Golf Downswing, Rotary Golf Downswing Overview

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Mastering the setup, weight transfer and takeaway are critical to a great golf swing. But mastering the golf downswing is the most important and the most challenging of all. Because it happens so fast and requires so much precision, mastering the downswing will be the crux of learning to become a great ball striker. Be patient with it, the rewards are many and great! However, don't focus on the downswing until you can properly transfer your weight and perform a proper takeaway as these key pieces setup of the downswing.

Most golfers get very excited and want to focus just on the golf downswing because that's the only time you hit the ball. But the reality is, much of the downswing is a response to how you swung the club during the backswing. If your backswing was awful, you don't have much hope for a good downswing and impact position.

The good news is that we have a ton of golf instruction videos on the downswing that walk you through exactly how to get in to tour quality positions and do so with speed and effortless power.

Video Practice Points
  • The downswing, is the crux of the golf swing
  • The hips can't move as fast as the upper body
  • The main focus of the golf downswing is shifting weight to the left heel
  • The weight shift is NOT a push from the right
  • Sit into the left glute, then pull with the left oblique

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The Golf Downswing

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Golf Downswing

Perhaps the "Holy Grail" of golf, mastering the golf downswing is a challenge for most golfers. Getting the golf downswing sequence correct starts with a proper downswing transition. Most golfers don't understand how to start the downswing properly and instead fire their arms from the top of the backswing. This leads to a loss of lag in the golf swing and a poor sequence that is irrecoverable.

Proper Downswing Drills

A proper downswing sequence actually starts with something relatively very simple - weight shift. If you simple shift your weight back to the lead leg during the downswing transition, your arms will naturally begin to work their way back down on plane and in the proper sequence. We have lots of downswing drills to help you with a proper weight shift, one of my personal favorites is this downswing drill.

The Frisbee Drill makes learing a proper golf downswing more natural and even kind of fun! Yep, you can have fun while working on your golf swing! Most golfers have thrown a frisbee at one point or another and so the natural golf downswing sequence becomes easy to understand. This downswing drill even helps you detect when you have too much tension in your arms and shoulders as this wouldn't be natural when throwing the frisbee.

Mastering the golf downswing will take some work and some time, but using our vast catalog of downswing drills will get you mastering this critical move in no time!

In the entire golf swing, the downswing is probably the most misunderstood and misinterpreted move by amateur golfers. It must be understood that the downswing is the result of an uncoiling of the core muscles that were stretched during the backswing as well as a throwing motion of the right arm accompanied by a pulling with the left. Our initial goal in the golf downswing is to shift the weight back to the left and rotate the hips away from the target. The weight shift back to the left both creates momentum and puts the left hip in a stable and safe position to prepare for the upcoming rotation. It is critical that the golfer NOT perform this shift and rotation solely by pushing from the trailing leg. A pulling motion from the hip muscles that attach to the inner upper thigh will shift the weight fully back to the left while ensuring the golfer does not move past NJA. The rotation is also dominated by the left hip girdle. Doing so will rotate the hips fully to a 45 degree open position but not past. Only by pushing from the right leg will the golfer be able to move past this 45 degree open position. The key point that must be illustrated to the students is that the forces of movement in the downswing originate from the hips and obliques, resulting in a weight shift and a pulling to the left, NEVER from the upper body, shoulders, arms, etc.

The proper sequence of the downswing is as follows:

1.      Externally rotate the left leg to move the knee directly over the left ankle.

2. Pull the weight over to the left with left hip adduction.

3. Plant the weight firmly by pushing the left ankle into the ground and activating the left glute.

4. Pull from the left oblique, turning the hips 45 degrees open in relation to the target line.

5. Pull with the left lat to pull the arms back in front of the torso.

6. Fire the right arm by extending from the right elbow, focusing the force through the right hand pressure points.


hips-club-centripetal.jpgFigure 37 - The hips move in the opposite direction of the club head.

