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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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“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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