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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

Phil the thrill wins again at Pebble! Exploring his 6 mph clubhead speed gain

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It’s just awesome what is happening with Phil Mickelson! In this video, we will look at first how and why he is able to achieve another 6 mph compared to last season, as well as the thrilling shots he was able to pull off last weekend at Pebble Beach, which will soon be re-named Mickelson Beach.

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Lesson of the Day: Improve the transition to improve impact

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In our “Lesson of the Day” video series with V1 Sports, we match a different GolfWRX member with a different V1 Sports instructor. It’s extremely important to both V1 Sports and GolfWRX to help golfers improve their games and shoot lower scores, and there’s no better way to do that than getting lessons. While we not only want to provide free lessons to select GolfWRX members, we want to encourage and inspire golfers to seek professional instruction. For instructions on how to submit your own video for a chance at getting a free lesson from a V1 Sports instructor as part of our Lesson of the Day series, CLICK HERE.

In today’s lesson of the day, PGA pro Jake Thurm helps GolfWRXer Steffen Jensen improve his transition.

About the pro

Jake Thurm is a PGA Instructor and Director of Instruction at Ruffled Feathers Golf Club in Lemont, Illinois. Jake has been recognized as one of “America’s Best Young Teachers” and one of the “Best Teachers by State” by Golf Digest from 2017-2019. He was also named “Instructor of the Year” by Chicago Golf Report in 2017 and 2018. Jake is also the Midwest Director for the U.S. Junior National Golf Team.

Lesson synopsis

In today’s Lesson of the Day, PGA Instructor Jake Thurm helps a GolfWRX member improve the transitions within his golf swing. In order to get the club more laid off at the top to help with closing the face at impact, Jake recommends standing further from the ball, starting the club more outside than inside, and shallowing out the downswing at the top.

Student’s action plan

  1. Stand further from the ball at set up
  2. Start the club outside the hands during the takeaway
  3. Shallow out and lay off the club in transition from backswing to downswing
  4. Flatten left wrist to close the face during your backswing to downswing transition

 

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In a slump? Try the Substitution Solution

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insanity noun in·san·i·ty | \ in-?sa-n?-t? – Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result

When it comes to slumps, the yips, and other mental blocks, one of the most effective solutions is often the most obvious – what I like to call the Substitution Solution.

Now, the familiarity of habits, routines, and sticking with the tried and true can definitely have its place in playing good golf, but when things go south, making a change isn’t necessarily just a band-aid fix, but can often be the path to a long-term solution. And, as much as there are specific scientific reasons for why it works, most players instinctively gravitate to this method without even considering whether or not there is any actual evidence to back it up.

The Substitution Solution is the simple act of replacing whatever you do with something new. This may mean a new routine, a new technique, a new way of thinking, or even a new implement for the one that is currently so ill-designed for the purpose. And the aforementioned definition of insanity is a big part of why it’s the first thing we try when we’re in a slump of some sort. But, before I get to all the scientific mumbo-jumbo for why substitution might be the path to a solution (even if only temporary), let’s take a look at some of the ways in which it’s done in case you need some new ideas.

New Routines

If you’re in a slump the first thing you should try changing is what you are doing in the moments immediately leading up to the problem. Do you currently have an actual pre-shot or pre-putt routine? One of the biggest reasons players in all sports get so involved and ritualized in their routines is to take their conscious mind off of what they are doing.

Twenty-five years ago, long before it was in vogue to have a mental game coach, I knew PGA Tour player who loved to say “focus on the process, not the consequence.” It was his way of trying to get so wrapped up in the process of repeating his routine, down to the most minute detail, that it crowded out all the negative type of thinking that he wanted to avoid. So, if you don’t have a routine, adopt one. And if you do, is it so habituated that you can perform it without thinking?

If you can’t tell someone right now exactly what you do every single time you walk into a shot, you need to start paying attention, and then ritualize that process. If you can, but it’s not working, then it might be time to change it up. The act of changing your routine, or consciously adopting a new one, does one very important thing. It forces you to get in the present, and there is a reason they call it the present, it’s a gift. An often particularly important gift to those of you whose games or at least an element of your game has gotten mired in a rut.

