First, let me say that I hate blanket statements in golf instruction. There are so few absolutes in the golf swing, which is why recommending one thing for all golfers is usually one of the most detrimental things you can do as an instructor. With every rule there is an exception, however, and I believe this drill to be that exception.
A ton of golf instructors, commentators, and average golfers have noted throughout golf history that there are hundreds of different combinations of golf swings that can produce world-class results. Even today, it is very difficult to find any commonalities that hold true, for all, or even a large percentage of PGA Tour players. I am here to tell you that much smarter scientists and biomechanists than me have discovered a very important commonality. Based on this commonality, I believe this is the most important drill for every golfer.
This picture always amazes me, and it’s proof of why function is so much more important than form in the golf swing. It always keeps me grounded as an instructor, and even as a player, to not always sweat the minute details of form. I know for a fact that all the golfers in the photo can hit the same shots when necessary despite the differences in their swings. When I was on tour with TrackMan, I saw all sorts of players hitting the same exact shot and delivering the same exact club path and face angle at impact. They were doing it in a multitude of ways, however, and none of their full club numbers were exactly the same. Having said that, there is one commonality between them all.
So, what is the drill? All I want you to do is to figure out how to hit straight shots with your non-dominant hand on the club. If you’re a right-handed golfer, use only your left hand. If you’re left-handed golfer, use only your right hand. All I want you to accomplish is to start the ball on line. Distance does not matter. I know this sounds really easy, but I know the first time I ever tried it I thought it was almost stupid. Boy was I wrong.
What you will find out pretty quickly is that this drill is not easy. Almost all golfers who first try it will either struggle making contact or always start the ball way right of the target line. There is some pretty in-depth science about why this happens, but I will try and explain things in the simplest terms possible.
In the swing sequence above, I’m demonstrating what happens when a golfer first tries this drill. The club face is open throughout the downswing and even more open at impact, which causes the ball to start significantly to the right of the target. There are a couple of reasons why this happens. When swinging with only my left hand, I don’t have enough strength to rotate my forearm or left wrist in time to square the club face. So when I pull the butt end of the grip down toward the golf ball in transition to try and create power, the club face remains open and the ball starts right.
Now, look at my second swing above. The ball started on target and was hit well. Hopefully, you notice quite a difference between these two swings. As you can see at impact, the club face is square and the ball therefore starts on target. You may be asking yourself, what is the trick?
In the second swing I am creating passive torque to help square the clubface. I know… I probably just lost you. What is passive torque? Well, in simple terms, I am creating a relationship between the club’s center of mass and the force I am applying to the grip that naturally helps square the club face up at impact.
For all of you familiar with this topic, I may not be saying it 100 percent accurately, but I want to try and describe it in a way most golfers can understand. If you are looking to fully understand this relationship and how it happens, I suggest you look up the work Dr. Sasho MacKenzie has completed. In the frames below, you can see a better representation of what the club head and shaft are doing differently in the two swings.
As you can see in Swing #1, I start to pull the butt end of the grip down toward the golf ball at the top of the backswing. This begins to steepen the shaft and open the club face through the transition. At this point, I do not have the strength with only my left hand to square the face, so the club face remains open and the ball starts right.
In Swing #2, you can clearly see that in early transition the club head and shaft shallow while the club face remains square. I am accomplishing this by relaxing my left hand and feeling like the left wrist bows in transition. Now that I have created passive torque, the club head wants to line up at impact and the face is square. It’s important to note that just because I am creating this look or relationship does not mean I am going to only hit draws. Plenty of drawers and faders of the golf ball create this relationship. Just look at Ben Hogan or Lee Trevino if you don’t believe me.
So why is this important?
According to the research from Dr. Sasho MacKenzie, all but one PGA Tour player he has measured has this relationship in the early transition. That means it’s very difficult to be a world-class ball striker if you don’t create this relationship in the early downswing. That’s why I believe this drill to be the most important drill in golf. Even if you already have this relationship, I think it is helpful to revisit this drill in your practice. I would compare it to taking a daily multivitamin. It really can’t hurt you, even if you’re eating all the right foods.
The vast majority of golfers I see on a regular basis have no concept of this motion, which is why I consider this drill to be something than can help everyone. It’s a blanket statement I can get behind. This drill is easy, fun, and it won’t cost you anything to practice. And most importantly, it can be a game-changer.
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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