Sergio Garcia’s 3 secrets to hitting pure irons

March 25, 2015

[This story appeared in the April 2015 edition of GOLF Magazine.]

The world’s best iron player isn’t named Adam or Rory. New research reveals that it’s none other than Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard’s ballstriking secret? The unique way he moves his left shoulder from address through impact. Now you can learn his simple shoulder shift to launch solid iron shots that never leave the pin.

I spent months breaking down the left-shoulder movement of Garcia—and that of other elite players—and came up with a new, easy and effective way to swing. I call it the Pull Back, Run Up and Jump (photos, below). In the ideal iron backswing, the left shoulder doesn’t just move back, as you’ve been told; it moves back, down and out. On the downswing, it doesn’t just move forward; it moves further down, then under and around the position it held at address. If you ignore this pattern, you rob yourself of dynamic motion and speed, which may explain why your swing often feels unathletic and weak. Enough of that! Steal Sergio’s secret and start puring your irons like a pro.


Pull your left shoulder back and down as far from its original position as possible to produce pure power. Loading up like this gives you extra space and time to generate speed on your forward-swing. A tip: Don’t turn your shoulders flat or strand pressure on your left side.


Move your left shoulder back and down on your backswing, then forward and farther down, before whipping it up and behind you. Key move: Shift pressure to your right foot, then to your left.


Just before you start your swing, shift pressure to your left foot, then use this “forward press” to shift it back to your right foot as you take the club away. Basically, you’re pushing off the ground with your left foot to move your mass toward your right foot. Once you feel pressure under your right foot, use it to push upward toward your right ear. This upward push instantly gets your left shoulder moving back, down and out, like Sergio’s.


Maintain pressure under your right foot and continue pushing upward toward your right ear, getting your left shoulder to work even further down, out and away from its original starting position. You’re doing it correctly if you feel like the right side of your torso (from armpit to waist) is “elongating,” and that your belly and chest are pushing away from the target at about the time your left arm reaches parallel to the ground.


To end your “pull back,” keep swinging your arms while you stretch your left shoulder away from the middle of your back. With your left shoulder down, out and away from its address position, it’ll feel like your left ear is closer to the ground than your right, with your right foot still pressuring the ground. You’re now like a sprinter with his back foot in the blocks, ready to push off for an explosive “run up” to impact.


Swing to the top, then take your left hand off the grip and allow your arm to fall. Let gravity do the work. You’ve made a successful, Sergio-like pull back if your left hand hangs even with and slightly to the right of your left knee as you look down. If it hangs to the left of your left knee, you didn’t pull your left shoulder back far enough; if it hangs above your left knee, you didn’t drop your shoulder low enough.




That’s just past the middle of your chest when you stand in your address position. In the players we studied, most got here with 40 degrees of hip turn and 85 degrees of shoulder turn, numbers that any golfer can reach.



If your coach says, “Turn your left shoulder into your chin,” fire him! In elite golf swings, the left shoulder drops to the approximate level of your sternum as you stand at address. Very few everyday players get this low.



Students fight me on this position, but it’s where you want to be. Prove it to yourself right now. As you sit, turn your shoulders to the right. As your right shoulder moves behind you, your left shoulder goes out in front of you.


Elite players transfer energy in their backswing smoothly to their downswing without losing an ounce of stored power. They do this by “running up” to the ball with their body, not with the club and hands. The trick? Move your left shoulder forward and slightly out without unwinding your upper body too much.


As you move from backswing to downswing, go from pushing up toward your right ear to pushing up outside your original left shoulder position. Shifting the push direction ahead of your body’s center of mass (which sits about even with your belly button when you’re at the top) lets you transition smoothly and build effortless power. The trick is to push off your right foot by “twisting” it into the ground in a clockwise direction, getting your right heel closer to the target than your toes. There isn’t a power hitter alive who doesn’t crank his right foot in the transition. You should feel like you’re an NFL running back, moving laterally from right to left and juking a defender out of his cleats.


