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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.

10 Comments

10 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. 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.

  4. earlanthony

    Feb 9, 2019 at 2:56 pm

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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