Golf Swing Basics: The Fundamentals You Need to Know
If you’re just getting started with the game of golf, don’t get frustrated or overwhelmed too quickly. There’s a lot of information out there on how to swing a golf club. It can be a little difficult to sort through what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s optional.
We’re going to go through all the golf swing basics that a beginner needs to know. The goal is to give you a clear list of simple things you need to focus on at first. As you progress in the game, you might seek out more advanced and complex instruction, but for now, here’s a great place to start.
We’ll divide this up into few different sections. The first three (grip, aim, stance, and stance & posture) are all about the pre-swing set-up and the next three (backswing, downswing, and finish) are all about the swing.
Beginner's Guide to the Golf Swing
Let’s divide the swing into two parts to keep things simple, the pre-swing and the actual movement we all think of as a golf swing. Make sure you don’t just gloss over the pre-swing. Mistakes made there will compound into big errors in the actual swing.
The first thing you need to do is get a good grip on the golf club. Your hands are the only part of your body that comes into contact with the club, so you need to make sure it’s done correctly. If done correctly, it’ll help the rest of your swing work properly.
- Open your front hand (left for a right-handed golfer), so the palm is facing out.
- Lay the grip of the club diagonally across your fingers, starting at the tip of your pointer finger and going across towards the base of your pinkie finger.
- Close your hand around the grip.
- Lift the club up in the air and try to swing it like a hammer. If your club is too much in the palm then it’ll be difficult to control, but if it’s correctly in your fingers then it’ll be more controllable. This is a good way to check your first hand.
- Take your other hand and touch your pinkie and thumb together. This will create a “pit” in the palm of your hand. Imagine that “pit” is a hotdog bun and the thumb on your first hand is the hotdog. (Read more about the long left thumb grip.)
- Put your second hand on the club, so that the hotdog and bun fit together. Similar to your first hand, make sure the grip is in your fingers, not palm.
- After that, you’ll want to get the positioning correct. Both of your thumbs and base of your pointer-fingers should create a “V.” Make sure that both of the “V’s” point, parallel to each other, like arrows towards your back shoulder (right for a right-handed player).
Finally, the pressure of your grip should be not super strong, but not super loose. Imagine you’re holding a tube of toothpaste with the cap off and the opening pointing down. Hold it tight enough that you don’t drop it, but loose enough that no toothpaste comes out of the tube. Also, where you feel the pressure matters too. Learn more about golf grip pressure points here.
For more instruction on the grip, go to our full article on the golf grip. And make sure you understand the nuance of the overlap vs interlock style of grip and the difference between a strong versus weak golf grip.
The second thing you’ll need to make sure is correct is your aim. Too many amateur golfers think that they need to aim their body at the target, but that’s not exactly true. You want to aim your club face towards the target and your body parallel left (for a right-handed player) of that.
- Before you hit a shot, stand behind the ball, so that the ball is between you and the target.
- Find something on the ground, like a piece of dirt, that’s in-line with the ball and the target. Consider that your secondary target. This should only be a couple feet in front of the ball to make it easy to aim.
- When you step up to the ball, set your club face, so that it points at that secondary target you’ve chosen. From there, you can set your body up parallel to it.
- To set up your body, you’ll first want to focus on your feet. Imagine a line being drawn between your toes and extending infinitely in both directions. That line ought to be parallel to your target line as well as similar lines at your shoulders, forearms, and hips.
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Stance & Posture
Once you’ve got your aim finished, the stance is what you’ll need to do next. As you set up to the golf ball, your feet ought to be about shoulder width apart with a little knee bend, but not like other sports. Make sure you understand the difference in an open stance versus a closed stance. To start off you wan tot be square.
When you think of setup, you might think about an “athletic position” that’s taught in sports like basketball, football, and baseball, but the same does not translate to golf. Your knee bend ought to be less than those other sports and instead, you’ll bend over at the waist to reach the golf ball.
First up, let’s make sure you have the correct posture. As you bend at the waist, make sure you keep your back fairly straight. You can check your back by putting a golf club down your spine. The club ought to touch your back in three places; your head, between the shoulder blades, and tailbone.
