What initiates transition from backswing to downswing?
By Tim Horan on 1/11/13
oober Tim Horan submitted his first career guest column late last year and he's already back at it in the young new year. Hopefully he inspires more oobers to share their on- and off-course experiences with us in the near future. Enjoy!

I started this column with some reservations, worried that readers will not be interested in a "hackers" take on what is perhaps the most technical move in the whole sequence of any golf swing ... here goes nothing!

The subject matter for this column was the result of a column on weight transfer which I started and plan to complete at some later date. In attempting to write on the subject of weight transference it became clear that the transitional move(s) are the essence of effective weight transference within the sequencing of an effective golf swing.

I will just quickly touch on weight transference in the backswing as without this the rest of this article would be without merit.

Weight transference in the backswing should not translate to a "hip slide" moving body and head away from the target. It should only be a shift of weight such as you would standing on a bus or train journey to relieve the weight from one side to the other.

Before I get into the subject matter for real I need to delve back in time and I am sure this will ring a bell with you older golfers out there.

When I was taught there were two basic golf swings "traditional" and "modern". The "modern" swing was not fully embraced in the pro ranks and although it had been around some ten years was not taught at club level.

As a lad in the mid to late sixties the widely taught "traditional" golf swing was less centred, had more moving parts, was more wristy and was altogether more fluid through the impact zone. It required a high degree of coordination and more exacting timing. Let's face it, with the equipment that was available then golf was tough to master.

The "traditional" golf swing was either a one or two plane swing, extremely active legs with the heel of the leading leg lifting to assist with the turn, the leading knee collapsing inwards requiring intuitive finesse within which individuals introduced trademark moves to fashion their own unique swings. The power came from fluidity and speed. The more aggressive the transitional moves were the greater the plane difference was in backswing and downswing.

The "modern" swing could also be one or two plane, the heel of the forward leg remaining rooted to the ground, the legs generally much quieter with hips and lower body lightly in resistance creating power through leverage. Again the more aggressive transitional moves resulting generally in the re-routing and plane changes of the two plane swing.

We now have a third swing in "Stack and Tilt". I will not elaborate here on this as it would overly complicate the issues that I am trying to convey.

You may be wondering about my ramblings back in time and where I was going with the swing analysis and comparisons. The transitional move from backswing to downswing you adopt will depend on what swing attributes you predominately favour.

For any of the swings the initiating move should never be the hands or arms. This is often referred to as casting where the club head moves in advance of the weight transfer, the uncoiling of the legs, body and arms. Any good work that you have put in at address, take-away, weight transfer and setting the swing on plane will be lost. The swing plane collapses, coiled leverage is lost leaving the body trying to catch up with the following likely results — reverse C (body leaning away from the target), sliced strike, or a "pulled" shot where the hands overtake the arms in an effort to recover the shot.

It is amazing how in a split second the body quite sub-consciously will subtly adjust to get the club on ball somehow if something in the swing goes awry. That is perhaps why we are unable to abort a shot when we know we should.

And so to the nub of this column and here I must caveat my conclusions in that depending on how fast your backswing is, how much you tend to lift your leading heel, how much you collapse your leading knee and how ingrained a one or two plane swing is for you will dictate what transitional moves and how aggressively you employ them.

In "traditional" swings used by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and a whole host of their contemporaries the downswing is initiated by a combination of two moves – planting of the heel of the leading leg back on the ground in combination with a two handed "arm pull" vertically downwards as if pulling a bell rope at arm's length behind the ball and inside the target line. The former transfers the weight back towards the target, the latter creates lag and maintains the coiled energy. Depending on the aggression and the time elapse between the two moves dictates how accentuated the two plane swing becomes. Timing as I said before is all important in this type of swing. With a lot of moving parts there is a lot to go wrong.

