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How to reduce your handicap (and your back pain) with these simple backswing keys

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One of the most common faults I see among recreational and competitive players is that they believe they should attempt to keep the lower body and hips still in the backswing and turn the shoulders as much as possible to create the maximum amount of separation, or “X Factor.”

Previously, this was thought to be the proper way to create power in the golf swing. As golf instruction has moved forward with the help of technology, however, we now have the ability to measure the club and the body in great detail. Research has shown that this extreme separation between the hips and shoulders is not actually what separates the power players from the shorter hitters, and that it is also a major contributor to lower back pain.

Here are some keys that will lower your handicap… and save your back.

The Takeaway

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After getting into the setup position, you can see here that my first move in the takeaway involves the lower body remaining stable with minimal pressure shift in the feet, and my chest turning away from the target and the clubhead still outside of my hands. At this point, my hands still have not traveled very far, only to my right leg.

Allowing the pressure in the feet to shift and the hips to open a large amount this early in the swing causes problems with sequence and also gets the club inside or “under the plane” too quickly.

Swing to the Top

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As your hands pass your trail leg, allow your hips to open and the right leg to straighten. From the down-the-line view, you should be able to see your lead knee in front of the trail knee, an indication the hips have made a nice turn.

I feel here as if my back foot is turning clockwise against the ground. A good feel at this point of the backswing is that the arms and hands work up to the sky, not around your body, allowing the turn of the body to create the depth. Stay tall and feel a nice stretch in your lead lat. With your trail foot turning against the turf, as opposed to feeling a lateral move, you should get a very powerful feeling from the ground up through the legs and core as if you could jump or do a 360 spin.

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Delivery

This nice turn with the body gives us plenty of room to deliver the club from the inside easily without having to use as much right bend away from the target with the upper body, which over time will lead to injuries. This will also be very helpful for those who having trouble drawing the ball or tend to take very steep divots. We can deliver a big hit from here.

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Finished Product

With all this space and rotation, we can now pivot through the shot freely with our hips more open than our chest, but not to an extreme. This will make the clubface very stable through the bottom of the arc and creates a very powerful strike.

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Make these adjustments to your backswing and your handicap, and your body, will thank you.

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Wills began coaching golf at the age of 19. After moving from Bluefield, Virginia, to Orlando, Florida, at the age of 21, he began to study under swing coach Foley, and has worked as his assistant since 2011. Wills worked as an assistant professional at Lake Nona Golf Club in 2013, which at the time featured 5 of the top 50 players in the world, to study tour players practice and playing habits. Prior to joining the Foley Performance Academy at Eagles Dream, Wills worked as an independent instructor. Clients include elite junior, collegiate, mini tour and LPGA players. Credits one of his students, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, as well as golf instructor David Lee as his other coaching mentors.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Tanner

    Sep 18, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Thx, Jim. wouldn’t it be rotate the shoulders, closed?

  2. N

    Sep 17, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Just looking at these photos makes my left leg, hip and ribs hurt

  3. Bob Jones

    Sep 16, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    The X factor has to be the dumbest idea going. Look at Bobby Jones’s swing. He has a tiny X factor, but he hit the ball a ton by the standards of his day.

  4. Chris B

    Sep 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    The open club face at the top is circa 1970. It’s not going left!

  5. Bob Pegram

    Sep 15, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    One thing I seldom see addressed in articles about the golf swing and back pain is whether the clubs are long enough. For tall golfers (or golfers with short arms) clubs that are too short will cause the golfer to bend over too far. It takes more flexibility to swing when bent over a lot. Standing more upright with longer clubs is much easier on the back and something older golfers should look at. In my case, it may me a more consistent ball striker. It also took the stress off my back.

  6. Speedy

    Sep 15, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Bottoming out is a back-killer. With today’s clubs, most can choke down a couple of inches and get more solid strikes, as well as saving the back.

    Weight properly dispersed on feet (slight lead foot emphasis) will help govern the swing’s length. A 3/4 swing is another back saver.

  7. Laugh

    Sep 15, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Sorry but I had to LOL this article.
    I can’t feel a thing ur talking about, as I HAVE to move my lower body and engage the legs and ankle lift to throw my weight forward and down into the strike otherwise your method is showing me that I have to keep my legs planted and rigid and then stretch upwards with the torso into the finish which will wreck your ribs and hip joints.
    I had to laugh

    • Laugh

      Sep 15, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Because there is no way that I can keep my left foot planted like that and twist on it as I have no flexibility on that leg or ankle and need to eject it soon after the hit. Otherwise I will end up breaking my ankle or the calf strain will be way too immense to be able to use it the next day the pain will be unbelievable

      • Speedy

        Sep 15, 2017 at 2:20 pm

        Then you’re likely stubborn, out of shape, and/or swinging way too hard. Flexibility can be learned. It must be learned to save the back.

        • Phys

          Sep 15, 2017 at 10:43 pm

          Actually, no. There is a limit to things, just like anything else. Some people are more naturally limber and soft in their tendons than others.

