How does the Golf Swing Start

Basic Question: How should the Golf Swing Start?

Have you ever wondered how the golf swing starts?

Is it your left arm, shoulders, or lower body that starts the motion? How does a waggle factor in? Does it change with different shots, like full swing vs. short game? 

These are all good questions that we’ll address today. How you begin with the golf club will have a big impact on your sequence, timing, tempo, and overall rhythm.

Keep reading to learn what part of your body starts the golf swing, mistakes to avoid, and answers to your most common questions.

How Should the Golf Swing Start 

To play your best on the golf course, you want to spend a lot of time at the range training your backswing. Specifically, your takeaway for a good path that will lead to a powerful downswing.

Key Takeaways 

  • A waggle is a good way to set up your takeaway and remove tension in your body before the golf swing.
  • The upper body starts the chain of movement to begin your golf backswing, not your legs. 
  • While your lower body starts the downswing with your shoulders, arms, and hands following behind to create lag (and hopefully a slightly in to out swing path). 
  • You’ll need to avoid three mistakes to start the golf swing properly so you can create lag, more distance, and better contact.

Continue reading to learn more about the start of the golf swing so you can set your game up for success.

Address Position

Before diving right into the first part of your body that moves in the golf swing, let’s double-check setup aka address position. So much of what happens in the golf swing is a byproduct of how you are set up to the golf ball. Everything from your front foot, back foot (trail foot),

Some things to consider at setup are posture, ball position (more off your lead foot with longer clubs), stance width (longer club = wider stance), weight distribution, and alignment. Other things to consider include forearm alignment, knee flex, spine angle, and shoulder tilt. 

We suggest regularly recording your golf swing so you can make sure there aren’t any issues before your backswing begins. Regardless of what club you’re hitting, getting into a proper setup will help your game more than you realize. 

Golf Waggle

Why You Need a Waggle 

Once you’re in a good setup to make a golf swing, it’s highly recommended to add a waggle.

This is a common move among elite ballstrikers (both amateur and professionals) to sort of feel out the takeaway. It’s so important that Ben Hogan, one of the best ball strikers ever, spent a whole chapter of his book talking about it.

A waggle can help you get a moving start toward the golf and ball to remove tension. If you stand over the ball at address for several seconds with no movement in your hands or wrist, it’s easy to create extra tension. This in turn leads to a restricted golf swing and a lot of unwanted mental thoughts as well.

Your waggle should match the club you’re hitting. For example, you’ll want a bigger waggle with a driver than a mid-iron or wedge. Having a good waggle can also make the first part of the golf swing a lot easier and get you in a good position on the way back.  

Learn more about the importance of a waggle here

The First Move in the Golf Swing 

Once you have a solid set up position and a good waggle, it’s time to take the club back. So, what part of the body moves first… upper body or lower body?

The upper body, not your legs. 

You want the club, arms, and shoulder to rotate and work together to begin your downswing. Imagine your arms and shoulders create a triangle – you want to move them together to begin the backswing (known as a one piece takeaway).

Then you can have a little shift of weight, wrist hinge, hips start turning, and complete your backswing (while maintaining the same spine angle). A good swing thought to have is shoulder tilt – but not in the way your shoulders are tilted at address position. 

Golf Swing Takeaway

While this is important, we’re referring to feeling your left shoulder make a downward move toward the ground. This will help your head stay in a similar position in the swing, fix your takeaway, and make the proper hip turn. 

In this YouTube video, top instructor Eric Cogorno says to think about these three things for a proper takeaway:

  • Lead shoulder down (shoulder tilt early) so the club points down toward the ground slightly.
  • Lead elbow toward your stomach.
  • Glove logo away from the ball. 

This simple motion will help you begin the golf swing with a square clubface with the club outside your hands when it’s parallel to the ground. It will create the proper wrist hinge and get you swinging at your target line.

If you can achieve this initial takeaway, it’ll make it so much easier to keep the club on plane in the swing. Which makes it so much easier to shallow the club and swing more from the inside. The result should lead to a lot more draws than fades and a better divot pattern for more consistent strikes. 

3 Common Backswing Mistakes 

There are some mistakes to avoid as you start your backswing. Otherwise, you’ll have to time your swing perfectly to get in the right positions.

