You've spent the entire winter itching to play golf, and once those first mild days of early spring come around, you can't wait to get out to the course and start ripping drives. But if you've had a long layoff due to winter weather, work or injury, the worst thing you can do is go right back to your long game. Instead, you need to make a checklist.
I recently read Atul Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto, a book about how to use checklists to manage complicated tasks. Gawande describes how checklists help surgeons, pilots, chefs and venture capitalists simplify their incredibly complex jobs and avoid mistakes. As a golfer, you also have a complex task to manage: your swing. If you want a consistent swing you can trust, making a swing checklist will help you take a step-by-step approach to getting ready for the season and let you quickly identify problems that could cause serious swing flaws.
STEP 1: PRE-SWING FUNDAMENTALS
Just as a pilot wouldn't land his plane without making sure the runway was clear and in working order, you shouldn't take your swing to the course without checking your pre-swing fundamentals: your grip, posture, balance, ball position, aim and setup. All of these things will either allow—or prevent—the big muscles in your body from turning correctly. If you can, get a lesson with your local pro and ask him or her to check these pre-swing fundamentals. If you can't make it to the lesson tee, you'll have to fill out this checklist yourself. For your grip, do the arrows between your thumbs and forefingers point where they should? Stand on a two-by-four and get into your setup position—is your weight balanced correctly, or are you too much on your heels? Then take that two-by-four, point it at the target just outside the ball, and aim. Your clubface should face the same direction as the two-by-four.
STEP 2: THE TURN
Before you can make a good swing, you need to make a good turn. Now that you've confirmed that your pre-swing fundamentals are solid, work on your hip turn and shoulder turn. You can practice this by leaning your head against a wall or doorjamb and then getting into your setup position and making a turn; this helps you get the feel of your hips and shoulder turning around your spine. Take your setup position for pitching wedge, 5-iron and driver. They're all different positions, so figure out how to make your muscles work together as you turn.
STEP 3: HIT THE RANGE
When you know your fundamentals are sound, you're ready to hit balls. Start with small chips and pitches and work on blending your arm swing with your shoulder turn and hip turn. Start with small swings before long swings, and start with slow swing before you make fast swings, so you can get the sequence right. Don't rush things. I recommend spending two or three days just hitting short irons before moving on to your fairway woods and driver.
I know you want to get out and play as soon as you can—and in midseason form. Be patient. Follow your checklist to build a consistent swing you can trust all year long.