The result of this chain of events occurring in sequence and being performed from the proper origin is centripetal force: the hips rotating towards center and away from the target, and the arms and club are accelerated and move towards the target. In the image to the right, you can see that the hips have been rotated back away from the target, or to the left, while the club head works away from the body. For maximum club head speed, we want the hips rotating back to the left while the upper torso remains passive. This can increase the separation between the upper and lower halves. The highest ball speeds are produced by golfers producing the maximal rotational separation between the upper torso and pelvis. Higher handicap golfers create significantly less separation and, thus, significantly less speed. Typically, amateurs only achieve approximately 35% of the separation of professionals. This separation can only occur when the downswing is performed in the proper sequence and from the correct origin of movement.

This entire sequence is initiated by the weight shift back to the left which starts with the external rotation of the left leg. Once the weight has been established firmly into the left side, the student should engage the left oblique muscle and pull the hips to the left. Pulling from the left oblique will turn the left hip away from the target, moving the hips a total of 90 from their position at the top of the backswing. To this point, the arms have worked back in front of the body by the downward pulling motion of the left arm and the pulling of the right pec. As the weight is transferred into the left side and hips are rotated 90, the upper torso will be pulled around by this action and begin to be unwound by the hips. The result should be an impact position with the hips 45 open to the target line and the shoulders square to the target line. The weight is 80-90% on the left side, more specifically over the left ankle. The right heel should be off the ground by the time we reach the impact position as a result of this weight transfer and hip rotation, but only because it has been pulled up by the left side weight transfer and rotation, not because the golfer has pushed off the right in an effort to "spin" or slide the hips. Any student who has his right foot flat on the ground at impact has clearly not transferred enough weight to the left side or has a stance that is very narrow. This is quite common in students trying to master this move for the first time and is most typical of the higher handicappers. It is the Rotary Swing Instructors job to determine the root cause of the weight remaining on the right side. Let us examine these causes in greater detail.

Common Causes of Hanging Back on the Right Foot

IMG_0220.JPGThe first and most common cause occurs when the student attempts to rotate his hips before transferring his weight on to his left ankle. It is essential that the weight move over the left ankle, activating the left glute for stabilization, before the pulling with the left oblique occurs. If the weight transfer into the left ankle does not occur first in the downswing, when the student rotates his hips, he will be simply spinning out. The student will often be flat footed at impact with the left hip being shy of NJA and will not get fully onto the left side until well after the golf ball is gone. The RST instructor must identify the issue and be able to illustrate to the student how to successfully transfer the weight into the left side before unwinding with the hips in the golf downswing.




Figure 38 - A severe hang back like this one will result in fat and topped shots.

Figure 39  - Here the golfer has pushed the left hip outside of neutral by shoving off the right foot, placing the hip in a vulnerable and weak position.

The second most common fault in the weight transfer occurs when the student attempts to rotate his hips and transfer his weight by pushing from the right side instead of pulling from the left. Pushing off the right foot most often creates a slide of the hips and moves the left hip past NJA, putting the golfer at serious risk for injury to the lead hip. The push also creates too much axis tilt (spine angle leaning away from the target when viewed from face on), leading to a path that is too far from the inside with hooks and blocks as the reward. The pushing motion is very common and also makes it hard for the golfer to keep his head behind the ball at impact. Only by using a pulling motion can we protect the hip from injury and be stacked over the golf ball for a powerful impact.

The RST instructor must be able to identify where the force of movement is coming from at the top of the downswing to identify the push from the right side as well as other common faults. By far, the most common mistakes made by students will involve the force of movement coming from the upper body, the shoulders, the arms, etc. to start the downswing. Any involvement of the upper torso in the downswing will destroy the sequence, path, plane and power. Force of movement coming from the upper body can be easily identified by the following:

         The right shoulder moves out towards the target line.

         The head moves in front of the ball.

         The plane of the club is now shifted into a steep, out to in attack angle and path.

         The shoulders will be open at impact.

         The weight gets transferred onto the balls of the feet.

         The student will most likely have trouble maintaining his original spine angle.


IMG_0231.JPGTo the left is the image of the typical high handicap golfer who tries to heave his upper torso at the ball as his first move down rather than shifting the weight to the left, allowing the arms time to start working back down in front of the body. This is the epitome of the over the top slicer and can easily be rectified by having the student work and focus on the proper movements and stop focusing on striking the golf ball.



