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Getting off the back foot

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Do these swing tips “Get on your left side,” “Get through the ball,” and “Finish” sound familiar? They should, because they are some of the most familiar admonitions in the game and for good reason. There is no question that all great players move their weight through the shot. And to hit the golf ball consistently well, all golfers need to get there. That being said, why do so many struggle with their weight shift?

One of the difficult things about golf is that it is, of all games, the most paradoxical. For example, it seems that because the golf ball is sitting on the ground, the logical thing to do is hit UP on it to help it in the air. The minute that image directs a golfer’s motion, he or she will invariably fall onto the back foot to try to hit up on the golf ball.

When I train junior golfers, one of the first things they learn, after a proper set up, is how to hit down on the golf ball. In other words, they learn to overcome the natural instinct I just described. This is the genesis of shifting their weight to their lead foot. The drill I use most often is the downhill lie drill. I have players hit balls on a downhill lie and walk through the shot (down the hill). Try it. It will be impossible to fall onto your back foot.

The second biggest cause of falling onto the back foot is leaving too much weight on the lead foot in the backswing. This is caused by something called proprioception, the unconscious perception of movement and special orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself. Translation? Our body wants to be in balance. In everything we do, from sky diving to walking down the street, our bodies are seeking balance. It’s what keeps us from falling over.

Think of the downswing as nothing more than the body seeking balance. If the center of mass of the body leans too far forward (toward a golfer’s lead foot), it immediately and unconsciously falls back to the rear foot for balance. That is the root cause of “hanging back.” If you watch golf swing videos closely, most every time you see golfers finish on the back foot it is because they have tilted too far forward on the front foot in the backswing. This was mistakenly termed a “reverse pivot” for a long time. But, in fact, there is not “pivot” at all. John Jacobs referred to this as rocking, a much more apt description. This rocking motion is responsible for perhaps 80 percent of hang-back problems.

The correct movement

[youtube id=”WTBdi4g-ubI” width=”620″ height=”360″]

  • A “step” on the right foot (turning into the right leg, more than out over it).
  • A push up (not a lift) through the right shoulder.
  • A push off the right foot toward the left side. It is much easier to push off a flexed back leg than a straight one so the lower and upper body can “separate.”
  • A push up through the left shoulder.

The torso will separate from the hips and legs and stay slightly behind the ball as the lower body pushes hard toward the lead foot.

The movements I described are verified by 3-D motion analysis systems such as the AMM (Advanced Motion Analysis). For more information, I would urge you to looks at some of the work by Dr. Young-Hoo Kwon. Dr. Kwon is a professor of biomechanics at Texas Women’s University.  His work, in conjunction with golf teaching professional Chris Como, is some of the best work in the field on this subject. Their research is really enlightening as it deals with center of mass and center of pressure movements in the golf swing, and most importantly, the difference between them.

One of my favorite images that nicely illustrates the proper weight shift in a golf swing is that of a pitcher pushing off the rubber and stepping toward the plate.

Tim_Lincecum_2009

For practical purposes, it reveals what I and many others have taught for many years: If the body weight is slightly on the rear leg in the backswing, we can push off to the front side in the downswing. The “hang back” look of so many amateurs can be corrected by understanding this principle.

It should be noted that when I say that golfers move slightly to their right side (for a right-handed golfer) in the backswing, I am not describing a “swaying” motion; simply a slight center of mass movement to the right foot in the backswing in order to feel a push-off to the left side. Watch Adam Scott’s swing as he does this. It’s a thing of beauty.

[youtube id=”oa29TMPqq9E” width=”620″ height=”360″]

The final way that golfers end up with their weight on their back foot is from over-swinging; simply trying to swing much harder or faster than their body is capable of. Try this: Swing as hard as you possibly can. You will notice some recoil — a spring back to your rear foot as a reaction to the speed of the motion. You see this in long drivers quite often.

I do not believe that golfers should try to intentionally slow their swing down, but I do want them to swing at a speed that allows them to feel the motion of the body. I’m often asked if there is a swing on tour I really like and although I’d be hard pressed to pick one, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen come to mind. Their balance enviable.

So if you’re trying to hit up, or leaving weight on the front side in your takeaway or swinging like a long drive competitor, you will likely finish going away from the target. And there is no sport I can think of where movement away from the target is functional. If you’d like to send a youtube video to my Facebook page, I’d be happy to take a look and help you cure your weight shift problems.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. william reichert

    Oct 20, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    To move the weight from the right foot to the left(without moving the head forward as well) involves
    either dropping the head slightly on the downswing or addressing the ball with significant knee flex. This is just anatomy. Moving to the left with the lower body while keeping the head from moving means that the left side of your body has gotten longer. This is impossible so there must be some action that allows this to happen. The head must drop. However if you start the swing with a little more knee flex this action lowers your head at address. Then the extra knee flex allows the weight shift to occur without further head lowering on the down swing.

