“I can tell within the first foot of the backswing whether or not I will hit a good shot” – Jack Nicklaus
Once the grip is taken, and proper posture assumed at the address position (both very important), the swing is ready to begin. The term “take-away” connotes that the swing is started with the arms and hands. However, in the modern or “Gravity” swing as we call it, the swing is set into motion with the body’s core, using a consortium of muscle groups including the obliques and pectorals, as well as the back and shoulder muscles.
Even the feet and hips participate to a degree. We call the move a “heave,” and it is akin to the move you would use to throw a medicine ball. At the start of the backswing, the shoulders, arms and wrists are firmed-up so that the swing will begin with the appearance of being in “one piece,” even though it is anything but. The heave is powerful, yet lasts for no more than one-foot of arm travel. There is enough power, however, in that one foot, to carry both the arms and club to the completion of the backswing, with no additional lift required. At the end of the heave, the arms and wrists relax, but the momentum from the initial movement holds the arms and club in-plane, as well as extended from the shoulders, throughout the remainder of the backswing.
The heave has three very important jobs in the swing. First, it establishes the plane in which the arms and club go back. Second, it clears the tension from the arms so that they will “dead-fall” at the start of the down-swing. Third, it provides the power for the core rotation that carries the body into the all-important counter-fall.
Jack Nicklaus says in his book that he knows whether or not he will hit the ball perfectly by the time the club has moved one-foot into the back-swing. That comment means that for him, the quality of the shot is essentially determined by that point. If the first domino in a line doesn’t fall properly, neither will the rest of them.
The best way to practice the heave is from a cross-footed, normal back-swing mode.