Why Doesn’t My Practice Swing Match My Actual Swing?

swing stick topBrady asked a question in the previous posting’s comments section after quoting me in another comment in the same posting:

DJ: “Anyone should know that a swing without hitting a ball doesn’t count, you have to be able to execute it for real”

To which Brady queried:

DJ, it would seem obvious but why do you think this is so? Are you saying that swinging without hitting a ball is a waste of time? Is there any benefit? Why can’t I take my swing from the mirror to the course?

It is not as obvious as you think I might say it is, Brady, but the answer is a very simple one – the practice swing doesn’t count because there is no ball involved, hence no actual stroke.


However, I recommend making a practice swing (or more) before any stroke, from the putt to the chip, pitch, full swing – any stroke you are planning to make should be practiced before execution.

In fact, anyone with whom I’ve ever spent time will recall hearing me say, “Take a practice swing before you hit a new ball…”

It is one of my pet peeves to see people hitting ball after ball and not a practice swing to be seen!

The reason is related to the same question Brady asked, so let’s take a look first at why the practice stroke usually differs from the real swing:

There is no ball involved, but I’m not merely repeating myself here – without the ball, you can’t know for sure (and I will wager large sums that I’m correct) you have created the required conditions for a good shot.  Those being, the only conditions that matter to the golf ball, which are the impact conditions:

At impact, you need the proper face alignment (is your club face square?), and with a practice swing (i.e., with no impact and resultant ball flight to observe), you have no idea where the club face is at the point you’d be making contact with the ball.

At impact, you need the proper club path (there is proper, then too inside-out, or OTT and outside-in), and you have no idea with a practice swing (again, no impact and resultant ball flight to observe) what your club path would be with an actual ball in the way at the moment of contact.

Is your “impact point” even where you think it is?  With a practice swing (and no impact and resultant ball flight to observe), do you have any idea where your club is reaching the swing bottom? It could be before or after where you’d have the actual ball on a real swing.

So, without a ball, and unless you actually hurt yourself making a practice swing, there is no consequence, either positive or negative (especially negative) to tell you whether you are making a “good swing.”

It will “feel good,” I’m sure!  Why wouldn’t it, without that pesky little ball to shoot sideways or slice or hook to show you up, or without the thin or chunked contact to absolutely enrage you?

Every practice swing feels correct and awesome because it’s like reaching conclusions without corroborating evidence – you can conclude whatever you wish, but that don’t  make it so, if you’ll forgive my slang.

“But wait, DJ,” someone will say. “I saw a clip of you hitting a perfect 6 iron on your first swing of the day!”

DJ – 1st Swing Of The Day

“Yes,” I will reply (so I may as well do it now), “You did.  And if you thought about the 11 years of daily swing research and the millions of practice and real swings I’ve made in that time – you’d know you have some way to go before you reach that point!”

For all of the above reasons, a practice swing means nothing at all when compared to your actual swing on a ball.  Not to mention, when you’re making a practice swing, it is not at full speed, and you’re very relaxed because you already know there will be no negative consequences to the action.

You neglect to account, of course, for the less-than relaxed swing you will actually put on an actual ball when it’s sitting there in front of you and the result is one that will count.

So, you can fool yourself into thinking your swing was exactly like Jack Nicklaus’ when it actually looks like Chunky McHacker’s… and everyone (including yours truly) has had that sickening moment when they observed their actual swings on video after making swings they thought were absolutely dreamy.

But the only dream was the nightmare of what the swing actually looked like!

We’ve all been there.

However, that is not the value of the practice swing.  When you are working on a swing change, or trying to reinforce a part of the swing where you usually mess it up (picking the club head up rather than sweeping it back with the pivot action, for example), the more you practice the proper motion, the better your actual swing will be.

Another reason – you want a certain “feel” to your swing, which is why you never see a pro hitting a shot without having made multiple practice swings (some get a little overboard with ten in a row, but 1 to 3 is not out of bounds, by any means).

If you just step up and flail at the ball, you can be assured, unless you’re Moe Norman or someone else who has made millions of swings with the same swing action, that you are virtually guaranteeing a bad result.

You get one chance to stroke that ball correctly, on any given shot.  You get as many practice swings as you want to make, within reason, to ensure that whatever you’re working on (at the range) translates to the actual swing.

When you’re on the course, you want to establish the rhythm and feel (and the correct action) that you will make, hopefully unconsciously, once over the ball.



17 thoughts on “Why Doesn’t My Practice Swing Match My Actual Swing?

  1. Harleyweedwhacks

    I never took practice swings until I realized that it gives me a basic rehearsal for the shot at hand. And it certainly helps when you have only a small bucket of balls and you need to ingrain a motion.

