The transition from the backswing to the downswing is an important moment in the golf swing. 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 done properly.
The transition to the downswing requires rhythm, timing, and balance to execute.
There’s nothing like a perfectly timed transition in the golf swing. It can be a little hard to pin down, but when it happens correctly, your golf ball is destined for a long and straight flight that lands exactly where you want.
The Proper Golf Downswing Sequence
In order to build a perfect transition to the downswing, there are several elements that need to be discussed. In this section of the article, I’ll address each of those parts and how they play in to a perfect transition to the downswing.
First, once you reach the top of your backswing, there is a slight hesitation or, as Tin Cup would say, “a nod to the gods.” This moment can be long or short; the length of time isn’t incredibly important.
If you watch players on the pro tour, you’ll notice anything from the long pause of Hideki Matsuyama to the quick pause of Brooks Koepka. The important thing is that there is 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. When those things are moving, or working, in different directions, then it’s incredibly tough to time a good shot.
2. Rotate the Hips
Once the slight hesitation has been completed, it’s time to start the downswing. The first element that begins to move in the downswing is the hips. You can think of the hips as the initiator of the downswing.
Starting the hips first allow you to create more distance because you don’t depend solely on the arms to generate power. At the top of the backswing, the hips have turned back, away from the ball.
Starting to move the hips means that you’ll rotate them all the way through, so that they are facing the target. This turn helps increase club head speed through impact. They are the leading element all the way through the shot.
The rotation of the hips results in the front hip (left hip for the 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. This weight move 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 start to drop down towards the ground. Dropping the hands allows the club to enter into the correct slot where you can make solid impact with the golf ball.
This movement also helps create lag between your body and arms. Lag is an important part of the golf swing because, again, it helps create club head speed.
4. Keep the Back Elbow Close
To go along with dropping your hands towards the golf ball, you’ll want to make sure that you keep your back elbow (right elbow for the right-handed player) close to the side of your body.
It doesn’t need to be touching your side, but it should not be moving away from your side. This keeps the club in the proper slot, like mentioned in the previous section, where lag is created and proper impact is realized.
5. Maintain Wrist Angle
Next, as you drop your hands, you’ll want to make sure that the bend in your wrists is maintained as long as possible. I’ve been talking a lot about lag so far, and 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, creating more speed. Without lag, a player will not be able to create enough distance.
Throughout the downswing, the bend of the wrists will slowly unload, but at the transition point in the golf swing, it ought to be maintained as much as possible. 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.
6. Back Foot
Now, we’ll look at the feet. There are a lot of different opinions about the proper footwork in the golf swing.
Some people think that the front heel ought to come up in the air in the backswing, while others want to keep in flat on the ground. Same thing at impact. Some teachers and players want the back heel in the air at impact. Others think that they should be flat on the ground.
I’m of the thought that we want to limit the number of unnecessary moving parts in a golf swing. If it can stay still, then it’s best to keep it still. So, for the transition from the backswing to the downswing, I like to teach players to keep both feet flat on the ground. It’s not until after impact that the back heel raises up in the air.
Following this method simplifies the timing required to hit a golf ball. Other methods are not incorrect, they just take a little bit more coordination to properly execute.
7. Head fairly still
A lot of amateur golfers will shift their head up, down, or side-to-side during the transition. The tendency is to use that movement to get under the ball or create club head speed.
The truth is though, that it doesn’t help at all. It actually makes timing impact a lot more difficult.
Instead, throughout the transition, keep your head fairly still. This will keep your swing center fairly stable and impact easier.
8. Weight Moving Forward
Like I said earlier in the hip rotation section, the front hip will move forward and up in order to create a “bump.” This bump is a result of moving your weight forward throughout the downswing. If you've ever wondered what starts the what starts 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.
At the top of the swing, you ought to have about 50% of your weight on each foot. As you transition to the downswing, you’ll slowly move the weight that is on your back foot to your front. At the finish position, you ought to have about 80% of your weight on your front foot.
Common Mistakes in the Golf Swing Transition
There are a few common mistakes that amateur golfers make when transitioning from the backswing to the downswing. I’ll address the big ones in this section.
1. No Hesitation
The first mistake that a lot of golfers make is that they have no hesitation at the top of the backswing before starting the downswing. It may feel like there is a hesitation, but the pause is not timed correctly.
What I mean by that is that the lower body may pause and the upper body may pause, but the pause isn’t together. When that happens, you get your downswing started with some muscles before others have even finished the backswing. Make sure that all the muscles in your swing are connected and have completed their backswing before starting the downswing.
2. Releasing wrist and pulling elbow
Next, a big mistake is that some golfers release their wrist hinge too early. This eliminates the lag necessary to create good distance.
Often the reason this happens is that a player is focusing on the arms too much for distance. Much of a player’s distance comes from the lower body. When we realize that the lower body creates much of the speed and the upper body just follows, then we’re able to maintain the wrist hinge a little bit better.
Pulling your back elbow away from your side goes hand-in-hand with releasing the wrists too early. When we try to use the arms too much to create speed, then our first move from the top of the backswing 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, many players 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. All of these elements are not helpful transitions from the backswing to the downswing.
3. Weight backwards & no bump
Finally, a big mistake is 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. That’s another article for another day, but the point is that leaning backwards throughout the transition from the backswing to the downswing is not what a golfer wants to do throughout the backswing.
Along with moving the weight backwards instead of forwards, a lot of golfers fail to bump their hip forward through impact. Instead, they’ll open up their front hip and step backwards. It’s incredibly important that the front hip release through impact and continue on towards the target.
Drills to Practice your Transition
Now, all that being said, there are a lot of great drills to practice to make sure the transition point in your golf swing in perfect. Below are some really great drills you can practice.
Hip bump drill
As I said earlier, the movement of the weight forward in the transition and rotation of the hips through the impact zone is incredibly important. It’s where we generate speed through impact and gain distance. In order to get this rotation and movement of the hips correctly, try this drill.
- Take an alignment stick or snow pole and put it in the ground outside your front foot.
- The pole ought to be standing up vertically and not touching your side.
- Then, take some practice swings.
- As you transition to the downswing, the front hip (left hip for the right-handed player) ought to raise up in the air slightly and move forward, so that it touches the pole in front of you.
This movement of the front hip is what we call the “bump.” It’ll help you create speed and hit the ball farther.
When it comes to the hesitation at the top of the swing, this can be a difficult moment to capture. It’s difficult to notice because there’s so much going on in the swing at that moment in time and we can’t see behind out head.
- So, in order to get a good feel for the pause at the top of the swing, hit some balls with an over-emphasized hesitation.
- Count to two in your head and then start your downswing.
This will allow you to feel your lower and upper body finish the backswing before you start the down swing.
Stand on a club with outside of back foot
Like I said, a lot of people move too much of their weight backwards in the transition to the downswing. To correct this,
- 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 backwards. 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,
- 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 backswing and beginning of your downswing.
With a grip that is separated, you’ll find that it’s difficult to unhinge your wrists at the beginning of the downswing. Commit this feeling to memory and try to keep it when you move back to your regular grip.
The Bottom Line
That’s everything you need to know for a proper transition from the backswing to the downswing in the golf swing. Remember, the transition is an important part of the swing sequence.
If you’re able to implement these elements into your golf swing, I’m sure you’ll find that all the energy and potential in your backswing is realized in the downswing.
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 forward not back. If you can do those four main things, your transition will be perfect.