Golf Swing Sequence: 5 Steps to a Great Golf Swing

Golf Swing
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The golf swing is a complicated process and one of the many reasons why it’s such a difficult sport. But golfers love the challenge because when you hit a great shot and watch it soar at your target, there’s nothing like it.  

Our goal is to make things easier so you can start playing better golf fast. To make things simpler, let’s break down the golf swing sequence into several parts. Once you learn how to get each part of the swing dialed in, your total swing will become more consistent than ever.

Here is the step-by-step process to improve your swing in each practice session. 

Golf Swing Sequence

So, what is the correct sequence in the golf swing? 

  • Setup and takeaway
  • Backswing
  • Transition
  • Downswing 
  • Impact and follow through

Here are more details about each part of the golf swing sequence. 

Part 1: Setup and Takeaway  

Before the club ever starts moving back in your swing, we need to first address the setup position. So much of golf happens before you ever swing the club. 

Your setup is a culmination of:

  • Aim: Your alignment is key to success and one of the most important things to always check in your setup position. 
  • Grip: How you hold the club plays a huge role in the type of shot you play and even your backswing plane. A “weak” grip tends to create more of a cut, while a strong grip makes it easier to play a draw. While a neutral grip is ideal and makes it easier to work the golf ball in both directions and a neutral takeaway. 
  • Stance: Your lower body needs to build a solid foundation to rotate around during your swing. The longer the club, the wider the base you need to build. 
  • Posture: Your posture needs to be in an athletic stance, with your knees slightly bent. 
  • Ball position: Finally, don’t forget about ball position as it changes with each club in the bag. Your driver is played off the front foot, irons are front to middle, and wedges are more toward the center of your stance. 

Once you have the fundamentals set; it’s time for the takeaway as the first 12 inches sets up the rest of your backswing. If you take the club too far inside on the backswing, it’s likely you will come over the top on the downswing. While too far outside will lead to issues as well.

Ideally, when the club is parallel to the ground, the head of the club should be just outside the shaft. This will allow you to drop the club in the slot and shallow it on the downswing which is key to becoming a consistent ball striker. 

Part 2: Backswing 

After the initial takeaway, the rest of your backswing happens.

During the backswing, you want to think about having enough width in the backswing. This allows your shoulders to turn 90 degrees and your left shoulder underneath your chin. 

Aside from turning your shoulders and chest, you will want to move your weight to the right side. This doesn’t mean you should laterally sway, but instead, shift your mass to the trail leg you load up for the downswing. 

The top of your backswing should be parallel to the ground with a driver and just short of parallel with shorter clubs. Your shoulders should rotate twice as much as your hips.

One of the biggest mistakes everyday golfers make is thinking their hips should rotate as much as their shoulders. This move kills power and throws off your timing. Instead, you want to rotate your upper body significantly more as you turn your back away from the target. 

Then, the club will set at the top of the swing. Some players like John Daly have a backswing that is well past parallel while others like John Rahm or Tony Finau are well short of parallel position. 

Also Read: How To Build an Inside Out Golf Swing

Part 3: Transition (The “Pause”)

Once you’ve reached the top of your backswing, it’s time to transition into the downswing. But there is a split second where the swing pauses at the top. While you can’t see this with every golfer because it happens so fast, it’s evident in players like Hideki Matsuyama.

Hideki, the 2021 Masters champion, has one of the most pronounced pauses that you will see in all of golf. It seems like an eternity compared to other PGA Tour players like Rory McIlroy or Bryson DeChambeau who lash at the golf ball. 

Meanwhile, Hideki has a significant pause that starts the trigger to his downswing. It’s actually not as long as it seems. A Golf.com article showed that his backswing is 1.2 seconds, his pause at the top is .2 seconds, and his downswing is .3 seconds. 

So, what type of pause do you need?

It depends, as everyone has their own style. In Hideki’s case, he felt like he was swinging too fast at the top of the swing and wanted to slow down. 

He once told Golf Digest, “When I first came to the PGA Tour in 2013, everyone was hitting it a long way, so subconsciously my takeaway was getting faster, because I wanted to hit it farther. I wanted to slow down my backswing, and I think that’s when I really noticed the pause.”

So if you feel like you’re rushing the downswing, a pause might help. Even if you don’t do it on the course, you can stop at the top of your swing in practice to learn more about your position. 

