Proper Golf Swing Sequence For Lowering Your Scores

Proper Golf Swing Sequence

Written by Michael VanDerLaan 

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Golfers throw around a lot of technical and not-so-technical jargon when talking about their games, and much of it becomes embedded in a sort of common language for golfers. Proper golf swing sequence is one of those things that is seldom talked about, and understood even less.

One of the references you’ll hear a lot is about “sequencing” or “swing sequence”, usually in conjunction with a few other concepts such as rhythm, tempo, and timing. Other things too will pop up in these conversations - such as a body part “firing too soon” or being “late” or “hips outracing the chest” or “hands outracing the body” etc.

A lot of this just gets tossed around as common knowledge, but many lack an actual understanding of the swing sequence or might even misunderstand what it is that actually makes them successful, and give credit or blame to the wrong things.

In order to better understand these topics, let’s take a basic look at the swing sequence in golf and establish a baseline understanding of why it matters, and when it might not!

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What Is the Golf Swing Sequence?

Bad sequencing can lead to all kinds of swing flaws

To understand the golf swing sequence, it is easy to conceptualize the swing as a purely rotational movement. The body is basically coiling to store power and then uncoiling to release that power. It’s also important that that coiling and uncoiling power can be stored and released on a repeatable kind of trajectory.

Poor sequencing is a common cause of all different kinds of swing flaws. The chicken wing golf swing - shown above - is almost always at least partly due to bad sequence. 

For the purposes of this article, let’s look at a baseline framework for the sequence of motions in a golf swing:

  • In the backswing sequence of movement: Hands and arms, then chest, then hips, and then optionally the lead foot can raise
  • In the downswing sequence (essentially in reverse): Pressure on the lead foot (or re-plant the heel if raised in the backswing), then hips, then chest, then arms and hands.

Now let’s take note that swing sequence is almost non-negotiable in the downswing, but many players have successfully used alternative combinations in the backswing.

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Why Does The Golf Swing Sequence Matter?

Following through with good sequence creates balance

Sequencing is paramount for both power and consistency in golf. 

We see this sequencing, or lack thereof, in many sports and physical actions. Think about a baseball player waving at a nasty strikeout pitch with their arms while their hips and shoulders remain completely stationary or “late”. Not good! This often is an example of them being “fooled” and out-of-sequence.Also look at a boxer throwing a haymaker or martial artist going for an uppercut. They use their lower body to drive their torso which drives their fist to unwind power in that sequence, as opposed to an amateur who might just flail their arms.

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Many (but not all) people will naturally or subconsciously start to use very good “sequencing” when they are tasked with doing something strenuous or powerful. 

Sequencing is also paramount for generating a consistent, “smooth” look. A lot of golfers who have very high club head speed but look like they are exerting very little effort are able to do so because their sequencing is exquisite. Everything is working in conjunction to store and unload power at peak efficiency through the swing, which does not require strain or abrupt, jerky motions to generate power as everything is “working together.” 

It should be noted that in the backswing, sequencing theoretically doesn’t matter, but in the downswing it is pivotal. Many golfers benefit greatly from properly sequencing their backswing, and it can help put you in a position to succeed for sure, but there are also many examples of golfers who use unconventional sequences in their backswing.

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Hayden Buckley pre-sets his wrist angles at the takeaway rather than a traditional takeaway. This is a form of a sequencing drill that he has become so comfortable with that he uses it in competition.George Gankas and several of his students work on a “helicopter” drill that demonstrates a completely unique way of sequencing the backswing that for some players allows them to make a bigger turn in their backswing. This might seem like an absurd drill but Jug McSpaden actually played professionally and finished 2nd in a major championship using this swing on every shot.

Here is a video of a golf coach demonstrating the “Jug McSpaden swing” and you can see how it is identical to what these players are calling a “helicopter” drill, and with a little imagination you can see how Hayden Buckley is basically implementing the same concept, but in a much more subtle way. 

These players are just doing the backswing in a sequence that is very different from what our eyes are used to seeing, and isn’t intuitive like a normal swinging motion in any sport, but since they arrive at exactly the same place at the top of their swing, it doesn’t matter. In some cases it even helps them!

