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.