Have you heard PGA Tour players in their post-round interview often use the phrase, “I was getting really quick and I wasn’t hitting it very well”?
If you’re confused about what that means, don’t worry you’re not alone. With so much golf jargon out there, it’s hard to keep it all together sometimes. When someone says “quick” does that mean on the way back, top of the swing or downswing anyways?
When players or TV announcers say that someone is getting quick, they are usually referring to the transition from the backswing to the downswing. This is one of the most vital parts of the golf swing because all of your momentum should release as you make contact with the golf ball. It’s the point where all the built-up energy and power is finally released.
The top of the backswing represents a ton of potential, but that potential cannot, and will not, be fully realized if the transition to the downswing isn’t timed just right. To master the golf swing transition, it requires rhythm, timing, and balance to execute.
I’m sure you’ve had those days where you weren’t rushing the start of your downswing and probably struck the ball incredibly well. If you’re swinging with the right tempo and making consistent contact the entire round, the course is at your mercy. Pair that type of contact with a hot putter and you can be dangerous out there.
Honestly, there’s nothing like a perfectly timed transition in the golf swing. It is a basic fundamental of a good golf swing. While it can be a little hard to pin down if you’re in the habit of getting quick but you can feel this change with the right practice.
The Proper Golf Downswing Sequence
In order to build a perfect transition on the way down, there are several elements that need to work together. In this section of the article, I’ll address each of those parts and teach you how they play into a perfect transition so you can make better contact and shoot lower scores.
1. The Pause
As you reach the top of your backswing, there is a slight hesitation or, as Kevin Costner in Tin Cup would say, “A nod to the gods.” This moment can be long or short, depending on the player, but the length of time itself isn’t as important as the fact that you have a pause.
If you watch players on the PGA Tour, you will notice that all of them have their unique style. One of the biggest factors in the length of their pause is their tempo.
Some guys are slow and deliberate while others are much faster like Rory McIlroy or Brooks Koepka. With those guys, it seems like if you blink their swing is done and the shot is well on its way.
Arguably the longest pause of any professional player is Hideki Matsuyama. It’s such a deliberate and noticeable pause that players even gave him some grief about it in the skins game at the end of 2019. But it works for him and it shows that to make it to an elite level, there isn’t one way to go about doing things.
The important thing is that all good players do this at some level and a lot of amateurs swing too hard and miss this step completely. There has to be a moment where the body is still and the elements below can move from the backswing to the downswing. The hesitation allows your muscles, weight, and momentum to all work together to create a perfect harmony that results in beautifully struck golf shots.
Don’t worry, to help you create this pause, I’ll show you some drills in just a second. But first, it’s important to understand why you need a pause and how it affects everything else.
2. Rotate the Hips
Once the slight pause at the top has been completed, it’s time to start the downswing. The first element that starts this sequence on the way down is the hips. If you’re too quick on the way down, usually it’s the upper body that starts first which makes it nearly impossible to rotate your hips fast enough.
When this happens, you can’t clear your hips and swing-out so the result is usually an over the top, outside to inside swing path. This is especially true with older players who might not have quite as much flexibility and speed.
The hips initiate the downswing. This will allow you to create more distance and use your lower body to generate power. Remember, power comes from the ground up!
At the top of the backswing, the hips have turned back, away from the ball and the target. On the way down, they will turn back and face the target directly. This turn helps increase clubhead speed through impact and is common among the best ball-strikers on tour.
The rotation of them will result in the front hip (left for a right-handed player) bumping, or lifting forward and up in the air. This “bump” helps to shift the weight forward and move the club through the impact zone with plenty of speed.
In order to get to that point at impact, your weight needs to start moving forward at the beginning of the downswing as well. Getting your weight forward will help everything else fall in to place.
3. Drop the Hands
The next move that happens slightly after the hips begin, is that the hands begin to drop down towards the ground. As Sergio Garcia said, “I like to feel like I’m pulling a chain to the ground to start on the way down.” Dropping the hands allows the club to enter into the correct slot and swing more from inside to outside.
This movement also helps create lag between your body and arms. Lag is an important part of the golf swing because it will help leverage your legs to produce more clubhead speed.
It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily do anything specific here. This part of the swing happens so fast that you really don’t have time to implement any swing thoughts.
If you can get the pause correct, then your hips can clear, and the rest of your swing is a lot easier to maintain. So instead of focusing on your hands, focus on the pause and giving your lower body time to clear.
4. Keep the Back Elbow Close
To go along with dropping your hands towards the golf ball, you also want to make sure that you keep your back elbow (right elbow for a right-handed player) close to the side of your body. You want it to feel like your arm is close to your rib cage and almost connected to your torso.
While it doesn’t need to be touching your side, it should not be moving away from your side. Otherwise, you will have the dreaded “chicken wing’ that so many amateur golfers suffer from.
