Tip #39: The Takeaway

If you've developed a sound set of pre-swing fundamentals, the rest of the game is little more than, as one instructor put it, "two turns and a swish."

I agree entirely with Jack Nicklaus, who believes that the most important part of the swing is the first 18 inches you move the club away from the ball. The "takeaway," as it is commonly known, sets the pattern for every motion that will follow.

"Low and slow" are the key words here. You want to glide the club away from the ball, keeping it as close to the ground as possible for as long as possible. This is the way to establish the wide swing arc that delivers maximum centrifugal force and power. The farther you can extend that clubhead away from your body (while still maintaining good balance and timing) the longer you will hit the ball.

The way tocreate this low, slow movement is to start your swing with your entire body. The takeaway may appear to be a movement initiated with the hands only, but you must actually bring in not only your hands but your arms, shoulders, and even your lower body, all working in unison.

The Takeaway
You want to glide the club away from the ball, keeping it as close to the ground as possible for as long as possible.

If you were to use your hands only, you'd tend to pick the club up in a wristy motion that is neither low nor slow. The sooner you cock your wrists, the shorter the arc you'll produce, and the less power you'll put into the drive.

I like to key on my left elbow during the takeaway. I've found that the farther I can move my left elbow directly away from the target the longer, stronger takeaway I make.

Also, by keying on the elbow, I bring everything into play. It's as though the elbow pushes the hands and wrists, and pulls the shoulders. The pushing action eliminates any wristiness, and the pulling ensures that the upper torso begins its backswing rotation.

Good overall swing tempo begins with the takeaway. If you snatch the club away quickly, you'll either continue that frantic pace throughout the swing or overcompensate and decelerate on the way down to the ball. Either error is devastating.

On the other hand, if you take the club back too slowly for the first foot and a half, you'll subconsciously feel the need to get things moving faster, and invariably you'll jerk upward in the backswing, producing more of a lift than a proper turn.

Sometimes I actually watch myself take the club back, even as I'm playing a tournament. I don't really follow the club with my eyes, but I do sort of monitor the movement with my peripheral vision, to be sure I'm gliding it back at the proper speed and in the proper direction.

The path on which the club should travel during the takeaway is a subject of much discussion. A few years ago, I wrote in a golf publication that the takeaway should be straight back from the ball. Shortly thereafter, I got a letter from an irate reader.

"Have you ever tried to take the club straight back from the ball?" he asked. "It's impossible!" Well, of course it's impossible, for the simple reason that we stand to the inside of the ball. Eventually, as the hips and shoulders turn, the club will have to begin to travel inward and around the body.

My point in that article, and in this tip, is, if you will make a conscious effort to take the club back straight for as long as possible, you'll give yourself the optimum chance for a powerful, square-faced return of the clubface to the ball.