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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stop Fishing for a Better Swing

I couldn't resist such an appropriate pun. I refer, of course, to a rather common problem called "casting." I've mentioned it only once before on this blog, although I've done several posts about "swooshing," a related topic. (The posts about "the swoosh at the bottom" are listed on this page if you're interested.) But given how common the problem seems to be, we certainly need to understand what it is and how to prevent it.

One thing we need to make clear is that casting is not the same as coming over the top. You'll remember that I did an entire five-part series called "Dexter's Coming Over the Top" (and you can find those links on this page). Some teachers may have given you the idea that casting is the same thing, but it isn't. Although you can cast and come over the top at the same time, they are two entirely different problems.

Let's make sure we understand the difference between the two:
  • When you come over the top, your arms and body are out of sequence. In a proper swing, first you turn your shoulders (also called an "upper body coil") and then your arms move up to the top of the swing. When you come over the top, you get that backwards -- you lift your arms to waist-high first, then you turn your shoulders. In other words, coming over the top starts at your takeaway.
  • Casting is an unnecessary (and unwanted) arm movement that happens at the start of your downswing. It's also a sequence problem of sorts -- it's a natural muscle movement during the downswing but we've interfered with it.
So an over the top move is something we fix, while casting is something we just want to get rid of!

Here we have a fellow golfer who's going to show us what a proper downswing move looks like compared to a casting move:

Diagram of how casting looks

The first golfer in our diagram has reached the top of his backswing. His wrists are cocked, and one arm is bent while the other is reasonably straight. He's all set to start down and smack that ball a long way... and he will, if he looks like the second guy on the way down. Notice that the second golfer's arm and hand positions look almost identical to the first guy, except that the hands are lower. How do you think they got there?

Essentially, all that happened is that his arms dropped as they pivoted at his shoulder joints. His grip was relaxed and did nothing but hold the club. You can see that his left knee has moved; that's because his body is turning back to his setup position. That body movement was enough, combined with gravity, to start his arms on their way down without any help from his forearms and wrists. Beautiful, isn't it? Because of this one simple move, he is going to hit the ball a lot farther than the third guy... who just happens to be casting the club.

See how the club is leaning toward the second guy? That's what the pros call "lag." What you have to understand is you can't "make" lag -- you can only let it happen. Lag is a technique that is created by NOT doing something, and that's why so many people get tricked up by it. If you try to create power, all you'll do is waste it.

You'll note that the hands of the third guy are at the same height as the second golfer... but he has nowhere near as much power stored up for hitting the ball. See how the club is leaning away from him? That's because his forearms and wrists are tight, and they're trying to make power. As a result, he makes a power move -- he straightens his bent arm, which forces his wrists to straighten out as well and push the club shaft away from him. And that means he uses all of his power right there! NONE OF IT ever gets to the ball!

That is what we mean when we talk about casting the club. It's very similar to the move a fly fisherman makes when he casts his lure, and that's how it got its name. And if you study the diagram until you understand what it's showing, you'll understand that many of the techniques taught by different teachers and players are simply ways of preventing casting. For example:
  • Keep your head steady and slide your hips toward the target. This older swing thought caused you to tilt backward, but it also pivoted your arms downward without any movement on their part.
  • Pull straight down on the grip as if tolling a bell. Also an older swing thought. If you pull straight down from the top of your backswing, you almost have to keep your elbow bent. In fact, you may actually bend it more, which increases your wrist cock on the way down! For many people, this interferes with their timing.
  • Tuck your elbow into your side to start the downswing. If your elbow is against your side, you can't straighten your arm until your hands are almost back to your setup position. At least, that's the idea...
  • Swing your bent elbow past your hip on the downswing. This is basically the same as the last swing thought, except it assumes you might tuck your elbow and fling your hand outward as you do so. This thought requires you to move your elbow toward the ball, almost forcing you to keep your elbow bent as you start down.
You get the idea. Golfers seem to have a real problem with the idea that power is a byproduct of proper technique. Therefore, instructors have a tendency to add extra techniques to the golf swing -- and consequently make it more complex -- in order to (hopefully) keep students from making the unnecessary and poorly-applied efforts that cause casting. But here's all you really need to know:

The muscles in your upper arms and shoulders start the downswing as your body turns back to the ball -- it's a combined action -- causing your bent elbow to get nearer to your side as it pivots down. This is the essence of a proper downswing that creates lag and avoids casting.

If you've been struggling with casting, there's no need to fish for answers. Just spend some time studying this post -- especially the diagram. If you want to eliminate casting from your swing, you have to do less at the top. If you do less at the top, you can do all you want at the bottom without fear... and that's where it'll do some good!


  1. and a nice Stack-n-Tilt lean going, too :-)

    I always liked Harvey Penick's idea that the right elbow (for the right handed player) starts the downswing by dropping down towards the right hip.

    Got a teaching pro buddy who teaches that the last thing you do on the way up is the first thing you undo on the way down, so he teaches his students to set the wrists early in the swing so they don't flop the club over at the top, making it almost impossible not to cast.

  2. Well, my golfing buddy up there in the diagram had some trouble hitting the ball fat. He must've tried a dozen different types of swings. ;-)

    Didn't you mean "impossible to cast" rather than "impossible not to cast"? (I get those extra "nots" in my writing a lot, too. I really have to edit carefully.) I want to make sure everybody understands what you meant when they read the comment.

    I'm not sure I agree with your friend, though. I understand his logic but you could also argue that, with a late cock, the momentum of the club head should keep you from casting. Remember, Jim McLean's "V-gap" studies showed that late cocking provides more distance... which should mean that it eliminates casting better than an early cock.

    But it's not that simple. If you go out to a driving range, you'll see both types of players casting. It doesn't seem to matter when they cock their wrists. If it was just a reaction to that, one group would be immune to the problem.

    Casting isn't a reaction to anything in your backswing -- it's an incorrect move you consciously add when you try to swing harder. You can cast with an early cock or a late cock, and the only way to eliminate the problem is to eliminate the extra move.

  3. BTW, the Penick thought is one of the better "anti-casting" swing thoughts. It encourages you to keep your arms relaxed, which helps prevent casting, as well as focusing on the shoulder and upper arm movement I mentioned.

    I sometimes wonder if Hogan didn't get his idea (the 3rd swing thought I listed: "tuck your elbow into your side to start the downswing") from Penick. After all, they didn't live that far apart -- Penick in Austin, Hogan in Ft. Worth.

  4. Thanks for this post. I know that most of my misses now are a result of too much manipulation of the right hand. Like you said, it is usually a weak shot. I have been practicing just swinging the club back and forth,letting the lag happen naturally as I transition into the downswing.

    It makes a huge difference when I get it right. Now I have to work at consistently getting the club face square at impact. I'm trying to trust that the face will get there as a result of doing everything right that precedes that moment.

  5. You're welcome, Dex.

    And for those of you who continue to have trouble with casting, here's yet another image that might help you better visualize the proper arm movement:

    Think of your right arm position at the top of your backswing as a rolled-up scroll... and just let the scroll unroll, straight down toward the ground, as a result of gravity. First your elbow drops (from the shoulder joint), then your forearm drops (from the elbow joint), and finally the shaft drops (from the wrist joint) so the club head hits the ball.

    You can do that slowly a few times to help you feel the difference between "dropping your arms" and casting the club.