One way to help this position occur is to address your forearms at setup. You want to make sure that your arms are “under” which should make it feel as though your elbows are closer together. If at address position, your arms are open and elbows are wide, it’s nearly impossible to keep your back elbow close on the way down.
5. Maintain Wrist Angle
Next, as you drop your hands, you want to make sure that the bend in your wrists is maintained as long as possible. The wrists help contribute to lag as well.
Basically, the lag is the delay of the club through the downswing. Delaying the club makes it respond like a whip, which helps create more speed. On the way down, the bend of the wrists will slowly unload as you square the club as you bottom out.
The bend between the front arm (left arm for the right-handed player) and the golf club shaft will be about a 90-degree angle through the transition.
If you’re struggling to maintain the correct wrist angle, there is a good chance your grip isn’t in the right position at address. If you’re overly weak or overly strong and don’t have the right movements on the way back, it can feel difficult to get the clubface back to square as you make contact. This is something you want to evaluate and watch on video before making any overhauls to your swing.
6. Back Foot
Now, let’s look at how the feet play a role in the golf swing. There are a lot of different opinions about the proper footwork but like all parts of golf, there is no one way to do it.
Some old-school instructors think that the front heel should come up in the air in the backswing, while others want to keep in flat on the ground. Personally, I like a solid, stable base on the way back with no extra movement.
If you can eliminate moving parts that aren’t helping your swing, I suggest doing it. As you can tell, there is so much going on with all parts of your body in just a few seconds, it’s hard to time it all together perfectly.
If you watch the best player in the world today, it seems as though they are hardly move anything on the way back. While I’m not suggesting your swing should look like theirs, it’s important to model what works. If you got crazy feet and are moving all over the place on the way back, it’s very hard to use them correctly and generate power correctly.
The back foot really gets active on the way down because as I mentioned earlier, power is created from the ground up. You want to feel as though you are pushing off the ground to hit the shot and create speed. And some guys, like Justin Thomas, even get their left foot to play a part in the swing as well when they really need extra distance.
Keeping your feet planted on the way back is a simple method that will help your timing and balance throughout your entire swing. It’s also important to have the right golf shoes that match your game as well. If you have a good amount of movement, make sure your shoes have real spikes to help you from slipping.
7. Head Position
Another, lesser talked about part of the downswing is your head position. In general, most really good players could balance a cup of water on their heads during their entire swing. A few players like Lee Westwood and Paula Kremer on the PGA Tour are a bit of an exception as they move their heads down to the ground.
As I mentioned in the last section, the less moving parts, the easier it is to make consistent contact. But unfortunately, a lot of amateur golfers shift their heads up, down, or side-to-side during the transition. Doing any of these moves makes timing impact a lot more difficult.
Instead, throughout the transition, do your best to keep your head fairly still. This will keep your swing center fairly stable and result in much better overall ball-striking.
8. Weight Moving Forward
The final thing to think about is the weight shift forward to your front foot on the way down. The front hip will move forward and up in order to create a “bump.” This bump is a result of moving your weight forward as you start on the way down.
If you’ve ever wondered what triggers the downswing in golf? The hip bump is your answer. Moving your weight forward is one of the most important parts of the entire golf swing.
Otherwise, if you don’t make this happen, all of your weight is on the back foot which creates a chili-dip where you’ll likely hit way behind the ball. And if it’s teed up, this could create the dreaded dropkick, duck hook that goes way left.
At the top of the swing, you should have about 75% of your weight on the back foot. As you transition, you’ll quickly move the weight that is on your back foot to your front. At the finish position, you should have 75% of your weight on your front foot so you can create power and get through the shot.
3 Biggest Mistakes in the Golf Swing Transition
You might read that last section and feel a bit overwhelmed. But remember, all of this happens in a matter of seconds and you aren’t consciously thinking about all of these things to do. Once you get the hang of it, I promise it won’t be something you need to focus on unless you find yourself getting quick. Here are three of the biggest mistakes I see most players make.
1. No Hesitation
To keep it really simple, the most important thing to focus on in the golf swing transition is a pause at the top.
But unless you video your swing and study it, sometimes it hard to feel this pause at the top. As the swing happens in just a few seconds, a pause at the top of the swing is only milliseconds (unless you’re Hideki Matsuyama of course) which makes it hard to evalute.
Remember, your pause is the moment to respect the golf Gods and get everything else started in your swing. You want to make sure that all the muscles are connected and you are fully coiled before you start down.
2. Releasing Wrist And Pulling Elbow
Another big mistake is that some golfers release their wrist hinge too early. This usually eliminates the lag factor I’ve been talking about which makes it very hard to hit the golf ball far enough as you don’t compress the golf ball.
