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The Backswing

The best shot I ever hit was a three-iron into the green of the final hole at the 1992 British Open at Muirfield. I can honestly say the only reason I was able to pull it off, given the pressure, was because I limited my focus to one thing: the first two feet of my take-away. I knew that if I could simply get the clubhead moving away from the ball correctly, low and slow, the rest of the swing would take care of itself. And it did. I put the ball on the green for an easy two-putt par to win my third Open by one stroke over John Cook.

The first move away from the ball is absolutely essential. The hands, arms, stomach and chest must all turn together, as a unit. If you can't manage that, well, good luck, you've got very little chance to hit a good shot. But if you do manage it, you then have only to hinge the wrists and turn the shoulders to complete a perfect backswing. It's as simple as that. I've eliminated the complexity. I sincerely believe that anyone who masters these three easy backswing steps will have a rock-solid golf swing for life.

Before we dive into more particulars, however, I need to make an important point. Instruction tends to overemphasize the static positions in the swing. I guess that's unavoidable. But bear in mind that the ultimate goal is to lace those static elements together into a rhythmic, free-flowing swing. To help, I offer drills that emphasize feel and timing. These drills should be done in that spirit, sometimes with your eyes closed, to engage your full imagination.

1 Start The Club Back

Initiate the backswing by moving the hands, arms, stomach and chest as one unit. As the hands pass the right thigh, the forearms should begin to rotate and the wrists to hinge. The shaft when horizontal should be parallel to the ball-to-target line with the toe of the club pointing straight up.

My watchword for the take-away used to be "slow," but now I think "smooth" is better. Slow is indefinite and worrisome—How slow is slow?How long do I have to go slow?—but smooth is intuitive. No matter how smooth you are, you can always be smoother. The word itself is calming.

And it's certainly better than "snatch." That seems to be the watchword for many amateurs, who start the take-away with a jerk of the hands, followed by the clubhead and then, maybe, rotation of the torso. This common mistake gives the club little chance to get into the correct position at the top and leads to an over-the-top downswing.

Here's a good drill to convey the ideal feel of a synchronized move away from the ball: Take a normal stance and grip way down on a midiron so that the butt end presses into your belly button. Then turn—arms, stomach and chest together—until the shaft points a few inches outside your back foot, no farther. Once you get the hang of it, alternate with a normal take-away, seeing if you can transfer that sensation of a unified turn. It will help to feel as if the upper part of the left arm is exerting pressure on the chest.

Concentrate on keeping the clubhead low to the ground during the crucial first two feet of the take-away. As a drill, lay a tee on the grass about one foot behind the ball and scrape it with the clubhead as you begin the backswing. Some students are bothered by the clubface fanning open as they take it back, but this is as it should be. It proves the club is truly synchronized with the torso.

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