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Golf Swing Sequence At Each Position

Jug McSpaden aside, let’s take a look at what a “normal” swing sequence would be for a golfer! Keeping in mind that there is definitely some freedom in the backswing, especially when it comes to the takeaway, but that the “standard” positions are standard for a reason -  they work!

With a functional understanding of the basics, you can learn to appreciate why some pros are able to make it work using different variations. The reality is that many of these things are basically blending in a fluid motion at different rates at various points throughout the swing, and great players have some common themes but often can be successful at completely different ends of the spectrum.

Setup And Address

A good swing sequence starts with a good setup

The first position in the sequence is setup. The key to the setup is starting your sequence from the same place every time. If pieces are out of place before you start, it doesn’t matter what order they go in from there.

An often overlooked aspect of swing sequence however is the trigger move. Whether it’s an exaggerated move like Matthew Wolff or one you might not even notice such as Jon Rahm tapping his foot or Sam Snead wiggling his knee, a good trigger move isn’t something that should be forced but happens naturally when you are already using sequence and rhythm in your pre-shot routine and while building your setup.

One of the greatest examples of this of all time is Jack Nicklaus’ first move being his head turning away from the target as he begins to wind up. This movement should be understood as both a timing mechanism that allows him to kickstart his swing but also as a movement that serves a mechanical purpose: preparing for the shoulders and hips to turn back fully in the backswing.

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The Takeaway

The first move away from the ball should be dominated by the hands and arms

The classic phrase in golf is the “one piece takeaway.” This is where semantics can get really murky. Because the hands are moving, but they are not moving independently of the arms and shoulders. This is achieved by moving the sternum or chest while keeping the arms, hands, and club stationary in a “Y” position, similar to how many golfers putt.

This is probably the “standard” takeaway in golf, and already it is confusing because the arms, hands, and shoulders are not moving in any sequence at all here, they are all moving together! Some common deviations here are players who are considered to “pick the club up” too soon (which anatomically would be wrist cocking or radial deviation) or “rolling it open/inside” early on the backswing (supination/pronation of the forearms on first move away).

I commonly use my Impact Ball to help me work on a one piece takeaway that sets me up to remain in the proper swing sequence.

Halfway Back

The arms stay wide to the body as the wrists set the club in the backswing

If you try this “one piece” move and truly only move the sternum back like a putt without moving the hips, arms, or wrists independently, you will find that your range of motion ends usually with the hands just off the trail pocket.

From here this “one piece” / “putt” takeaway of just a few inches is where many golfers start to lose sequencing. It’s at this point in the sequence that the hips have to start to get involved.

If your motion past this point is all upper body, you can get into very weak and inconsistent positions very quickly. When those hands hit that back pocket, for most people the hips have to start to turn some in order to facilitate the rest of the coil and prevent an arms-driven over the top swing or a big recovery move.

To go from the takeaway to halfway back, the hips should have rotated away from the target slightly. It’s during this phase that the wrists can set or cock and the trail arm can start to fold while the chest “tows” the hips back and around. This is because the shoulders range of motion is limited by the hips. Just be careful not to over-do either the wrist cocking or the arm folding at this point - right around 90 degrees of angle between the club shaft and the lead arm is good here, with many players having a lot wider angle than that.

At The Top

The top of the backswing should include a full turn and arms in front of your body

From halfway back to the top, we are mostly continuing to turn the upper body while the hips have finished their range of motion. Anatomically what is happening is thoracic extension in order to keep turning in place while staying centered.

Regardless of whether you can pull off this move like a long drive pro or not, the key at the top is more about what ISN’T happening than what is. The move from halfway back to the top ideally is extremely simple, but for many players there is quite a lot going on here.

Some players like John Daly, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, or even to a MUCH lesser extent Bryson DeChambeau actually set their wrists fully only at the end of their swing sequence. This generally isn’t taught as a common model to beginners, as many players get into really dramatic trouble with this move, but it can also produce impressive power if you are comfortable with the timing of it.Many amateurs try to use this wrist cock at the top as their only source of power. However, when these golfers also utilize a lot of other great fundamental principles to complement this action it can produce incredible results. The common fault here is known as the hands and arms “running on” after the shoulders reach the end of their range of motion.

