How to Swing a Golf ClubPublished on 08/29/2023 · 13 min readMastering your golf game starts with a proper swing! PGA Professional and Curated Golf Expert Brendon Elliott breaks down the fundamentals of how to swing a club.
Photo by Christoph Keil
Golf is a sport that’s both complex and addictive. Millions of people around the globe tee up daily. Some are newbies, and others are more seasoned. Regardless of what ability level a golfer is, many are in pursuit of that elusive perfect swing…or at least something that resembles it.
As a PGA Professional and 27-year veteran of golf and coaching, I have one thing that’s remained my most suggested advice. It’s a straightforward, yet important thing that will bring you enjoyment for decades. Simply put: you must have fun and enjoy yourself on the golf course.
With that critical piece of advice said, I understand that golfers are always looking to play better and swing better than they do currently. This article will provide a step-by-step guide on how to swing a golf club properly. I’ll cover pre-swing fundamentals (posture, grip, alignment, and ball position), as well as the swing itself (backswing, transition, downswing, impact, post-impact/follow-through, and finish). I’ve long believed that knowledge is power, and my intention is to arm you with the knowledge you need to be a better golfer.
This guide can help all golfers, regardless of their ability level. Any golfer will benefit by taking a few minutes daily to learn or brush up on these fundamentals.
Step #1: Getting The Pre-Swing Fundamentals Down
To start, we’ll dive into what’s commonly referred to as the pre-swing fundamentals, which are critical to learn and develop. The pre-swing fundamentals of posture, grip, alignment, and ball position occur before even swinging the club.
These pieces of the golf swing puzzle are essential to ensuring success as you swing the club. The best players in the world always keep the pre-swing fundamentals at the top of their minds, especially when things start to go a little sideways with their game.
Your posture is how you set your body up to the ball. Good posture is the foundation for creating a functional swing, which allows your body to move efficiently. To be a good ball striker, you must align your body such that it can fluidly perform the movements necessary for good shots.
The following are easy-to-follow steps to get into a good golf posture:
- Step #1: Stand erect, as if the back of your head, shoulders, middle back, lower back, and tailbone are against a wall. All along your spine—from the base of your skull, down to your tailbone—envision a strip of Velcro attached. That strip of Velcro is stuck to the wall.
- Step #2: Slowly peel that Velcro off the wall, starting with your head.
- Step #3: After peeling the back of your head off the wall, follow your spine down and slowly peel your shoulders, middle back, and the beginning of your lower back off the wall.
- Step #4: You won’t peel your lower back (just above your hips) off the wall. By leaving this little bit on the wall, you’ll get the upper part of your back more rounded, leaving your hips over the center of your feet. That last part is essential, as many "old school" teachings call for too much arch in the lower back—which creates tension and an inability to turn the body properly throughout the swing.
- Step #5: Lastly, let your arms naturally hang down from your shoulders as you grip the club. Ever so slightly flex your knees, and you’ll feel your weight in the balls of your feet.
In the below video, coaches Eric Cogorno and TJ Yeaton go over the process I’ve outlined here, which is also how I’ve long taught my students to get into good posture:
A proper golf grip is another essential pre-swing fundamental to lock in. Your hands are your body's only connection to the golf club, so a good grip is vital.
The key points of a good grip are relatively simple, but often take some getting used to:
- Step #1: Place your lead hand (left hand for right-handers, right hand for left-handers) on the club—you want the grip/handle to lay across the area where your fingers connect to your palm. From there, close your fingers around the club. Your lead thumb should go down the side of the shaft. Pro Tip: The "v" created with your thumb and forefinger should point over your trail shoulder, as you set the club to the ball.
- Step #2: Now, place your trail hand on the grip/handle. It should go under your lead hand, and lays across the top of your trail fingers. That "v" I mentioned earlier, which comprises the thumb and forefinger, will also point over your trail shoulder at address.
