Red-Letter Days

Use the alphabet to groove a solid, power-rich, accurate swing

Why The Letter YGood days and not-so-good days on the course are part of golf, creating the personal challenge avid players crave. For most golfers, good rounds are those defined by solid ballstriking with ideal direction, distance and trajectory. It’s these special red-letter days–the days when golf seems effortless–that every golfer wants more often.

On days when you’re playing your best, it’s likely that you’re successfully achieving some key positions in your setup and swing. These positions create the best opportunity to maximize your potential for distance, direction and proper trajectory with every shot.

An easy way to remember these important setup and swing checkpoints is to visually relate them to the alphabet. What follows is an easy way to assay your setup and swing in a mirror to see that you’re giving yourself the best chance for a red-letter day every time you tee it up.

Address: Why The Letter Y
At address, the letter Y puts you in the best position to produce a powerful golf shot that travels on an ideal trajectory. The Y is created by the left arm and the clubshaft, and your spine, which should be tilted slightly from the target.

The left arm and clubshaft alignment mimic the same in-line condition of impact, which is necessary to produce solid golf shots. Your upper body tilt, complete with your head positioned behind the golf ball, sets up the correct upper body pivot and helps launch the ball on a playable trajectory._Ê

If you set up with your shoulders level and with eyes fixed on top of the ball instead of behind it, you’ll have a difficult time turning your upper body correctly back and through with the proper weight shift.

Halfway Back: L Is For Leverage
Halfway into the backswing, allow your wrists to hinge the club up as you turn your upper torso. In so doing, you’ll create the letter L as your wrists cock and form a 90-degree angle between the club L is for Leverageand your left arm. This lever is one of the most important power sources in the golf swing. Combined with a fold of the right elbow, creating the letter L elevates the clubhead to a position higher than your hands. The dynamics of this move produce a club that feels light rather than heavy. Be sure to keep your left arm extended, with your hands in front of your chest to create the proper width for your swing.

Unless you create the proper angles with your arms and the club, you won’t be able to unleash maximum clubhead speed at the golf ball. If you delay the wrist hinge and elbow fold (photo at left), or swing the club too flat or too around your body, the club will feel heavy at the halfway back position. This is a recipe for losing width at the top and hinging at the elbows instead of a hinging at the wrists–a huge power leak.

At The Top: The Power V
At the top of the swing, your spine should be slightly angled away from the target and you should feel loaded on your right side. If your head moves a couple of inches to the right, that’s fine. In fact, this happens with The Power Vmost good golfers. If you’re correct at the top, a vertical line running from the ground through your left hip and one down your back should create the letter V. When you see the V, you know you’ve created the proper coil and weight shift necessary for a powerful downswing. Not only does a good position at the top put you in a powerful striking stance, but it’s also more likely to promote a swing that travels on the correct plane.

If your upper body tilts toward the target with your weight on the left side at the top, you’ve filled the space reserved for the power V. You’ll have a tendency to fall away from the target on the forwardswing–just the reverse of what should happen. This reverse pivot move positions the bottom of the swing arc too much behind the golf ball, causing you to hit the ground behind the ball or the top half of the ball as the clubhead is on its way up. It’s also difficult to swing the club on plane with a reverse pivot, and most often you’ll get a steep angle of attack and a weak, glancing blow that produces either a pull or a slice.

Impact: Kill It With A Capital K
As you start the downswing, allow the lower body to initiate a pivot toward the target as the hands and arms drop the club into position to approach the ball on the correct forwardswing path. When the lower body Kill It With a Capital Kinitiates a pivot toward the target, you’ll more easily achieve the key components of successful impact: weight on the left leg, right heel off the ground and right knee worked in toward the left with hips slightly open. These arrangements, coupled with hands that are slightly ahead of the ball at the point of contact, form the letter K.

Since the golf swing is a continuous motion, it’s difficult to stop at impact to examine these factors. So, use slow-motion swings to ingrain the correct impact positions. Learning to put your body and club in the correct impact arrangement, even if in slow motion, will help your brain communicate to your muscles just how you want your body and club positioned when you strike the ball.

Followthrough: X Marks The Spot
To generate top speed and deliver a square clubface, your forearms must rotate through the hitting area so that they create the letter X in the early followthrough phase of the swing. In a good golf swing, the right X Marks The Spotelbow is bent and the left forearm is extended just prior to impact. After impact, however, the left elbow starts to bend and the right arm straightens and extends down the target line. The only way this position change can occur is if you allow your forearms to rotate.

If you block the release of your clubface through the hitting area, your left arm will be above your right just after impact and the clubface will be left open. This look creates a Y, not an X. The results are weak, glancing golf shots with both poor distance and direction.

Notice how close my elbows are in the correct picture. If you’re spread apart, odds are you’re a victim of an early hands release through the ball and a weak left side through impact.

Lastly, when you properly release your hands, you enable the rest of your body to follow and make a full turn through the ball. You can see the difference in my knee position as well.

Finish: The I Has It
At the end of the swing, you should be balanced with most of your weight on your left side and your upper body directly on top of your lower body in a tall posture. Your right foot should be up on its toes, helping to The I Has Itmaintain balance on your left leg. Your right knee should move to your left so that they almost touch. Your belt buckle, chest and eyes should be facing the target. Everything lines up in the shape of the letter I.

If you make this balanced finish position your goal, you’ll learn to swing through, not at, the golf ball. Furthermore, finishing in the shape of the letter I will help you find the ideal tempo or speed at which you can swing the club and still maintain good balance.

In years past, a finish position that mimicked a reverse C was en vogue . Today’s more modern, rotary swing dictates the I finish, however. Plus, avoiding the reverse C will extend your playing years by protecting your back. More importantly, the I makes for a more efficient and consistent golf swing.

Lana Ortega is a Class-A LPGA member and director of instruction at the McGetrick Golf Academy in Denver, Colo. For more information about the McGetrick Golf Academy, visit


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