How many times have you heard or read in a golf magazine this piece of advice, “Just keep your head down.”
It seems like this might be the most popular piece of advice for brand new players (and most golfers in general).
But I’m here to tell you that it’s one of the worst pieces of advice ever. In fact, there are a ton of myths about head movement and weight shift in the golf downswing that I want to put to rest.
Because at the Left Rough, our goal is simple – provide you with the best resources to help you play better golf. In this post, we’ll break down this topic down further so you know the same thing that the pros do.
Head Movement in Golf
You might be thinking, should the head move in the golf swing?
The answer might surprise you… yes, it should move and have some freedom in your swing. This will lead to enough upper and lower body rotation to create amazing contact with the golf ball.
But it’s not so black and white how much it moves and more personal preference. While the head does move every so slightly in the golf swing, it isn’t very much. The more your head moves, the more complications can arise in your golf swing, which could lead to trouble on the course.
To better illustrate this point, watch this slow-motion swing from Tiger Woods in the early 2000s. I’d argue this is one of his best swing eras and is pretty much flawless. Check it out:
Tiger moves his head still more than most, especially in his short game and putting. While other pros like Lee Westwood make a significant move. But clearly both work for their game, so just remember there is no one way to do it.
Let’s break it down into three types of movements; lateral, up/down movement, and the release.
Lateral Head Movement
The first type of move is lateral head movement. With this, your head shifts laterally toward your back foot, usually on the backswing. While a slight amount of movement is okay, too much and it complicates things in your swing.
Specifically, too much lateral movement makes it hard to get back to the same position that you were at address. If it slides to the right, it has to slide back to the left and requires incredible timing. It’s hard for the average golfer to do this and still clear your left side as well.
If your head doesn’t make it back on your downswing, then you might flip the ball as you’re using all arms. And you will likely lose out on a ton of distance too as you’re not able to get your weight transfer back to your lead foot.
A little head shift toward your backside is okay and actually encouraged for a full shoulder rotation. This allows you to get your turn to 90 degrees and complete your backswing. But if it’s moving more than an inch, it’s likely going to cause inconsistent strikes, especially with irons.
Up and Down Head Movement
The second type of movement is whether your head moves up and down throughout your swing. Like lateral movement, a little bit is okay, but too much can lead to chunked shots and thin shots. Because when you dip your head, it can lead to posture changes which can affect where you bottom out the golf club.
Ideally, you want a slight head dip on your downswing so that you push off the ground. This will help create power from the ground up and really push off your back side for a proper weight transfer.
Rory Mcilroy is a great example of this and is one of the reasons he is able to hit the ball such long distances off the tee… despite being 5’9” and only 160 pounds. He uses the turf as a springboard to generate power and hit up on his driver for maximum distance.
The important thing to remember with up/down movement is when you do it in your swing.
For example, if your head dips on the backswing, then you have to raise up on the downswing to get back to the same level. This is a distance killer move though, as you aren’t using the ground and it’s very easy to hit up on the ball, oftentimes causing thin shots.
Conversely, when you dip down on the downswing, you generate huge amounts of power.
Paula Creamer, aka the Pink Panther of the LPGA Tour, is a great example of someone who successfully makes this move. Here is a great slow motion video to better illustrate how much she moves down toward the golf ball.
Finally, don’t forget about your head position during impact.
But first, it’s time to dispel a myth… you do not need to keep your head still (or head down) in the golf swing as you make impact. You need to lift it as you’re hitting the shot so you can keep rotating through toward the target.
Some of the most successful golfers in the world raised their heads well before impact and were incredible ball strikers. The two famous players that come to mind are David Duval and Annika Sorrenstam.
By the time both of them make contact with the golf ball, their eyes are already moving up toward the target. They are two examples that you can spot with the eye but another successful golfer who makes this move is world number one, Dustin Johnson.
Because here’s the thing, if you keep your head down for too long, you can’t release your left side. When this happens, you can’t open your hips as much and will lose out on a ton of power and distance. Plus, your arms will pass your body creating the dreaded chicken wing, which can lead to all sorts of problems.
When your head comes up sooner, it’s easier to clear your left side and swing out toward the target.
