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How to improve your golf swing in 7 steps

how to improve your golf swing
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Every golfer fantasizes about the perfect golf swing. They dream of having the power of Tiger Woods in his prime, the rhythm of Freddy Couples, the short game of Phil Mickelson and the putting expertise of Brad Faxon. 

But even if you combined all of those players into one, they still wouldn't produce the perfect swing —  it really doesn't exist. But hey, we can dream, right?

And we can also pursue that dream. After all, in golf as well as life, it's about the journey — not so much the end. So in our pursuit of perfection, we want to be making constant progress, not sabotaging it or taking steps backwards. Here are some of the things you need to do if you're looking to shoot for the stars and improve your swing.

Looking for gear to wear as you step out on the green? We've found the best golf shoes and the best golf gloves here. We've also got some top tips on how to improve your putting technique here. 

1.  Look for a coach or a regular instructor

According to the National Golf Foundation, fewer than 20 percent of golfers seek professional instruction. Instead, they try to teach themselves, whether it's through an instruction video, a book, or — worst of all — getting tips from friends. 

A golf player can use up to 14 different clubs. While the basic swing is the same for most of them there are certainly differences, especially between driver, iron play, short game, and putting. Each of these different skills takes time to master — but if you're guessing it doesn't matter how much you practice, it's very difficult to improve your technique.

A coach or instructor can help to guide you. Not only will they know how to teach technique, but they can also observe your progress. Alison Curdt, a Master PGA and LPGA Professional, believes that players need a coach to guide them in the right direction if they really want to improve. That goes for seasoned players, as well as beginners. Nevertheless, she suggests letting go of the idea of ‘perfection’.

"When that word comes up with students, I tell them they're going to be seeking perfection for the rest of their lives," says Curdt, who is one of the top golf coaches in the country and also has a doctorate in psychology. "It's not attainable in the golf swing. Even the robots that test equipment can't swing the golf club exactly the same and to perfection each time."

2. A great swing begins with a great foundation 

You need to have a solid set up before you even start swinging the club. A golf pro can help you with that, too, and it is a constant in all great swings. Ben Hogan, one of the greatest players of all time, said that good golf begins with the grip. Stance, aim, and posture are also part of the foundation that must be set before a swing commences.  Posture refers to spine angle, shoulder tilt, how the arms hang, and knee flex.

"With grip, the hands are the only part of the body that's touching the club,” says Curdt. “Your feet are the only parts of the body touching the ground, and your posture is allowing you to set up at the correct angle to make contact with the ball. So if you've got those three things misaligned, good luck trying to make your 'perfect' swing - it just won't happen." 

Nevertheless, she stresses that a golf professional can help you to pick a grip that aligns with your individual physical characteristics. “The grip must be sound if you're going to have a great swing, and a coach can customize that for you.” 

3. Shots need to be predictable

One of the most important aspects of having a great swing is that it's repeatable. That means you’re able to predict the outcome of your shots, most of the time. Any player with a two-way miss, for example, knows how frustrating it is when they can't be sure which way the golf ball is going. 

So whether your swing produces a fade, or a draw, or a relatively straight shot, being able to do it time after time is an enviable trait. Again, an instructor can help you hone in what's right for you.

4. Good balance translates into better swings

No matter what method of golf swing you choose — and there are definitely different methods to successfully swing the golf club — balance is always key. While weight transfer during the swing is important, you must be careful not to sway over your outside foot or reverse pivot (when a golfer falls backwards away from the target as they complete their swing). Again, that's where a great setup will help, but if you think about staying in balance all the time, your chances of swinging well increase dramatically.

a photo of a man swinging a golf club

(Image credit: Getty/Photo and Co)

5. Online instruction can be valuable, but be careful

There's a wealth of golf instruction online these days. You can find one instructor who might tell you to swing around your body, while another might advocate a more up-and-down motion. Which one is right for you is anyone's guess, but more than that, you might be trying to find a fix that really doesn't address your problem.

"I see learning new skills from the internet as the equivalent of self-diagnosing a disease from WebMD," Curdt says. Nevertheless, she admits there’s plenty of value in online content when it’s used properly. Instructors will often work with a student, then prescribe video drills they might want them to work on. 

There are also paid online instruction programs where users can send in videos of their swings, then receive feedback from an instructor. It's not as good as being with a coach in person, but it’s better than going it alone and usually more affordable. 

6. Get your clubs fitted for your best swings

While it's not necessarily advisable for a beginner to get custom fit for a set of clubs (it can be expensive, for one), once you get going the right equipment is a must. 

A fitting will help you find clubs that are the proper length and lie, the latter of which is how the club sets at address. Perhaps the most important feature is shaft flex, which usually correlates to how fast a player can swing a club. If the shaft is too flexible or stiff, the player will have to make adjustments in the swing to be successful. Getting your clubs properly fit, which you can do at a golf retail outlet or at a golf course, makes developing a swing that much easier. 

7. Don't forget the mental side

It's no secret that your state of mind can affect your swing greatly. Most of the time, especially for amateur players, it's a game of recovery. Hit a shot off-line, then figure out how to get back in position. If you're anxious or frustrated, it will manifest itself in your swing. 

"You need to look at how you handle adversity," asks Curdt. "Are you able to handle all the differences and variability that the golf course gives us from shot to shot and day to day?" 

Again, this is where a coach can be so helpful. And while perfection is indeed an impossible goal, it's still a worthwhile pursuit, made easier and more enjoyable by a great attitude, a good game plan and patience. 

 Mike Bailey has been writing about golf tournaments, instruction, agronomy, architecture, travel and equipment for more than 30 years. He's been a staff member for several national golf publications, including PGA Magazine, the Golfweek Group and the Golf Channel's GolfAdvisor.com. Mike, whose handicap is single digit (barely), lives in Houston, Texas. An award-winning writer and past president of the Texas Golf Writers Association, Mike plays out of Memorial Park Golf Course, home of the PGA Tour's Houston Open.