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The magic of the left heel

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Let’s begin with a question: What is the definition of a pivot? In this article I’m using this word to describe the action of the hips throughout the entire swing. I’m also using the phrase “death of the pivot,” because in contrast to the past, today’s players restrict the turning of their left hip.

Why do they do this? Because they have been told that first, the left heel should remain on the ground for two reasons. First, the instructors opinion that the maneuver is too complicated for the average player to execute. And second, that keeping the left heel down will create a higher degree of torsion between the upper and lower body potentially allowing the player to drive the ball further.

On the second point, the presumed increase in distance being based on the differential between the upper body and lower body coil. And the greater the difference between those two numbers, in theory, the more powerful the swing.

Further, the last point does not address the potential for injury or whether accuracy is considered as part of the equation.

In earlier years, most of the great players had a liberal left hip turn allowing their left heel to leave the ground, including Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and several other great players from that era.

In today’s world, the list of those players who allow their left heel to leave the ground is considerably shorter then in earlier days. Those that immediately come to mind are Jack Nicklaus, John Daly, Bubba Watson, Tom Watson, and the late Payne Stewart. In the case of these players the elevation of the left heel was not a separate movement but an integrated part of their coil.

Jack Grout

Jack Nicklaus allowed his left heel to leave the ground by several inches as he coiled his hips in the backswing. This was something that he was taught to him by his teacher, Jack Grout.

In his earlier years, Grout had tried his hand at playing the game while traveling with Ben Hogan but In the end he decided that he would rather teach the game than play it.
His first position as an instructor was at a Glen Garden G.C., where his brother, Dick Grout, was the Head Professional. This was coincidently the same course where both Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson grew-up caddying.

Grout was later offered the teaching position at Scioto Country Club in Ohio which was Jack Nicklaus’ home course. And that is where he first began working with the young boy.

Alex Morrison

As he was learning the game himself, Grout worked with Alex Morrison who was a highly-respected teacher in his day. Morrison believed that there were two basic motions that drove the swing. The first was a focus on the position of the chin at address and throughout the swing. The second was good footwork which he concluded was achieved by rolling the feet and the ankles inward during both the backswing and the downswing.

Jack Nicklaus

This was directly counter to the way Nicklaus used his feet. In his backswing, his left heel went out towards the target at the very begining of his backswing, rather than inward as advocated by Morrison.

Nicklaus had discovered, perhaps inadvertently, that the outward motion of his left heel was the secret to engaging his left hip coil at the beginning of the backswing.

The question then is why was Nicklaus’ footwork different than what Morrison had taught Grout? That is question that will go unanswered but the possible explanation is that Nicklaus naturally developed the footwork on his own and Grout choose to not try and change it.

A second possibility is that Grout rejected Morrison’s technique and developed his own which he then taught to his young protégé. Whatever the case Nicklaus’ footwork allowed him to develop one of the best pivots in the history of the game.

Golf Digest

The left heel also plays a secondary role in the downswing. Golf Digest ran a cover story several years ago featuring the action of Nicklaus’ left heel on the downswing. They touted this as a new discovery and one of the many secrets of his swing.

What they had noticed when studying his footwork was that his left heel came down CLOSER TO THE TARGET than it was at the beginning. This was a move once again that Nicklaus was likely not aware of until it was pointed out to him, but the movement served to set up a STRONG POST of the left foot, ankle and knee at impact.

What is the message? That the way you move your left heel in the swing is critical to developing a sound pivot.

Experience the feel

You can experience these movement yourself by following these step-by-step directions

  • Step 1: First, stand in front of a mirror with your feet shoulder width apart and your weight even on both feet and your shoulders level.
  • Step 2: Second, assume your set-up WITHOUT using a club. And then while making a mock swing allow your left foot to leave the ground but not more than three inches. You can check this in the mirror. Note: The ideal motion is one in which your left heel moves slightly outward initiating the movement of your hip coil.
  • Step 3: As you your left heel is rising, turn your left heel slightly OUTWARD. You will notice as you look in the mirror that this very slight movement at the beginning of the backswing causes your left hip to move OUTWARD. This is the beginning of a proper
  • Step 4: On the downswing plant your left heel SLIGHTLY CLOSER TO THE TARGET than it was at address in the same manner as Nicklaus. As you watch in the mirror you will notice that this movement will cause your left hip to MOVE OUTWARD FIRST before turning back to the left.

In summary then, the left heel controls the initial movement of the hips in both the backswing and the downswing. Do you want to improve your ball-striking? You can start that process right now by mastering the magic of the left heel.

 

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. you know

    Feb 11, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    Weight shift.. Ground directional forces? Just hit the damn ball..

