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

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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!

      • 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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!

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