  8. AllanA

    Sep 15, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    The source of the back pain is usually found in the transition from the thoracic to the lumbar sections of the spine (T12-L1). The lower lumbar vertebrae do not rotate, only the upper thoracic vertebrae twist around.
    If you are a sedentary type your lumbar vertebrae and muscles are continuously overstressed and the strain causes pain. When you try to rotate your thoracic spine against the rigid lumbar spine you aggravate the pain. You can develop sciatic pain too.
    A normal healthy spine assumes an ‘S’ shape while an unhealthy spine looks like a hunched over ‘C’ shape. Sedentary people invariably have ‘C’ spines and develop back pain. These people should not be playing golf for obvious reasons.
    Excessive sitting will also shrink and tighten the muscles in the back of your legs and weaken the front muscles. If your legs are weak your golf swing attempts will suffer.
    All good golfers have strong legs and good feet….. which is the true foundation of the golf swing. The hips and torso generate and transmit energy to torque the shoulders that whip the arms and club. Simple, and if you have doubts visit a sports chiropractor.

    • Zu Qu

      Sep 16, 2017 at 2:01 am

      Good points. But every single tour pro on any tour worldwide, spends a significant time sitting down – whether its travel, work or other forms that normal people face. Their bodies are just better equipped at handling it. I’ll also assure you many tour pros especially on the champions tour have very deformed postures and the C shape spine you’re talking about, but they still get it done. There are many ways to play the game. If you limit your mind and get lost in this biomechanic mumbo jumbo, then of course you’re doomed to fail before you begin. Hell, there are guys with severe physical disabilities playing at a high level. This isnt as much of a cookie cutter sport as some make it seem. While a healthy spine, strong legs and feet may help give a foundation for better golf, it doesnt guarantee the touch required for the short game or the nerves. You can have great strategy and know-how of how to play the game even with compromised health. There’s a reason the 70 year olds at my club clean up the young bucks.

      • AllanA

        Sep 18, 2017 at 2:50 am

        Most of the pro golfers started playing golf at an early age, like 6-7 y.o., or like Tiger as a toddler. Their golf swing neuro-muscular system is hard wired into their body and brain.
        They can make compensations to their golf swing and maybe get away with it, but most suffer and give up the game for a living.
        Also, your body shape affects how well you can compensate for a wonky spine. A tall slim golfer will have problems while a short stocky golfer may get away with it.

    • Tim

      Sep 17, 2017 at 1:33 am

      I am a sports specific chiropractor, and you are somewhat on the right track. Sedentary lifestyles are definitely bad for a number of reasons, but they are not the main contributor to low back pain in golfers, or even general back pain. Don’t get me wrong, lack of meaningful movement is a huge contributor to negative health conditions, but as far as back pain specific to golf, it is more complicated than comments on Golfwrx can cover. I would say 60% (maybe more) of clients from more than a dozen different sports and age ranges of 14-42 have had lower back (lumbar) pain at some point in the past. All of these clients are on the high end of “fit” by today’s standards. As an aside, I would ask you to consider how it is possible for handicapped (one legged) golfers to still hit the ball a respectable distance (approximate 250 yd. driver carry) and play solid (single digit handicap) golf. I’ve known a couple of guys who over the years who could do this. I think they would agree it comes down to centrifugal force.

      • AllanA

        Sep 18, 2017 at 2:44 am

        Of course you are right about back pain in the general population, but back pain cause by rotatory sports such as golf and tennis can show up at T12-L1 the transition from the twisting thoracic vertebrae to the rigid lumbar vertebrae.
        Lumbar pain due to a sedentary lifestyle is a chronic condition and such people should avoid rotatory sports where demands on posture and torsion are extreme.
        Please understand that the momentum of the hip mass must be transferred as kinetic energy through the core and to the shoulders. If the spine is compromised anywhere, rotation is also compromised.
        (p.s. there is no such thing as ‘centrifugal force’ in rotation, only ‘centripetal force’ and ‘torque’… per Newtonian physics.)

        • Tim

          Sep 19, 2017 at 10:19 pm

          AllanA,
          I should have assumed you knew what most people refer to as centrifugal force is actually centripetal force. I apologize.

          Your comment regarding “back pain cause by rotatory sports such as golf and tennis can show up at T12-L1” is a broadly generalized statement. Back pain from rotatory sports presents itself in a variety of ways and is not always CAUSED by rotation in the sport. The T12-L1 focus makes sense on paper and is good for textbooks but in real practice the human body compensates differently than most (99.99999999%) of the population realizes. I guess you’ll just have to take my word on it.

          “Please understand that the momentum of the hip mass must be transferred as kinetic energy through the core and to the shoulders”. (I hope after 16+ years in sport specific practice and hundreds of hours in post graduate work I’m starting to). Your statement assumes the sedentary people you mentioned in your first post and latest post actually swing in the same fashion as tour pros. I don’t have specific numbers, but I’m willing to bet that essentially no 10+ handicap golfer does. I’m sure you’ve seen and could describe the stereotypical weekend golfer swing with the super tight grip, right arm dominance, and almost no lower body involvement. In reality, the common instinctual weekend golfer swing has little to do with a professions in the areas of weight transfer, proper rotation, flexibility, balance, rhythm, or consistency.

