How I made a major swing fix from my front yard (without hitting a shot): 30-Day Challenge

swing setup change side by side

How a drill in my bare feet changed my golf game.

Welcome to the 30-Day Challenge sponsored by Medterra, where one GOLF.com staffer leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of a simple goal — breaking 90 — with the hopes of helping you do the same. This is the second in a seven-part series detailing his no-holds-barred journey to the 80s — all in just one month. You can read part 1 here.

We started the 30-Day Challenge, in earnest, with my worst round of the year. An old friend invited me out at Westhampton Country Club — a fantastic Raynor gem on the east end of Long Island — and I promptly laid an egg. The sort of round that exposes the very worst of your flaws and leaves your playing partners wondering if you’ve swung a golf club in your life. 

“Oh joy,” I thought. “We’re really setting a high watermark to start the month.”

The scorecard damage was, unsurprisingly, in three digits.

After the round (or should I say, the embarrassment) ended, I dutifully went out to the range armed with my cell phone camera, my 7-iron and my driver. It was time to record my first swing lesson, which I would send halfway around the world to my Skillest instructor in Malaysia, Steve Giuliano.

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My friend recorded from two angles as I hit balls on the range for 15 minutes or so, making sure to get two or three of my finest shots from either side (down-the-line and face-on).

I went into the Skillest app, pressed the “get lesson” button, and uploaded my swing. The process in its entirety took about a minute.

Later that night, a post-round Medterra elbow treatment was interrupted when my phone buzzed.

Steve Giuliano has sent you a swing analysis.

I pulled open the app with a mix of excitement and dread. Thirty days isn’t a ton of time for a swing change, and the analysis on the other side of the video could end my month before it began. I tapped on the video.

“Hi James,” Steve’s voice greeted me over a video of my swing. “In this first video, I’m going to go through some of the points in your swing and talk a little bit about how you should be practicing.”

Ho boy. Here we go.

Right away, Steve explained that my swing had a lot of solid components and a few major flaws. But there was good news.

“It’s not that you have to be going to the range all the time to work on these things,” he said. “In fact, some of the stuff that I’m going to show you right now, it’s so easy for you to do at home, you don’t even have to swing the club.”

In Steve’s estimation, my biggest problem was my setup. I was crowding my clubs, which was both crushing my swing plane and ridding me of my athleticism throughout the swing. If I refocused my energy to start in the proper position, I’d likely finish in the correct one, too.

“A couple of things we need to get in order to move more efficiently is to get the arms in the chest, and to make sure we get the weight over the balls of your feet,” Steve said. “I want you to bend your upper body forward until the weight gets all the way onto your toes, and then just lightly flex your knees to get yourself in a balanced position.”

To do this properly, Steve offered a quick fix.

“One of the checkpoints I have in that position, if I dropped a line from the back of my shoulder, it should touch my kneecaps and go through the balls of my feet,” he said. “If you looked at yours, it’d be all the way back at the heel point.”

A look at my alignment before my first lesson.

I stood up out of my chair and began hinging the way he suggested. I felt a stretch down the back of my legs I hadn’t while standing over shots all day. He was right.

“Once you get that setup and you cover those points, you can do that at home,” he said. “You can just film your new setup position, you don’t even have to hit balls.”

The next morning, I went out to my front yard and practiced. For a half-hour, I crouched into the proper setup just like Steve told me. I opened my feet, arched my back, cocked my head ever-so-slightly and felt my weight shift forward to the balls of my feet.

Immediately, I could feel a difference on the plane of my swing. Even standing barefoot, I was more balanced, more fluid, and more athletic. It was uncomfortable, but the more I did it, the more I began to settle in.

My setup drill, focusing on keeping my lower back straight and my weight over my toes.

When it came time to swing, I could feel my arms extend out further from my body and my torso turn more fluidly. Where I used to be an “arms” swinger (causing tons of pain in my trail elbow and forearm), I could feel my power now generated through my base.

I took videos of my new stance and sent them to Steve. Like me, he was encouraged by my progress, but something still wasn’t right.

“The other thing that really sticks it out to me is the length of your clubs, they look really short,” Steve said. “I’m pretty sure I suggested to hit 7-iron. Let me know what your height is, because that doesn’t look right.”

I laughed out loud. I’m 6-3, and for years I’ve complained that scoring irons never quite felt like scoring irons because I was so hunched trying to reach the ball. Perhaps the reason was that my clubs were simply too short.

“If you’re pushing 6-2 and above and you’ve got standard clubs, they start to look very short and you’ve got to start setting yourself in to feel comfortable,” Steve said. “That could be a problem if you’re not fitted properly.”

And so, with my setup fixed, I knew where my next stop on the 30-Day Challenge would take me: to my first-ever clubfitting, where a new set of sticks might just save the day (and my score).

Follow along with the rest of James’ 30-Day Challenge on GOLF’s social media channels (@GOLF_com) and on GOLF.com, where new articles will be posted every week through the end of October.

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