- Step #3: You have a few ways to connect your hands. The interlock grip intertwines the pinky fingers from both hands. The overlap grip has the pinky finger from the trail hand lay on top of the pinky finger from the lead hand. The baseball** **or 10-finger grip is also an option, but one I don’t advise. The hands really should be connected and working as a unit, rather than on their own. Lastly, you mustn't grip the club too tightly. If you do, you’ll create tension that will run up your forearms and into your shoulders, which isn’t good for creating a free-flowing swing.
The Golf Channel's Martin Hall breaks down proper gripping in the video below:
Alignment and Ball Position
The last of the pre-swing fundamentals is no less important than the previous two. Your alignment, stance, and ball position all set you up to swing the club on the correct path.
Here are some steps for getting your alignment and stance on track:
- Step #1: From several feet behind the ball, look at your intended target. Your ball and that intended target should be in line with each other. Draw a line in your mind's eye that goes from behind the ball, through the ball, and straight to the target.
- Step #2: Still several feet behind, pick some object—a blade of grass, a leaf, divot, or anything else you can focus on—on your target line, closer to the ball. This will be your intermediate target, and help you line up to your actual target easier.
- Step #3: Start to walk up to your ball to address it. As you do, focus on that intermediate target. You’ll first set your clubface so it's directly in line with your intermediate target. Don’t worry about your feet just yet.
- Step #4: Now, you’ll set your feet. In doing so, ensure that your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders are stacked on top of each other and parallel left (for righties; parallel right for lefties) to your target line. This is critical.
- Step #5: In general terms, your feet should be shoulder-width apart. You’ll want to be wider than shoulder width for longer clubs, like the driver. Conversely, it’s best to be less than shoulder width for short-irons. Remember my posture instructions as you get set.
Golf Ball Position
If it’s not already obvious, I’m a big fan of fellow coach and prominent golf YouTuber Eric Cogorno. In the video below, Eric runs through one of the easiest methods to correct ball position for every club in your bag:
The Swing Itself
We’ll now tackle the individual parts of the swing. The average golf swing takes only one to one-and-a-half seconds to complete. That’s simply not enough time to think about all the steps here, so don't do so as you swing—you’d never want to do that while playing a golf round. At most, you want to have no more than two “swing thoughts” as you play.
Practice sessions can be a good time to work on your swing and its components, preferably with a reputable coach, such as PGA or LPGA Professional Coach, as your guide.
Step #2: Backswing
Understanding that two processes are happening throughout your golf swing is essential: that is, what your body does, and what your arms, hands, and club do. I’l now break down the swing steps by looking at both processes.
The Body in the Backswing
In terms of the body, you want to understand that it has a rotational movement. Your hips rotate roughly 45°, and your upper body and shoulders rotate about 90°, around the fixed point of your spine, as you swing back. That difference of approximately 45° between the lower and upper body is essential as you go back in your swing. In doing so, you create a powerful coil that builds potential energy, which can be released from your downswing into the ball.
Additionally, as you rotate your body back in the swing, you shift the pressure into your trail foot. While your center of mass (COM) mostly stays over the ball and in line with your spine, about 80% of your center of pressure (COP) goes to your trail foot, once you reach the top of your backswing.
The Arms, Hands, and Club in the Backswing
The arms, hands, and club should work together throughout the swing. As the body rotates around the spine and shifts pressure into your trail foot, arms, and hands, the club works back on a swing plane, roughly the same degree of your shaft during setup. That angle varies slightly depending on the player, their body type, and any set-up nuances, which we all tend to have.
The arms, hands, and club will move together initially. As the backswing begins, the clubface stays square to the target line, and the arms and hands follow suit. You want to think low, slow, and wide in the initial takeaway.
Right before the halfway-back position—right around hip height—the wrists start to hinge the club slightly. The shaft will roughly move up toward your trail shoulder as the club hinges. At the top of the backswing (for a standard shot), your hands are just above your shoulder, your lead wrist and back of your lead hand are flat, and your clubface is in line with the back of that lead hand.
