Here are some tips to help you avoid a disaster in your downswing.
One of the major flaws in a player's game is the eternal preoccupation with the club head.
There are three main reasons. The first is that golfers, like other people, want to be comfortable and don't trust themselves to make a big move.
The third is an overpowering impulse to make the club head move, to do something with it, right from the top. This we call the eternal preoccupation with the club head.
It stems, actually, from a complete misunderstanding of the swing, and there are two reasons for the misunderstanding.
The first thing people find hard to believe, apparently, is that a golf ball is driven straight by hitting it from the inside.
The average player has the almost overpowering conviction that if he hits the ball from inside this line it will fly far out to the right.
He cannot see how anything else can happen. He also knows that when he takes the club to the top of the backswing it is well inside this line.
His first instinct, when he starts the club down, is to manipulate the head out onto the line or near it, so he can bring it down along the line and so knock the ball straight.
When the player does this the first movement he makes takes his hands and the club away from his body. The instant they move away they get outside the plane they must be in to hit from the inside.
Before we go further, let's look at the plane of the swing. It is extremely important. If we understand it, learning the right action will be easier.
From the top of the backswing to a point near the end of the follow-through, the head of the club describes what we can call, for convenience, a circle. It isn't a true circle but that isn't important. Suppose we liken this circle to the rim of a wheel.
Then we cover the wheel with skin, let's say, so it's like the head of a drum with a hole in the center for our head to stick through. We now have a flat circular surface, the plane.
During the swing this plane inclines or leans toward the player from 25 to 40 degrees, the exact amount depending on the length of the club used and on whether the player is an upright or a flat swinger.
When we start from the top to move the club out onto the line of flight with either our hands or our shoulders, we don't change this plane a little bit, we change it a great deal.
The result is that we can't help but bring the club in from the outside when we hit.
In this respect it is well to know, too, that at the top a very slight move by the hands forward, or toward the line of flight as they start down, moves the head of the club a comparatively great distance.
A mere two inches by the hands moves the club head out a foot, throwing it outside.
It is, as we say, already outside as it starts down.
When you realize that this slight move of the hands is instinctive you don't know you make it then you can understand how hard a pro has to work to cure hitting from the outside.
A second reason for preoccupation with the club head, and this with most people is the chief reason, is the instinctive urge to get the club moving fast.
The average player, knowing he must get club head speed to hit the ball as far as he wants to hit it, thinks in terms of the head. It's normal that he should, but that is just another of golf's contradictions.
The instant the player tries to move the club head he makes three ruinous actions.
He turns his shoulders a little bit, which throws the club outside; he starts to open up the angle between the shaft and the left arm, breaking the eternal triangle; and he stops moving his hips.
Still another thing the average player often doesand this is the most insidious of all is permit the club head to break the eternal triangle by failing to move his hands fast enough.
It is easy to see that once the downswing is begun, the hands and the club must move at the same relative speeds or one will get ahead of the other. The simplest way to alter one of these speeds is to let the hands lag slightly as they come down.
When they do that the club head, which is steadily gaining momentum, keeps right on moving, the angle between the shaft and the left arm begins to open, and the imaginary line of the eternal triangle begins to lengthen.
You have, in effect, hit from the top and have done it without ever trying to flip the club head or indeed make it do anything.
You have just, unconsciously, slowed your hand action a little bit. The triangle has been broken early and the power is gone from the swing.
The reason a great many players make this mistake and it pursues them all through their golfing lives is because they subconsciously fear that the club head will never catch up to their hands in time to hit the ball straight.
They fear knocking it far out to the right with an open face. So, without ever being conscious of what they are doing, they make sure it will catch up by slowing down their hands, and they succeed, invariably.
This, without a doubt, is the chief reason a practice swing often looks so good and the swing when the ball is there is so bad.
In the practice swing there is no fear that the club head won't catch up, so the boys clip the cigar butts and dandelion tops like the pros.
They should remember that if the face of the club is square, it makes little difference how far the hands lead the club head at impact.
The attempt to move the club head faster also brings on the hand lag.
When a player's efforts are bent on making the club head move, the very effort tends to slow down the hands. Once the hands get behind, they will never catch up; the eternal triangle, once broken open, can never be closed again.
Another peculiar effect of the hand lag is that it tends to prevent the movement of the hips, and the weight, from the right leg to the left.
If you will take a few practice swings, deliberately slowing your hands through the first half of the downward arc, you will notice immediately that your weight doesn't flow over to your left side. And as long as you retard your hands, you can't move your weight over.
For anyone afflicted with the deadly hand lag there is an exercise that is a great help. We call it the arrested practice swing.
Take a No. 2 or No. 3 wood, tee up a ball, and address it. Now go to the top of the swing and start down at half speed, being sure the hands move with the shoulders and club in the one-piece unit and that the hips move out past the ball. But stop before the club reaches the ball. This swing will retain the wrist cock until the hands are almost opposite the ball.
Done at half speed or even less, the wrist cock can be held until the hands are actually past the ball while the club head is still about six inches or more short of contact.
Make this practice swing four or five times, interrupting it each time before the ball is hit. Speed it up a little but still keep control of the club so that it doesn't hit the ball.
On the next swing, speed it up a little more but don't stop it. Let it go through and hit the ball.
If you are a confirmed hand lagger, the feeling you will get will be the strangest you have ever felt in golf. You will be amazed at where your hands and hips are, that they can be so far advanced, seemingly far in front of the club head at impact. But that is where they should be, where they have to be if you are to get the late hit and the timing that bring the distance the good players get.
Soon you will get the feeling of bringing the hands down in one piece with the shoulders and the club.
You will get the feeling of the hands and the club moving together at their respective speeds through the first big area of the downswing.
You will feel that the hands are alive and active, but that they are moving themselves and are not trying to move anything else.
Those feelings are among the most important in the entire golf swing.
It may help you to visualize the downswing as segments of three circles or rings, one within the other, all connected with each other and all turning. None of these is a true circle, of course, but for purposes of the image let's think they are.
The inner circle is the hips, and the hips move laterally as they turn.
The middle circle is the path taken by the hands as they come down from the top. The outer circle is the path taken by the club head as it comes down.
All three rings are started turning by the first movement of the hips. The club head, assuming a driver is used, starts about three and one-half feet behind the hands, owing to the angle of the wrist cock.
If the hands are to maintain their three-and-a-half-foot lead, they must travel relatively fast to keep the correct position.
It is here that the hands either try to throw the club head, or lag, waiting for it to catch up.
as the club head. If they don't, the club head will begin to overtake them. In other words, the middle ring has to keep moving to keep pace with the outer ring.
The instant it doesn't, the outer ring starts to gain on it, the angle of the wrist cock begins to open up, and the swing is ruined.
You may be prompted to ask at this point, how, if the hands must keep their lead, the head of the club eventually catches up (or almost catches up) with the hands at impact.
This may be especially puzzling when you think that this happens when the swing is fast but that you can prevent it with the slower one you use in the arrested swing exercise.
The second is the advice, deep rooted because it has been repeated for so long, to turn or spin the hips.