In a standard model we can say the hands, arms, and club head do not need to travel any further once the shoulders have stopped traveling.

The Transition

As your hips begin to rotate, your arms should drop vertically in front of your body

Have you ever heard the phrase “firing from the top?” or a golfer trying to “hit from the top”? This is a direct reference to improper swing sequence in the transition.

It’s a problem especially in adult male golfers who have very developed upper body, arm, and chest muscles and it becomes instinctive for them to generate power solely by using these portions of their body to pull and/or punch.

A properly sequenced golfer is still storing power in the first moments of their downswing rather than unloading it. They do so by first engaging the ground and then using that engagement to unwind the body FROM THE GROUND UP.

We have some choices in the backswing that may help get us to where we need to be at the top, but from the top down physics start to take the driver's seat over personal preferences or aesthetics.

If you don’t have pressure on your lead foot by the time you get to the top of the backswing, it better be the first thing you do in transition.

Nothing good happens if there is more pressure on the trail leg than the lead leg once you need to start transitioning to the downswing.

Once that is established, the downswing can be started with the first move being the lead hip “digging” down, back, away, and sometimes open - depending on your perspective.

The key here is that the hips have to start to open a split second before the shoulders, arms, hands, or club move at all. If they all are uncoiled simultaneously, you are immediately “out early” (hands and shoulders firing right away from the top) and will only be set up for a big over-the-top move or a big recovery move of the whole body “spins out” from the top.

The key is specifically letting the hips lead the way or have “separation” from the shoulders, not the entire body spinning open from the top. This can, of course, be over-done, as we need the rest of the sequence to follow properly afterwards.


The hips clear through the golf ball, pulling your upper body into the pre-impact position

After the hips have begun to open up, they will again reach their limit of motion, and the only option is to stop moving (i.e. get stuck) -  which we obviously don’t want -  or for the other parts of the chain to start to be as if “towed” around the corner as everything uncoils in sequence.

When the hips start turning open to the target, the shoulders will have to start to unwind in a flow following the rotation of the hips.

For many golfers this can feel like the lead arm being pinned against the chest as the hips open up, and then the lead arm being flung off of the chest as the shoulders start to catch up to the hips through the hitting zone.

The first hip move is tightening the body’s stored coil (with the shoulders resisting the move staying back for a moment at the top), which is why we say we are still loading power in transition. 

It’s from this point of maximum storage onwards that we can consider rapidly unwinding the shoulders through impact, and misunderstanding or skipping this crucial step in sequencing and how to create power with their mechanics rather than arms and hands is where a lot of amateurs go wrong.

You’ll also hear a lot of golfers talk about a particular swing being “early” or “late”. While this could be used by a lot of people for different reasons, commonly it is to refer to this exact timing of when to start uncoiling the shoulders. A golfer who is “early” can start to rip the upper body open immediately from the top and get too far out and across. Conversely, a golfer who is infinitely patient in the downswing can be “late” and get kind of stuck and end up very blocked out at impact with the club path and face both working out to the right of the target instead of down the line.


Open hips and shoulders help create speed and shaft lean coming into impact

Coming into impact is where you can finally start to get the arms and hands involved. Proper sequencing at the bottom of the swing is the source of much debate. Even in the most biomechanically elite swings there is no free ride that doesn’t involve incredible timing, rhythm, and a blending of several factors to achieve a perfect lowpoint and face control at full speed.

While there are different specific combinations that might favor a high ball flight versus a low one, a draw versus a fade, and other things, swing sequencing through the impact zone is going to focus on what golfers call the “release.”

The biggest problem for amateur golfers is the “early” release - which is again a direct reference to sequencing.

Many golfers do this out of necessity because they subconsciously have to make a manipulation in order to save the shot. Others may feel like it generates more power, but golfers get more ball speed, distance, and consistency from the delofted strike that comes with a late release and forward shaft lean than even a much faster swinger would get with an early release.