Impact and Address the Same?

One other example the RST instructor must be aware of is when the force of movement comes from the top, yet the students shoulders are square at impact, accompanied by a noticeable lack of lower body rotation. The RST instructor will encounter this frequently in higher handicap golfers. The student in this situation has successfully rerouted the golf club by forcing his arms to drop by only using the arms to accelerate the golf club. The force of movement is still being provided by the upper torso, predominantly, the arms and hands, and the student will have a very flat footed appearance at impact and very little power. The student has effectively rerouted the golf club with his hands and arms but has not generated power from his core. The student is simply relying on hand-eye coordination in order to strike the ball, which is a very inefficient and inconsistent manipulation and is not using the rotation of the hips to generate any speed. The impact and address positions should not be the same, so if you cant tell which frame you are looking at on video, theres a problem.

flat-footed-dtl.jpgFigure 40 - Am I at impact or address here? Who knows?!

To summarize, the downswing is a powerful uncoiling motion, accompanied by a pulling down of the left arm while creating an underarm/sidearm throwing motion with the right arm. We simultaneously transfer our weight from our right ankle to our left ankle, activating our left glute. Once this left glute is activated for stabilization and our weight is pushed down into the ground via the left ankle, a pulling with the left oblique, resulting in hip rotation, allows us to use rotational instead of lateral forces. As a result of this pulling, the hips rotate away from the target while the arms and the club move towards the target. The force of movement must come from our left oblique pulling our hip behind us, never from the upper torso. The hips will move a total of 90 from the position at the top of the backswing to impact. In relationship to the target line, the hips will be 45 open and the shoulders will be square.

When the golf downswing is performed correctly:

         The weight transfers onto the left ankle.

         The student pulls from the left oblique in order to rotate the hips.

         The right shoulder appears to move vertically down towards the right foot at the start of the downswing rather than out toward the ball when viewed from down the line.

         Shoulders remain closed, and the students head will appear to drop slightly in the more powerful strikers.

         The golfer may give the appearance of slightly squatting as the weight transfer occurs with the flex in the right knee staying the same or increasing from where it was at the top of the swing.

         The club can be seen bisecting the right forearm as the hands work past belt high when viewed DTL.

         The student will easily maintain the original spine angle from setup or even increase slightly.

         The right ankle will begin to be pulled off the ground and work toward the left as the hips rotate 45 open.

         The right arm will be nearly fully extended at impact.

         The shoulders will be square at the impact position.


Move 3.jpg

Figure 41 - The shift back to the left is the first momentum generator in the downswing and is the key to an efficient kinematic sequence.

In the image below, we can see just how far the left hip has moved halfway through Move 3 from where it was at the top of the swing. The hips, if viewed from down the line, would be slightly open to the target at this point, while it is clear that the shoulders have remained closed, allowing the arms time to work back in front of the chest. (Note that because this is a driver, the stance is wider than 2" outside of neutral. This is ok for the driver when wanting to increase the launch angle as this helps shallow out the angle of attack when combined with a slightly forward ball position. The driver is a specialty club and the only one that we want to catch slightly on the upswing when trying to achieve maximum distance. So modifications to the setup are acceptable.)

In the next photo, we get a down the line view at the moment just after impact. It is here that we can see the shoulders square to the target line, while the hips have rotated 45 degrees more than the shoulders. The arms are extended in front of the chest, and the right heel is slightly off the ground. Note the slack in the shirt on the right side, signifying side bend. This indicates the golfer remained "in the box" into impact without the right shoulder jutting out toward the ball and disconnecting from the core. This position is paramount for transferring forces and energy from the hips and core generated during the downswing to the arms, club and, eventually, the ball. If the right shoulder blade is allowed to protract early in the downswing as it so often does in amateurs, there will be little energy transfer from the rotating torso, and the musculature of the shoulder girdle will be all that can be used to generate speed.

