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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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Opinion & Analysis

Here’s who should be the four U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks based on analytics

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After the PGA Championship, the U.S. Ryder Cup team solidified 8 of its 12 players on the team. Now, captain Jim Furyk will have to decide who the other 4 players will be to join the team. In this day and age of advanced data analytics, it is imperative for the U.S. team to utilize an analytical approach. The European team has used advanced analytics in recent Ryder Cups, and they now field one of the best European squads of all time. Any advantage that the Europeans have that the U.S. team can counter would behoove Furyk and his chances of being a winning Ryder Cup captain.

Normally, captains have sought out players that have played well right before the Ryder Cup. This is a sound strategy. My statistical research on the subject is that most players reach peak performance for about four events in a row. Then their performance inevitably dips to a degree before eventually they hit peak performance, again.

The golden rule is that 80 percent of a player’s earnings in a season come in about 20 percent of the events they play in. Thus, if a player earns $2 million and plays 25 events in a season there’s a good likelihood that he earned $1.6 million of that in just 5 events.

These trends show that picking a hot player is fairly important. However, the issue is that Furyk has to make 3 of the picks by September 3rd and the last pick by September 9th and the Ryder Cup starts on September 28th. Thus, it’s very plausible that a player who is picked because they are playing great golf may cool down a bit by the time the Ryder Cup is being played. Therefore, finding a player with a hot hand is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But, I would recommend staying away from players that are playing miserably. History has shown that a hot player that is selected is more likely to perform better at the Ryder Cup than the cold player that gets selected.

There are some simple statistical rules to follow for optimal picks:

  1. Seek out quality performers around the green as it helps most in the Foursome (alternate shot) and individual match play format.
  2. You want birdie makers and quality performers on each of the holes (par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s) for the Fourball (best score) format.
  3. Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.
  4. All things being equal, take the younger player.
  5. Lean towards the player who fits into both Fourball and Foursome formats over the slightly better player that only fits well into one format.

A good way to start to determine what picks you need is to understand your current team. Here are the rankings in key metrics for the top-8 players on the U.S. team (rankings based out of 205 players):

The top-8 players compile a good driving team that drives the ball effectively thru hitting the ball a long ways rather than being deadly accurate off the tee. One of the best attributes the top-8 has is that they are a very good Short Game team (median ranking of 40.5). They are also pretty good from the Red Zon (175-225 yards), but are better from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards).

The top-8 has dominated par-4’s (median ranking of 11.5) and par-5’s (median ranking of 20) while being good on the par-3’s (median ranking of 44.5). They also make a lot of birdies (median ranking 27th).

It should also be noted that Brooks Koepka’s data could probably be thrown out since it was skewed by him coming off an injury and he is clearly a different and much improved player in recent months. Koepka has typically been one of the better putters on Tour and a pretty good Red Zone performer.

The potential issues I see is that they do not hit a lot of fairways and have some players with issues hitting shots from the rough which is a bad combination in the Foursome format. Also, Webb Simpson currently stands as their weakest link on the team as he has not played that well in recent months and they will likely need to figure out a way to work around him if his performance doesn’t improve between now and the Ryder Cup.

Here are the picks I would recommend making at this point:

Tiger Woods

This is clearly the easiest pick to make even though Tiger’s Ryder Cup record has not been exactly stellar. Forget about Tiger being arguably the greatest player of all time, his performance has clearly indicated that he deserves to be on this Ryder Cup team. Furthermore, he’s statistically a quality fit in either the Fourball or Foursome format. The only issue I see is that given his age and his back issues, it would be wise to use him in no more than 3 matches in the first two days and even that may be too much for him. But, I would love to see him paired in the Foursome format with a player who hits fairways and can play well from the rough for those drives that Tiger struggles with.

Tony Finau

Finau has had 8 top-10 finishes and 2 second place finishes this season. He’s a nice looking fit at the Ryder Cup because he’s a great fit in the Fourball format and a pretty good fit in the Foursome format. In fact, my simulations find that he and Tiger would be a good fit together in either format.

Bryson DeChambeau

Again, versatility and youth play a key role in his selection. You never quite know who is going to show up at the Ryder Cup and who may get injured. Thus, there’s always a need for a player that fits both formats and can play in ever match if needed. The simulations I’ve ran really like a Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau pairing.

Patrick Cantlay

This was a difficult choice between Cantlay, Mickelson and Zach Johnson. The pros for Mickelson is that he has played well in recent Ryder Cups and certainly has the experience. He’s also not a bad fit in the Foursome format and a really good fit in the Fourball format if paired with another birdie making machine that avoids bogeys and plays well on par-3’s (i.e. Koepka, Fowler and Tiger). Zach has been a quality Ryder Cup performer as well and is best suited for the Foursome format. However, he’s not such a bad fit in the Fourball format. He doesn’t hit it long, but he does make birdies (43rd in Adjusted Birdie Percentage).

From a pure numbers point of view, my simulations favor Cantlay. I wish he was better from the Red Zone and from the rough, but he’s still a quality candidate in both formats and has youth on his side. For sentimental reasons, I would pick Mickelson because the simulations such as him and Tiger in the Fourball format, and this will likely be the last time that the two can ever be paired together. The numbers don’t care about emotions, though. And that’s why Cantlay is the pick for now. It would just be wise to wait until September 9th to make the final pick.

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Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing

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In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?

If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:

Be Prepared

Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.

It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.

Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:

  • What is your coaching philosophy?
  • What is your favourite part of coaching?
  • What type of student best fits in at your university?
  • What type of athlete best fits in?
  • What are the goals for the golf program?
  • How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
  • Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
  • What access does the team have to golf courses?
  • Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
  • Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
  • What is your greatest strength as a coach?
  • Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
  • What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
  • How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
  • Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting into grad schools?

Know the Numbers

With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.

Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.

For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!

Do your research

Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).

Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.

First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.

Have a Plan

Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!

For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.

As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.

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TG2: Would you rather have Brooks or DJ’s career? 30+ more AMA-style Instagram questions

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Brooks Koepka vs. Dustin Johnson? All-time favorite driver? Poker chips as ball markers? Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment Expert Brian Knudson answer 30+ questions from the @tg2wrx Instagram. They also discuss Joe LaCava (Tiger’s caddie) paying off a heckler to go away.

Enjoy the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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