Often, the reason this happens is that a player is trying to use the arms for distance by swinging harder instead of relying on the legs to generate power. Remember, the legs are much larger and have much more muscle than your arms so don’t neglect them in your golf shots!
Also, pulling your back elbow away from your body goes hand-in-hand with releasing the wrists too early. When you try to use the arms too much for speed, the first move is to move the arms out and away from the side of the body, instead of dropping the hands first.
So, after the hesitation at the top, a lot of golfers will move the hands out away from the body, instead of dropping them down close to the body. This takes away from the wrist hinge and eliminates lag.
As you can imagine, all of these elements are not helpful transitions from the backswing to the downswing.
3. Weight Backwards & No Bump
Finally, another common mistake that players will start to lean their weight on to their back foot (right foot for the right-handed player). A lot of golfers do that because they incorrectly believe that hitting under the golf ball gets it in the air.
But that’s just not the case. Instead, you need to hit down on the golf ball (assuming it’s on the turf) to get the ball to go up and get airborne.
Along with moving the weight backward instead of forward, a lot of golfers fail to bump their hip forward through impact. Instead, they should open up their front hip and step backward. It’s incredibly important that the front hip release and continue on towards the target.
Drills to Practice your Transition
Before diving into the drills, I suggest taking a video of your swing or even a slow-motion video to learn more about our game. Before changing anything, it’s important to know where you are and what you want to change to help you get better results in your game.
If you watch the video and determine that you need some work on the transition, here are some of the best drills that you can practice.
The Bump Drill
As I mentioned earlier, the movement of the weight forward in the transition and rotation of the hips is incredibly important. This is where you can generate speed and gain distance effortlessly. In order to get this rotation and movement, give this drill a try.
- Take an alignment stick or snow pole and put it in the ground outside your left foot.
- The pole should stand up vertically but not touching your left (or front) side.
- Then, take some practice swings with a mid-iron at 70% speed.
- As you transition to the downswing, the front hip (left for a right-handed player) should raise up in the air slightly and move forward, so that it touches the pole in front of you.
This movement is known as the “bump.”
When it comes to the hesitation at the top of the swing, this can be a difficult moment to capture. It’s hard to notice because there’s so much going on in the swing at that moment in time and of course, you can’t see behind your own head.
This is why it’s so important to video your swing as you practice so you can get instant feedback and apply it to your game. Because as you know, sometimes when you are changing your swing, it will look different than it feels.
- Tee up the golf ball
- Grab a short to mid-iron and pause at the top. You want to really overdo it here.
- Count to two in your head and then start your downswing.
- Chances are, the first few shots are going to be awful. That’s okay, it’s hard to get the timing down but the more you do it in practice, the easier it will feel to take it on the golf course.
This drill will allow you to feel your lower and upper body finish your move on the way back before you start on the way down.
Stand On A Club With Outside Of Back Foot
As I mentioned, one of the most common mistakes a lot of golfers make it that they keep their weight on the back foot and don’t get it to the left side. But if you don’t get your weight to your left side, it’s almost impossible to hit down and through the golf shot. Here’s how to use this drill to help your game:
- Lay a club on the ground just outside your back foot.
- Then, step on the shaft of that club with the outside of your back foot. So, you’ll be standing partially on the golf club.
- Then, hit some shots standing on the side of this club.
This will force you to get your weight moving forward in the downswing rather than backward. Since your weight is already leaning a little bit forward on that back foot, you’ll find that it’s easier to get your weight on to your front side.
Separated Grip Swings
Finally, in order to maintain your wrist hinge throughout the transition, give this drill a try.
- Take your normal grip and then separate your hands by about 2-3 inches.
- Take some slow practice swings focusing on the time between the end of your swing and the beginning of your downswing.
With a grip that is separated, you will find that it’s difficult to unhinge your wrists at the beginning of the downswing. Remember, the left wrist plays a huge role in getting the right angle as you make contact. Commit this feeling to memory and try to keep it when you move back to your regular grip.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of what goes on in the swing from the moment you start down. Remember, while it all feels like a lot of steps, most of this happens unconsciously and it’s not something you should think about on the course.
Instead, you want to train your game on the range so that you can go unconscious on the course. To shoot your best rounds, it never happens when you have a busy mind.
Remember, the transition is an important part of the swing sequence. If you don’t have the fraction of a second to pause at the top of the golf swing, it screws up the timing of everything else.
Always make sure you create a slight hesitation at the top, allow the hips to start the downswing, maintain lag, and get your weight moving left, not staying back. If you can do those four main things, your transition will be perfect.
Lastly, it’s always better to overemphasize it as you practice this move on the range because as I’m sure you know, most golfers get quicker on the course when nerves are a factor. So practice with an emphasis on tempo and pause so your golf swing will translate to good rounds on the course as well.