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Maybe it’s in your toes

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Is your footwork keeping you from better scores? Golfers spend a lot of time working on swing plane, but footwork is one of the most critical parts of the swing. It starts the downswing, so if it’s done improperly can lead to numerous swing flaws.

Improper footwork can cause loss of spine angle, reverse weight shifts, hooks and slices just to name a few. One of the problems with golf is we don’t play the game facing our target and our minds function far better dealing with anything facing its target — it’s the way the human brain developed. So what do the best players in the world do that a large amount of golfers don’t do with their feet?

Stability is important when swing at a stationary ball, where as in baseball we see the ball and react. This allows movement or a dynamic use of the feet. One of the most common mistakes made with footwork is not keeping the right foot (for right-handed golfers) planted in the ground during the downswing. This happens for a few different reasons, the first is due to the fact we are trying to hit something with a considerable amount of force. The second which I had never thought about, is our toes and how our brains work when trying to do something athletic. You see our toes are used like claws, this fact was pointed out to me by Eric Johnson, director of golf instruction at Oakmont Country Club and Top-100 Teacher.

Johnson believes improper footwork leads to numerous misses in the golf swing. No matter how good a player you are, if you are using your feet incorrectly, it is hurting your golf game. Any number of swing flaws can be attributed to poor footwork. How do you know if your footwork is poor? The stats you generate playing can give you a clue, if you evenly miss right or left, fat and thin, it may be your footwork causing these inconsistencies.

I little while back, I booked a lesson with Johnson to work on my swing flaw, a rise up during the downswing, which is a problem I’ve had for most of my golfing life. Johnson went into detail about the causes and the answer was a surprise to me. It was my toes!

How do your toes — such a small appendages — effect your golf swing? Johnson went in to detail, saying:

“In an effort to generate speed, clear hips and gain traction we grasp at the ground with our toes of the right foot. This can cause one of the death moves in the golf swing. As the toes grasp for the ground like claws, commonly the right heel rises causing the right knee to move forward, perpendicular to your target. In this position commonly the golfer will rise up because the right knee is now partially blocking the path of the club returning to the ball. From this position we can hit the ball everywhere!

Below are two examples of footwork. The first pictured is improper footwork with the right foot, knee and spine rising up. As Eric explained, from this position the golfer has to reach for the ball. Reaching for the ball as illustrated can cause every mishit, fat, thin, hook or slice. By adding this extra hinge, the golfer is making a more complicated swing that requires even more timing. Timing under pressure is not a good thing.      

spine angle breakdown 

The proper footwork is instead a roll to the instep of the right foot, performed by arguably the best ball striker that has played the game, Tiger Woods. The difference in this picture compared to the one above is night and day. With this move the entire force of the swing is directed into the ball, with no wasted movement up and away from the ball.  This is also a much simpler move with one less hinge, making ball contact and direction far more consistent.

tiger swing breakdown

“This swing has the feeling of far less going on in it, the golfer will feel a firm left side,” Johnson said.

The drill I work on to do this, which might help you, is the “right toes in the air” drill, which I had never done before meeting and working with Eric Johnson.

In Part 1 of this drill, take a stance that is as wide as your shoulders. Then raise the toes of your right foot into the air about 2 or 3 inches. Make swings at about 40 percent to start and keep the toes elevated during the swing.

This might feel very strange, as you will be trying to shift to your left leg down and through the ball. But this drill will not allow you to rise up if done properly.

Once you have mastered this part of the drill move onto Part 2, which is much simpler. This time, take the same stance and elevate just the big toe of the right foot. Start at 40 percent and build to full speed swings. This drill will give a feeling of the swing being very constricted, but what it teaches is hitting into a firm left side instead of a spun out and pulled up position.

If your swing looks like the first photo above, try this drill and see if it helps. If you can master this move, you will be surprised at the ball pattern that will appear on the face of your irons. There will be less moving parts in the swing and that is never a bad thing!

