To change your golf swing is one the most rewarding quests that you as a golfer can take on. It’s a task where enjoying the journey as much as the destination is paramount for your success.
Rumors say it’s close to impossible to change but that’s just excuses for failed attempts. It’s very possible to change your golf swing.
Short Background Story
This guide is developed by me - Petter Tärbe. I have a history as a decent scratch player, a golf instructor for some years, but why I stand out is that I have gone through four successful swing changes in my life and have failed three times as many. I’ve fallen in every pit and tested all the wrong and right stuff. I’ve been forced to treat myself as a test subject due to a body that will go into injury mode if I perform unnatural motions.
Along my journey I have deep studied golf for more than ten years and this is maybe my biggest takeaway: You need to UNDERSTAND what the heck you are doing if you want to succeed in swing changes. I’m no tour player, nor do I have the ambition to be one but I have spent more time than the average golfer on this because it’s just a deep passion of mine.
Once you understand it and perform it tailor made for you the scores will follow. I went from shooting 75-80 to go down to a career low of 64 shots just from cutting out all the crap and really started understanding my technique.
Credit to a Fellow Golf Nerd
Many pieces in this guide origin from my ongoing conversation with fellow golf studies enthusiast, Per Källfelt.
The Guide Structure
There are five chronological topics, each of them being equally essential to your change. You will find links in each section to either in-depth information or to supporting documentation for your future change training.
1) The Persona Screening - What's Your Golfing Persona?
2) The Matching - Find a Fitting Technique Framework
3) Personal Change Plan - Start Owning It
4) Taking It To The Course - The Mental Routine
5) Maintain Your Swing - Make It Easy
Disclaimer: This is a very heavy read and likely needs two to three rereads. There is no way around going technical so please use the terminology guide, if needed.
Strange question, right? Well, it’s all about figuring out who you are from a personality, athletic and brain availability perspective. If you do this you will sidestep 1,000 hours of pointless grind with stuff that just won’t stick.
I will go as far as stating that altering your swing should have rather immediate results. If they don’t, then it’s not natural to you. You should get a glimpse of the future swing straight away, then grind it into your system. The grind itself (when you start owning it) of course takes more time but i cover that later.
A Personality Check
Are you a Swinger or are you a Hitter?
The Hitters, like I am, are more quick/nervous in their swings. Eager to hit the ball if you will. In old school patterns this would be Ben Hogan or in more modern terms Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy.
The Swinger is much more laid back and you get the perception that they have all the time in the world. From the old school perspective this is more Sam Snead, Ernie Els, Fred Couples or more modern Max Homa or Dustin Johnson.
An Athletic Screening
This is basically about how you feel your golf swing. And in particular how you feel and react athletically in the best possible way when you try something new in golf.
If you can be honest with yourself here you will be able to find your KEY DRIVERS in your swing much easier. You will also then be able to understand which swing styles definitely don't fit you.
The Hands Dominant Student
You feel your golf swing in your hands. Everything that your hands are doing is creating reactions in your body. To put it simply - your swing thoughts are the most successful when they are focused around your hands, arms or the weight of the club.
Another clear tell of you being hands dominant is that if you receive big muscle centered swing proposals you stiffen up to a rigor mortis state.
Most people I’ve met/trained or studied fall under this category when it comes to sustainable golf swing change. Sure, body movements are involved as well but these movements need to be trained without conscious thought through smart drills.
Read deep about the hands dominant / body reactive student here if you wish.
(For deep golf nerds like me: Dr Wright has a classification here with lower core, mid core and upper core players. You can basically say that I portray lower and upper core here in my classification)
The Body Dominant Student
You like to think of the big muscles in your swing and rest is responding. You are likely strong and athletic and have a background in physically demanding sports like ice hockey, baseball hitting or why not dancing. You have superior control of your body.
Very few people, in my opinion, fall under this category and most of them could do any type of swing change if they’d like. Unfair right?
