What Is the First Move in the Golf Downswing?

Tom Watson begins his downswing by moving his hips and left heel.
i Phil Inglis/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

There are no unimportant moments in a golf swing, as a mistake at any one point can throw off your swing completely. But perhaps the most important moment, other than the point of impact, is the moment when your backswing transitions into the downswing. If you start the downswing correctly, the chances are good that you won’t have to make the kind of major adjustments that can throw your swing off track.

Top of the Backswing

    A proper downswing won’t be as effective if you’re out of position at the top of the backswing. After completing your backswing most of your weight should rest over the inside of your back foot. Your front knee should be bent, your back knee should be slightly flexed and your back should face the target. If you’ve made a proper shoulder turn your front shoulder will be under your chin, or nearly so, and your hands will be about shoulder height. Your lead arm -- the left arm, for a right-handed player -- should have a very slight flex at the elbow. If you’re not sure about the proper hand position, assume your address position, then lift the club over your back shoulder, moving your forearms while keeping your upper arms still. Turn your hips and shoulders as you would in your backswing, then straighten your lead arm. That’s where your hands should be at the top of your backswing.

Weight Shift

    Conventional wisdom, as Tiger Woods notes in his book, “How I Play Golf,” states that your downswing begins “from the ground up.” Woods begins his downswing by starting to shift his weight from his back foot to the front. That means pushing off a bit with your back foot, to initiate the shift. But be careful not to move your hips too far laterally along the target line. Instead, rotate your hips by turning your back hip toward the ball. If you simply move your hips along the target line your body won’t clear out of the club’s swing path and you’ll almost certainly push your shot.

Early Hip Motion

    Some players believe that the first downswing motion occurs while your arms are just ending the backswing. In Tom Watson’s book “The Timeless Swing,” the former PGA Tour star says the downswing begins with your left heel coming down -- assuming you’ve lifted it on the backswing -- and your left hip turning toward the target. These moves should occur while the shoulders are completing their backswing turn, Watson says.

Common Downswing Mistakes

    Moving your arms and hands too quickly is a common downswing mistake, according to Woods. Instead, let your hands drop naturally, in front of your chest, while you shift your weight forward and begin rotating your hips. Rushing your downswing can throw off your timing, and you’ll likely accelerate too soon; you don’t want to reach maximum clubhead acceleration until the moment of impact. Watson also warns against lifting your lead shoulder at the start of your downswing, which will pull the club too close to your body.

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