Golf is a sport that is all about rhythm, tempo, timing and feel.
In order to be a good player, you need your upper and lower body, your feet and your hands all working together in unison – which can take months, even years to perfect.
So, what should the golf swing feel like?
The golf swing should feel effortless, with minimal tension. Think of it like a coiled spring: as you rotate and load into the backswing, you are storing up energy (just as a coiled spring would) before releasing all that energy – in one sweeping downswing motion – through the ball at impact.
Considering the average professional golfer takes only one second to complete their swing from start to finish (usually 0.75 seconds for the backswing, and 0.25 seconds for the downswing), there’s a lot of specific movements that need to happen in a very short space of time.
It’s why golf is one of the hardest sports in the world to master.
For many amateur golfers, especially those new to the game, it can be difficult knowing how the golf swing should feel, and often in seeking the answer they actually get farther and farther away from the truth.
Nothing sums it up better than this famous quote from golf legend Ben Hogan:
Reverse every natural instinct and do the opposite of what you are inclined to do, and you will probably come very close to having a perfect golf swing.
The best advice I ever received was this: in the perfect golf swing, the ball gets hit by the swing – you don’t swing to hit the ball.
What does that mean, you ask? Well, it’s simple.
Many mid-to-high handicap golfers get so fixated on the ball that they tend to hit at it, rather than sweeping through it (with the ideal feeling being the ball simply getting collected by the clubface on the way through).
Hitting at the ball can result in a jabby, stabby swing with no tempo, which makes it extremely difficult to develop consistent ball-striking and begin lowering your scores.
In this article, I’m going to take you through how each key element of the golf swing should feel – having done extensive research on the topic in pursuit of my own perfect swing feelings – and what you can do to improve.
Table of contents
The importance of tempo
Many amateur golfers get so caught up in tweaking their grip, or getting into the right backswing position, or rotating their hips open that they forget arguably the most important element to the golf swing – tempo.
I know this because I’m regularly guilty of it myself.
I get so fixated on making sure I’m hitting all the ‘textbook’ positions that any kind of feel or touch goes completely out the window when it comes to making my swing.
Swing tempo is everything – but there are some misconceptions around swing tempo that I want to clear up.
How hard should I swing the golf club?
Many amateurs think to swing with tempo, they have to slow their swing down – which couldn’t be any farther from the truth.
As golf instructor Jim McLean put it:
People coming to my golf schools are actually trying to swing the club slower, (whereas) it’s exactly the opposite prescription for success. They’re doing it absolutely incorrectly. A slow swing produces short golf shots, and a slow tempo will kill you.
Unless you’re tour pros Hideki Matsuyama or Sung-jae Im, having a super slow backswing – in an effort to improve tempo – will actually hurt your game because if you take the club back slowly, there needs to be a huge, violent change of direction in order to create any club speed.
This results in anything but a smooth, rhythmic swing.
Check out McLean explaining his philosophy around swing speed and tempo in the video below:
How to perfect swing tempo
There are two key drills that many online instructors recommend to improve your swing speed, and tempo (and trust me, you’re going to love them).
Drill #1 – Swing as hard as you can
I know, you’re probably thinking: how is swinging hard going to help my tempo? But let me explain.
When amateurs think about improving swing tempo, they think they have to be super controlled, and slow, during the backswing and downswing when in fact it’s the opposite.
To get you swinging the club with more fluency, do the following:
- At the end of your range session, try hitting 20 balls as hard as you possibly can while counting 1,2 in your head (you should reach the top of your backswing on the count of 1, and strike the ball on the count of 2)
- Don’t worry about whether the ball goes straight or not; the focus should be on removing any stops and stutters in your swing
- After 20 shots, try hitting 10 balls at 90 percent
You’ll find after time and regular practice, doing this drill will not only improve the smoothness in your takeaway and downswing, it will also increase your club head speed dramatically.
Drill #2 – Use a swing tempo aid
The SKLZ swing tempo training aid is a flexible club with a weight on the end, which works to create the feeling of lag and applying maximum speed at the bottom of the swing arc – rather than pulling too hard from the top of the backswing.
You can get one for a decent price on Amazon (but you can also generate a similar result by putting two wedges together in your hand and swinging them at the same time).
Before you begin your practice session or round:
- Take 20 swings with the SKLZ training aid or using two wedges, feeling the weight of the club head creating that ‘whoosh’ sound right before impact
- If you really want to see fast improvement, doing this every day will train your body to move smoothly and rhythmically throughout the swing with great tempo
Get your grip pressure right
Regardless of whether you have a strong grip, neutral grip or weak grip – or use an interlocking grip, overlapping grip, or 10-finger baseball grip – one important element in the golf swing that is often overlooked is grip pressure.
