I'm a beginning golfer that's never really played well enough to keep score on 18 holes - pace of play along with my terrible swing means taking a lot of generous drops throughout a round. I feel like I've finally had an "aha" moment, and want to share it with other self-taught amateurs that may be struggling.
I try to go to the driving range once a week, but I'm constantly struggling with feeling like I'm re-learning how to swing a club every time I go out. Sometimes I finally feel like I've found "it" and the bottom of a bucket of balls, but it rarely translates to the course. A couple of weeks ago, I went to hit on grass at the driving range, and only hit a handful of decent balls out of several hundred; not a fun experience. The next week, hitting off mats, I felt a lot better about my swing. Later that week, back on grass, I was again terrible, and started to realize that hitting off mats masks the fact that I frequently either hit the ground behind the ball, or "pick" and skull the ball, taking little or no divot. I decided that I probably needed to take a different tack and really reshape my swing.
The past couple of days, I've run across some videos that really helped me where I needed it most; through the impact zone, namely with hip turn, shoulder swing, and club release. I was familiar with the concept of stacking up or hitting the ball with a flat front, but I hadn't really grasped what should be happening before or after that moment of impact. This will probably look like a Mark Crossfield commercial, but several of his videos really did a good job of breaking down the elements I was missing.
I think it's important that these concepts are ingrained before ever taking a full swing. That's easy for me to say as a beginner without a lot of comfortable bad habits, but I tried to commit to doing these motions over and over before putting a ball in front of me, just getting the feel of the motion and taking a divot. I started at home, practicing the drills in these videos in front of a mirror and taking frequent breaks (to watch golf, of course). Next I went to the range, starting with just hitting grass to get the feel. I went to the range knowing I didn't plan to take a full swing the entire session.
I started with this drill:
The drill he presents, where you start with your hips open and just hinge your shoulders to swing through the impact point, was where I started. Just do this on grass or at home without a ball to get a feel for it, including contacting the grass after where the ball would be. I found that if I did it on the floor I would pull up to avoid hitting the ground, so it will work best on a mat or real grass. A tee stuck in the ground might help you see if you are bottoming out your swing where you want to.
Next I focused on hip turn, where two more of Mark's videos were helpful:
This one helped me get the feel of turning my hips, particularly his drill for hip turn and idea of how to feel it; picturing the base of my spine turning helped me visualize it and implement it. In conjunction with this video:
I arrived at the mental picture of accelerating my hips to start the swing, decelerating the hips to almost a stop and hinging the shoulders to release through impact (the first drill). I put these together into some small practice swings - no further than parallel on the backswing. I really started to get the feel of what people are talking when they say the backswing is about coiling up and the downswing is about releasing that energy. I then hit about 100 balls, frequently going back to the first drill on practice swings without a ball, then adding hip turn and building up to a half swing and hitting another ball. I didn't want to start ripping it, because I knew the new motions wouldn't stick. I initially instinctively thought that I wouldn't be able to hit a ball very far with a light half swing, but was surprised to hit my 7 iron about 100 yards or so, and how easy it felt to hit it. I left the range feeling confident that as I work up to a fuller swing, I will get the distance that I'm looking for out of each club. Resisting the urge to make the ball go far really helped me focus on what I was trying to accomplish.