          • AllanA

            Sep 20, 2017 at 1:45 am

            Sorry, Tim… in my haste to post I should have said that spinal injury can cause back pain. I tried to verbally illustrate how the spinal column can be injured due to the golf swing and omitted all the other causes that you no doubt have experiences professionally.
            My engineering assessment is that an irregular column undergoing rotatory stress has weak points, particularly in transitions from rigid to flexible sections… ergo T12-L1.
            The supporting musculature, deep and surface, also contributes to potential back pain due to vigorous rotation torque … and particularly when the column is tilted like a cantilever. Regardless, most of humanity is out of shape to play any sport.

  9. Jonesy

    Sep 15, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Very good article.

  10. Jim

    Sep 15, 2017 at 8:24 am

    I’ve recently seen some other pros that suggest that after you’ve completed your one piece take away, that you should feel your trail shoulder rotate open. That movement allow your trail elbow to get closer to vertical rather than flying open and then allow you to lead with that elbow in the downswing and create more clearance. I’ve been trying this recently and it really works. I’ve noticed a reduction in back pain by accentuating the one piece take away and then this shoulder rotation move too (which is good for someone with a bad back like me). Good points on the article.

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Instruction

3 keys for getting out of bunkers with soft sand

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One of the most infuriating things in golf is to land in a bunker that has too much sand, or sand with the consistency of a truckload of talcum power. Now, I am not picking on the Superintendents; they do have to add new sand from time-to-time, so no hate mail please! It’s my fault for hitting it in the bunker in the first place, and bunkers are supposed to be hazards; I know that.

The one thing we will assume for this article is that even though we are in soft sand, we will have a good lie, not a plugged or semi-plugged one. We are in a bunker that just has a bunch of sand, or it’s soft and fluffy sand. Everyone asks me what the secret is to handling these types of conditions and I’m here to help you get better.

1) Get a wedge with the correct bounce

Let’s consider that you play the same golf course every weekend, or that you mostly play on courses that have the same type of playing conditions mostly. When you have this luxury, you should have wedges that fit the conditions you tend to play. So, if you have a low bounce wedge with a sharp flange and you’re playing from bunkers with lots of sand, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Why alter your swing if the wedge you have can help you? Use a high bounce wedge (9-12 degrees of bounce) for soft sand, and a low bounce wedge (6-8 degrees) for firm sand.

2) Control your Angle of Attack 

As with most things in golf, there are always things that you must pay attention to in order for you to have the odds in your favor. Simple things such as paying attention to the lie you have can help you save shots in the rough. In bunkers, you cannot test the surface, however, you can use your feet to feel the density of the sand. Pay attention to what you feel in the balls of your feet. If you feel a ton of sand below you, then you know you will have to alter your angle of attack if you want any chance to get out of the bunker successfully.

So what do I mean by this?

The setting of your wrists has a very dynamic effect on how much the wedge digs in or skids through the sand (assuming you have an open face). When there is a surplus of sand, you will find that a steeper attack caused by the maximum cocking of your wrists makes it much easier for the wedge to work too vertical and dig too deep. When you dig too deep, you will lose control of the ball as there is too much sand between the blade and the ball — it will not spin as much and won’t have the distance control you normally have.

The secret to playing from softer sand is a longer and wider bunker swing with much less wrist-set than you would use on your stock bunker shot. This action stops the club from digging too deep and makes it easier for you to keep moving through the ball and achieving the distance you need.

3) Keep your pivot moving

It’s nearly impossible to keep the rotation of your shoulders going when you take too much sand at impact, and the ball comes up short in that situation every time. When you take less sand, you will have a much easier time keeping your pivot moving. This is the final key to good soft-sand bunker play.

You have made your longer and more shallow backswing and are returning to the ball not quite as steeply as you normally do which is good… now the only thing left to do is keep your rear shoulder rotating through impact and beyond. This action helps you to make a fuller finish, and one that does not lose too much speed when the club impacts the sand. If you dig too deep, you cannot keep the rear shoulder moving and your shots will consistently come up short.

So if you are in a bunker with new sand, or an abundance of sand, remember to change your bounce, adjust your angle of attack, and keep your pivot moving to have a fighting chance.

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WATCH: How to stop “flipping” through impact

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Are you flipping through impact? In this video, I share a great drill that will help you put better pressure on the golf ball at impact. By delivering the sweet spot correctly, you’ll create a better flight and get more distance from your shots immediately.

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The Wagon Wheel Drill

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For many golfers, the ability to hit shots golf ball to the target is a difficult task, especially when you take into account the rough, trees or hazards lining the hole. In this video, I share “The Wagon Wheel Drill,” a simple idea of how to practice intentionally hitting the ball left, right and on target.

Practice this and you will soon be hitting the target more often.

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