In "modern" swings used by Ben Hogan – back as far as 1955, Rory McIlroy and most of the pro ranks of today the downswing is initiated with a leading leg knee to target move, followed by leading hip rotation off the target line in combination with the downward pull in both one and two plane swings which moves the weight back towards the target and triggers the uncoiling in sequence of legs, hips, lower body, shoulders, arms and hands into the ball. This is a complicated sequence to coordinate. Failing to get the weight forward will result in a sliced impact or pulled shot, failure to clear the leading hip off the target line will result in either a pushed shot if the hands are late or a snap hook if your hands try to recover the situation.

In all swing types the impact position is very similar and taken as a snapshot you would be hard pushed to determine what type of swing is in progress.

Whatever move initiates the transition from backswing to downswing one thing is clear it is not a movement above the waist. It originates in the leg region. As the legs are the last to respond to the coiling effect of the backswing on the way up — they are the first into action in the downswing providing the stable base and power as the coiled energy is released through hips, lower body, shoulders, arms and hands on the way down.

With all the initiating moves observe in a mirror what each manoeuvre does to the club head at the top of the backswing. Take up your normal address position and slowly progress your backswing to the top and hold that position. Make the transitional moves as described above, with each there is a club head movement through subtle realignment of the upper body as the lower body rotates. If this alone was the transitional move the club head would potentially be on an "outside to in" path and would if continued through to impact cause a fade or slice depending on severity. To counter this the arms "drop into the slot" in passive one plane swings and are "pulled into the slot" in aggressive two plane swings bringing the club head back to the target line.

So if timing is all important – when does this transitional move take place?

I can only answer from observation and experience of my own swing. I would say that you start transition in anticipation of the top of your backswing. Much as an archer draws his bow and continues to draw until release not stopping, imperceptibly fluid — so a golf swing also should be in motion all of the time-morphing from backswing into downswing employing subtle transitional moves to maintain fluidity.

This was written by Tim Horan, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.

Have an idea for a guest column? Send it here!

Image via Flickr, Photo Monkey

[ comments ]
jfurr says:
Thanks for writing, Tim. I am currently obsessing over the swing details myself, and I have to say that I can pretty much tell depending on if my transition is good or bad if the swing is likely going to be wrecked or not.
mjaber says:
Wow... that was way over my head. I think I get it, but in the future I'm just going to stick to math.
windowsurfer says:
Nice complex piece (also mostly above my pay grade). One thing I know is that if I consciously think about transition, I fail resoundingly. If my swing thought is something like "swing toward 2nd base" or "finish high", I sometimes fail slightly less. Your reference to pulling the rope reminded me that I've used "ring the bell" in the past with success - might try that tomorrow morning.
Duke of Hazards says:
good piece. i find that, like windowsurfer, my best swings are when I'm target focused and my swing thoughts are skewed towards the last half of the swing (pre-impact through finish).... once I consciously start deliberating over the backswing or transition, i'm toast.
Duke of Hazards says:
i really like the archer analogy, btw
joe jones says:
Years ago the ideal swing was a smooth sweeping transition through the ball. Look at videos of Sam Snead and Micky Wright as an example. The modern swing that creates the massive distances is more of matter of creating wide angles, an extreme club head lag and an explosive move at point of contact. The balata ball of the earlier day would curve widely if hit off center. Pro's controlled the swing just to keep the ball in play. Today's ball enables the player to smash the ball because it flies much straighter and in fact is hard to spin.Very few of today's players work the ball like that. Just Bubba.
larrynjr says:
I've been reading Jimmy Ballard's "How to perfect your golf swing" book this winter and I highly recommend it for all. He takes the parts of Hogan's Five Lessons and using different verbage and imagry to make a very understandable and usable golf swing. The book is available in hard cover from his website but I bought mine via Amazon for less than $30. I expect this to help improve my swing and lower my scoring this season.
larrynjr says:
BTW, Jimmy postulates that it is the right knee (for right handed players) that initiates the downswing and he goes into quite a bit of detail proving it.
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