After spending a bit of time looking at how to hit the ball further and how to hit it better everywhere from tee to green, I realized that I have missed out one fundamental step. There is no point majoring in the minors so what about the very first thing that any aspiring golfer needs to know: how to hit a golf ball! After all, worrying about handicap, wedge selection and all the rest doesn’t make a lot of sense if you can’t actually make contact at all. Hopefully, this article will let anyone starting out in the game or who is simply struggling, start making regular contact with the centre of the club.
How to Hit a Golf Ball: The Basics
I was tempted to start this by running through the stuff you need to get a great strike (descending blow etc) but I didn’t want to have an absolute beginner giving up before they started. However, it does make sense to start out right. There isn’t a lot of point learning something that you need to ‘unlearn’ later on so let’s try to get it right at the start.
There are going to be lots of different suggestions as to how to start out, but I have my own idea and it starts with club selection. In my opinion, the best bet for most golfers is something like a nine iron. Why this club? It is an iron and will probably look like the rest of the set (so not a specialist wedge) but it is also the shortest iron (so easier to actually hit the ball) and has the most loft (so the most forgiving in many ways.) It is also easy to do a half-swing or less with a short iron which will be key to developing solid contact. A half swing with something like that most common practice club the seven iron really isn’t as easy as it is made out, especially for a beginner.
I also think that the fact that it has a lot of loft is a good idea. It means that is relatively easy to overcome the temptation to try to ‘lift’ the ball into the air which is the death of decent ball striking and actually makes it harder to hit the ball at all.
A Nine Iron and A Bucket of Balls
So let’s imagine we are there on the range with our nine iron and a bucket of balls. A beginners swing is generally, let’s be honest, an ugly thing! You might say that this is true for most of us, but it is especially true before we have any real notion of what the different parts of our body need to do to propel the ball down the range. Don’t worry about aesthetics: All we want to do is to get the ball to hit the middle of the clubface as often as possible.
This is why we aren’t going to worry about details. While some fundamentals are important, perfect is going to be the enemy of good here. There are lots of ways to use these fundamentals to produce a swing that gets the job done. Concentrating on the minutiae is probably the quickest method to put someone off playing for life.
The starting point is obviously the stance. I like the idea of an athletic stance . This means different things to different people, but generally we want a slight bend in the knees, weight even between the two feet and neither back on the heels nor too far forward on the toes. You should feel balanced. Lots of beginners tend to have their hands very high for some reason, so it is perhaps good to keep them a little lower than you might naturally do.
The ball is going to be in the centre of the stance. This isn’t the case for all clubs unless you are single length golfer and really that would be the easiest starting point for someone learning the swing, but I digress. So the ball is pretty much bang between the front and back foot.
Hands Ahead of the Ball
Now the magic (hopefully) happens. We are going to start be thinking about two things, and two things only.
- Keep the hands slightly in front of the club head
- Don’t worry about where the ball goes.
I think the first one is important because it saves a lot of trouble later on and isn’t going to be any harder to do than not do. In fact, I would bet that if an absolute beginner had this as their mantra right from the start, they could probably cut down on their learning curve quite a bit over time. As far as this article goes though, that might just be a debate for another day.
The second one is important because learning how to hit the ball means separating what you are trying to do from the result. Everything could be really close to working and yet that ball is still scuttling along the ground rather than flying high and handsome. Getting too obsessed with the actual result at the start is going to make anyone doubt the process. Working on what we are suggesting here should see the ball going up in the air and more or less in the right direction soon enough.
This is another reason for the choice of a nine iron as a club. Most people are going to be able to get the ball up and out there more quickly with this than with something either less lofted (seven iron, say) or more bladed (wedge). In reality, most beginners will be delighted (and rightly so) to see the ball go up in the air rather than worrying about exactly how far it has gone.
So back to our swing. We are in position with the nine iron. Ball in the middle of the stance, hands slightly forward and perhaps a little lower than we might think. Stance is comfortable and athletic without overthinking it for the moment. The first step is to do some very short swings without the ball at all. By short, I mean that the clubhead shouldn’t really be higher than the hips.
Mastering the Half Swing
This is almost like a chipping swing. The aim is to take the club back a short distance and then bring it down with the intention of just keeping the hands a little bit in front of the clubhead. Doing this 15 or 20 times, nice and smoothly should start to create a feeling of what a good swing will be like.
The next step, obviously enough, is to add the ball. Now there is a good chance that when we put the ball into the mix, the first few swings are horrible! It could be anything from a complete miss, to a top or even a shank where the ball heads off at right angles. This doesn’t matter and is fairly normal. Doing this very short swing should give this beginner the greatest possible shot at making decent contact after a few swings.
Withing the first ten swings or so, there will be at least one that just feels ‘right’. The ball hits the centre of the club and takes off. It isn’t going to go far, but it will be a proper golf shot.
After this, it really is a case of rinse and repeat, without going to too fast. Learning how to hit the golf ball solidly with a short swing nine iron is something every beginner can do within a short space of time. And while it might feel like this is a long way away from hitting all the clubs with a full swing, it isn’t quite as distant as you might think. This very short nine iron swing becomes a half swing lifting the club to perhaps vertical. If the hands are still in front of the club at impact, the swing dynamics are going to be a lot better than most beginners (and some pretty good golfers too!) and this half swing nine iron might be 100 yards down the range.
Once this half swing has become or full swing (or not: there is nothing wrong with a very short swing) it is time to add in a slightly less-lofted club and go through the same process again. At this point, you might want to spend some time one on one with an instructor and try to get all the little kinks ironed out and groove a really solid swing that will hold up on the course.
Golf is not an easy game however it is one that should be fun even for a beginner. Someone starting out in the game is going to hit a lot of bad shots, but there is no reason why even a beginner shouldn’t be able to make solid contact more often by following these steps.