If you follow the sport of long drive (whether as a former competitor like me or as a non-competitor) and are interested in distance, you may have come across this modern idea of squatting down during your swing and jumping up with both legs to get more power as you come through impact, even to the point of coming off the ground. In this two-part article, I’d like to share my current thoughts about this.
In Part 1, I’ll go over how I think this two-foot jump concept came about and why I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to implement in your swing. Part 2 will discuss the 1-foot “jump” alternative and why I believe it is better.
With the two-foot jump, I think this came about from a few things.
First, in this age of using more advanced photography to analyze golf swings, it’s possible to look at a freeze frame moment of a golf swing with great visual clarity and think that that a specific position is some key or secret to the golf swing. But it’s important to keep in mind that a single positional snap shot could simply be a split-second moment of a larger fluid motion.
Think of the Sam Snead squat. Snead was a long hitter and great player. If you take look at his down swing, he does get in to a position that looks like a squat. Because Snead was so good, I think the instruction world looked at this as some sort of key to Snead’s distance and play. Years go by and then the instruction morphs in to the squat being thought of as a key component to playing good golf.
However, looking at the larger motion, in the backswing Snead straightened his trail leg and got his weight over on his trail foot. By the time he finished his swing, this was reversed with his lead leg being straight and weight shifted over to that lead leg. It’s a relatively simple motion and in the middle of that transition, both legs happen to be slightly bent and look like a partial squat.
Second, similarly with the slow-motion footage, analysis, and interest in long hitters and professional long drivers these days, I think perhaps it started out by noticing that a player happens to have a squat look in their swing with a subsequent two-foot jump type move that gets them airborne. This again gets thought of as some type of secret to power and it starts getting taught. Before you know it in our small world of golf, multiple players have caught wind of the concept and are trying to do it. The instruction world then notices and says “Look, now multiple players are doing it! It must be the key!”, even though they are the ones who propagated it. It’s sort of like quantum theory in which the observer can affect the outcome.
Third, there could be a level of correlation vs causation taking place in which to beware. From 1999 to 2009, it was noticed that the number of people who drowned in swimming pools each year had a strong correlation with the number of films Nicolas Cage appeared in. Should Cage then not make a movie to prevent people from drowning in pools? Simply because multiple long hitting golfers are observed to squat, jump, and get airborne, it’s important to consider that this may not be what is causing the power.
Lastly, again with the advent of modern technology like force plates, one can see that longer hitters generally do generate more vertical ground forces than short hitters. It is also true that there is a strength correlation as you move from amateurs to tour players to long drivers. As I’ve mentioned in numerous other articles, long drivers tend to be incredibly strong compared to other golfer groups. Thus, it’s not unreasonable to again then make the conclusion that squatting down and jumping off the ground with two feet will generate more power and distance.
All that being said, I’d like to make the case that these long hitters are actually airborne not because of this secret “squat and two-foot jump and get airborne” move, but rather in part from a flawed setup.
I believe one of the problems in golf instruction is that we’re commonly taught to take a wider stance when we want to hit the driver or hit for more power. In some cases, this has been taken to an extreme and now some stances have become too wide. When you get too wide, ironically it becomes more difficult to maintain balance when swinging hard.
If you look at players that hit the ball long like Count Yogi, Mike Austin, Sam Snead, or John Daly, they are wide but not so wide that they can’t still have good footwork and stay in balance. When you get wider than that, which happens commonly with professional long drivers, it becomes more difficult to finish in balance on your lead foot.
This is also complicated by limited hip mobility. You can read more about this in this article, but most golfers of all skill levels have better external hip mobility vs internal hip mobility. Because of this, when you set up with your feet perpendicular to the path you want to swing on, you will likely have the lead foot external mobility to make a full enough back swing, but you probably don’t have the internal hip mobility to keep your foot in the same place and get your hips rotated all the way around to facing your target. As a built-in protection mechanism, you probably either get your weight on your lead heel and spin the foot open…or you must come off that foot completely (get airborne) to allow your leg to rotate to a position where you won’t hurt yourself.
But I’ve been asked…what about Bubba Watson? He hits relatively powerfully and has a narrower stance with an open lead foot at address.