  2. Rick Wilmoth

    Feb 11, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    I am sorry to say that most coaches, teachers, and instructors do not know the basic fundamentals of their sport based on the laws of physics, and bio-mechanics. That is a fact. Track and Field has taken the lead in this area and done most of the homework in applying how science should be applied to sport’s instruction. Track and Field events cover most of the athletic motions, or movements of jumping, throwing, and running that cross over to just about every sport. Extensive research is available on these subjects if one wants to study them.
    How many times do you watch so called expert golf instruction where the instructor resorts to describing, or having the pro explain HOW they perform a specific shot, or technique, but rarely if ever explain the WHY? Using,” this is how I do it,” is not advanced instruction and means little.

  3. MG

    Feb 11, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    Mickelson just won at Pebble lifting his “right” heal. I assume this is more for your longer clubs? At what iron do you not lift your heal?

  4. freowho

    Feb 11, 2019 at 2:44 am

    The author talks about the left heel creating a post for impact but he then spins on his left heel so the post is turning allowing him to turn his hips towards the target. If it was a post he wouldn’t be able to follow through without scooping. Unfortunately coaches for years have taught pupils to bump their lift hip against an old golf shaft in the ground and created scoopers for decades.

  5. earlanthony

    Feb 9, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Roll the ankles and release the arms to hit it long and straight.

  6. geohogan

    Feb 8, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    Muscles control movement of bones, contract and relax, they do not coil. There are no springs in the human body to coil and uncoil.

    The only way the pelvic basin, including hips move is by the lower body. ie feet, ankles, knees. There is no other means for the hips to move, so if the lower body doesnt move
    the hips dont move = restricted hip turn.

    We pivot on our rear hip on BS and early part of the DS; then pivot on our lead hip for follow through. The lead foot has to invert in order to release tension in pelvic basin and lower back. No golfers inverted their lead ankles as well as Jack N and Johnny Miller.

    Posting on lead foot flat on the ground from impact and beyond, will damage the lower spine
    and or lead knee and hip.Even Adam Scott, releases the big toe of his lead foot after impact

    • Dan

      Feb 11, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      There absolutely are “springs” so to speak that coil. Look at Nicklaus’ right leg at the top of the swing. The knee flex is maintained and creates tension up the outside of the thigh as it twists slightly above a stable lower leg. That’s the spring. Plus the muscles in the left back at the top are stretched, that tension plus the thigh are what wants to return to where they were. That creates the beginning of the speed on through impact with a throwing the ball action post impact to bring it all together ( watch a pitcher at the top of the knee/leg raise) all that twisting is the spring. If you relax the leg, it will straighten and interrupt the loading and cause the hips to turn too much back. Most amateurs do this and the arms out race the body and blow their arm speed fore impact. Just read the X factor. All good players do this for a reason, it works. Plus lifting your left heal is a road to vertical balance problems. Most amateurs aren’t coordinated enough to time it anyway.

      • geohogan

        Feb 22, 2019 at 8:19 am

        @dan; absolutely ;muscles do not spring, and do not stretch, they contract and relax
        one or the other.
        The muscles you refer to in the left bak at the top.. LOL
        Do a little research. The scapula is what protracts in the BS in a proper golf swing.
        its how Ben Hogan wore a hole in his golf shirts with his chin rubbing against his shoulder. Yes his shoulder….without stretching a muscle.LOL

        “A person’s shoulder joint is composed of the clavicle (collar bone), the scapula (shoulder blades), and the humerus (upper arm bone), along with two joints – the acromioclavicular, or AC joint; and the glenohumeral joint. AC joints exist between the clavicle and the scapula, whereas the glenohumeral joint is the classic ball-and-socket joint responsible for basic arm rotations and hinging. All these bones and joints are in turn supported by the surrounding musculature.”

      • geohogan

        Feb 22, 2019 at 9:02 am

        @ dan; Im betting that your a very good natural athlete.
        Keep it up, enjoy….dont try to think too much.

        cheers

  7. Sup

    Feb 8, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Not everybody have to do this.
    It’s whther you are flexible or not.
    Look at Adam Scott. He is so supple his whole left calf ankle can rotate around with his calf while his whole foot remains planted to the ground

  8. DB

    Feb 8, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    I just think this footwork seems more natural and athletic. I hope it makes a come back.

    • geohogan

      Feb 9, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      @DB, natural and athletic footwork has always existed. Its our genetic makeup.

      Its the misguided golf instruction eg X factor that has messed with golfers
      to cause much physical pain, permanent damage and loss of interest in the game of golf.

  9. Greg V

    Feb 8, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Good article.

    Bobby Jones was another player whose left heel came down closer to the target, like Jack.

    Anytime I see a player’s left heel come down closer to his right heel, I can generally find an over the top move.

    • geohogan

      Feb 10, 2019 at 9:30 pm

      Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus had a great lateral move, when they planted the lead foot
      it was oriented according to their new torso position with spine lined up behind their left heels. Check pics and video from behind. At top of BS their butt hole points behind the left heel. As if they are farting behind the left heel*.

      * The Hogan Manual of Human Performance: GOLF, 1992.

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Instruction

Davies: Training the trail elbow in the golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get the correct trail arm and elbow action in the downswing. He shares some great drills that can be done at the range or at home to help lower your scores.Get the correct training for the trail arm here today!

