The Critical Transition Factor
In my opinion, one of the most misunderstood areas of the golf swing is the transition from backswing to downswing, but I don’t read much on this in the golf publications. So, here’s my take on the subject.

Whether it’s a short putt, chip or pitch, half wedge, full iron or driver swing, there is a point where the club’s motion in the backswing has to come to a complete stop – even if for just a nano-second – and reverse direction into the forward swing. What makes this even more difficult is that it is not just the club that is stopping and reversing direction, but the entire body from the feet up through the body core, shoulders, arms and hands.

In my observation, most golfers have a transition that is much too quick and jerky, as they are apparently in a hurry to generate clubhead speed into the downswing and through impact. But, just as you (hopefully) begin your backswing with a slow take-away from the ball, a proper start to the downswing is also a slower move, starting from this complete stop and building to maximum clubhead speed just past impact. If you will work on your transition, your ball striking and distance will improve, as will your accuracy on your short shots and putts. Let’s start there.

With pitches, chips and putts, your primary objective is to apply just the exact amount of force to propel the ball the desired distance. In order to do that, you move the club slower, as that allows more precision. I like to think of the pendulum on a grandfather clock as my guide to tempo and transition. As the weight goes back and forth, it comes to a complete stop at each end, and achieves maximum speed at the exact bottom of the arc. If you put that picture in your head when you chip and putt, you will develop a tempo that forces a smooth transition at the end of the backswing.

The idea is to achieve a gradual acceleration from the end of the backswing to the point of impact, but the whole swing is likely much slower than yours is currently. Do not be in a hurry to force this acceleration, as that causes a quick jab with the hands, because the shoulder rotation and slight body rotation cannot move that quickly from its end-of-backswing rotation. Drawing on that grandfather clock visual, hold your wedge or putter by the very end of the grip with two fingers, and get it moving like the clock pendulum – back and through. Watch the tempo and transition and try to mimic that with your chipping tempo. No faster, no slower.

A great exercise is to have a friend hold a club in this manner right in front of you while you are practicing your chipping stroke and try to “shadow” that motion with your swings. You will likely find that your transition is much too fast and jerky to give you the results you are after. But practice this and your short range transition will become really solid and repeatable. From there, it’s just a matter of extending the length of the swing to mid-range pitches, full short irons, mid-irons, fairway woods and driver – all while feeling for that gradual transition that makes for great timing, sequencing and tempo.
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[ comments ]
birdieXris says:
it's funny reading this because as i was growing up, everyone i ran into kept telling me "Did you know you have a little pause at the top of your swing?" to which my answer was "yea. everybody does". The head tilts and such that i got were the funniest thing ever. I definitely agree that a lot of the golfers out there have no idea what a transition is or even have an idea of a "transitional pause". I've been teaching my fiancée how to play and this has been the hardest thing for her to learn. She wants to start the club traveling down right away and it's just become a battle.
homermania says:
I look to Sir Charles Barkley for a great example of "transitional pause".
birdieXris says:
+1 homermania
jcstoll says:
You make it sound like at the top of the backswing, everything should stop at the same time. I was under the impression that the hip rotation should reverse before the club does, to get more of coiled spring effect.
Tim Horan says:
You know that thick Gymnasium rope (indian rope I think)that you used to climb as kids at school. I was told that if you imagine your club is made of that type of rope and that it must finish it's backswing motion before you can start your downswing motion. So as you get to the top of your backswing you have to wait for the rope (club) to uncoil before transition to the downswing. If it was made of rope you would likely end up with a rope burn on your neck as you drag the rope back too soon or too agressively. This swing thought engenders a great feeling for tempo and encourages accelleration as the club progresses through the downswing. This image of the club made of rope also promotes a high smooth finish. Again if it was made of rope it would wrap itself around you at follow through.
SD Charlie says:
I know that when I have a controlled transition, my tempo is in good shape. Those are the days that usually end up with good rounds. When my transition is quick and jerky, my ball-striking, distance, accuracy, you name it suffers and the strokes pile on. Cheers!
jpjeffery says:
What a coincidence, after I played 18 on Tuesday I noticed much the same thing. When I calmed down and briefly paused (or at least didn't rush) at the top of my swing I generally hit better shots.

If I'd realised earlier, and then remembered each time after I remembered, I'm sure I'd have scored better than 121.
mountaineer says:
Excellent post and great advice.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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