In reality, it doesn’t really matter about the manner in which you grip the club – professional players use all different kinds of grip variations (especially when it comes to putting) – so long as you have a grip pressure that is right for you.
Amateur players may think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to how hard you should grip the club, but in actual fact this is not true.
As golf instructor Eric Cogorno put it:
There is no such thing as a perfect grip pressure.
I’ve taught a lot of golf lessons in the past decade or so, and spoken to a lot of players, and there has never been a constant where they all said ‘hey Eric, I’ve have a 4/10 grip pressure or I’ve got a 7/10, or I grip it really light or grip it really tight’.
I’ve seen some good players who grip their club very, very light – think of Fred Couples who feels like he’s barely holding onto the club – and I’ve talked to other people who said they grip the club really tight, and both of them have won PGA tour events or shoot under par.
There is no such thing as ‘correct’.
But, in saying that, Cogorno advocates two key tips/feelings when it comes to finding a grip pressure that is right for you.
#1 Keep your arms loose
If you’re a player who prefers a tight grip, you have to make sure your arms remain loose.
You can still maintain relaxed arms while holding the club firmly.
Where players get into trouble with a tight grip is when they have tight everything – meaning, tight grips, tight arms, locked arms at address – which can create problems with movement later on.
#2 Grip pressure feels constant
Regardless of whether you grip the club with a 3/10 tightness or 8/10 tightness, it’s important to retain that same level of pressure throughout the entire swing.
A lot of amateurs will increase their grip pressure as they begin their takeaway, which can kill their tempo.
Maintaining the feeling of a constant grip pressure will help you move more freely and consistently through the ball.
If you’re not sure how to grip the club, something like the SKLZ Golf Grip Trainer is a great attachment you can clip onto the handle of your driver or irons in order to show where your hands should go.
Perfect a neutral, relaxed stance
If there’s one feeling you should try and maintain throughout the entire swing, it’s balance – and the way you set-up and address the golf ball has a big influence on achieving that.
As I described in more detail in another post, the human body will always, subconsciously, try to find the most neutral position possible, and the golf swing is no different.
Many amateurs make the mistake of being too hunched over, or standing too far away from the golf ball, or having their legs too wide or too narrow at address, that when they attempt their swing their body will – without thinking – stand up, mainly because it is most comfortable for it to do so.
Ideally, you should feel relaxed and balanced when standing over the golf ball.
To create the perfect set-up position, you should stand with your feet shoulder width apart – you should be able to reach the ball while keeping your armpits over the balls of your feet (if they don’t line up, it means you’re either too close or too far away from the ball).
While this may not give the appearance of the ‘textbook, athletic set-up’ (often your back may be a little rounded by maintaining balance as described above), but it will allow you to move far more efficiently through impact.
As popular YouTube golf instructor George Gankas, who coaches PGA star Matthew Wolff, advocates: “I like crappy posture into good posture (at impact)”.
Hear him talk about this important philosophy in the video below (trust me, it will shatter some of the common teaching practices around ‘proper’ set-up):
The takeaway: Keep it low, slow and loaded
The feeling of the perfect takeaway is so important in the golf swing, but unfortunately for many amateurs it’s made far more complicated than it needs to be.
Many mid-to-high handicappers, instead of sweeping the club back in one, smooth motion, will take the club back too far inside or outside the swing plane, which can create some consistency issues when arriving at the top of the backswing (and moving back into the downswing).
Other players will be so focused on taking the club back into the correct positions that they will keep their arms too stiff and rigid, making it virtually impossible to swing with any speed, freedom and tempo.
The perfect takeaway should feel like one fluent, simple, sweeping motion where the shoulders, arms and hands move in unison away from the golf ball as you turn into your trail hip before reaching the top of your backswing.
Instructor Clay Ballard, from Top Speed Golf, describes how you can achieve this in four easy steps:
#1 Weight shift
As you take the club away, maintaining relaxed, straight arms, you should feel your weight shift to the inside of your right foot (for a right-handed golfer), with pressure near the ball of your foot and not your heel.
Having shifted your weight correctly, the next step is to feel like you are kicking your foot away from your body as you continue your backswing.
This will load your right hip correctly and open it up, which will help generate serious power.
#3 Shoulder turn
You should always feel like the butt-end of your club is pointed towards your chest as you take the club away from the ball.
By the time the club is parallel to the ground, waist high, your chest should be rotated 90 degrees open away from the target.
This will stop you simply picking the club up with your hands and arms only, while neglecting to use your shoulders.
#4 Lift the arms
Once you’ve reached that parallel position in your takeaway, all that is left to do is to feel your arms lift over your right should to complete the top of your backswing.
In reality, because you’re swinging on an arc, it’s going to naturally find the correct position at the top.
Check out the video below where Ballard explains these four movements in more detail:
Downswing feels: Keep your chest and hands in unison
If there’s one feeling that best summarises the ideal downswing, it’s ‘connected’.