A good tell for you being one of these if you can perform difficult body oriented swing proposals in e.g. the transition of your swing. In my experience, less than 10 percent of golfers qualify for this segment.
A Brain Availability Check
In which parts of your swing can you have conscious thoughts?
The goal once the swing change is done is to keep the thoughts to a minimum but for the change you will definitely need them. Drills only take you that far….
I can have clear thoughts in my backswing and from impact to follow through. The rest is a real blur to me. I have a friend that can only think two thirds of his backswing and then he only has blur. Another friend can think in the whole swing.
You need to be honest with yourself here because the brain is the master of everything we do. This also goes for the process of change. If your brain doesn’t give you the space to consciously think about what you need to do, there is close to no point in doing it.
All parts of your swing where you can’t have conscious thought needs to be drilled in other ways. But drills will only be able to make minor changes for you. If you for instance can’t think in transition during your change and the technique you are trying to pursue is involving a 40 cm vertical shaft shallowing after the backswing it doesn’t matter how much you drill. The drill will shallow it 5-10 cm which leaves you 30 short of your target.
This goes very much hand in hand if you are a swinger or a hitter but I wanted to separate them for clarity.
Summary of Golfing Persona Screening
- Are you a swinger or a hitter? Are you laid back or rushing?
- How do you feel your athleticism? Hands or body?
- What’s your brain availability in your swing?
Below I have, to the best of my abilities, interpreted all relevant historic and modern technique frameworks that produce both power and control in your ball striking. Not only control, not only power. Both.
This is my own style of categorizing information in the crazy jungle of tips.
The Slingshot Golf Swing
Highlighted Players: Dustin Johnson, Victor Hovland, Joaquin Niemann, Will Zalatories, Cameron Champ, Cameron Young etc.
Highlighted Oldtimers: Mike Austin & Arnold Palmer.
Technique Characteristics: At impact, the body is as open as humanly possible with loads of right side bend and as a result lots of shaft lean, producing a very penetrating powerful ball flight.
Main Power Generator: The club head speed is mainly generated from the arms lagging the body during the downswing (creating a sling) and then exploding in a deliberate catch-up race. The bigger and higher the backswing the more power potential exist.
Golfing Persona Fit? For me this is a clear swingers protocol where you need to be laid back in the backswing and transition to give you the time need to perform this. You need to be in the body dominant category here because just doing motions with your hands will never create the body reactions that these players portray. You need to have brain availability very clearly in the transition to be able to transform into this type of swing. Very few people are suited for it but for the ones that are, and are strong, it’s a really great way of hitting the ball.
The Hitter Golf Swing
Highlighted Modern Players - Narrow Backswings: Lee Westwood, Jason Dufner, Patric Reed, Tyrrol Hatton, Charlie Hoffman etc.
Highlighted Modern Players - Wide Backswings: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Ludvig Åberg & Henrik Stenson etc.
Highlighted Old Timers: Ben Hogan, Ken Venturi, George Knudsen etc.
Technique Characteristics: The face is "open" at the top of the backswing. The follow through looks very synched and a bit "flippy" but that's just an illusion.
Technique Variations: The old school style was low, deep and narrow in the backswing top position and the left wrist was cupped. This also induced a transition where lag and even more shallowing happened. Some players performed at such a flat backswing top position that they never needed a transition (like Ken Venturi). In the modern version the top backswing position is a higher with more width (because width creates a shallow downswing which allow for the high hands) and sometimes more of a flat left wrist than back in the day.
Main Power Generator: The club shaft rotation happening in the downswing creates massive forces that blows into a full release of the club through a deliberate breaking mechanism.
Golfer Persona Fit? This is a hitters protocol and you likely feel everything in your hands. It's a good fit with students who don't have an easy way to "think" in the transition.
Old School Swinger Golf Swing
Highlighted Modern Players: Scottie Scheffler
Highlighted “Semi Modern” Players: David Duval, Fred Couples, Payne Stewart, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh etc
Highlighted Old Timers: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, Mike Austin, Bobby Jones etc
Technique Characteristics: More often than not this is performed as a tranquilent and smooth swing where the power seems effortless. The key word would be body mobility and that the club does the job.