New implements

Trying a new driver or putter is likely the most obvious starting point for those whose games, or an element of their games are suddenly in a bad place. And this approach, while it should be used in moderation unless you’ve got more money than sense, does have a bit of merit. A new Driver, especially if the one you have is out-dated or ill-fit, might not just add a few yards, but can do wonders for your confidence if it suddenly starts finding more fairways.

With the advent of launch-monitors and the myriad of options for adjustability, that today’s equipment has there is really no reason not to be fit correctly, but many still aren’t, so if your driver can remember hitting balls covered with balata then it’s long since time you traded ol’ Bessie in.

With putters, the investment can be even less. Most of us have an old putter (or twelve) sitting around in the garage, and a quick visit there may reveal one that you’d forgotten about that holds at least a few memories of better days. Don’t like any of your relics? Head to the golf shop then, and ask the pro to try out the latest and greatest. A putter that is more face-balanced, counter-balanced, has an insert, or a higher MOI can really offer quite a different feel and get you started down a different road.

You can even change the grip to a much larger one, helping to quiet those small motor muscles in your hands and giving you a steadier stroke. As the legendary Bagger Vance once said, “a man’s grip on his club just like a man’s grip on his world.”

New techniques

The third thing we instinctively do when problems arise is change our technique. Now this can be a very slippery slope, reinforcing the bad habit of never being quite committed to what you do, but sometimes, it’s just time for a new technique.

Outside of putting, you may want to take that oh’ so painful trip to the lesson tee and see your local professional about what may be going on mechanically that has led to your current state. Sometimes mental blocks are just mental blocks, but very often they’re rooted in mechanical flaws, and the revelation that you’ve got some issues with your technique that can be corrected can be, in and of itself, quite a relief. Having something physical, instead of mental, to explain/blame all those wayward tee shots, chili-dips, or terribly pulled putts can actually take a lot of the pressure off, especially once you’ve taken steps to correct it.

New thinking

This final one is a bit more esoteric in nature, but poor ways of thinking are often the biggest culprit when it comes to the yips and other mental blocks. You can’t be walking into the ball with thoughts of how embarrassed you will be after missing yet another short putt, or hitting a third tee shot in a row right in the lumberyard.

Positive thinking may have you feeling a bit like a Pollyanna and you’ve never been one to be delusional, but really, when you think about it, you’ve made way more short putts than you’ve ever missed, and hit far more balls in play than not. Unless you’ve gotten to the point where you need an 18-pack of the inexpensive top-rocks just to get around or your taking more putts on the course than actual golf shots, then your perception of how bad things are is likely far worse than it really is.

Get back to reality and take a little cue from the Zen Buddhists and learn a bit about the idea of impermanence. The game of golf, our golf games, and life itself are an ebb and flow. You never stay down as long as you think you will, nor do you stay on top forever. Things not only aren’t ever as bad as you build them up in your mind to be, but neither likely is the pain of any related consequence as unbearable as you have come to convince yourself of. Understand that, accept less, and you’ll likely get more.

So now that you’ve got a handful of things to experiment with, let me explain in layman’s terms why these are the first things you should try when some element of your game is in a rut, and why (scientifically) they actually work.

First of all, changing anything, whether it be our routine, our technique, our thinking, or the offending implements, forces our minds into the present. Once something becomes familiar, or habitual it is much easier for our brains to drift into faulty ways of thinking since we don’t really need to actually think about what we’re doing while we’re doing it. In performing a habitual act, like a putting routine and stroke in the same way we always do, our minds are freed up to wander to past mistakes, future unwanted consequences, or the type of negative self-flagellation we should all realize by now is less than productive.

Secondly, when we do something different, or start using different tools for a task, it puts our brains temporarily back into learning mode. Mental blocks like the yips often arise once we’ve become reasonably proficient at doing something, and by putting our brains back into learning mode it circumvents the area of the brain where the faulty pattern resides. And, while we can’t actually remove the old pattern completely (it’s in there), we can build new neural pathways related to the new skill or way of being required. These new pathways, especially if they’re anchored by some new-found success, can start to re-build the confidence we’ve lost, which is the biggest culprit when we find our games in an undesirable place.

So the next time you’re in a slump, try the Substitution Solution. It can and does work, in golf and in life, and because just doing the same thing over and over again is…well, you know the rest.

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