This story is part of our new “GolfWRX Guides,” a how-to series created by our Featured Writers and Contributors — passionate golfers and golf professionals in search of answers to golf’s most-asked questions.
We’ve all spent countless hours hacking away on the range looking for a quick fix or band-aid. But for some golfers — and maybe most of them — it’s not their swing that’s holding them back, but their physical limitations.
That’s where fitness assessments come in to play. It tells golfers what they can be doing from a fitness perspective to rid their swing of nasty habits, and it can prevent injuries as well.
How an assessment works
A golf fitness assessment — such as those administered by TPI, an institute created by Dr. Greg Rose and Dave Phillips — is a screening that is based on golf biomechanics and fitness.
A compilation of normative data was created by testing a wide group of PGA and LPGA professionals and measuring their physical capabilities as they relate to the golf swing. The assessment will identify asymmetries, limitations and dysfunctional movement patterns — basically how good or bad you are moving in your golf swing.
From the assessment, an efficient fitness program can be created. It also gives you and your swing coach important information about your strength and flexibility that will help you make more informed decisions about your game. Dr. Rose says it best.
“If you don’t test, it’s just a guess.”
To paint a better picture of how an assessment can help, let’s look at a major swing flaw that most of us understand: coming “over the top” with a driver. This move has been responsible for more golf anguish than I care to quantify, but the problem usually stems from an issue with shoulder mobility, which causes a loss of posture.
There’s a lot of ways to try and fix coming over the top from a mechanical standpoint, but they’re often just band-aids. For long term improvement, you’ll need to get to the source of the problem.
One of the TPI assessments used to look at shoulder mobility is called the 90/90. With better shoulder mobility, golfers are generally more efficient with their longer clubs. It allows them to swing from the inside more easily and shallow their angle of attack.
To perform this test correctly, stand tall and hold your right arm out to your side with 90 degrees of flexion. Now, without letting your upper-body bend backward, try to externally rotate your right hand as far as possible (up and back). Only continue rotating as far as the body will allow with no compromises in your posture and never perform this test to the point of pain or discomfort.
Once the arm is fully externally rotated, grade the degrees of rotation. Your range of motion will fall into one of the following three categories:
- Less than Spine Angle: The forearm does not externally rotate past the spine angle (usually less than 90 degrees). This is not good.
- Equal to Spine Angle: The forearm is parallel to the spine angle (usually 90 degrees). This is good, but not great.
- More than Spine Angle: The forearm externally rotates past the spine angle (usually greater than 90 degrees). This is great.
Repeat the process with the other arm.
The next portion of this test will be to complete the same process with only one change — perform the test while you are in your golfing set-up posture with a 5 iron. Raise your elbow and arm to the 90/90 position and rotate the hand externally. Observe the forearm, spine-angle relationship in the same fashion as during the standing portion of the exam and repeat it on the opposite side.
This test is designed to highlight any limitations in mobility of the glenohumeral joint and/or stability of the scapulo-thoracic junction.
More specifically, the 90/90 test measures range of external rotation in the shoulder and a golfer’s ability to maintain scapular stability in a golf posture. We look at the amount of external rotation in each shoulder from a standing position and then compare that range to how the shoulder rotates in the golf posture.
Many golfers will lose range of motion in their golf posture due to a lack of scapular stability. This will cause them to lose their posture and stand up in their downswing, which can lead to coming over the top with the driver.
Other times the lack of scapular stability or poor posture causes the shoulder blade to elevate or flare, and this changes the orientation of the shoulder joint. This greatly reduce the amount of external rotation in the shoulder joint and causing a steep position in the downswing instead of the sweeping position that is preferred.
If you understand what your body can do (and not do), you can fix your physical limitations and address your swing mechanics with your teaching professional.
For more information on golf assessments: http://www.mytpi.com/articles/screening
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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake
In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.
Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;
- He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
- He described a phantom move that never occurred.
- He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
- He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.
As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.
Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.
THE FLARED FOOT POSITION
The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.
The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.
The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG. The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.
As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.
FOOT FLARE ISSUES
The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:
In the backswing, the flared left foot:
- Discourages a full left- hip turn;
- Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
- Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.
In the downswing, the flared left foot:
- Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
- Does not allow for a solid post at impact.
In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.
THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL
There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.
A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing. This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.
THE DISCUS THROWER
The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.
The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.
REPAIRING YOUR SWING
Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.
WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it
This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!
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