    I do believe mostly my practice swings are for feel purposes, basically called a rehearsal, to make sure the shot at hand will be struck well.

    What do you think about preshot routine? Any thoughts as to how it works or what should happen during this phase of hitting a shot?

    1. D Watts Post author

      Pre-shot routines are like fingerprints, no two are alike, but I think a consistent way of preparing to hit a shot is essential. Not in a robotic way like the Tour pros who can’t hit a shot without a Major League baseball-type ritual that must be completed without interruption, that is just silly.

      But having a set way of getting your distance, checking the condition, choosing a target, assessing the conditions, then deciding on a shot line and club, making a practice swing or two… that is a pre-shot routine and, aside from the practice swings, can all be done while others are hitting their shots or while you’re waiting for the group ahead to clear, so I am nearly always prepared to hit my shot when it is my turn.

      And with that kind of pre-shot routine, it doesn’t matter if you’re having a fun day with friends or playing seriously – you’re in the zone when it matters.

  2. Brady

    DJ you’re the man! Thank you for taking the time and energy to answer what would for many on the surface, appear to be a relatively innocuous and possibly absurd question and coming up with gold. I appreciate the in depth insight, it makes complete sense.

    When I first saw my swing on video a couple years ago, it was a rude awakening. I thought I would look like Jack and I did but it was more like Nicholson than Nicklaus lol.

    Having come from body building and powerlifting to golf I had the unfortunate yet completely human tendency to come OTT with my right shoulder and not one of three PGA teaching pros I went to could fix me, so I learned with the help of a friend how to “swing the club out to right field” which gave my swing an extreme inside out path complete with a Hogan influenced flat backswing and clockwise forearm rotation. I could shoot 68 or 83 with a 2 handicap but as you know the timing required on this type of swing is monumental and physically taxing.

    2 years and 3 months into my swing change to a MCS/Austin/MD model it’s looking, feeling and producing shots that are much better with way less effort yet I still retain the thumbprint of inside out in my swing. What drill do you think would help me get more OTT in my swing without obviously coming into the ball with the right shoulder?

    Also I think your swing and JD’s is very similar, do you feel that like you he is also a natural puller and could a strong left hand grip be a facilitating factor? I’ve noticed your left hand grip appears fairly strong ala JD, Duval, Zinger, etc. Have you experimented with a weaker left hand and what are your thoughts on MD’s counter rotation? Sorry for all the questions but it can’t hurt to ask right?

    Many thanks my friend!

    1. D Watts Post author

      Well, quite the missive, Brady! Let me see here:

      As far as changing your impact path, that would mean changing your swing angle and perhaps ball position. I would not have any drills to speak of for changing a swing path, as drills don’t help when it comes the actual swing.

      We swing unconsciously, so when the pressure is on, the drills fail – that’s what you used to see with TW when he was “steering” his way around the course in the Foley years, but then a couple of weird shots and he’s all over the place, having lost the “drill” feel and now completely at a loss on the course.

      I suspect some of the WD’s were simply, “I have no clue what I’m doing right now, I’ve lost the feel of what I was working on pre-round…”

      So, I would work more on changing my stance in the way I talk about in the “Perfect Pivot” video (path & face) and make sure of ball position – too far between the legs and you’ll be coming severely from the inside at impact.

      As for my left hand, it’s actually neutral! But my neutral will differ from most, because I am left-handed, a puller, and swing right-handed. So, the grip I have on the club with my left hand is a neutral one to me, from square at address back to square at impact if I swing with just the left arm. I never think about club face, I just swing through trusting my neutral grip will produce a square impact, and since I neither “hold-off” at impact and don’t hook the ball… it must be neutral!

      Hope that helps 🙂

  3. Brady

    Thank you again my friend for taking the time and yes it makes perfect sense! I also think I need to invest in your vids to get to the next level 😊

  4. Brady

    One more thing I forgot to ask you! I read in an interview by MD regarding what his thoughts were on his downswing and he describes his first move down is to move his right knee and hip to where they are pointing between the ten o clock position and the ball (12oclock being the ball) and that the left hip and left knee simultaneously start to shift and rotate left.

    Does that make sense? He goes on to say that this is the move that in actuality brings the arms and hands down to the hitting area unlike a lot of modern instructors(Haney for one) who teach their students to drop the arms as an independent action(I feel this drop the hands move Haney teaches also led TW in the wrong direction as his swing began to resemble O’Meara)

    DJ, what do you think the first conscious move in the downswing is? Are you in agreement with MD about the right hip/knee initiating? Also, I’ve heard you say you arent a fan of Hogans open to closed hands/arms action, MD used counterrotation of the hands(shut to open) why do you feel he chose to do so? Is counterrotating the hands a more powerful way to swing the club?