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P. Matthew Moorhead has spent last 18 years working for General Motors. When not at work, he spends his time trying to improve his game with Eric Johnson of Oakmont CC and trying out all the new golf equipment, coaching youth soccer and spending time with his family. Through the early part of this decade he chased a dream of racing sportbikes around the Midwest to some minor success and spectacular crashes. He worked as an assistant pro for a few years and spent a summer in the 90s working as a putter rep for a now-defunct putter company and signed LPGA players to use the brand.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Glenn kirk

    Oct 23, 2016 at 12:14 am

    Keep right foot planted till after impact fixed my shanks

  2. John

    Aug 22, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    I am in my 60s, and as you age, your body doesn’t want to cooperate as it did when younger. Recently I began to stand up and move my weight to the toes in order to try and recapture the hitting distance I once had (first mistake). Unfortunately, when you stand up and move your weight to the toes, you have the likely possibility of hitting a shank (2nd mistake, but much worse). I was very disappointed and was ready to quit the game. Three lessons helped, but keeping my weight balanced on my feet slightly helped until I reverted back to old habits. It was not until I read this article about rolling the right foot did I correct the shank. It keeps your weight away from the toes and allows your hips to transfer, and it’s so easy to incorporate into your swing. This golf lesson should also be listed under ‘how to fix and avoid the shanks’. Thank you.

  3. jason

    Mar 30, 2013 at 9:10 am

    This article is Spot On! Of course it seems there are a few doubters, who may not have the problem at all, or just subscribe to a different way of interpreting this message. A perpetual 10 handicap, with no signs of improvement for 5 years. I had to pay for a lesson and video analysis. Only to find out THIS was something I was doing. When asked if I ever felt like, I was “on my toes too much?” I honestly didnt know. I always assumed the balls of the feet or toes was where we wanted to be in any athletic move. very wrong. This was the root cause of my many swing flaws, diving at the ball, poor balance, too much arm action, Right knee shifting away from target, off plane, poor contact. At the lesson, we watched Matt Kuchar setup to a shot and just before he swings he settles into his arches, and almost appears to rock backwards when he does it. Additionally I noticed all tour pros finish their swing on their front foots arch or heel. I never finished on anything other than my toes. I was so sure my problem was in my hands, grip, arms, upper body, I spent years changing each of them. Since the footwork revelation, I realized how little I understood about what my body was doing, versus what my body felt like it was doing, This article illustrates 80% of what I had missed about this tremendously important portion of the total swing. Nice job.

  4. hvilletn

    Mar 21, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I am going to try this. Thanks for the drills!!!

  5. Golfsmith7

    Mar 21, 2013 at 11:35 am

    If you check tigers swing app which showcases each of his irons you will notice that this article is correct. Tiger rolls his weight on his right foot not pick it up. I too have trouble with my foot work and this the first time I read of a good explanation.

  6. Pingback: Tip of the Week & Old Clubs | DJ Watts Golf

  7. Peter

    Mar 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    I confess, I do not understand what is being written here. Take a look at Billy Casper’s swing, one of the great champions in the game. His right foot drags forward on his toe into the finish, pulled around by the weight shift to his front foot in the downswing. I do not see how you could get a proper pivot to your front foot leaving the right foot planted. Ask your featured writer Jaacob Bowden what he thinks of this counsel to keep the right foot planted. Take a look at the golf swing of Mike Austin to the kinesthetically proper way to move not only your feet but your whole body in the golf swing.

    • Robert Johansson

      Mar 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      The analysis is flawed, the raise of the spine isnt due to a raise of the right foot and knee. Its when the player runs out of room a common fault in Tigers swing btw.
      so how one can say Tiger is doing it right when he so often hit it fat and all over the course is beyond me.

      so not incorrect footwork.

      • Brad P.

        Mar 21, 2013 at 7:26 am

        How about before you guys get all riled up about the “flawed analysis” you give the drills a try! Maybe you’ll find that, holy cow! This is helping my golf game. Instead of analyzing others “analyzations,” why don’t you focus on your own game? The game is played from the ground up. Bottomline. Keeping longer turf interaction on the feet helps to generate more energy. The author is simply trying to convey that keeping the right foot down will prevent spin outs and this is a step towards getting your weight transferred through posting up on the left leg. Regardless of the analysis, a lot good can be taken from this.

    • Jerry Crowell

      Mar 20, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      Wow, keep the right heel on the ground? I hope this advice is NOT heeded. Without going into it, just look up Mike Austin, Jim Furyk, Sam Snead, etc. etc..not that anything should be done JUST because they do it, but becuase it’s MECHANICALLY CORRECT. This is a tremendously bad article that should be taken down for the betterment of the game!

      • nuckandcup

        May 29, 2014 at 1:25 am

        The article IS spot on….Ill use Nicklaus, Dufner, Kenny Perry, Fred Couples, Rory McIlroy and Angel Cabrera as great examples of players who kept their right heel on or very close to the ground at impact, especially with the irons. Tiger as well.

