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The Lower Body: Focus on three areas for a better backswing

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Your lower body action is important for many reasons within the golf swing. It can influence things like power, attack angle, balance and swing plane, to name a few.

What most people do not know is that there are three areas of in the lower body that you should be mindful of in order for you to gain the maximum efficiency on the backswing. In this article, I would like to explain these areas and why they are so important.

If you look at your lower body and its parts, you can split it up into a few components for the rear leg only:

  • Foot Action
  • Knee Action
  • Hip Action

It’s vital for you to control each of these components in order to store the most potential energy and use it in your downswing. Losing control of one of these actions will cause you to have a “power leak” in your backswing, which will result in your lower body not work correctly during the downswing. Thus if you are having trouble with your forward swing, I bet you can link it back to your lower body actions to the top!

The Setup

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.58.09 AM

In the photo above, you can see that the right foot, right knee and right hip are all lined up and ready for the backswing to begin. It’s these components that will govern the amount of backswing hip rotation you have and where your weight goes on your right foot to the top. It will also provide a stable platform for your pivot to work from during the transition. If you have a tendency to set up incorrectly — getting these “dots” out of line — you are only asking for trouble.

The Top (GOOD)

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.50 AM

As you get to the top, the body should be “on the dots” once again, within reason, and at this point we are striving to achieve foundational stability. It’s NOT about immobilizing the lower body, because as you can see I am still twisting and turning, displacing weight to the top. These foundational points allow me to load up on the inside of the rear foot and be poised and ready to explode forward with the lower body leading and powering the pivot train through the ball.

The Top (BAD)

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.30 AM

Anytime you slide off these dots, you will tend to see a “bowing” of the right side of your body at the top. This causes the weight to move to the outside of your right foot at the top and reduces the amount of torso lean over your right leg at the top as seen earlier. This will reduce width at the top as well. 

As we know, whenever you slide on the backswing it is much tougher to use the lower body to begin the downswing and thus the shoulders and arms take over and an over-the-top path tends to happen. If you are having trouble starting your downswing from the ground up, I’d venture to say that your lower body work is sloppy to the top. 

How can you work on your lower body issues and control your lower body more effectively to the top? Use my simple foot-in drill with practice swings and you will feel how to better control the lower body during your backswing. From there, try to find the same feeling with your normal right foot position in your full swing.

First, Turn in Your Right Foot at Address

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.16 AM

Then, Take Your Swing to the Top

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.05 AM

You will feel pressure on the inside portion of your right side when you do this drill correctly. This is the feeling you will look for when you return back to normal swings to the top. 

A word of caution: I would not hit balls with this drill, as it tends to put too much pressure on your right knee, but it’s a great drill for you to work on in slow motion during your backswing.

If you can achieve this feeling to the top of your swing, you will be loaded and ready to hit the ball longer than ever before! 

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. LY

    Mar 6, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Many,many years ago I heard Ken Venturi giving a golf lesson and he said that one of the most important swing thoughts for most amateurs was to maintain the flex in the right knee. He said you will see a lot of amateurs straightening out their right knee on the takeaway which changes their spine angle, and causes their head to move up. (if you are a right handed player). He said that if you could maintain the same flex in the right knee throughout your backswing you had a better chance of making solid contact. This is the only swing thought that I use. When someone at my club wants me to look at their swing, the first thing I look at is the right knee. And about 98% of the time they either straighten the right knee or it moves way off the ball to the point that the inside part of their right foot is coming up slightly off of the ground. Naturally when I mention this to them they immediately start hitting the ball better and I look like I really know what I’m talking about!
    This was a great article and I will be forwarding this to a few of my high handicap friends.

  2. Shaun

    Mar 4, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    I have a bad swaying problem and my instructor told me you want to have the feel of turning and looking over your right shoulder at something behind you so I could feel the turn in my torso and hip. It’s helped a great bit and I’m looking forward to trying this as well. Anything to help get rid of this darn swaying. Thanks for the tip Tom.

    • Barry S.

      Mar 4, 2015 at 8:08 pm

      Shaun, I hope you don’t mind me putting something out there for your consideration. Without seeing you swing I would take an educated guess and say the reason you have a bad swaying problem is because you are taking the club back wide along the target line. Watch Sam Snead’s takeaway. He didn’t take the club wide he took it around or what people incorrectly call inside. Would like to add more but I haven’t figured out how to make paragraphs here so let’s just leave it at that.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYbiwWi_9k0&feature=youtu.be

      • Shaun

        Mar 4, 2015 at 9:45 pm

        Nail on the head Barry! I don’t mind the input and thanks for it. I’ll have to work on the inside take away and see if that helps me out. I get thru the ball great according to the instructor but I’m losing power & torque from my swaying causing an overlong backswing and reverse pivot. If you anybody else has input I more than welcome it. Thanks again

  3. Jeremy

    Mar 4, 2015 at 12:59 am

    I think a backwards sway—as opposed to a proper hip turn—also puts a lot of strain on your hip, hamstrings, and glute in the back leg. That’s what I’ve been finding after trying to return to full strength after knee surgery. Everything, including my lower back, feels better when I keep my spine straighter and really rotate at the hips instead of swaying my weight backwards.

  4. Speedy

    Mar 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    As the old instruction said, swing around the fence post.

  5. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Philip– Use your mirror and watch yourself swing to the top…that’s the best drill of all

  6. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Mike– check to see if your rear knee is straightening…sounds like a reverse hip shift to me

  7. Mike

    Mar 3, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Tom – My foot and knee stay on the dots but my hip moves toward the target. The opposite of your example. Any ideas?

  8. Philip

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    Tom, thank you very much for the information and your time to prepare it.

    I have done similar drills to this one, just to help my body understand the “feel” I am looking for and then allow my body to take control now that it can feel what I am targeting. I now am able to do what you describe in the above video (although I did the “bad” for WAY too long) because I learned to feel it and trust my body to repeat it.

    This winter I was finally able to see the golf swing as a swing and not a method to hit a golf ball. I improved my swing greatly with drills like above and also just making swings in slow motion (with a mirror sometimes) so that I could connect the dots between set-up and the swing. I’ve never learned so much, so fast, with so little effort.

    I am interested in any other drills you have that do not involve hitting a golf ball and focus on paying attention and discovering golf “feels”.

  9. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    James– 1) that’s an ok way to do it, if you have the flexibility to do so. 2) Moves into your left toe then into your heel for most people during the downswing. No problem sir

  10. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Barry– understanding the areas of concern will help those whom are having issues with their backswing. Of course you don’t think about all of these when you swing but it’s nice to understand how it’s all put together

  11. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Barry– there are many ways to describe the backswing motion- the one you describe was popularized by Jim McLean.

  12. Barry S.

    Mar 3, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    The BS pivot is a shift and a turn. You step onto your right foot similar to taking a step when walking followed closely by a turn.

    Are you worried about Foot Action, Knee Action and Hip Action or their alignments when you walk? I hope not or it will take you forever just to cross the street.

  13. james

    Mar 3, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Tom: thanks for the article, as it deals with somethings i have been wondering about. Two question:

    1. I find that weight being placed at the inside of my rear foot restricts my hip turn. I’m okay with that but lately I’ve been hearing lot of pros talk about not restricting the hip. Any comment on this?

    2. Where should the weight be during the downswing and the follow through in regards to the feet? I am currently finding most of the weight being placed at the heel of my lead foot (and causing ankle pain, hence my curiosity) during the transition and finish.

    Thank you for your time in regards to these questions in advance.

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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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Instruction

How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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Instruction

Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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