  2. Padre

    Mar 27, 2014 at 7:16 am

    Thanks once again Dennis. You have the uncanny ability to explain something so clear. When I read your articles I always get the lightbulb moment. Dont know if you have written books, but you should. Its one thing to know and understand something, its something else to TEACH it to someone. I once attended a a pro-am tournament and I noticed something strange. The pro’s and long hitters left shoe prints in the grass which the ameturs didnt, which I found odd, now I know why.

    Keep them coming Sensei.

    From rainy, but better weather on the horizon- The Netherlands

  3. Billy

    Mar 27, 2014 at 4:01 am

    Great article!! I HAVE a big problem with weight shift, I hit it ok, but bad ball flight.

    I also have a I fight with flipping my hands through impact.

    I know if I can move my weight, ill lose my dumping the club/casting.

    Thanks, good read.

  4. DavidI

    Mar 26, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for a great article – adding the video and commentary make the point very effectively.

    I never played more than recreational tennis, but when I’m struggling with weight transfer during my golf swing my first thought is to think of the swing as a simple tennis shot, stepping behind the ball (transferring weight to the back foot) then stepping through it as my weight moves to my left as a right-hander. I also find this helps with shoulder timing; if I’m leaking the ball right it’s usually because I’m opening the shoulders early and I think of playing a tennis shot down the line but with spin to take the ball right to left. If I want the ball to drop to the right I’ll think of getting through the ball with my shoulders opening earlier just as I would to fade a tennis ball out of the court.

  5. paul

    Mar 25, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    My two year old gets off his back foot because his clubs are to heavy and he simply gets pulled forward.

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 26, 2014 at 11:41 am

      wow starting him early…for a lot of young’uns, the club swings them, as opposed to them swinging the club. When they are old enough to develop the musculature to mange the stick, I usually start them out

      • paul

        Mar 27, 2014 at 1:37 am

        Couldn’t help it. Couldn’t keep him away from my clubs. Bought a few foam balls and a small mat with a tee. Then found an old iron with a graphite shaft and cut it down for him. Want to get the smallest set money can buy for his birthday. Now my wife has two golf nuts to contend with. Is it best to keep him away from golf for another year or two?

  6. Jacob Koehn

    Mar 25, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    In tennis you move away. just saying

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 25, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      That’s good to know; I gave Ivan Lendl a lesson once, he’s quite a decent player. I hear Connors has picked it up too.

      • Joel

        Mar 26, 2014 at 8:26 am

        This is really interesting. I’m a former competitive tennis player, and I’ve always heard that I need to be on my front foot but I’m not quite sure how to transition to that sort of feel. If anything I have a tendency to pull drives somewhat dramatically this way.

        • Dennis Clark

          Mar 26, 2014 at 8:14 pm

          Joel if you’re pulling your drives you are probably opening your UPPER body too soon in an effort to get through the ball. The upper body stays behind and the arms and club have to lower before you begin to turn through.

  7. sedevie

    Mar 25, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Dennis,
    Don’t forget to add Steve Stricker and probably the best ball striker ever Moe Norman to your list of flat footers. I personally like the idea of flat feet as it allows the legs to support and the torso to stay down and through the shot. I believe this lessens the back pain compared to the typical golf swing of the legs driving up through impact and the torso being forced down to be able to strike the ball.
    See Tiger Woods. jmho Great Article for a lot of golfers!

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 25, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      A flat footer can still move the center of mass and use the force vectors I’ve described. It is a matter of where the pressure is at impact. One with a very wide bottom to their swing arc is totally dependent on getting the COM forward, while one with a much narrower bottom can have some mass a little behind. The ground reaction forces created by the longest hitters are a result of pressing INTO the ground, creating a force vector that can be used for powerful leverage. Many of the long drivers have 30″ or more vertical leap and have tremendous speed because of that strength. But this article deals with mostly average players who need SOMETHING to push off generally due to a very early release. Glad you enjoyed the piece. DC

  8. Stu

    Mar 25, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Dennis,

    Great article and very applicable to my swing.

    Can you give me a drill (for flat driving range or indoors) that will ingrain this in my swing? The walk through swing or is there something better?

    Thanks,

    Stu

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      One thing that might help…place a board, maybe a 1-by, or even a golf ball under the outside of your rear foot and hit some balls. You may feel the pressure point I described in the article.

  9. Kammer

    Mar 25, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for the article, Dennis.

    What do you make of guys like Kenny Perry who basically hit shots flat-footed and then ‘finish’ on the front foot mostly for show?

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Yes, there are those guys: Mark Calcavecchia, Dave Stockton, Rex Caldwell. They’re in the minority, but they’re still very interesting. I think they are mostly high ball hitters with lots of spin. I’ve always wanted to look more closely at them, and now that you mention it I am going to do so. My first guess is tons of lag. But I’m gonna look. Thx

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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