If this scares you, test it out on the range with 50-60 yard shots. See what your release looks like if you raise your head slightly sooner on the downswing. I promise the results will surprise you.
How to Keep Your Head Still
Now that you have a better understanding of what the head should do on your swing, let’s take it one step further. To make it easy to get your head in the right positions throughout your swing, use these tips.
If this feels a little overwhelming, just know I’ve been there myself. This move affected me for years, as I would move laterally and too much down on the backswing. Luckily, I was able to find drills and techniques to make things right.
Raise Your Chin Up
One of the most common reasons golfers dip their head down and laterally is because of their chin position. If your chin is facing down, it’s nearly impossible to rotate your lead shoulder underneath on your backswing. When your chin is down too much, your left shoulder will almost push it laterally instead of getting underneath it.
This is one of the first things to look at when evaluating your head movement. Make sure there is plenty of room for your shoulder to rotate on the way back by raising your chin.
Try out different positions when hitting balls on the driving range. Rest, then repeat to see what yields the best performance for your game.
Build a Sturdy Base
The next thing to evaluate is your lower body itself. If your lower body isn’t sturdy enough, it’s easy to make a few incorrect moves on your backswing and get your head out of position.
Specifically, you want to make sure that your knees are in an athletic position. Start by making sure your back knee has plenty of flex so you can turn around your body on the backswing. If it doesn’t have enough flex, it can straighten out and screw up your backswing.
The second thing to check out is that your stance is wide enough. If your stance is too narrow, it might feel hard to rotate around your body and feel the need to “slide” or sway instead of rotate around your body.
Work on Your Swing Path
Another reason I used to have so much movement in my swing was because of my takeaway. I would drag the club too far inside on the backswing which led to my head going down and to the right. But once I focused on a more neutral to even outside takeaway, it reduced a ton of movement.
To give yourself the best chance for success, work on your takeaway. Specifically, what happens from address to the club being parallel to the ground.
A good checkpoint is when your club is parallel.
Take your backswing, stop, and check to see your hand position. Ideally, you want the club just outside your hands at this point. If your hands are too far to the inside, your head will likely dip too much.
Focus on One Dimple of the Golf Ball
Finally, another trick I learned to keep your head still is to focus on a specific dimple before your backswing. When you look at one point on the ball, it’s easier to maintain your posture and stay in the correct position.
When you’re hitting balls on the range, find one dimple and don’t think of anything else during your swing.
5 Drills to Keep Your Head Still
Now that you understand the mechanics to make this move, here are a few drills and videos that can help you as well.
1. Shadow Drill
The first drill to help keep your head in the right position is known as the shadow drill. The great thing about this drill is that you don’t need any gadgets or training aids.
Instead, all you need is sun so that you have a shadow on the golf course. Get to an angle where the sun is directly overhead and make a few practice swings with any club in the bag.
Start by going at 50-75% speed and move your eyes so you can watch the shadow. If your head shadow dips or moves laterally, try to stay more steady over the ball. As you get better at swinging half speed without a ton of moving, speed up your swing.
I love this drill when I’m playing during a round and feel like I’m dipping or sliding. Anytime the sun is out, you can use this mid-round to see the ideal position and ensure you’re not dipping or sliding.
2. Mirror Drill
The mirror is a golfer’s best friend when it comes to making swing changes. When you’re at home, you can also monitor your head without a club or ball. Cross your arms and hands over your chest and make some simple swing facing the mirror.
As you make a swing motion, watch what your head does throughout the backswing. The best way to monitor this is to put a piece of tape on the mirror for your head starting position. This will make it easy to see if your head is moving throughout the backswing or downswing.
The great part about this drill is that you can do it over and over again whenever you want. The more you can train your swing and visually see your head staying still, the easier it will be to take the move to the course. Do this 50-100X a day to get plenty of reps and make it part of your golf swing.
3. Golf Tee in Your Lips
If you need another great drill, use the one that worked for one of the best ball strikers of all time – Ben Hogan. Mr. Hogan was known to find his answers on the dirt and was a notorious range rat and grinded harder than most.
