What your head should do in the golf swing is a popular topic on any golf forum – acres of the internet are dedicated to it. If you do some research you will find it impossible to find a recommendation to ‘keep your head down’ from any respected golf coach. Every day, on every golf course in the world players cite this as their reason for poor shots. “If only I could keep my head down!” they say.
WHY IT IS BAD FOR YOUR SWING
Trying to control the movement of your head is a difficult thing to do – there is a lot of force in the golf swing. If you try to keep your head down you could end up with a ‘poking chin’ and rounded shoulders at address which severely limits your rotation throughout the swing.
If you try to keep your head down through impact and into the follow-through you again will impact the amount of body rotation, speed and power you can apply. Your head position is a result of what your spine does in the swing. Every player’s spine twists, flexes and extends (in simple terms) – to try and fight this motion is akin to attempting to slow your car down by dragging your foot on the tarmac. It will cause pain and have no affect!
This is a great visual example by David Leadbetter.
FIX YOUR GAME
So why do golfers blame ‘lifting their head’ for bad shots? We commonly here better players state that they ‘came out of it’ on bad shots which is really the same diagnosis. They hit a wild shot and analyse how it felt in an attempt to swing differently next time. A wild shot will usually feel horrible and cause a loss of balance. Is it the fault of the head that you lost your timing or your balance?
For the higher handicap an extreme swing plane fault is usually to blame for a fat or thin. This extreme swing plane usually requires a compensation to make contact – a reliable way to be un-reliable. Keeping your head down will only make things worse. Check your fundamentals of setup, swing plane and weight transfer to avoid the ‘thins’ or ‘fat’ shots that plague your game. A great drill to control the low point of your swing (the ability to begin a divot in the same place each time) is to go to a fairway bunker or driving range and mark a line on the ground as in the picture below. First, without a ball, make swings attempting to hit the line, then add balls to the task. Until you can achieve consistency in doing this, fat and thin shots will be a regular feature of your game.
For the better player, ‘coming out of it’ is a common bad shot. You feel like you lose your posture and balance through impact and hit a wild shot – normally a blocked shot. Any attempt to ‘stay with it’ on the next shot is dangerous. Instead try and make a smoother transition or overall swing. If you are too aggressive in your transition to the downswing and your lower body rotates to early, you can become stuck. The resulting compensation sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Avoid this bad shot by grooving a great tempo, practicing with multiple distance targets with the same club. Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy and Luke Donald are major proponents of this type of variable practice.
“BUT HE KEEPS HIS HEAD DOWN!”
Yes certain player’s, including Tiger Woods above, exhibit what looks to be a swing where they have tried to keep their head down. In brief they have not tried to do this. As mentioned earlier the position of the head is a result of the spinal movement and the forces exerted on it. The downswing takes roughly 0.2 of a second so this picture is almost instantly after impact – not discernible in real time. The force generated by players like Tiger is extreme at impact – the stabilisation of the body at this point prevents any smooth rotation of the head as in Sorenstam’s swing below. The video below highlights how soon after this forceful impact and massive extension of the body, that Tiger’s head begins to rotate to the target and complete a smooth follow-through without restriction.
Here is a nice image to finish with – something you can visualise next time you practice. The worlds greatest female golfer Annika Sorenstam – dominating the game by letting her head turn with the force and momentum of the swing. It has a lot in common with former men’s world number, David Duval – featured in the cover photo for this article.