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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Fix early extension: 3 exercises to get your a** in gear

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It’s pretty common knowledge that “early extension” is a problem for golfers everywhere, but how does it affect your body and your game? And what can you do to fix it?

First, let’s look at early extension in its most simple form as a physical issue rather than a technical issue.

During the swing, we are asking our body to not only create force, but also resist a number of different forces created by the aggressive rotational pattern we call a golf swing. The problem comes down to each player’s unique dysfunction which will likely include bad posture, weak glutes or a locked out thoracic spine for example.

So when we then ask the body to rotate, maintain spine angle, get the left arm higher, pressure the ground, turn our hips to the target (to name a few) a lot of mobility, strength and efficiency are required to do all of this well.

And not everyone, well actually very few of us, has the full capability to do all of this optimally during the swing. The modern lifestyle has a lot to do with it, but so does physiology and it has been shown that tour players as well as everyday golfers suffer from varying levels of dysfunction but can ultimately get by relative to learned patterns and skill development.

But for the majority of players early extension leads to one or more of the following swing faults:

  • Loss of spine angle/posture. During the swing, a player will ‘stand up’ coming out of their original and desired spine angle, this alters the path and the plane of the club.
  • “Humping” the ball. Johnny Wunder’s preferred term for the forward and undesirable movement of the lower body closer to the ball.

Lack of rotation during the swing occurs due to the shift in the center of gravity caused by the loss of posture as your body does its best to just stay upright at all.

Ultimately, early extension leaves us “stuck” with the club too far behind us and nowhere to go—cue massive high push fade or slice going two fairways over (we’ve all been there) or a flippy hook as your body backs up and your hands do whatever they can to square it up.

Not only is this not a good thing if you want to hit a fairway, it’s also a really bad way to treat your body in general.

As a general rule, your body works as a system to create stability and mobility simultaneously allowing us to move, create force, etc. When we can’t maintain a stable core and spinal position or force is being transferred to an area that shouldn’t be dealing with it, we get issues. Likely, this starts with discomfort, possibly leading to prolonged pain, and eventually injury.

The body has a whole lot to deal with when you play golf, so it’s a good idea to start putting in the work to help it out. Not only will you reduce your risk of injury, but you’ll also likely play better too!

So we have three simple exercises for you here that you can do at home, or anywhere else, that will help you with the following elements

  • Posture
  • Core strength
  • Glute function
  • Thoracic mobility
  • Asymmetrical balance
  • Ground force development

#1: Forward lunge with rotation

  1. Standing tall, core engaged with a club in front of your chest, take a reasonable step forward.
  2. Stabilize your lead knee over your front foot and allow your trail knee to move down towards the ground, trying to keep it just above the surface.
  3. Maintaining your spine angle, rotate OVER your lead leg (chest faces the lead side) with the club at arm’s length in front of your torso keeping your eyes facing straight forwards.
  4. Rotate back to center, again with great control, and then step back to your original standing position.
  5. Repeat on other leg.

#2: Bird dog

  1. Get down on all fours again focusing on a quality, neutral spine position.
  2. Extend your left arm forward and your right leg backward.
  3. Control your breathing and core control throughout as we test balance, stability and core activation.
  4. Hold briefly at the top of each rep and return to start position.
  5. Repeat with right arm and left leg, alternating each rep.
  6. If this is difficult, start by working arms and legs individually, only life 1 arm OR 1 leg at a time but still work around the whole body.

#3: Jumping squat

  1. Start with feet shoulder-width apart, eyes fixed forward.
  2. Engage your squat by sending your knees forwards and out to create pressure and torque, whilst sending your hips down and back.
  3. Squat down as far as possible whilst maintaining a neutral spine, active core and heels on the ground.
  4. As you naturally come out of the squat, push the ground away using your whole foot, creating as much speed and force as possible as you jump in the air.
  5. Land with excellent control and deceleration, reset and repeat.

Got 10 minutes? Sample workout

3 Rounds

  1. 10 Forward Lunge with Rotation (5 each leg)
  2. 10 Bird Dog (5 Each side or 5 each limb if working individually)
  3. 5 Jumping Squats
  4. 1 Minute Rest

If you can take the time to make this a part of your routine, even just two or three times per week, you will start to see benefits all round!

It would also be a perfect pre-game warm-up!

And one thing you can do technically? Flare your lead foot to the target at address. A huge majority of players already do this and with good reason. You don’t have to alter your alignment, rather keep the heel in its fixed position but point your toes more to the target. This will basically give you a free 20 or 30 degrees additional lead hip rotation with no real side-effects. Good deal.

This is a great place to start when trying to get rid of the dreaded early extension, and if you commit to implementing these simple changes you can play way better golf and at least as importantly, feel great doing it.

 

To take your golf performance to new levels with fitness, nutrition, recovery, and technical work, check out everything we do on any of the following platforms.

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