Hip Sway in Backswing

Swaying (Too Much Lateral Movement)

The first thing to watch out for is a swaying motion. If you move your hips laterally on the backswing to try and generate power, you’ll actually do the opposite and lose power. Not to mention, you’ll have to time your swing perfectly on the downswing, which is nearly impossible.

If you watch the best golfers in the world, you’ll notice their hips rotate but do not laterally move. This is how they generate incredible power and have more ball speed than the everyday golfer. Learn more about swaying and how to stop it in this guide.

Excess Head Movement 

The next thing to be aware of is head movement on the backswing. 

Your head can move slightly in the golf swing but more in an up/down motion. If your head moves laterally and down, like a lot of amateurs, this will lead to inconsistent ball striking. 

Why?

Because it can change your bottom point, so you’re more likely to hit fat or thin shots. Using a golf app, you can easily analyze your swing and head motion. 

Start by drawing a circle around your head before you’ve taken the club back. Then, once you’re at the top of your swing, draw another circle to see how much your head has moved. If it’s moved down slightly, that’s okay and something you’ll see with PGA and LPGA Tour players as well.

However, if the head has dipped down and away from the target, this is a problem and usually happens from an inside takeaway. This requires a lot of timing to get it back to the same spot at impact and not something we recommend. Try to imagine your head sitting on a fence post during the swing.

How Should the Golf Swing Start

Inside Takeaway 

The final mistake to avoid on your backswing is an inside takeaway. This is one of the most common mistakes that so many golfers make and leads to an open clubface at impact (aka a slice) and/or a steep swing path (usually a pulled golf shot). 

A steep downswing requires your body to do one of two things. First, it leads to a lot of pulls or weak cuts if you have enough lower body rotation. Or, your body has early extension and leads to pushes or hooks. 

Obviously, neither one of these positions are ideal. The sooner you can fix an inside takeaway, the better, as it’ll set up a much better downswing. Remember, the more things that go bad early in the swing, the more you have to make up on the downswing (which happens in a split second).

If you need help staying connected in a one piece takeaway, check out this drill from Michael Newton on YouTube. With a couple of alignment sticks, you can master two key moves for a more consistent takeaway.

You also might need to fix a weak grip or use a training aid like the Planemate to better understand this. To fix your takeaway quickly, read our full guide here

FAQs About Golf Swing Sequence 

Do you have more questions about the proper sequence of the golf swing? If so, keep reading through the most frequently asked questions and answers now. 

Do arms or shoulders start the backswing in golf?

The takeaway is one of the key moves in the golf swing and something the best players are always working on. Your arms and shoulders work as one to start the golf swing.

What is the starting position for golf?

A good position to start the swing and set up a one piece takeaway include:

  • Good posture.
  • Neutral or strong grip.
  • Proper golf ball position.
  • Left shoulder (lead shoulder) at the target for proper alignment.

How do you start a golf swing turn?

To get a good path, you want to start the golf swing with your arms and shoulders. Don’t begin with your lower body or pushing off the ground, which will make it impossible for proper hip rotation.

My Experience

Over my 20+ years of playing golf, I can say that a good setup and takeaway are the key to a good golf swing. I used to set up with a closed stance and an inside takeaway that led to a steep down plane. Which created a lot of weak pulled shots and/or early extension for some thin shots.

Start by addressing your setup position to get your line parallel left to the target. When you’re in a good setup position, everything else gets a lot easier. Which is why I record my golf swing very consistently in practice.

Proper Golf Takeaway

The second thing I’ve really struggled with is an inside takeaway, which made it nearly impossible for me to hit a draw. Now, I spend a lot of my practice time on the initial takeaway. I like to get the club in the right spot (like the video from Eric above), pause, then swing.

This checkpoint ensures I’m in a good spot to shallow the club and swing more from the inside. Paired with a stable lower body that rotates, not sways, I’ve become a much better ball striker.

These changes might take a few weeks or a month to get comfortable, but it’s worth the time. A consistent takeaway makes the golf swing so much easier. 

Final Thoughts 

Learning how the lower and upper body work together is crucial in getting the most out of your golf swing. Just remember, the upper body starts the backswing while the lower body starts the downswing. 

Also, don’t forget a waggle. Most everyday golfers stand over the ball too long in a stagnant position and makes it hard to start the backswing. 

Instead, waggle a few times (just watch videos of Tiger), look at the target, and go. This will help you with a smooth backswing that has perfect tempo and rhythm. Which should lead to a good follow through where you hit the ball correctly. 

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