Breaking Down the Golf Downswing: A Simple Explanation

How do you nail the perfect downswing? In this article, I’ll break down some key points, offer a few drills and insights to help you amp up your downswing and improve your golf game. We’re gonna dive into some detailed stuff, but if you’re after a simpler guide, check out this article on how to swing a golf club.

Understanding the Theory vs. Putting a Great Downswing into Action

Now, let’s talk about something that can be a bit tricky – diving deep into the mechanics of the downswing might not always be helpful for golfers right off the bat. Sometimes, overthinking the moves can actually hinder your ability to have a smooth and dynamic downswing. Knowing what you need to do is crucial for learning, but once you’ve got that down, it’s all about getting back to the natural flow of your swing and hitting the ball.

To guide you through this process, I’ve divided this article into sections. We’ll start with the goals of the downswing, the sequence, and mechanics, and then move on to some drills and tips that will help you refine your downswing mechanics without gain too grab up in your head.

The Goal of a Stellar Downswing

As your club reaches the top of the backswing, it comes to a halt at 0mph. The purpose of the downswing is to rev up the club head from 0mph to a high speed at impact, creating the perfect conditions to smack that golf ball right where you want it. A successful downswing does the following:

  • Maximizes and controls club head speed
  • Hits the ball right in the center of the club face
  • Keeps the club face square through impact
  • Follows a pretty straight path through impact
  • Controls the angle of the club face and the loft at impact
  • Manages the angle between the club head and the ball

Breaking Down the Downswing

Breaking the downswing into easy-to-understand parts is quite a challenge. So, we’ll start by tackling the sequence of movements and the dynamics of the body, because these elements play a crucial role in generating club head speed and the movements needed for a solid strike.

After that, we’ll dive into the arms, hands, and club head. We’ll chat about how they impact your swing path and the angle of the club face, and how these factors connect to accuracy.

The Downswing Sequence – How Your Body Moves

The downswing sequence can feel like a tricky puzzle for budding golfers to solve. Sure, great golfers tend to move in similar ways, but there’s no one-size-fits-all step-by-step sequence. Instead, it’s all about a smooth motion through impact, until everything unwinds towards your target.

We’ve gone to the extent of placing markers on their bodies to create a model of how their skeletons move. They even stood on force plates to show the kind of force they apply to the ground with each foot.

What you’ll likely gather from watching this video is a general downswing sequence:

  • Shifting your weight forward onto your front foot.
  • Rotating your rear and chest towards the target.
  • Your arms and hands extending as you hit and beyond.

If you can nail the first two steps, the hands and arms should naturally follow suit. The fancy term for this chain of events is the “kinematic sequence.” Now, we could get into the nitty-gritty for ages, but if you’re here to step up your golf game, remember these two key things:

  • Top-notch golfers tend to shift their weight and move their lower body before the upper body and arms get going. This is a general trend – no secret formula here.
  • What you feel and what you do can be quite different. Sometimes, you might have to exaggerate a certain sensation just to get that feeling of being “in-sync.” Even elite golfers deal with this.

Kicking Off the Downswing

This brings us to the next big question – how do you start the downswing? Most beginners rely too much on their upper body and hands, neglecting the lower body. So, for many golfers, it’s all about going beyond and overemphasizing that shift of weight and the rotation of the lower body. But as you progress in your skills, you might run into the opposite issue – excessive sliding and rotation of the lower body. In that case, the start of your downswing might need to feel like you’re putting all your upper body and arm power into it.

Lucky for you, I’ve got a couple of drills later on in this article to help you get the hang of starting the downswing, no matter which camp you fall into.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning a final point about improving your downswing and golf game – in reality, there’s no strict separation between the backswing and the downswing. We simplify things by talking about them as distinct phases, but when you’re hitting that golf ball, it’s all one fluid motion – a turn back and a turn through.