The next part of your stance is your arms. Since you’ve bent over at the waist, you don’t want to reach or lift your arms out towards the club. Instead, let your arms hang straight down, loosely, from your shoulders to grab the club. Standing the correct distance from the ball indirectly solves the last two issues.
Don’t sleep on ball position. While it may not seem important (if you’re doing it right), poor ball position can lead to an enormous amount of golf swing errors. And ball position with a driver is different versus the other clubs in your bag. One other overlooked part of golf is the role of your dominant eye in the golf swing and where you focus your eyes on the golf ball as you are swinging. Looking in the wrong spot can lead to all sorts of bad shots.
Finally, make sure to take a few waggles before you start the takeaway. Doing a waggle (or two), will relieve tension and help you to perform the best golf swing you are capable of making.
The Golf Swing
Now, you’re ready for the golf swing. The first part of the swing is the takeaway. To start your swing, think about using your big muscles, not your small muscles. Your big muscles would be your core, shoulders and arms, not your wrists. Try taking the club head back slowly and low to the ground. Make sure you understand the correct path your hands should take in the golf swing. This will help you keep the club on-plane.
There’s no rush in getting your backswing finished. Too many amateur golfers take a fast backswing because they think it’ll give them power, but that’s not true. Your only goal in the backswing is to get back into a loaded and ready position to start your downswing. Rushing the backswing will hurt your swing tempo.
Think about the rotation of your club head and wrist action in the swing. When your hands and the club head are at waist-high, the toe of the club ought to be pointing about straight up in the air. In order to do this, you’ll have to rotate your hands. Imagine you are shaking someone’s hand with your front hand (left for a right-handed player). You want to make sure that the back of your hand is pointing in the opposite direction of your body. While you’re at the top, make sure to understand the difference between a cupped wrist, flat lead wrist and a bowed wrist.
As you take the club to the top of your swing, try to twist your torso around your spine. This is called the pivot. And this is a part that many amateur golfers miss; they swing too much with their arms when they should be making a shoulder turn.
- Imagine your swing is like a tetherball pole.
- Turn your shoulders. Allow your body to wrap around your spine (the pole), so that you can explode through impact.
- Your hips will also rotate with a torso rotation to turn away from the golf ball.
Once your club has gotten to waist-high, you’re going to start to lift it up over your head until the shaft of the club is parallel to the ground and pointing parallel left (for a right-handed player) of the target.
In order to check if you have the correct position at the top of your swing,
- Set your club head on the ground.
- Then, set the club on your back shoulder (right for a right-handed player), make your torso turn with the club still resting on your shoulder, and then when you’re done turning, slowly and gently push the club off your shoulder.
A lot of amateurs hear about keeping their front arm (left for a right-handed player) straight at the top of their backswing. That’s partially true. You want it relatively straight compared to your other arm, but not locked in the elbow.
Transition & Downswing
Once you’ve gotten to the top of your backswing successfully, you need to start your downswing transition towards impact. The first move you ought to feel is your lower body (hip turn) rotating back towards the golf ball. From there, your torso and arms should follow.
Too many amateur golfers allow their back elbow (right for a right-handed golfer) to lift up and away from their side. Instead, the correct thing to do is keep your elbow close to your side until after impact. This will allow you maintain your power and hit the ball from the inside rather that outside. Hitting the ball from the outside is a common problem in amateur golfers and it leads to slicing (not hitting it straight). Understanding how the right arm works in the golf swing and keeping the left arm straight can significantly improve your contact.
The moment of truth in the downswing is, obviously, impact; the moment your club makes contact with the golf ball. When you make contact with an iron, you want that club face to be square and the club to be moving down at the ball into the ground (this creates shaft lean at impact). The same is true when hitting a hybrid, hitting a long iron or hitting a fairway wood. The only exception is that you will want to hit the driver slightly on the upswing in order to optimize the spin rate. To do this correctly, you’ll need to make sure you are teeing up the driver at the correct height. Depending on how high you tee, you may want to hover the golf club at setup to facilitate this move.