The Main Power Generator: There are many things involved but if you boil it down to two things it’s about letting the club naturally (deeper explained in the detailed section) start it’s release sequence as early as on the top of the backswing to ensure the longest path to the ball (long path = longer to accelerate) and of course the either soft (e.g. Payne Stewart) or aggressive (Scottie Scheffler) body “upswing” will impact power.
Golfer Persona Fit: You need to be a swinger and very laid back for this swing. You are likely completely hands dominant and you have brain availability in pretty much all parts of the swing.
The MORAD 86 Golf Swing (TGM Foundation)
You can’t write about golf without mentioning which impact the golfing machine (TGM) and Mac O’Grady have had on the game. This is THE biggest rabbit hole in golf but I will try to keep it simple. Like this guy is doing (This is MORAD teachings! in an awesome way obviously)
Highlighted Players - pretty much 80% of all tour players in way or another. Alex Norén, Robert Rock (to some degree), Max Homa (to some degree) etc
Technique Characteristics: A centered swing motion where connection is a big deal. The extension of the right triceps in transition and an exploding chest rotation in secondary axis tilt. The 1986 swing is a thing of beauty.
Main Power Generator: Somewhat similar to the Hitter Golf Swing but with less club rotation and a deliberate rehinge of the golfclub post impact to induce a harder release.
Golfing Persona Fit? Everything that origin from MORAD and I can't say if it fits better with a laid back or more quick personality.
Two things are certain though. You need to able to feel your body for the very detailed instruction from mr O'Grady and you definitely need to have a brain availability in both the transition and the follow through.
Decide on Your Technique Framework
Seek out the proper advocate for the technique you wish to accomplish (use what I have written) and follow these experts like a soldier. Don’t step off the path and start learning what "drives" this technique. When you find the driving factors you will come down to fewer components to actively think about, which makes the task so much easier. You can't mix frameworks though, because most of the time the lego block from framework 1 won't fit with framework 3.
Change takes blood, sweat, and tears but you will cut the effort into a tenth if you work the way I propose. Still, there is much work to be done.
Erase Old Noise
Knowledge in golf instruction means absolutely nothing without context. Sad but true. I am sure you have received plenty of great tips over the years but do yourself a favour. Wipe your memory clean. CTRL-ALT-DELETE.
Rumours say that when Mac O’Grady started working with Severiano Ballesteros decades ago, they went into the desert to bury photographs of Seve’s old swing. Just consider that.
The Changing Steps
You received a really cool drill from your local pro and go about doing this on the range. It delivers results and you are eager to take it to the course. You get to the third hole and everything is now gone. The drill doesn’t work and it’s like you’ve been struck with body dementia. Is this due to a lack of skill? Absolutely not, it’s due to changing one’s technique has a very specific order and you need to work through the steps, chronologically.
Training Camp - First Step
This is where you develop muscle memory with drills based on the technical framework you follow.
This is best performed without seeing the actual ball-flight. It’s too early in the process to see whatever the ball is doing. Most of us have ball-flight result-based reptile brains. It’s in our DNA and it both gets in the way of developing an actual movement pattern and of developing and enhancing your muscle memory.
Personally, I perform this with a net in the backyard.
Skill Acquisition - Second Step
After spending time in the Training Camp, you are now ready to make it shine on the ball flight. You likely had very specific thoughts when doing the muscle memory revamp and you know you need to tune these thoughts into something that resembles an actual swing thought.
I do this on the range or on the course (with a very deliberate separation that this is a skill acquisition round).
Scott Cowx, a very solid influencer in the golf training community, says that he likes his students to get bored with success during this stage. That's a good explanation of how much you should train.
The Real Game - Final Step
This final step is about understanding how to access and apply your knowledge. I am taking this to its depth in the following segment, Taking It to the Course – the Mental Routine, where the focus is to develop a tailor-made mental process with very easy tasks.
