39 degrees: Why this important number can help you hit better, longer drives

Welcome to Play Smart, a game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.

Shoulder tilt — it’s super important, but too many golfers don’t quite realize that. Last week, we paired with GOLF Top 100 Teacher and GOLFTEC’s VP of Instruction Nick Clearwater to explain why it’s such a key on the backswing, and now we’re following up with another explainer on how it works on the downswing. Nick has studied the effects of shoulder tilt in GOLFTEC students’ swings for years, and the evidence is in.

“The amount your shoulders are tilted at impact is one of the biggest separators between higher and lower handicaps,” Clearwater says.

Here’s why — and how you can get more of it in your swing.

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1. The best golfers have their shoulders the most tilted

What is downswing shoulder tilt? Well, if you’ve ever taken a good look at a pro’s golf swing through impact, you’ve seen it: their weight is forward, but their torso is tilted away from the target, with their lead shoulder above their trail shoulder.

That is shoulder tilt, the amount your shoulders are tilted relative to the ground, and it’s really important. That combination helps the club swing from in-to-out, and allows you to hit up on the golf ball.

“The more you’re tilted away from the target, the faster the club can go up,” he said. “It’s also a way of controlling your angle of attack, by tilting yourself away from the target. Without that rightward tilt.”

Keeping your shoulders tilted like this creates a “slingshot” effect between your body and the club.

2. Higher handicaps keep their should too level

Recreational golfers tend to do the opposite: their torso and lower body are more in a straight line (usually behind the ball), and their shoulders are more level. It leads to all sorts of issues, from chunked shots to an out-to-in swing path that results in ugly pulls and slices.

“The more your shoulders are level, or even tilted toward the left, the easier it is to internally rotate my shoulder and push it towards the left,” Clearwater says.

All of which brings us to the golden number we promised in the headline: 39 degrees. That’s a good target to shoot for when it comes to tilting your shoulders at impact. Some players do it more — it’s a hard to overdo this move — and Clearwater suggests feeling like your trail arm stays bent and more behind you if you’re looking for a swing thought to help with this.

In conclusion, tilt your shoulders more; your driver will thank you.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees all the brand’s service journalism spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University and in 2017 was named News Media Alliance’s “Rising Star.” His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.