One of his favorite drills to maintain his head position was by putting cigarettes in his lips. You can even watch him use this drill in 1956! In the case of Ben, his cigarette always notated where his eyes were pointing.
If you’re not a smoker, we obviously don’t want to encourage it and instead, recommend that you use a golf tee instead. As you can see in that video, Hogan’s cigarette always pointed at the golf ball. Specifically, at address, over his left shoulder, and then over his right shoulder at impact.
When you do this drill, start by swinging 50-75% speed with a short iron. Only focus on keeping the tee pointed at the golf ball. Once you keep the head relatively still, work your way to up to longer clubs at full speed.
If it worked for Ben Hogan, I’m confident that it will work for you.
4. Alignment Stick Drill
When I struggled with keeping my head in the same position, it wasn’t actually my head’s fault. Instead, it had to happen because I was moving my lower body laterally so much. This is commonly known as sliding instead of turning around the body.
When my lower body would slide, your head has to move laterally as well. If you video your swing and notice a lower body slide, use this simple drill.
Grab an alignment stick and put it about a foot ahead of your back foot. Drive the alignment stick into the ground diagonally so that it’s almost resting on your trail leg. It should be about ½ inch away from your leg.
Then, make your swing as normal. If you make contact with the alignment stick, you will know that you’re swaying.
5. Shaft on Head Drill
The fifth and final drill to try out has been used by Tiger Woods, so you know it’s effective. This worked so well for him because he was squatting too much in the transition, which led to big misses with the driver. Click here to watch Tiger Woods and Steve Williams do this drill in slow motion.
As you can tell from the video, the only problem with this drill is that you do need a coach or golfing buddy to help you out. But it’s worth finding someone as it is pretty simple and provides instant feedback.
Start by having someone hold the grip of a club just to the right side of your head. It doesn’t need to be directly against your head, but maybe one inch away. Then, take your normal swing and see if your head hits the club on the backswing.
Give this drill 5-10 reps before saying it’s not right for you. It can feel awkward at first since the club is in your line of sight and someone is very close to your swing. But once you get used to it, it’s easy to notice if your head is moving too much off the golf ball.
Head Movement in Short Game & Putting
The position in putting and short game is very different from your full swing.
While you can get away with some head movement with full shots, especially driver, it’s not the case with putting. Watch videos of any good player on the PGA Tour and every golfer will keep their head in the same position throughout their stroke.
One of the most common mistakes that so many golfers make is raising their head too early with their putting stroke. This leads to poor contact with the golf ball and usually missing to the right of your intended line.
Instead, you want to focus on keeping your head down throughout your stroke. This will allow your shoulders to swing the putter and make solid contact. Practice this move by hearing the putts go in, instead of seeing them.
The same goes for chipping and pitching. Let your upper body do the work and stay still more than a full shot.
FAQs About Head Movement in Golf
Do you have even more questions about the proper head position in your golf swing? If so, take a look at our frequently asked questions and answers below.
When do I raise my head?
Sooner than you think. As I mentioned, to hit a good shot, you don’t need to watch the golf ball at impact. In fact, you really can’t even see the ball because it’s such a fast motion.
You want to move your eyes to the target as soon as you hit the shot.
Does the head stay the same throughout the swing?
No, the head moves a little bit for most players. How much it moves depends on a lot of factors, but some movement is necessary for solid contact.
A good example is Jack Nicklaus, who had a head tilt in his game. He didn’t stay fixed in the same position throughout his swing.
In fact, before he started his swing, he would tilt his head slightly back. This helped start his swing, like some players do with a forward press (except it was a backward head press).
This move also helped him turn his shoulders even more on his backswing. His shoulders were at least 90 degrees and helped him get plenty of weight shift. While other players can hit good shots and generate more power with less.
Final Thoughts on Head Movement
Hopefully, you have a much better understanding of the proper head position in your golf swing. Remember, consistent head position throughout the swing will lead to more consistent contact.
Amateur golfers need to remember that you don’t need to keep your head still! It should move a little bit, but too much and you can get into big trouble.
Keeping your head totally still is nearly impossible and not necessary. It’s especially important when you’re hitting shots off the turf vs. hitting off a tee.