In the video below, renowned golf coach Sean Foley explains the correct sequencing of the body, arms, hands, and club in the backswing.
Step #3: Transition
The transition in the swing happens in a split second, but doing it correctly is critical for good ball striking. So what is it? The transition is the change of direction from the backswing into the downswing. The biggest thing to understand about the transition is that it begins a fraction of a second before your hands reach the top of the backswing.
The transition is the start of your pressure shift into the lead side. In this move, you’re slightly falling into your lead foot with your pressure. Again, this is not your weight or center mass, which should stay in line with your spine and over the ball. This shift instead moves your pressure from your trail foot into your lead foot. After this pressure shift, your body will start to unwind, and your hands, arms, and club will move down towards the ball on a slightly shallower plane than they went back on.
The following from Coach Eric Cogorno (again!) looks more in-depth at the transition:
Step #4: Downswing
Understanding the proper downswing sequence, and how it’s supposed to fall in line, is your first step to perfect your move down into the ball.
The following is the proper downswing sequence, after that initial pressure shift forward during the transition:
- First: Your hips start to unwind.
- Second: Your upper torso or shoulders start to unwind.
- Third: The hands and club move down a little shallower than they were in the backswing. The wrist hinge you created in the backswing remains in place as you move down.
During this sequence of unwinding the body, you continue to shift your pressure into your lead side. Your spine and center mass stay over the ball as you unwind.
The following video is an excellent look at correct downswing sequence:
Step #5: Impact
The impact position is the moment of truth in the swing, and where the rubber meets the road. This is when the clubface finally makes contact with the ball.
As you close into the all-important impact position, you want to make sure of a few things:
- Your hips, at this point, are cleared and out of the way.
- Your belt buckle or belly button is past the ball.
- Your trail shoulder is pointing toward the ball as the upper torso unwinds.
- Your hands are leading and slightly ahead of the ball.
- Your lead wrist is flat, and the back of that hand is facing the target.
- The face of the clubface is square to the ball and facing the target.
- Pressure or weight is almost entirely off the trail foot, and instead on the lead.
Coach Clay Ballard walks through the impact position in the video below:
Step #6: Post-Impact or Follow-Through
Once the ball has left the clubface, there’s still more for your club and body to do before you can call the swing complete. It’ll help tremendously if you don’t think of impact as the final destination. Because if that were the case, your swing wouldn’t have the pop and speed needed to be effective.
With post-impact and follow-through, you’re continuing to unwind your body, unhinge the club, and move your hands closer to their final destination at the finish. The club should be released entirely—roughly 30-to-45° post-impact. In other words, your arms and club are straight and in line at this point.
Coach Clay Ballard (once again!) explains post-impact and follow-through in the video below:
Step #7: Finish
A good finish position is the result of everything else falling in place before the end of your swing. In a good finish position, you should see the following key checkpoints:
- Weight and pressure are completely on your lead side.
- Your lower and upper body are completely rotated.
- You have good balance.
I always advise my students to consider their finish, and being in good balance, as the goal before swinging. If you keep them in mind, there’s a higher likelihood of all the steps prior happening correctly. This is no guarantee, but it surely helps.
Lastly, here’s one more video from Eric Cogorno, on how to get your best finish:
Next Steps for Your Golf Swing
I hope this guide has helped you understand how a proper golf swing works. Golf and the act of swinging are very involved, so not every nuance was covered. For example, speed and tempo. The big thing to know about that is that you should strive for a 3:1 ratio, with your downswing being three times as fast as your backswing.
The best way to tackle learning and perfecting your swing is to look at it as a process. One of the best ways to manage that process, in my experience, is to work with a reputable PGA or LPGA Coach. Also, feel free to reach out to a Curated Golf Expert for personalized advice, if you have any lingering questions or any other golf-related needs.