To further understand how the scapular protraction creates power loss, imagine a boxer throwing a punch. If the boxer were to throw a punch with the scapula in an elevated and protracted position, as you can feel for yourself by shrugging your shoulders and trying to throw a punch, it wouldnt be very powerful. The scapula is the primary connection point to the large musculature in the torso to the arms. If the scapula is depressed, you can feel how more energy can be transferred from the body. A feeling of being able to apply momentum and force from the pivot of the hips and the mass of the upper torso is the same feeling we seek during the golf downswing.

Figure 42 - At impact, the right arm will be nearly at full extension, with the shoulders being square to the target line and the hips open.



The Throw the Ball Drill

Perhaps the most useful drill you will put into your arsenal to assist with the learning process of the weight shift, backswing and downswing components is the Throw the Ball Drill. This very simple drill, when done correctly, allows the golfer to perform nearly every single movement in the golf swing and practice them while developing a sense of speed. It is especially helpful in teaching golfers to properly shift their weight in the downswing. This correct weight shift is truly the crux of the golf swing, both in timing it and getting into the proper impact position via the weight shift. This drill, because it mimics a natural throwing motion that most have learned at some point in their lives, comes naturally and even easily for many golfers, especially the more athletically versed.

To start, have the golfer pick up a golf ball and place it on the index finger pressure point of the right hand. Then, have the golfer perform the Right Arm Only Backswing drill to get to the proper position at the top. From there, have the golfer feel as though the hips and shoulders remain closed to the target line while he throws the ball down the line at another ball on the ground where the golf ball would normally be at address. What you will find is that almost all golfers will naturally shift their weight, unwind their hips and end up in a perfectly balanced finish position when doing this. And, even though you instructed them to not unwind their shoulders and hips, they will have done so in an effort to generate speed in the throw. It is simply unnatural for someone to perform this drill and not shift the weight and unwind the hips correctly.

Right Arm Only Golf Downswing Drill

This drill will truly test the golfers kinesthetic awareness and proprioception, while helping them ingrain the necessary movements for speed in the downswing. I have used this drill to help countless golfers pick up 10 mph of club head speed with the driver in less than ten minutes, so its value cannot be overstated.

Simply put, this drill involves swinging the club with the right arm only. It should be started from the preset position of the Right Arm Only Backswing drill at first. The student should understand that the goal is not to see how far they can hit the ball with this drill. Rather, the goal is to create synchronization between the rotating body and swinging arms while teaching the student where the speed comes from in the downswing. You should always start the student out with the ball on the tee when hitting balls with this drill, although a ball is completely optional. The student should feel that the right arm is releasing past the body coming into impact rather than the right shoulder continuing to turn ahead of the arm. In fact, the right shoulder should be almost stationary at impact in order for the right arm to be allowed to fully release and reach maximum speed before impact. In Figure 43, you can see just how little the right shoulder has moved from the time the club is parallel to the ground until just after impact. This is a vital component to generating a feeling of effortless speed. Think of the right shoulder as the handle of a whip. When you want the end of the whip to accelerate, you dont keep moving the handle in the direction you wish to crack the tip. You stop it from moving so that all the energy created by moving the handle can be transmitted out toward the end. The same is true here. If the right shoulder keeps moving toward the target, the arms and club will fully release after impact has already occurred, which is useless. By keeping the right shoulder back, the club head is allowed to accelerate past with great speed, allowing physics to take over. For golfers who are very aggressive with the shoulders rotating through impact, they will feel like they are putting significantly less effort into impact and they are. This will bedifficult to trust at first because it will feel slower to them. Of course, 
its not. In fact, its much faster when done correctly, but its always a good idea to keep a Swing Speed Radar handy to help drive the point home for them.

Figure 43 - Note from face on that the right shoulder appears nearly stationary through the hitting area to give the arms a chance to release past the body with great speed.


Review questions:

1. What is the correct origin of movement to start the downswing?


2. Define the proper sequence for the golf downswing.


3. Which muscle is responsible for rotating the hips?


4. What are some of the common results if the origin of movement in the downswing is initiated by the upper body?


5. What are the proper positions of the hips/shoulders at impact?



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