From there, you may feel like your weight didn’t shift properly or that you aren’t loaded up on the right side. Plus, a slight pause is a good way to trigger your downswing until it becomes automatic – making it great for beginners.

Part 4: Downswing

If you’re like most golfers, you might have asked, “What is the first move in the downswing?”

While it might look like the upper body, it’s actually the lower body that moves first. The 

downswing is where you unload all of your mass and accelerate through the golf ball at impact. Power comes from the ground up which means you need to initiate the downswing with your legs first. 

Ben Hogan once described the swing as, “All great golf swings consist of great upper body moves on the way back, and great lower body moves on the way down.” Your legs and lower body start the downswing, followed by the upper body, arms, and hands (in that order). 

Not to mention the downswing is the power move that helps you generate clubhead speed. This is not the time to be slow and deliberate as you make your way to the golf ball.

As you can see in the Hideki example from above, the downswing time is significantly faster than the backswing — which makes sense because you can only accelerate at one point in the golf swing. If you take the club away from the ball too fast, your acceleration point will occur before impact which will actually cause you to decelerate on your downswing.

This is why you need to time your swing just right so you are accelerating the most at impact. Tiger Woods said it best in How I Play Golf, “Remember, the chain of events occurs slowly at first. If you rush, you’ll likely unwind your shoulders too soon and perform the dreaded over-the-top move, where the club is delivered into the ball on an out to in path.” 

Not only will timing it right avoid the dreaded slice, it will also lead to more clubhead speed and more distance with every club in the bag. 

Ultimately, your downswing is a product of your backswing, which is a product of your takeaway and setup. Each one plays a pivotal role in setting up the next part of the golf swing.

Part 5: Impact and Follow Through 

The final step is impact and your follow through. Impact is where the magic happens and everything leading up to this point determines what type of contact you make with the golf ball. 

If you’re hitting an iron off the deck, you should hit the ball, then the turf. If the clubface is square with a square path, you will hit a perfectly straight shot. But if the club is open, closed, or the path isn’t square, you invite all kinds of other shots like pulls, cuts, draws, and pushes. 

Impact isn’t something you need to worry about or try to do as it happens in milliseconds. All your hard work on the takeaway, backswing, transition, and downswing determine your impact position. Plus, a proper setup based on the club and lie that you have for the specific shot. 

Finally, don’t forget the follow through either. Like impact, it’s more of a byproduct of everything else in your swing. But the follow through can tell you a lot more about swing too.

For example, if you don’t have much balance on your swing, you might have too much swaying in your swing. Or, not a wide enough base at address that makes it hard to stay balanced throughout the golf swing. 

Bonus Step: Developing Tour Tempo

We covered a lot so far and hope that you have a clear understanding of the golf swing sequence from takeaway to finish. But one thing we didn’t mention is the tempo or speed of the golf swing. This is different from person to person but plays a big role in your overall swing.

In the book, Tour Tempo, the author found that all great golfers had a 3:1 tempo. Meaning, their backswing was 3X longer (time wise) than their downswing.  

The author also found that Tour players swung the club substantially faster than the average player (about 3X faster). Not only does this improve ball striking, it leads to more distance too thanks to more clubhead speed.

The old adage of “low and slow” on the way back is terrible advice. While the five parts of the swing are key, don’t forget to evaluate your timing too. As Hank Haney said in No More Bad Shots, “It might not look as if they are swinging the club hard, but they are swinging fast. Most people don’t use all the power they have in terms of the fact they could swing faster.” 

On the driving range, experiment with different backswing speeds and see how it affects the ball flight and distance. You can also download the Tour Tempo app to improve your tempo too. 

Top Questions to Understand the Golf Sequence 

Sequencing the golf swing takes time and dedication to get it right. Reading this article will get you started on the right foot but you’ll still need to master this on the range too. If you have extra questions about getting in the right make sure to read our top question and answers below.

What moves first in the golf swing?

This is a good question as so many players get confused and wonder if it’s the hips, arms, shoulders or something else. Before getting into the first part of the swing, let’s rewind to the moment before taking the club back – the waggle. 

The waggle is a great way to set yourself up for success with each shot you hit. Here’s what Ben Hogan said in his book, Five Lessons, about this part of the swing, “As the golfer takes the club back on the waggle, he accustoms himself to the path the club will be taking on his actual backswing. 

As he waggles the club forward, he adjusts himself so that the face of the clubhead will be coming into the ball square and on the line.”