Change Goals and Change Schedule
Goals are tricky in my opinion. Correctly set, they can create miracles. Wrongfully set, they often hinder your progress.
My point is that for a swing change your goals shouldn’t be as abstract as shooting 72 from the back tee. Sure, you can get there eventually but you need intermediary goals that aid you along the way, goals that match your progression in the Changing Steps. That’s how I do it.
When I decided to move into the Pete Cowen framework, I developed a plan for myself, which is neither complex nor difficult. Of course, you need to develop foundational knowledge through your mentors material but that's quite easy once you have decided which route to take. The point is to be serious about it and follow it dedicatedly, step by step. This is how you start owning it.
No one will tell you how to change, you need to figure it out yourself. If my way of doing it works for you, then I am happy to have helped! If not, then change your schedule to something that fits you.
I have tremendous respect for everyone that I name-drop here but please consider that I never use the word coach in this guide. In my opinion, it’s all about you being your own coach and the experts becoming your mentors. Without ownership, you are doomed to fail.
Again, understanding the changing steps of golf makes it rather evident that first, you need to drill and train your technique in the training camp, secondly, you need to acquire the skill via training in a different way, and finally, you take it to the course by transferring the skill into your mental routine.
Develop a mental process with very easy tasks
I would argue that a personally developed mental routine has more impact on your score than any technique change. Why? When formed correctly, it basically “allows” you to take the shots you play during the skill acquisition and integrate them into your real game.
You must understand a couple of facts about golf on the course:
You will only be able to perform what you already know. It’s almost like some people believe they have special Jedi knight skills and can surpass all the steps of change…
Actually, the course can be used for Skill Acquisition (as a replacement for the range) but then the round should be treated as a skill training session and nothing else.
Real golf on the course should be pure enjoyment where you go in and out of your “bubble” and between shots enjoy the surroundings of golf. There is no way that you can do that if you are constantly working on your Training Camp tasks.
Loads of literature have been written on this topic, with some of it being pure dynamite for your score. For me, the book “The Motivation Game” by Mike Grevlos is the best I’ve read.
This is as personal as it gets. How do you create your bubble? What do you include and don’t include in it? What kind of thoughts work for you? This is my mental routine, tailored to my personality and how I function. You are very likely not the same but maybe you can use something from it to your benefit.
This is quite straightforward. If you are in a technique framework that fits you and you are following the different layers for change - Training Camp, Skill Acquisition and Real Game - then I propose that you do the following:
Let your ball flight speak to you. Is it doing roughly what you want it to do? Do you have more than 10-11 green hits per round? Then great, stay out of the Training Camp, you are good enough.
Instead, hit the range to enhance your skills in Skill Acquisition mode. Tune your stock shot and get crazy good with the feels and your mental process. Incorporate one or two more shot shapes. Personally, I like to train the opposite of my stock shot I understand my feels better. I rarely play the opposite shot on the course but having trained it makes me "better" at my stockshot. If you wish to delve deeper into how to optimize your scoring then check out my other guide: How To Break Par in Golf
If you don’t perform your targeted number of green hits, figure out the reason(s). Do you actually know your carry numbers? If not, go to a trackman studio and write down the exact number. Film yourself and address yourself from your framework point of view. What’s your miss and why is this miss happening? If you can’t spot it yourself, then use a coach WITHIN your framework to figure it out. Don’t just turn to YouTube and get lost in the jungle.
Each framework offers a set of specific core mechanics that drive everything else. For example, the modern slingshot framework has fluidity and ground force as its key components, the non rushed finished backswing is key for the old school full release framework, and so on. Start working out what they are along the way and resort to these in the future. It will sidestep loads of hours trying to understand stuff that just doesn't matter to you.
So, that's it, my ambition to guide you to better ball striking, heavily influenced by my own travels in the world of golf. Feel free to contact me if you want to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck out there!
Petter Tärbe, Co-Founder at Snöleo