and tension. So what makes the tour players’ swings so different?

Perhaps the biggest difference between the beautiful swing of somebody like Steve Elkington and other swings is the level of efficiency. A player has an efficient swing when the body parts and club only move in ways that help to produce good, solid shots. A golfer who has a reverse pivot in the spine, comes out of posture, dramatically bends the lead arm in the backswing, flips the hands side-to-side, and moves his feet like he is barefooted on hot blacktop will not only have a difficult time getting the ball to behave, but will not likely look graceful while trying.

The “quieter” a swing, the more efficient it is; and the more efficient it is, the less it needs to be fixed. Most golfers, because of setup problems or extra moving parts, end up having to use the hands and arms to compensate. It is very difficult to consistently control the direction and distance of golf shots when the hand-eye coordination is working overtime to make up for poor alignment at address, or for poor swing planes in the backswing. And it is difficult to look and feel good when the hands and arms are straining to make corrections. The swing definitely will not look effortless under these conditions.

One of the main factors in a quiet swing is spine stability. The spine provides a foundation for the swing. Every time the spine moves, the arms and the club react, and the angle of the clubface changes. The trick, which golfers like Annika Sorenstam pull off, is to rotate on the spine, with minimal movement of the spine itself. When the spine is stable the club tends to be stable, and a golfer can simply rotate through the shot without having to re-route or manipulate the club. The lack of tension in the effort makes the swing look smooth.

The better the plane of the swing, the less hard the player works to get a good ball flight. One common problem starts almost immediately in the backswing: the lead arm will go up, or to the outside, while the wrists hinge sideways, making the club go well to the inside. These mismatched planes will have to be corrected before impact, usually by sliding or bending the body on the way down (which drops the lead arm back into plane) and a “flip” of the wrists to get the club back into position. A golfer with these or other troublesome habits will pull off some really good shots, but he is likely to be less consistent. He will sense that he has to work too hard for his results, and might even end up with some injuries in the long-run. The ball will go to target as often as his timing and hand-eye coordination manage to overcome the odds, but the end result will not be as effective or attractive as the swing of Retief Goosen.

Tempo is another factor that separates good golfers, and is probably the most noticeable similarity between the players on the driving range in a professional event. Tempo is especially important during the transition from backswing to downswing. A fast, jerky swing will again make the club unstable. It will tend to get out of plane or the face will rotate, which means it is time once again for those overworked paramedics of the golf swing, the arms and hands, to do their thing.

The rhythm of good players tends to be something like three parts backswing to one part downswing, with a smooth start to the downswing. Imagine counting to three in the backswing and then to one on the way back to the ball. On the way down, too much acceleration tends to cause the face to open. Deceleration tends to make the face close. Good tempo not only makes a swing look smooth, but it allows the club to do its job without the golfer having to strain every muscle in the body.

The swings of many players look and perform in a clunky manner because the left and right sides of their body fight each other throughout the swing. Some people like to feel the power of the usually-dominant right side firing through the ball; generally I like to see the left side help create a “pulling” motion on the way through, and golfers making left-arm only practice swings start to show the fluidity of tour players when they sequence the arm-swing after a weight shift and some lower-body rotation. But whether it’s the left or right side of the body is in charge, things tend to go better when there’s harmony between the two.

Better players also tend to look good before they even swing. A solid setup, with effective spine angles, shaft angles, grip, alignment, and ball position makes the process more efficient. Good posture is like a road-map for the ball, providing a chance for directional control by predisposing the swing to good planes. Ideally the swing primarily just provides the energy for the ball to take its trip. When the setup has flaws, the swing has to provide the energy and directional control to the ball, and the golfer begins working hard to produce a good shot. A body in good posture, balance, and positions at address has a beauty of its own, even before the swing.

When form and function come together in golf, there is an undeniable beauty to the swing as well. In golf, pretty is as pretty does—and in golf, pretty does less. Fewer moving parts, and fewer things to fix.

To look like a tour player we need a great setup, a quiet spine, good swing planes, smooth tempo, and fairly passive hands and arms (not to mention the strength and flexibility of a tour player). Most of us could spend a lifetime trying to achieve these things, which is exactly what the most elite golfers in the world do.

The trick in golf is not always to learn what to do, but learning what not to do. Take out the extra moving parts, swing more efficiently, and enjoy better results. And it helps to have the guidance of a teaching professional.


  1. RUSS C. says:

    Of course, I have no extra moving parts!!! Recovering from pneumonia — which has stopped a lot of the mmoving parts.

    Enjoyed seeing you.

    Tell Mr. Rogers hello and Merry Christmas!!!

    Shalom, Cofer

  2. Don says:

    The “quieter” a swing, the more efficient it is; and the more efficient it is, the less it needs to be fixed.

    I really love this statement, it makes so much sense to me. And it’s exactly what I try to do when I practice at the range. I try to make a nice easy relaxed swing. When I remember to do it correctly, I get more clubhead speed with more control of the club and hit the ball straighter and longer than ever. I’m really glad I read your column today, thanks for the advise and words of wisdom.

  3. Sam Measell says:

    Nice website John.

  4. Rudy Chinchilla says:

    Hi Sir…
    Everything you said is true in this article. It took me many years to do it right, ohh what a difference it makes. It was a long journey, after seen around ten well known SO CALLED PROS….non of them taught me the real thing.
    It was like a puzzle, a little info from here and there, and I figured it out all by myself in my living room without hitting balls, which is the worst thing for most people. Once you know how to swing, it becomes so easy: but I’m mad….because, when I see golf pros giving instruction at Chelsea Piers in NYC is a laughable matter, they make it SO complicated, no wonder students straggle so much.

    • John Rogers says:

      Rudy, thanks for reading and commenting. And I’m glad you seem to be finding your game. Coming at it from the other side of the equation (as a teaching pro) I’ll agree that the game is often tough to learn, and often tough to teach! And I’m afraid you’re right that instructors often struggle to deliver their message in a clear and helpful way — sometimes there’s a pressure to get the student far enough along to see good results, but that often takes too many steps for one or two lessons and things get muddled because everyone is anxious to see results right away. Hope you continue to enjoy the game!

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