Without maintaining connection, there are two big traps golfers can fall into as they move into impact.
- Hands can be left behind as the chest and body rotates, causing the golfer to get ‘stuck’ during the downswing, leading to blocks or hooks
- Hands can move too quickly towards the ball from the top of the backswing, leading to steepening of the shaft (resulting in over-the-top slices), poor rotation and early extension
Golf instructor Monte Scheinblum, in the video below, describes how players should feel like their wrists and forearms stay as close as possible together during the entire swing, and that their hands continue moving in front of their chest during the downswing.
Scheinblum gives the example of one of his own students, who had a really bad habit of separating his arms before impact and trying to ‘scoop’ the ball off the ground, which lead to weak shots with almost no penetration through the air.
Drill #1 Maintaining connection
To keep your hands, arms and chest connected during the downswing, Scheinblum details a really easy but effective drill to practice connection.
This is what you need to do:
- Place a Tour Striker Smart Ball (you can get a cheaper duplicate off Amazon that will work just as well) around your neck, and adjust so that the ball sits between your forearms
- Set-up to the ball as you normally would
- Take abbreviated half swings with no more than a 7-iron to start with, feeling like you are playing a punch shot while squeezing the ball with your arms
- As you get more confident, start hitting balls using a full swing
- Throughout this drill, the ball should never escape your arms (if it has, it means your arms have separated and you’ve lost connection)
I’ve used the Tour Striker Smart Ball myself on the range, and I can tell you it works wonders for practicing connection in your swing.
The benefits are you will rotate better through impact, strike the ball way more solid, and hit it far straighter.
If you don’t have a Tour Striker Smart Ball you can try using a golf head cover as a substitute, but for how good this swing aid is, I would definitely recommend paying the small price to get one.
Ideal impact: Feel the compression
The most important part of the golf swing, without a doubt, is impact.
All the best players in the world have slightly different looking backswings and downswing transitions, but almost all of them look virtually identical at impact – with open hips, a slightly bent trail elbow and a forward-leaning shaft three common traits among the best ball-strikers on the planet.
At impact, you should feel like you are covering the golf ball. What does that mean, you ask?
As I described in greater depth in another article, covering the golf ball is when the player feels like their chest is working down towards the ball during the downswing.
What this does is help maintain spine angle and prevent early extension of the hips and torso (stopping you from standing up out of your posture), which in turn makes it easier to control the club face and low-point of your swing – meaning you’ll compress the ball better, more often, leading to better consistency.
For more on what covering the ball should feel like, and some great drills to practice it, check out my other article.
Hold that balanced finish position
The last, but often overlooked, piece to the perfect golf swing is the finish position.
The classic pose you’ll see from the best players on the PGA Tour (think Rory McIlroy) is them posted up on their straight left leg (for right-handed golfers) after impact, with complete balance.
If you’ve ever headed down to your local driving range and watched amateurs hit balls, you’ll very rarely see this finishing position – instead, you’ll see players leaning back on their trail leg, overbalancing as they make contact, or completely missing the ball altogether.
Often, this is because mid-to-high handicappers have poor tempo (which as we detailed earlier is an extremely important part of the swing) or struggle to shift their weight into their lead side.
Why the finish position is so important
Golfers often ignore the positive effects of visualising a good finish position – but perfecting it can move you one step closer to a better golf swing.
As YouTube golf instructor Peter Finch explains:
If I hit the ball and swing through, and come up to a full follow-through position so that the club is right around the back of my head, I’m in a balanced position up on my (trail) toe, my chest and my hips have rotated to the left of the target … it might look nice, but also it’s telling me my chest and my hips have fully rotated.
With my arms transported around my body, I know that I’ve extended them through fully and not left anything behind.
And as I’m in a balanced position I know my swing was generally in balance.
If I hold this position, I know at least some of those things have been happening correctly within my technique.
See Finch’s full explanation in the video below:
So, what’s the best way to practice this?
Finch advocates the use of visualisation as the best way to improve your finish position, which can be achieved by following these simple steps:
- Pick out a player you admire, who has good rhythm (think Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy etc)
- Watch some videos of their swings and study what their finish position is like
- Go to the driving range and try and replicate that finish position
- In your mind, feel like you’re trying to get to that identical, balanced position after every swing, and try to hold it for a few seconds
What this will do is, over time, train your body to move with better tempo; prevent overswinging; and improve the overall balance and feel of your swing.
There are so many different feelings throughout the golf swing that it can be easy to forget them from time to time.
Whenever you’re struggling for tempo or balance, come back to this article and refresh your mind.
Practicing some of the drills and feelings detailed above will (if you remain dedicated at the driving range and on the course over time) improve your golf swing dramatically and have you feeling in full control of your game.