Follow Through And Finish

A balanced, fully released follow through

Naturally, as everyone in golf says - this portion would be almost inevitable if everything was in sequence before this, as the natural unwinding of all the forces down range and up into the finish.

One key checkpoint in the finish that can reveal a lot about your sequence is the “P8” position or the position when the club and arms are pointing at the target, and the golfer is in a position reminiscent of a water skier. The club head, hands, arms, chest, and hips should all come close to lining up at this position, facing the target down range.

The hips should reach this position first, followed by the torso, and then the arms and hands arriving simultaneously shortly thereafter. If one body part is excessively leading or lagging this checkpoint, it is likely an issue that started with improper sequencing much earlier in the swing.

One really amazing thing about swing sequencing is that you can actually build a swing from the finish backwards. If you decide on a balanced finish position that is biomechanically sound and simply try to achieve that position every time you hit a ball, you are going to make noticeable progress on your overall movement and sequence. 

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What Is The Most Important Move In The Golf Swing Sequence?

Your first move down is to put pressure into your left foot and leg

Of course, any chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, and that goes for kinetic chains in golf just as well. If any link in the sequence is out of whack, the entire rest of the system will need to compensate in some way.

That said, by far the most important move in the golf swing sequence is the transition. This is where most golfers make or break their swing, as it’s said that after the club has moved just a few inches in the downswing, the golfer no long has any conscious control over the result, everything is just a subconscious reaction from there - whether they can make a committed, strong, fluid, well-sequenced downswing or they have to struggle to react, catch up, stall, or hold off in order to make contact and get the ball started on line.

Tips To Master The Swing Sequence

Everyone is different, and that is the case for improving your swing sequence as well. There is no hard and fast regimen that leads to an impeccable sequence that would make Payne Stewart jealous, but by trying a combination of our recommendations below you will at least begin to see improvements for yourself.

Use Training Aids

Hitting balls on the range with the Straight Stick

There’s a training aid for everything in golf, but for swing sequencing you can get some amazing results using extremely low-tech items. While the Straight Stick helps you to naturally discover the sequence that allows you to release the club properly, there are also plenty of other options for you to choose from. 

One of the best “tricks” for understanding proper sequencing as an athletic, natural movement as opposed to an extremely delicate physics problem is to swing things that are like a golf club, but taken to an extreme in one variable or another. Here’s a few examples:

Swing a heavy club - This can mean swinging two clubs at once, swinging a driver with the head cover on it, or swinging a specially made weighted training club. It’s amazing how the technique changes when you can intuitively feel that the object is too heavy to manipulate and you have to take advantage of the power of sequencing to take advantage of momentum and push with the legs in order to provide really stable power, rather than the hands and arms generating speed from the top.

Don’t be afraid to also try to feel this with something WAY heavier than a golf club - imagine trying to hurl a medicine ball down range or a beer keg or bucket of water - and feel how, when presented with that large weight, you naturally and intuitively start to use different muscle groups and different sequencing than when swinging a golf club that feels like a toothpick. 

Swing a whippy club or rope - There are products made for this - like the Orange Whip and the Lag Shot - but swinging something that is extremely whippy can completely change a golfer’s concept of the swing. It’s impossible to manipulate a rope, all you can do with it is flow with rhythm to try to keep it on plane and releasing late down the target line rather than down at the ground at the ball.

You will learn how to create lag using the Orange Whip

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Swing an extremely long club - If you have issues with early release, taking a club that is too long for you (or even a length of PVC pipe) and swinging it can help encourage more shaft lean and a later release without thinking too hard about it.

It should also be noted that many “natural” golfers grew up playing with their earliest clubs often being hand-me-downs that, even if they were modified, often were far too heavy and too long for them. Regardless of whether the club is too heavy or not, we see quite often that children and women golfers more typically have uncanny natural sequencing. This is because they naturally have to leverage all the efficiency they can muster in order to generate club head speed.

Use A Mirror for Freezer Drills

Pausing in the backswing to check the position during practice

One of the best ways to work on sequencing is to do freezer drills using a mirror. There are infinite variations and you can freeze at almost any point in the swing or do double freezers, check your positions in a mirror, then continue to hit.

