Recently, one of my students said this to me:
“I have a friend who is a pretty good golfer and he said I shouldn’t lift my heel on the backswing. His daughter plays college golf, and her coach told her it’s a bad idea.”
This random tip-taking is the epitome of foolishness in golf instruction, and says more about the gullibility of the one taking the tip as it does about the one giving it.
Why? Because the advisor never saw the person swing!
This is something every teaching pro in the world has encountered at one time or another; well-meaning friends or family members pass on things they’ve heard in hopes it will help. It’s said that golf is the only game in the world with more teachers than players, and despite their good intentions, golf-tip givers generally do more harm than good.
Another frequent comment I get from my students: “I heard Johnny Miller say…” I’m always quick to ask: “Did Johnny Miller ever see your swing?
You’ve heard me say this before: A golf swing is an equation; it has to balance. By randomly tossing this and that into the mix, you may very well be upsetting the balance, and, in many cases, making things worse.
Furthermore, when you are trying something new, how can you be sure you are really accomplishing what you’ve set out to do? Answer: Without the aid of video or a trained eye, you cannot tell if you’ve changed anything at all.
I can’t begin to tell you how many golfers are shocked when they see themselves on video. “Is that me?” is a pretty common reaction. Or, “I’m still doing that?”
And I don’t mean just average golfers; some very accomplished players react the same way. You need to see the new attempt to be sure it is what you’re trying to do — if in fact what you’re trying is the right thing, of course.
Next, you also have to consider what I call “leftover behavior” in the downswing. Take a golfer who used to transition very steeply, for example. To make that move functional, the golfer raised the handle of the club into impact. This is certainly not optimal, but it may be somewhat functional. Now let’s say that golfer tries shallowing out the the transition and this one time the golfer actually accomplishes it. The handle-raise motion is so habitual, however, that it’s still there and with the new flatter arc coming down, voila… the golfer can’t find the bottom of the golf ball on a bet!
The golfer in this case might think the new move (if they have really made a “new” move) is totally wrong, but what really caused the problem is leftover behavior from the old swing.
Note: Your “old swing” is not old if you’re still making it.
The bottom line is that golfers need to consider a few things when incorporating a golf tip:
- Take advice from someone who is actually watching you hit balls, and who understands the whole dynamic. Did the person writing the magazine article ever see you swing? Does he/she know your tendencies and/or swing faults? If not, you’re on shaky ground at best with that advice.
- You need to see (video, for example) if you’re actually executing a new move.
- Finally, remember that there may be leftover behavior from your “old” swing causing some unwanted outcomes.
May I suggest a trained professional who sees the big picture, and not simply some isolated move or position you are “supposed” to be in. And believe me, this is not an ad for business; I’ve got more than I can handle!
If I can be of help to your game visit my Facebook page.
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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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