Yes, this is true. However, notice that in his downswing, he replants that lead foot back to a position where it is more perpendicular to his swing path. Of course, then because of the limit of his internal hip mobility and the replant, he must either get airborne or spin out on that foot as a way of protecting himself from injury. If he opened his lead foot a little bit more at address and replanted back in this spot on the way down, he wouldn’t need to get off that foot to protect himself from injury.
So, to me, this two-foot squat and jump off the ground instruction is flawed.
If one were to set up with a more appropriate stance width, open the lead foot sufficiently to accommodate your own personal level of hip mobility, and not replant the foot too closed relative to the limit of your personal level of internal hip mobility on the downswing, it’s possible to maintain better balance, not get airborne, and head off potential injury while still generating huge amounts of vertical ground force.
This can be done through a one-foot jump motion…and without jumping off the ground.
In Part 2, we’ll look at how to do it.
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!
Stop Practicing, Start Training. Part 1: The long game
This article is co-written with Zach Parker. Zach is the former director of golf at the Gary Gilchrist and Bishop’s Gate golf academies. Zach is a golf coach, an expert in skill acquisition, and he has years of experience setting up effective training scenarios for golfers of varying abilities.
The act of working on your golf game is often referred to as practice. This is a problem, however, because the word “practice” infers repetition or rehearsal. But golf is a sport that has a constantly changing playing surface, varying conditions and mixed skill requirements. So, if we use the traditional practice model of hitting the same shot over and over again, then we have a complete mismatch between our training and the requirements of the sport. This can lead to the following frustrations
- Grinding on the range but not improving
- Being unable to transfer performance on range to course
- Finding practice boring
- Plateaus in performance
These annoyances can lead to overall disappointment at underperforming and falling short of expectations developed in practice sessions. The most likely root cause of this issue is having no structure and the wrong context to your training, mistakenly focusing on repeating the same shot over and over again.
So let’s try shifting our approach and aim to train and not simply practice. By introducing these three key principles to your training, we can not only get better at golf, but do so a way that is more efficient and more fun too! For more detailed insight to this topic, check out the podcast that Zach recently recorded with Game Like Training Golf
Dr. Robert Bjorks suggests that the theory of spacing dates back centuries and simply means taking some time between training or learning tasks. By spacing things out the learner is forced to try and recall what was learned in the previous session, which makes that original learning stronger. The act of remembering strengthens the retrieval process, meaning it is more accessible in the future and easier to bring about.
Performing the same task over and over can allow you to appear to have “learned” the skill however we know that this is simply a false sense of competency (good on the range, but not on the course). Therefore if you’re truly looking to “learn” the new skill or desired movement pattern you need to introduce variability to the learning environment.
Challenge point theory is a relatively new concept championed by Dr. Mark Guadagnoli and Dr. Tim Lee. The central idea of this theory is to create training sessions that are appropriate for the learner. A large emphasis is placed on matching up the difficulty of the practice task to the skill level of the golfer.
Guadagnoli and Lee present the idea that a beginner golfer with a low level of skill is better off spending time on practice tasks that are easier, and in a blocked style. Whilst golfers with a higher level of skill are better off spending time in practice tasks that are slightly harder, and in an interleaved style.
In this example we have a college golfer aiming to incorporate a particular technical move into his golf swing. He is using a GravityFit TPro to help with feedback and learning. But instead of simply bashing balls using the TPro, he has been set up with a series of stations. The stations are divided into learning and completion tasks and incorporate the principles of Spacing, Variability and Challenge Point.
The aim is to work through three stations. If at any point the completion task is failed, then the participant must return back to the start at station one.
Learning task: Three balls with a specific focus (in this case technical), performing two or three rehearsals to increase understanding of the desired pattern.
Completion task: Must two-putt from 35-45 feet, right-to-left break
Learning task: Perform posture drills with the TPro, followed by one learning trial (hitting a shot) where the focus in on re-creating the feelings from the TPro exercise.
Completion task: Must two-putt from 30 feet, uphill
Learning task: Transfer previous technical feels to a target focus, aiming for two out of three balls landing inside the proximity target.
Completion task: Must make an 8-10 footer.
You can either have a go at this circuit or create your own. There are no set rules, just make sure to include a mixture of tasks (Variability) that are appropriate to your level of ability (Challenge Point) with plenty of time between repetitions (Spacing).
For more information on the featured GravityFit equipment, check out the website here
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