The footwork in Step 1 smoothly gets your left shoulder moving toward the target and slightly down and out. This section of the swing has five times more forward left-shoulder movement than down-and-out movement, which tells you that “running up” involves little upper-body unwind. The old tip about keeping your back facing the target for as long you can? Spot on! The goal here is to save the energy you stored in your backswing—and add even more by moving in the direction of the hit—without affecting the club’s movement. Notice how the angle between Sergio’s left arm and the clubshaft hasn’t changed in the photos above. Get this move right and you can tell your over-the-top move adiós.


Start your swing and stop at the end of your run up (about when your left arm reaches parallel with the ground in the downswing). Take your left hand off the grip and let your arm fall. If you’ve made a Sergio-quality run up, your left hand will dangle even with and to the right of your left knee as you look down. If your left hand comes to rest above your left knee, don’t sweat it. That just means you unwound your upper body too soon, losing energy in the process. Keep trying, and you’ll have it down pat.




This is huge! While the goal is to do as little as possible with your upper body during the run up, use just enough hip and torso turn to get your left shoulder close to the middle of your stance by the time your left arm reaches parallel with the ground.



Shifting mass toward your left foot is a lowering move—it should feel as though your whole body is “sinking” into the ground. Obviously, your left shoulder drops a bit in response.



As you twist your right foot, you’ll create a combination of left-to-right and rotational momentum in your shift. As a result, your left shoulder will pop out slightly away from you. If you turn too early (attention, slicers), your left shoulder will work in, not out.


Now that you’ve generated lots of ball-smashing energy, it’s time to “jump” through impact. This phase occurs in two steps: a jump prep, and then the whipping of your left shoulder up and behind you. While the goal in your backswing was to elongate the right side of your torso, the jump portion of your new, Sergio-like swing is about elongating your left side using the pressure under your left foot as you unwind powerfully through impact.


To start your jump, push up from your left foot toward your left ear—the exact opposite of what you do during the pull-back phase. This will cause your left leg to straighten a bit and raise your left shoulder while tilting your spine away from the target. Important: Fight the urge to come out of your posture. Even though Sergio is pushing up in the photo above, his chest is still slightly closed and facing the ground.


Just as pushing off your right foot toward your right ear helped you move your left shoulder back and down during the pull back, pushing off your left foot toward your left ear in this step helps you move the shoulder up and forward. Combined with the run up, the first phase of the jump thrusts your left shoulder two inches ahead of its starting spot. Now your swing can properly bottom out, producing ball-first contact and a Tour-pro divot.


Once your hands reach the middle of your right thigh, the club will be accelerating like mad, pulling on you with tons of downward force. If you don’t fight it (and most weekend players don’t), the momentum will pull you toward the ground and you’ll hit it fat. So jump up! Continue to push up from your left foot and pull your left shoulder up and behind you. You want to feel like you’re pulling the shaft right out of the clubhead at impact.


Continue to pull your left shoulder up and behind you in a circular motion. Do it hard! I tell my students to “elongate” the left side of their torso, which Sergio is doing above. And don’t “jump” straight up. Through impact, change the push direction from your left ear back to your right ear. This will help you get your left shoulder up and behind you while slowing your body turn. The result? Full arm extension and a powerful, Sergio-like release.


Without a club, swing back using a proper pull back to elongate your right side. Then swing forward, elongating your left side and getting your left shoulder up and behind you. You should feel as though you’re flinging your arms down the fairway. Try it while holding a range bucket and see how far you can hurl it down the range.




After moving forward in the first part of the jump, your shoulder moves six inches backward as you whip through impact. This motion pulls your arms straight, eliminating your chicken-wing finish.



Huge vertical movement in both sections of the jump help you elongate your left side. This movement is key; without it, the momentum of the club will pull your chest toward the ground, and you’ll likely hit it fat.



There’s a “pulling in” feel to a solid jump, removing all the outward shoulder movement in the pull-back and run-up phases. This may be a new sensation: You should feel like you’re throwing your left shoulder behind your left ear.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Steven Nesbit, Ph.D. (Lafayette College), Young-Hoo Kwon, Ph.D. (Texas Women’s University), Sasho MacKenzie, Ph.D. (St. Francis Xavier University), and Michael Duffey, Ph.D. (Penn State University).

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