When we see players like Hideki Matsuyama or Cameron Young doing these freezers even on the course, it is because it helps them with their sequencing. Many players just do them as a drill and then put a more blended motion into play on the course, but it is an invaluable concept to have in order to really ingrain one thing firing at a time in the proper order.

Freezing at the top of the swing and giving yourself time to mentally gather and then fire the downswing in sequence is the go-to for many, but many golfers also will pre-set their “P2” position and then swing. Many others will work on a double freezer or “pump” drill where they go to the top, freeze, check their mirror, pump fake halfway down, freeze, check their mirror, and then go back to the top and hit using the sequence they just rehearsed.

Video Your Swing and Go Slow

Taking videos from different angles can help you find flaws in your swing

As we mentioned before, after the first split-second of the downswing, we don’t really have conscious control over the results - the downswing happens too fast for the brain to really react to it. It has to infer everything based on what it feels in that first split second down and hope it’s correct.

Because of this, it’s extremely important to work on downswing sequencing in slow motion and to review your swing on video tape to see what is actually happening. Almost every golfer struggles with “feel versus real,” including professionals, and full speed reps almost never go the same as rehearsals.

Use A Golf Specific Workout Program To Strengthen Your Core

Using GolfForever to warm up before a round

One of the biggest reasons that golfers lose sequence (and attempt to take over the swing with their arm and chest muscles) is because intuitively they feel it is faster or stronger and need to provide some “hit” in order to get distance.

In reality, this “hit” through impact with the hands and arms is just the icing on the cake of a powerful swing - the real heavy lifting is being done by the core and legs.Unfortunately for many of us, this is also our weakest muscle group so the intuition becomes even stronger, and when we get a little bit tired on the course, it is game over for sequencing.

This is where a golf specific core strengthening program can work wonders and actually allow you to feel a different way of generating power.

Here at Golf Gear Advisor, we have grown very fond of the GolfForever training system. This one as well as others will not only strengthen your muscles in golf specific movement patterns, they are also designed to aid with aches and pains and improve your overall quality of life. 

Take A Lesson

Golf Lesson in progress

It’s easy to think too much when trying to learn the golf swing, and as we’ve pointed out several times in this article, proper sequencing is a more natural, athletic response to understanding how to move the club fast. Especially with the explosion of very technical golf instruction available online, it can be invaluable to take lessons with an instructor to keep you on track. 

At the end of the day, nobody has ever played good golf while thinking about sequencing during their swing. A good golf instructor has the gift of knowing how to explain an extremely complicated topic with a few simple cues to achieve a result that is functional in as few reps as possible, and then keeping you on track while ingraining and trusting the new feels.

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Final Thoughts

Sequencing is an extremely tricky topic in golf, because as soon as you start thinking about it, it’s almost impossible to achieve it.

The key is to use tools to re-organize our understanding of the proper chain of events in a golf swing, and then learn to hit that sequence in a proper athletic flow - much like a musician learning basic scales before trying to perform a symphony.

There are many tricks to this that don’t have to involve any biomechanics or technical expertise - such as swinging a rope, swinging a heavy club, or doing freezer drills. This is important because, ultimately, even if we break the swing down into segments, we have to integrate it back into a mindless flow of feels that we can take onto the course with us.

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At the end of the day these methods help ingrain concepts that force us to use good sequencing. The proper swing sequence is what creates the look of “effortless power” that many pro golfers display. On a technical level, proper sequencing is proper because it is the most efficient way to leverage the whole body in order to move the golf club at maximum speed while keeping the strike reasonably stable.

Photo of author

Michael VanDerLaan

Michael is an Associate Editor here at Golf Gear Advisor. He is a playing professional with a passion for finding the best equipment through product testing and evaluation. He has an intimate knowledge of the golf swing and a very effective way of communicating his knowledge to those that are interested in learning more. As an Associate Editor at Golf Gear Advisor, Michael shares his knowledge about the golf swing, fitness and finding the right equipment for your game.

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