    1. D Watts Post author

      Well, Brady, I would be wary of taking anything any other swinger says about his own swing literally – much of what they are describing almost invariably is their “feel’ rather than what is “real.” I also don’t believe in micro-analyzing specific body parts in motion because we are all built differently and will have different swings, each from another, even when using the same model.

      I wouldn’t use Dunaway’s model because of the shifting on the back swing, which is fine for a long driver but death for scoring golf, because even a couple of misses per round caused by the shifting (which leads to inconsistent striking when you’re not completely in sync, and who is, all the time?) can be the difference between playing pro golf and simply being a good player.

      I would also be hesitant to use any of his descriptions of the swing – if what he described was so accurate, why wasn’t anyone able to duplicate his action using his videos? Just a question I’ll throw out there.

      He was an awesome swinger, but I don’t see Jack Nicklaus giving golf lessons, either – the greats are usually great at doing, and not so great at explaining.

      So, I don’t listen to what any swinger says about even their own swing, I use my eyes and do my research.

      As to the down swing, my only swing thoughts are on the pivot. On the back swing, I make sure I am making that proper floating pivot, and I simply “swing the gate” back to initiate the down swing. Any thought to the right side at all might be to drop the right shoulder, but I don’t think of body parts much, as the swing is a whole-body motion.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Brady

    Thank you DJ for your expert analysis and good points about MD and his shift off the ball that makes perfect sense. Thanks Jonas for the encouragement. God bless all the good people here at WN😊 Now I want to see the MCS swing model on tour!

    1. D Watts Post author

      Trust me, Brady – you don’t want any shifting on the swing – been there, done that, and never again!

      1. Brady

        Thanks DJ I am more than happy to leave that shift alone! Looks like Strange’s backswing circa 89-90 and your Tiger influence shows up on the downswing with the left hip bump to the left to initiate the downswing.

        You now replant the left foot then knee then hip to swing that gate back to the left on the downswing ala JN which as you’ve discovered is a far more effective and powerful move. It frankly blows any swing TW ever made away on a purely functional basis.

        I’ve gone a little off topic and forgive me for rambling but I often wondered 20 years ago why Nicklaus’ swing was dismissed by the modern gurus as an ancient dinosaur swing not to be emulated. I’m with you, JN was the greatest golfer with the greatest swing hands down.

        And to anyone who claims Jack won 18 majors and finished 2nd 19 times because of his mental preparation, confidence and strategy I give you Jordan Spieth!

        1. D Watts Post author

          You now replant the left foot then knee then hip to swing that gate back to the left on the downswing ala JN which as you’ve discovered is a far more effective and powerful move. It frankly blows any swing TW ever made away on a purely functional basis.

          Well, this is the thing that escapes me with the current conventional logic – even IF you are going to argue that TW is the G.O.A.T., which would not only require a complete abandonment of the metrics that were used until TW’s decade of dominance from ’97-’07 – Nicklaus still won 35% more majors than him and garnered an additional 19 runner-up finishes to TW’s six.

          Nicklaus won majors in three different decades, with essentially the same swing with which he began, and suffered no injuries based on how he swung – so yes, Nicklaus’ mechanics were vastly superior to any swing model TW has ever used for the simple and basic reason that Nicklaus’ swing was a classic swing model, and all of TW’s were modern, and therefore mechanically-unsound in some, all the way up to catastrophic (Foley) degrees.

          So, one possible G.O.A.T. candidate won the most majors, by a wide margin percentage-wise, over the next candidate, never suffered a swing-related injury and was the longest and straightest player of his day, compared to the other candidate who keeps hurting himself with his inability to swing properly and who, at times, couldn’t hit the side of a barn off the tee…and who stopped winning majors at 32, in his so-called “prime.”

          There’s no argument, in my mind. But that’s just me! 😉

  6. Brady

    Very well said DJ! Could not agree more and it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 yrs since TW won a major! Looking back his window of opportunity for winning majors only lasted ten years ending when he was only 32, an age at which many players(Hogan, Phil, Price, Faldo to name a few) haven’t even won their first.

    His career is running a path that most resembles another golf comet that flamed out far too early, the late great Seve Ballesteros. I think you posted an article pointing out the similarities between the two.

    Trevino was onto something way back in 1996 when he said he wished Tiger would gear back and not go all out every shot. That it would help save his back and prolong his career. Lee always had that street smart hustler sense about him and could see into the future when he observed the 20 yr old Tigers swing. He compared Jack to a Clydesdale and Tiger to a Thoroughbred. One horse sturdy and built to last and the other made for speed but fragile and susceptible to breaking down.

    I wish Tiger the best; however and hope he enjoys good health for the rest of his career. A major or three would sure be an amazing way to put an exclamation mark on the second greatest career in golf history

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