The waggle is with the arms only and essentially gives you a running start toward the ball. Once the waggle is complete, the backswing begins. 

The proper order of movement is the hands, arms, shoulders, and hips. While the downswing is the exact opposite of the backswing as you unwind on the way down. Hopefully this helps clarify the proper sequence of events in backswing.  

What are the 5 phases of the golf swing?

The five phases of the golf swing are the address position, backswing, downswing, impact position, and follow-through. Each of these stages play an integral role in creating an efficient and consistent golf swing.

While those are the “fundamental phases” of the golf swing, I think there are three other important components as well. Those are:

  • Waggle: As discussed in the previous point, the waggle is setting you up to get into a solid takeaway position. It’s used by tons of players to reduce tension and usually acts as the trigger to start the backswing. 
  • Transition: This is the split second where the backswing is complete and the downswing is about to start. Or, if you’re Hideki Matsuyama, it’s more like a second pause to begin the downswing. Experiment with different transition times to see what works best for your swing. 
  • Post-shot routine: The final part of the swing is accepting the shot. While it’s not technically part of the swing, it has a big influence on not letting one shot impact another. So many golfers get frustrated with their results and end up letting it impact the next shot (and maybe the next one). 

What is the most important move in the golf swing?

You could argue that each phase of the golf swing is the most important. But for the most part, I think address position and the backswing are the most important. 

Here’s why… 

If things are not right at address, it will have a negative effect on the rest of the swing. But if things are great at address and you make a great first move on the backswing, it makes everything else a lot easier. The rest of the swing basically falls into place without much effort on your end. 

During practice, make sure you focus on the fundamentals at setup like stance, grip, and alignment. Then on the backswing, make sure your first move is setting you up to get in a great position at the top of the swing, which leads to a powerful downswing. 

Do the hips start the backswing? 

No, the hips start the downswing and are the last part of the body to move on the backswing. On the backswing, your shoulders will turn a lot more than your hips. 

Your shoulders should turn 90 degrees so that your left shoulder comes underneath your chin (assuming you’re a right-handed golfer). For ultra flexible players, they might get 100 or 110 degrees of shoulder rotation which leads to more power. But the hips only move about half that much on the downswing – roughly 45 degrees. 

The hips play a pivotal role in the swing but need to be timed properly to use the lower body. 

Is it okay to sway in golf swing? 

No, swaying is a bad idea and a habit among higher handicap players. Conversely, if you watch elite ball strikers you can see how much they turn around their body without swaying. 

When you laterally sway on your backswing you must sway back before impact position. This requires nearly perfect timing and makes it hard to unwind properly on the downswing. 

Instead of swaying, focus on rotating around your trail leg. You can insert an alignment rod into the ground and have it resting on your back hip to make sure you don’t sway. 

Wrapping Up 

While the golf swing is a complex move, it’s easier to sequence properly when you break it down into parts. Just like setting a big goal in your life, sometimes you need to chunk it down so you can achieve it. 

If your goal is to groove an efficient, world-class golf swing, you need to start by addressing your setup position. Your grip, stance, aim, and ball position set the tone for the rest of your swing. This is why we always suggest using alignment sticks and working on fundamentals like aim and stance at the driving range.

Once your setup is in the right starting position, it makes everything else so much easier. You can effortlessly rotate your upper body on the backswing and unwind your lower body on the downswing. Hopefully, this will result in a solid strike and a perfectly balanced finish as you watch your shot.

Before changing your swing or if you’re going through a slump, always look at the setup first. Then, use the other checkpoints above to figure out what you need to change for a more consistent golf swing. 

Finally, never forget to swing your swing. No two players have the same swing and golf isn’t one swing fits all model. Try to get into these positions but don’t go against your natural athletic instincts either. 

Which part of the golf swing do you struggle with the most? 

Let us know in the comments below! 

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard is a full-time writer, author, creator of Wicked Smart Golf and +1 handicap amateur golfer. He left his corporate, national sales career in 2017 to pursue entrepreneurship and professional golf; since then, he’s competed in 160+ tournament days and went to Q-school in 2019.

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1 thought on “Golf Swing Sequence: 5 Steps to a Great Golf Swing”

  1. The transition is my nemesis. I understand the sequence perfectly, however I’m so right hand dominant I am constantly fighting the dreaded over the top move. When it’s good it’s really good, but to the contrary i fight pull hooks more often than I care to admit!

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