What’s In the Perfect Swing?

Stepping up to the tee and taking a powerful swing, hearing your club hit the ball with stunning accuracy, is possibly the best feeling in the world – well, the world of golf, at least. Golfers everywhere spend a ton of time perfecting their swing, doing everything from buying the best-rated clubs to experimenting with their stance, to reading books and watching video tutorials. Spending an afternoon practicing your line drive is even more satisfying – and productive – if you can break down the science behind the perfect swing, and learn to apply it to your own technique.

Even if you’re not going to be approaching the Masters anytime soon, you can always keep working on your golf swing in small ways – and fortunately, there are plenty of studies to show exactly what will help improve it. Before you head out to the links, take a look at our rundown of what goes into the perfect swing:

Body Placement and Hand Positioning

One of the first things you learn upon picking up a golf club is how to stand over the tee. Starting with the correct stance gives you the flexibility and power to hit the ball the maximum distance.

Start by evenly placing your weight on your feet, standing with your feet slightly shoulder-width apart, arms relaxed, and your knees slightly bent. Grip your club in a gentle, relaxed hold. The three most commonly used grips are the “10 Finger,” the “Overlap,” and the “Interlock” – choose whichever feels most comfortable for you, and don’t throttle the club for dear life. Keep your hands a bit loose, so you don’t unintentionally tense up your forearms. Make sure your hands are low during the finish of the swing, to keep the ball’s trajectory from going too high.

The Swing Movement

Once you’re positioned properly above the tee, with your golf club in hand, it’s time to work through how you’re going to swing the club – and how fast you need to swing, to get the most propulsion upon impact.

Golf Digest provides a good breakdown:

“The various parts of the swing should start back in this order: clubhead, hands, arms, shoulders, hips. Your right arm should stay close to your right side, so don’t force a straight-back takeaway. As the hands pass the right leg, weight should start shifting to the right… As your weight continues to move to the right, the momentum of the swing and the folding of your right elbow help hinge the club to a 90-degree angle with your left arm. Your left arm should be slightly higher than your right, proving that your right arm has not dominated the swing.”

You should feel like you’re loading up your right hip as you get ready to power the swing. Move into the backswing by turning your shoulders; then forward, into the downswing, by shifting your left knee and foot over your left hip. The follow-through and extension work to provide momentum for the swing, and to propel the ball up and off the tee. How Stuff Works breaks the whole movement down into two simple processes: “On the backswing, pivot your shoulders toward your spine, shift your weight to the front of your back foot and hinge your front arm up into a 90-degree L-shape. On the downswing, release your arm in its L-shaped lever toward the target as you shift your weight to your front foot in one, smooth balanced motion.”

This whole complicated process just goes to show how much body positioning – both stable and moving – makes a difference in your swing. Work at getting your whole body behind the swing, not just your hands or arms. Golf Tips Magazine recommends a simple exercise to help you get out of the habit of simply using your hands: Try to hit the ball without using a backswing. It’ll be difficult if you’re only putting power through your hands; but after some practice, you should be able to move your entire body behind the club.

In an article for Westchester Magazine, PGA teacher Mike Diffley advises golfers to aim for a tilted circle, not a vertical upwards motion. He acknowledges that it’s easy to “get caught up in the mechanics” of a swing, but if you keep practicing, all of the movements will begin to flow together and become instinctive.

The Speed Factor

In order to really make a great line drive, you need to hit the ball with enough force to whack it out of the park. That means putting a lot of speed on the transition from backswing to downswing – or does it?

In fact, you don’t necessarily need to be fast to perform a great swing. Experts say that it’s more beneficial to keep a steady, rhythmic tempo; rather than swinging back and taking a chop at it.

Mike Diffley has advice for your speed: “Practice your tempo — and slow it down! You almost can’t swing too slowly… Swinging in tempo lets your hands and body square the clubface to the proper line. It also lets your body shift its weight in the right sequence for maximum power.”

As a mental reminder to himself, golf great Jack Nicklaus used to silently think “low and slow” during his backswing, and “finish” during his downswing. Try using the 3-to-1 tempo: take it slow on the way back, before speeding up for the downswing – “three words back, one word through.” This will give you better results than going quickly through the motions.

Extra Credit

Getting your golf swing just right requires plenty of practice, to make all of your movements automated as much as possible. If you’re ready to make your golf game more high-tech, try investing in a golf sensor that can track factors like your swing time and tempo, as well as your stroke times. Motion capture technology can record video of your performance, and report on various metrics – enabling you to study each individual piece of your swing, and identify where you can improve. Use today’s technology to help you find the vital piece your swing is lacking.

There’s always a little bit more you can do to ensure that your swing is as fine-tuned as possible. Don’t forget to relax – nobody becomes a pro in one day. Stay positive and persistent; each day that you practice, you’re becoming better than the day before. If you take advantage of all the tips, equipment, and tech available to you, you’re sure to nail the right swing movement, and boost your golf game to the next level.