Many amateur golfers try to hit under and lift the ball to get it up in the air, but that’s actually incorrect. In order to get the ball in the air, you have to bottom out your swing after the ball. Good iron players especially know how to “cover the golf ball” with plenty of lag which leads to them hitting the golf club’s sweet spot consistently. If you hit the ground first, you’ll hit it “fat” and short. If you hit the ball-only, you’ll hit it “thin” and low. Hitting both the ball and ground will allow you to feel that good contact that send the ball flying straight and far. Having the appropriate amount of side bend in the golf swing will work wonders for contact.
In the downswing transition, you also want to make sure that your weight transfer is moving towards your front foot (left for a right-handed player). Too often, amateur golfers lean back and let their weight shift in the opposite direction of the golf ball. Also, be very careful of how much your head is moving. Too much at this point in the swing can lead to bad contact. Make sure during this process you are maintaining good balance through the swing.
After you’ve made contact with the golf ball, you need to finish the swing. This might not seem like an important part of the swing, since the golf ball is already gone and flying (hopefully) towards the hole, but it is extremely important. If you focus on creating a good finish position, then you are going to do specific things during your swing that’ll help to create a good golf shot.
I mentioned the weight transfer in the previous section, this is a huge part of it. If you imagine a baseball pitcher or a football player throwing a ball, their weight finishes on their front foot and front leg. It’s how they get their power. The same is true in golf. If you want to hit a good shot, you need to have most of your weight finish on your front foot.
If you’ve properly released the club, the finish position will look like you resting your hands and the club on your front shoulder (left for a right-handed player), most of your weight on your front foot (left for a right-handed player), and your back heel (right for a right-handed player) in the air. Also, your belly-button ought to be facing towards the target with your shoulders and waist parallel.
One thing that a lot of amateur golfers think they need to do is keep their head down. I hear it said all the time, but it’s another thing that’s only partially true and a little vague. You want to keep your head down and maintain your spine angle during the swing, looking at the ball through impact, but after that, your head should follow the ball towards the target. It can definitely be helpful to think about keeping your head down a little longer through impact, but don’t do that so long that you forget to watch the shot and finish your golf swing on your front (left for a right-handed player) side.
Those are the golf swing basics that you’ll need to focus on if you’re just starting to pick up the game of golf. If you can perfect each of those areas, then you’ll have a really great chance of hitting a good shot. As a final review, you can check out our article on the golf swing sequence.
But in addition to the golf swing basics, you will also need to be able to hit a couple of speciality shots.
Occasionally, you will find your ball on a side hill slope, up slope, or down slope. Instead of freaking out, you can make a few adjustments at setup to handle uneven lies. Those adjustments are clearly explained in this article.
Let’s face it, not every shot is going to land exactly where you want. If you find a fairway bunker, there are a few considerations you need to account for to help you hit a good shot. Just like above, I encourage you to read our article on fairway bunkers to make those adjustments.
The Bottom Line
If you can implement these fundamentals into your golf swing, you will have the prerequisites in place to play some pretty solid golf.
I get it, this is a lot of information. But no one said golf was easy!
One thing you can do is write down the things you need to remember in the pre-swing and review them before each shot. The pre-swing ought to be fairly easy, because you can set it and forget it, for the most part. Once you’ve got it set-up you don’t have to continue to think about it throughout your swing. Then, you can move on and think about 1 or 2 things you want to accomplish in your swing. Try to limit it to as few swing thoughts as possible, though, because the more you think about, the more you can forget.
After you’ve mastered these, try some more advance techniques such as:
- How to Shallow your Golf Swing
- Learn to Hit the Ball from the Inside
- How to use Ground Force to Generate More Power
- What was Ben Hogan’s Secret?
- Clear the Confusion: The Wedge Swing vs Iron swing
- The Distance Recipe: How to get Width in your Backswing
Now, head out to the driving range of a bit with these tips and you’ll soon produce some great muscle memory for your many years of playing the great game of golf.