Think about it like this: when you’re throwing something, you can’t just practice the acceleration phase or just the upward phase of a jump. Those actions are interconnected and require a seamless transition. Same goes for the golf swing – while practicing specific parts can be useful, remember that the golf swing is a step-by-step sequence.

Alright, let’s break down the downswing in golf in a more relatable way. Remember, the way your body moves is what generates the power and force needed for a solid impact. Think of the arms, hands, and club as the controls that fine-tune how the club hits the ball. These factors play a big role in determining your swing path and the club’s position at impact, which ultimately affects your accuracy.

Now, your hands and arms usually follow your body’s lead

 Thanks to the energy your body generates. So, before you start fussing about your hands and arms, focus on improving your body movement first.

Check out the image below showing top-notch players at the peak of their backswing. Notice how they all have different arm, hand, and club positions. That’s why there’s no one-size-fits-all advice for how your arms and hands should be during the downswing.

Perfect golf swing top players

When the mass skilled golfers get halfway down (see the images below), the club head is aligned with their right forearm. This sweet spot is important for a solid hit. Keep in mind, even though two amazing golfers might look similar. A closer look reveals differences in hip and shoulder rotation angles.

Perfect golf swing pre impact

Here’s the key takeaway: their clubs are in the right spot to make a clean impact, and their bodies are positioned to unwind while staying balanced. So, when aiming for a perfect downswing, focus on these goals rather than nailing a specific static position. Remember, even pros like Rory and Tiger have different approaches, and the same goes for you and me.

Now, let’s talk about the golf downswing plane

 We often call the movement of the arms and club head the “downswing plane,” but that’s a misleading term. It’s more like a path. The arms, hands, and club head all follow a similar path.

Imagine a line up the club shaft during setup. As you swing back, the club follows that line until it reaches the top position. As you start the downswing, the club head follows that same line down to impact.

the golf downswing plane explained. Note how the arms, hands and club head fall towards the red line as the player moves through their downswing.

Here’s the deal: getting your body mechanics right is the key to this whole movement. When you do it correctly, your arms naturally fall into the right position.

Now, most golfers start with poor posture, which messes up their body movement during the swing. They end up compensating by flinging their arms at the ball during the downswing. This leads to the dreaded casting action and a bad swing path. So, skip the fancy training aids and focus on improving your setup and body mechanics.

Improving your golf downswing is no small feat, but here’s some general advice to consider:

  • If your club head is coming from outside/above the red line (see above), you’re likely to have an out-to-in swing path (resulting in pulls, fades, or slices). To fix this, focus on shifting your weight and rotating your lower body, keep your right elbow close to your side. And make sure the club head points behind you during the downswing.
  • If your club head is entering inside/below the red line, you might have an in-to-out swing path (leading to pushes, draws, or hooks). To adjust, concentrate on keeping your lower body stable, rotating your chest as you start down. And having the club head point skyward during the downswing.

Ready for some drills? These will help you improve your downswing without getting too technical.

Connected Swing Drill: Put a towel under your arms to force your body to rotate rather than slide. This helps if you tend to move your body instead of turning or if your arms become disconnected from your torso.

Step Drill: This drill teaches you how to shift your weight during the downswing. It’s a bit challenging, but worth it. Start by watching the video below to get the hang of it. You can eventually practice hitting a golf ball with a mid-iron using this drill.

Club Face Control Drill: Check out the article on club face control during the downswing. There are videos from pros like Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. Tommy’s insights are particularly valuable for understanding how elite players square up their club face during the downswing and impact.

So, the goal of a solid downswing is to get the club to hit the ball with speed and accuracy. While there’s no magic formula for everyone, where your club is halfway down can give you a good idea of what’s coming next.

I hope this article has been helpful. I took my time explaining this topic because I believe focusing on these key points will improve your golf game more than anything else. If you’ve got any questions about the downswing, drop them in the comments below, and I’ll add a Q&A section to this article. And hey, if you want more articles like this. Join the Golf Insider weekly post for some free knowledge every Monday.

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