        The average player looks A LOT like pic 1, and the right heel coming up too soon is the major cause of a lot of issues, ROLLING the right foot is the proper motion here.

    • Colin Gillbanks

      Mar 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Peter,

      I think the point is exactly that the motion should be a ‘dragging’ of the right foot (via the rolling motion described above) rather than an aggressive push into impact. The drill that Matt recommends – as with all drills – is to ingrain a feeling of doing something differently if you suffer from this fault.

      I have a problem with a raising up of the spine through impact, and have done for years. It’s undoubtedly – in my case anyway – due to an overly agressive move in the transition with the right foot.

      Of course the right foot will be pulled up onto the toe at the end of the throughswing in common with all the games great swingers. But it’s how it gets there that Matt is alluding to.

  8. Clay

    Mar 20, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    This is exactly what my instructor is working on with me.

  9. Andrew

    Mar 20, 2013 at 4:35 am

    Interesting article. Having played 4 x 18 hole rounds in a day (walking only!) last year for a Cancer Charity in the UK I can testify what part your feet play in making good golf swings!

  10. chris

    Mar 20, 2013 at 4:31 am

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YOgPdRjGrQ

    Brian gets it right every time. Refreshing take on this subject.

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Courses

The Harding Park experience

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When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.

TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.

The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.

The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.

The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.

As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.

The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.

The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.

   

The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.

Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.

Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.

As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.

The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.

Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.

The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.

 

 

 

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Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the RBC Heritage

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, we saw C.T. Pan claim the RBC Heritage, holding his nerve down the tricky finish to win his first title on the PGA Tour. Here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action

Hot

C.T. Pan rode a hot putter to victory over the weekend at the RBC Heritage. Despite struggling slightly on the greens on day one of the event, Pan hit blistering form over the next three days with the flatstick and finished the tournament having gained over six strokes over the field for his work on the greens. It isn’t the first time that the Taiwanese player has done so either, with this being just his third best weekly performance with the flat-stick of his career. Pan also gained almost four strokes around the green, in what was a week-long display of short game excellence. Take a full look at what clubs drove Pan to victory at the RBC Heritage here.

Matt Kuchar is having a spectacular season on Tour, and at Harbour Town, the American produced the best putting performance of his career to date. The 40-year-old gained 9.4 strokes over the field on the greens at Hilton Head, beating his previous best total of 8.3 strokes which came at the 2012 Players championship, an event which he won. Kuchar’s putting peaked over the weekend, where he gained six of those 9.4 strokes.

It may just have been yet another solid top-20 finish for Webb Simpson at the RBC Heritage, but the signs are very good that something better is just around the corner for the American. Simpson produced his best display of 2019 tee to green at Harbour Town, gaining 7.5 strokes over the field with his long game, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise since the former U.S. Open champion came into the event having gained strokes in this area in nine of his last 10 outings. Look for Simpson to get himself in the thick of things on a Sunday afternoon soon.

Cold

Dustin Johnson’s collapse on Sunday at Harbour Town was a shock to many. The 34-year-old fired a 77 to plummet down the leaderboard in the final round, and Johnson’s irons were the issue behind him not getting the job done. The American lost strokes to the field for his approach play three out of the four days and finished 63rd in this department for the week. Johnson lost a total of 3.2 strokes to the field for his approach play, which is the worst total in this area of his career.

Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut at the RBC Heritage, and the blame for this lies almost entirely with his putting. DeChambeau lost over five strokes to the field for his work on the greens over the two days he was around at Harbour Town, his worst performance with the flatstick since 2017.

Jordan Spieth’s woes continue, and once more those woes continue to be caused from the Texan’s long game. Spieth may have made the cut last week, but the three-time major champion lost three strokes to the field off the tee, and his approach play wasn’t much better. Spieth lost strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories at the RBC Heritage bar one – putting. Spieth’s putting continues to be the only part of his game that is delivering at the moment, as his play off the tee continues to cause him fits. The 25-year-old has now lost a total of 14.5 strokes for his play off the tee since the WGC-Mexico.

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Podcasts

On Spec: New Level Golf founder and designer Eric Burch

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An in-depth discussion with golf industry veteran Eric Burch: how he got his start in golf, how he has contributed to the club fitting industry, and his new company New Level Golf, which produces forged irons and wedges for every level of golfer.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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