Of all the aspects of teaching the swing, one stands out for its lack of attention…and ironically, most accomplished teachers consider it the most important part of the swing. It’s the transition, the change of directions from the backswing to the forward swing, and a lot of misinformation and trepidation in teaching it exists among the golf instruction world. One reason for this may be the difficulty in teaching it. Performed correctly, it’s a highly athletic move and the basis of everything that happens from that moment on. Before the move can be taught, the golfer must be in the correct position to execute it; otherwise, the teacher will be teaching out of sequence. And let’s explain that concept before we go further. Teaching out of sequence means addressing an aspect of the swing that happens after the true root cause of a problem. A simple example would be alignment. A golfer who is lined up with a too-closed stance would have to make some sort of compensating move in order for the ball to find its target, such as hitting a hook or coming over the top so the swing path is towards the intended target. A teacher who fails to change the stance and attempts to teach the student from this setup position will be working on the effects of the root cause, and is therefore teaching out of sequence. Strictly speaking, the top of the backswing is a position within transition, but for teaching purposes, we will consider it as coming before transition. There are several aspects that must be fundamentally correct before teaching the transition can be done:
  • A proper coil, with the lower body having responded to the upper body’s turn
  • Weight (or pressure) primarily on the inside of the back foot
  • Hips having turned, not swayed, with only a minimum of lateral motion allowed
  • Lead foot on the ground or heel slightly raised; no thrusting of knee towards the trail leg
  • Spine angle in or near original address position (provided it was correct to begin with)
  • Swing on-plane, with lead arm on or near same angle as shaft plane at address*
  • Clubface in a square position**
*     This is a generalization for most players. On tour, you will see variances such as Jim Furyk’s vertical lead arm or Matt Kuchar’s almost-horizontal arm, but most golfers, including our students, will benefit from a more conventional look. **  There have been notable exceptions to this throughout the years, such as Lee Trevino and Dustin Johnson, but again, most golfers and our students will benefit from a more conventional style. A problem that plagues many is reverse pivot, where the weight has failed to adequately transfer to the back foot, or the spine angle is tilted from bottom to top towards the forward side. This almost always leads to starting the downswing with the upper body in some manner, such as coming over the top, early release, or the weight falling back towards the trail foot. A teacher who works on a student’s transition when the student is in this reverse pivot position is working out of sequence and will not succeed in helping the student. Assuming all of the pieces are in place for the teacher to teach transition, the next question is how to go about it. The key here is to get the lower body moving forward while the upper body (arm swing, shoulder coil and torso) is still moving back. A drill that has shown effectiveness is the “now” or “go” drill, where the teacher says “now” or “go” when the student’s lead arm reaches horizontal on the backswing. This signals the student to begin the lower body’s movement towards the target side. This might seem too early at first glance, but it takes the brain a split second or so to process the command. Another drill used with success is the step drill. From a normal setup position, the student places the lead foot against the trail foot before starting the swing. As the club is approaching the end of its backswing journey, the student steps forward (towards the target), replacing the foot where it would be in a normal address position. Some teachers prefer the “bump” drill, where a shaft is stuck vertically into the ground next to the outside edge of the lead foot. The student must then bump the shaft with the lead hip in starting the forward swing. There are other drills that are effective, and can be found in other sources, including in the USGTF publication Golf Drills for Teaching Professionals. Golfers may be executing the transition at the correct time from a correct top-of-the-backswing position, but they may not be executing the move itself correctly. A proper transition involves the correct blend of lateral and rotary motion. Years ago, it was thought that the transition should move laterally before rotationally, but this has since been debunked by careful observation and science. A golfer who features too much lateral motion, as found in many athletic golfers, will drag the club to the inside and have a swing path through impact that is inside-out. A golfer who has too much rotational motion will throw the club to the outside and have a swing path through impact that is outside-in. One drill that is effective for the lateral hip slider is to pull the trail foot back perpendicular from the target line about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) and then swing. The golfer will find it difficult to move the hips laterally and it will feel like the upper body is doing most of the work. The golfer also may feel like he is coming over the top, but the end result should be the club path going down the target line through impact. The bump drill is effective for those who need more lateral motion in their transition move. The Gary Player “walk-through” drill is also effective in developing some lateral motion. Is it possible to have a lower body motion that is too aggressive?  Yes, and you see this often in younger players who are highly athletic. A common thing for high school golfers to do is basically “jump” on their transition move and through impact, resulting in the weight mostly on the toes and releasing the club with a hand flip through impact. Such players need to actually feel that the lower body is doing nothing and that the forward swing is started with the arms and hands. David Leadbetter also described it as allowing the upper body to open the lower body towards the target. Note that this isn’t actually what will be happening, but it is the feel of these motions. Making some flat-footed swings, even through impact and beyond, can help the golfer learn the correct motion. Keeping the trail foot flat until the delivery position, allowing it to rollin through impact and the heel to come off the ground after impact, is the desired goal. Transition is a critical part of the swing, maybe the most important. Having a good grasp of the entire process and cause and effect is important to teaching success.
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