One of the greatest pleasures in golf—I can think of nothing that truly compares with it unless it is watching a well-played shot streak for the flag—is the sensation a golfer experiences at the instant he contacts the ball flush and correctly. He always knows when he does, for then and only then does a distinctive "sweet feeling" sweep straight up the shaft from the clubhead and surge through his arms and his whole frame. Not even the best golfer can hit the ball this well on every shot, for golf, in essence, is a game of misses. Every seasoned, sensible golfer knows this, and, accordingly, he tries to build a swing that is so basically sound that his "misses" are, in truth, not bad golf shots at all—fairly well struck, accurate enough, eminently serviceable.
In this chapter we will be taking up the phase of the swing in which the player actually hits the ball. This second section of the swing—from the start of the downswing to the finish of the follow-through—is the most crucial part, necessarily. This is where everything a player does from the moment he takes his club from the bag either pays off or doesn't. Since, in the method we are teaching, each action is the direct result of preceding actions in the chain-action sequence of the swing, it strikes me that it would be extremely profitable, before tackling the downswing, to review briefly the plane of the backswing. As we brought out last week, staying on his plane as he swings back is a golfer's best insurance of being in a correct and powerful position at that critical juncture where his backswing ends and the downswing begins.
As he addresses the ball, the golfer creates the angle of the plane of his backswing: the plane inclines along this imaginary line running from the ball to the top of his shoulders and on upward at that established angle of inclination. If a golfer rotates his shoulders on this plane and swings his arms and club back on this plane—neither dropping them below the plane nor, what is much more disastrous, lifting them above the plane—then at the top of his backswing his left arm will be extended at an angle to the ball identical with the angle of the plane. In terms of functioning, which is more to our point, the shoulders, arms and hands will then be in a perfect position to carry out their interrelated movements on the downswing.
Learning to think in terms of this plane has helped tremendously to improve and stabilize the swings of many friends of mine. Like no other visual suggestion, it seems to induce a golfer to make the correct backswing movements TIME AFTER TIME. He folds the right elbow in, just as he should; his left arm is fully extended but not rigid, just as it should be; he completes his full shoulder turn; his hands cock themselves naturally, without any conscious effort, and the back of his left hand is an unbroken extension of the line of his left wrist and forearm. Not only are his arms and the upper part of his body correctly aligned throughout the backswing, but these various component parts tend to be poised TIME AFTER TIME with the proper degree of live, stretched muscular tension ready to be released on the downswing.
When I am studying and evaluating a golfer's swing, I always make it a point to check how well he adheres to his plane on the backswing. Standing several yards behind him and facing down his line of flight, I slant my forearm and hand (with the fingers extended and joined as in a salute) along the angle of his plane. As he swings back, I can then observe whether or not he stays on the plane throughout his backswing. If he doesn't, then I know that this golfer's swing is not soundly constructed and will not be able to repeat under pressure.
On the downswing, a golfer swings on a slightly different plane than on the backswing. THE PLANE FOR THE DOWNSWING IS LESS STEEPLY INCLINED AND IS ORIENTED WITH THE BALL QUITE DIFFERENTLY FROM THE BACKSWING PLANE. The golfer gets on this second plane—without thinking he is changing planes—when he turns his hips back to the left at the start of the downswing. This moves his body to the left and automatically lowers the right shoulder. You will remember last week that, in introducing the backswing plane, we suggested that the golfer-reader imagine that at address his head is sticking out through a hole in an immense pane of glass that rests on his shoulders as it slants up from the ball. Now, on the downswing, as the body moves to the left and the right shoulder is automatically lowered, this causes the pane of glass to be shifted into a different position. Its lateral axis is no longer in line with the line of flight. It points slightly to the right of the target. (The pane is also tilted so that the leading edge is raised off the ground.) WHEN THE GOLFER IS ON THIS CORRECT DOWNSWING PLANE, HE HAS TO HIT FROM THE INSIDE OUT. When he hits from the inside out, he can get maximum strength into his swing and obtain maximum clubhead speed. Moreover, he has no need to compensate in any way or at any stage of his swing. (Not to get ahead of the story, but if a golfer starts his downswing incorrectly with his shoulders or hands and not with his hips, he cannot get onto the proper plane or hit from the inside out. However, if he starts down correctly by turning his hips, he's all set. He's got to hit from the inside out. He's practically the "captive" of his own good swing.)
While it is dynamically important for a golfer not to depart from his plane at any time during the second part of his swing, being consciously attentive to it does not help him the way a consciousness of his backswing plane promotes a fine, functional backswing. Consequently, my advice would be to know that this downswing plane exists and have it at the back of your mind but to concentrate chiefly on making the one or two key movements which will really do something for you on the downswing.
THE HIPS INITIATE THE DOWNSWING. They are the pivotal element in the chain action. Starting them first and moving them correctly—this one action practically makes the downswing. It creates early speed. It transfers the weight from the right foot to the left foot. It takes the hips out of the way and gives your arms plenty of room to pass. It funnels your force forward toward your objective. It puts you in a strong hitting position where the big muscles in the back and the muscles in the shoulders, arms and hands are properly delayed so that they can produce their maximum performance at the right time and place.
To begin the downswing, TURN YOUR HIPS BACK TO THE LEFT. THERE MUST BE ENOUGH LATERAL MOTION FORWARD TO TRANSFER THE WEIGHT TO THE LEFT FOOT. The path the hips take on the downswing is not the exact same path they traveled as they were turned on the backswing. On the downswing, their "arc" should be a trifle wider—both as regards the amount of lateral motion and the amount of eventual rotation around to the rear.
This turning of the hips is activated by several sets of muscles which work together. THE CONTRACTED MUSCLES OF THE LEFT HIP AND THE MUSCLES ALONG THE INSIDE OF THE LEFT THIGH START TO SPIN THE LEFT HIP AROUND TO THE LEFT. AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME, THE MUSCLES OF THE RIGHT HIP AND THE MUSCLES OF THE RIGHT THIGH-BOTH THE INSIDE AND THE POWERFUL OUTSIDE THIGH MUSCLES-START TO MOVE THE RIGHT HIP FORWARD. In order for them to do this work, these muscles must be stretched taut with tension that is just waiting for the golfer's signal to be released. This tension is built up on the back-swing by retarding the hips but rotating the shoulders fully around. If you permit the hips to turn too much on the backswing, this tension and torsion are lost and then there's nothing to start them forward. IMAGINE THAT, AT ADDRESS, ONE END OF AN ELASTIC STRIP IS FASTENED TO A WALL DIRECTLY BEHIND YOUR LEFT HIP AND THAT THE OTHER END IS FASTENED TO YOUR LEFT HIPBONE. AS THE SHOULDERS TURN THE HIPS ON THE BACK-SWING, THE ELASTIC IS STRETCHED WITH INCREASED TENSION. WHEN YOU START TURNING THE HIPS TO THE LEFT, THE ELASTIC WILL SNAP BACK TO THE LEFT WITH TREMENDOUS SPEED. Same thing with the hips. The greater the tension, the faster you can move them. The faster the hips move, the better. They can't go too fast.