What Really Should Start Your Downswing?

John Stahlschmidt
PGA Director of Instruction
JW Marriott Camelback Golf Club
Scottsdale, AZ

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If I have been asked the question, “What should start the downswing?” once, I have been asked it a thousand times. One of the most important motions in the golf swing is the transition from the top of backswing to the start of the downswing. The start of the downswing, if done properly, not only will create speed but will allow you to move the golf club down into the ball on the correct swing plane. Let’s get into it.

With the advancement in technology, we can now see our golf swings in the world of 3 dimensions. There are a few different systems on the market (k-vest, TPI’s ADD system, as well as others). Quality golf instruction is moving more in the direction of science and not opinion.  That is great, because for too long golf professionals operated on opinion. Now that we can base our findings on science, we are much more armed to prescribe the correct diagnosis which makes it possible to improve.

TPI or the Titleist Performance Institute is really the leader when it comes to biomechanics in a golf specific motion. TPI also has the luxury of testing many of their tour pros using the 3-D system. In the world of 3-D we can isolate precisely the functions of our different body parts and study the role they play during an efficient golf swing. 

Having studied TPI data, there are absolutes we can make biomechanically during the golf swing, more specifically the transition.  The transition or the start of the downswing has to start from the ground up. More specifically, the first event that should occur is a lateral shift of our pelvis towards the target. This motion occurs in every case when diagnosing the PGA touring pros and is often referred to as separation. There is literally a separation occurring between the lower body and the upper body. This motion has a tremendous amount of potential to create speed, which can equal more distance. After the pelvis goes, the torso should move in the same direction, towards the target. The next event should be the arms moving down and finally the golf club. Again, this sequence is not my opinion. Remember, every tour pro tested follows this sequence.

When studying amateur players, the transition rarely starts with the lower body or pelvis. In many cases the torso and arms fire or move first during transition. This motion results in an over the top downswing which creates a ball flight that fades or slices. In addition to this, it is impossible to move the club head through impact at max speed. This results in shorter hits that travel offline.

I know this information might seem a bit technical, but I love it because it is scientifically proven that the transition is one of the biggest segments in the swing that separates the amateur player from the best players in the world. If we were to keep it simple, just remember this: This transition or start of the downswing should always start from the ground up – lower body, upper body, arms and finally the golf club. If you master this series of events, you will hit the ball straighter and farther. Great news for all of you!!!

John Stahlschmidt is a PGA member and the head instructor for the TOUR Academy TPC Scottsdale-Home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. John is also a Golf Tips “top 25” instructor. To comment on this column or to inquire about instructional programs, email John at johnst@touracademy.com.