“I am trying to make a full turn.”
“I am trying to complete my back swing.”
I’ve heard these phrases come out of golfer’s mouths for 30 years, and didn’t care to know what they really meant… until I started teaching golf.
Some instructors say golfers should bring the club to parallel with their backswings, and others say that a 90-degree shoulder rotation is best (not to be confused with shoulders turning at a 90-degree angle to the spine). Then there are those who believe golfers should try to “turn their back to the target,” and ones who preach of getting the front shoulder over the back foot.
There are several problems with all of these tips, however, starting with the fact that parallel is a meaningless, arbitrary position that only has value in that it is symmetrical. And most people do not have the flexibility to make a 90-degree shoulder rotation, which again, is another symmetrical, although less arbitrary position. Falstaff would be selling these movements if he taught golf.
Now turning your back to the target seems meritorious, but it can cause a common, yet overlooked problem — the body over rotating and the spine losing its tilt away from the target or even tilting toward the target. I have come to call this reverse tilt, loss of tilt, or rotating out of tilt. It also involves the rear shoulder getting too close to the target.
This should not be confused with a reverse pivot, which usually happens immediately on the takeaway where the weight shifts to the front side, and then shifts to the back side on the downswing — the bane of beginners and very high handicappers. Reverse tilt, which begins fine but ends poorly, is an epidemic among mid to low handicappers, as many of them do it to some extent.
There are in fact people that can and should get the club past parallel and turn their shoulders past 90 degrees. It is almost a direct correlation between flexibility and ability to create speed for those that go to and past these arbitrary positions. Payne Stewart, John Daly and most of your world class long drivers are famous examples.
So again, the question begs, what is a full turn?
The answer is very individual. The simple answer for most golfers is that the back swing stops as soon as the shoulders reach their maximum rotation. Golfers should take care to make sure that the arms do not continue the swing when the shoulders reach that point of maximum rotation.
The exceptions are for people with the ability to create speed and/or link their arms up to their turn after they have run past. It’s not an ideal movement, and there are a very few who are successful at it, such as Fred Couples. It’s extremely hard to consistently separate the arms from the body during the turn/pivot and make consistent contact.
Most golfers who over run their shoulder turn with their arm swing aren’t as skilled as Couples, which gives them a backswing that is too long. As a result, they can’t generate enough speed with their turn or their arms, so they end up with what I once heard described as, “A Southern Belle limp wristed throw” at the ball. I still don’t know exactly what that means, but it sounded pretty negative to me.
Here’s are true, technical answers to what a full turn really is:
- A full turn is created when the shoulders have reached their maximum turn at the proper angle (rotating at an angle perpendicular to the spine at address). This will be 50 degrees for some golfers, and in two-time World Long Drive Champion Jamie Sadlowski’s case, upwards of 120 degrees. Most golfers will be in the 70-to-90 degree range.
- A full turn occurs when the arm swing does not continue after the maximum shoulder rotation is achieved.
The above two issues are commonly known throughout the golf world and supported by most instructors. But there’s a third, more important answer, which is often overlooked by instructors.
3. Stay short of the point where the body can no longer sustain spine tilt away from the target. In a face on view, the rear shoulder does not rotate closer to the front foot than the rear foot.
Many high handicappers violate No. 2 and are told by all their friends, internet gurus, instructors, network announcers, their wives, kids, religious leaders, mailman and Pilates instructor. As a direct result of this “arm overrun”, they lose their lag, which for the Rip Van Winkles is the magic angle between the left arm and shaft (for right handed golfers).
I want to make it clear that no holding of the angle, float loading, ringing the bell or Marquis de Sade endorsed training aid is going to allow these golfers to keep their lag when they violate No. 2. They can’t create enough speed to sustain their lag because their overly long backswings just won’t allow it.
Yes, it’s true that a longer swing can create more speed and power for a select few, for most golfers it greatly reduces it. And since quality repetition is what creates good golf, redundancy from an instructor is not a sin and doesn’t put you in the third ring of Inferno. With redundancy being a virtue, I get to follow Beatrice into Paradiso.
The amazing thing is how many low handicappers, single digits and mini-tour level players violate No. 3 and don’t even know it’s a bad thing. Not only can many of them not sustain their lag and speed all the way to the ball because their arms don’t have the room to speed up, violating No. 3 tilts the spine toward the target, steepening the angle of attack. Most often, the body reacts by throwing the lag angle away to shallow out AoA (so a golfer doesn’t dig a grave with an iron or put an idiot mark on top of the driver). What makes it even worse is that experienced and high-level golfers know from a feel perspective they don’t want to hang back to recreate tilt at impact that all good players have with all clubs, so they end up moving the upper body laterally toward the target, exacerbating their problems.
Below are pictures that illustrate this point. Photo 1 is of one of my clients who is a low single digit, next to my “playing swing.” My client’s right shoulder has rotated all the way over to his front foot and he has not tilted away from the target. At first look, this back swing looks text book as the shoulder turn appears huge, there is no arm overrun and he is not past parallel. However, he has set himself in a place where his angle of attack is going to be too steep and he gradually will lose his lag angle and have no shaft lean at impact — the two main reasons he came to me for help.
Photos 2 and 3 are of my “long drive swing” that at 46 years old, I can still use at times produce club head speeds of more than 130 mph. You will notice how even in my swing that goes well past parallel, I still have spine tilt away from the target and my right shoulder has not gone across the midline of my body. That is a full turn.
Photos 2 and 3
In the photo below, you will see the real X-factor on the right (not to be confused with the X-factor that caused millions of golfers to restrict their hip turn). My long drive swing with a vertical line from my right shoulder to the ground and one on my spine make a nice X. On the left, you will see a long hitting GolfWRXer who makes a huge turn, but has no X-factor. This is not a thinly veiled attempt to brag. As I prepare for the Remax World Long Drive Championships in two months, it’s evidence I am trying to practice what I preach.
I’ve also included photos of Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan below. In the photo, Tiger is working on a centered pivot, and you can see that Hogan went past parallel. But neither Tiger nor Hogan rotated the right shoulder past their mid-line, and both sustained their tilt away from the target in the backswing. They both have real X-factor.
So if you want to achieve your maximum power and efficiency — and for the lagists, maximum lag — you need to figure out what your full turn is. For nearly all of you, it is going to be a shorter swing that “feels powerless.”
Put a shaft across your chest and hold it cross-armed with the club head on the side of your back shoulder and stand in front of a mirror in a golf posture. Stretch to your maximum turn where your spine is still tilted away from the target and that clubhead is still closer to your back foot than your front foot. Now take the club, grip it and extend your hands away from your chest.
The key is not getting the front shoulder over the back foot — it’s getting a maximum turn while keeping the back shoulder over the back foot, or at least not across the middle of the stance. That is what sustains the tilt away from the target, gives your arms room to accelerate, produces the optimal angle of attack … and wait for it … sustains maximum lag and shaft lean through impact.
That is a full turn. For most of you, it will be a lot shorter than what you do.
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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake
In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.
Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;
- He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
- He described a phantom move that never occurred.
- He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
- He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.
As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.
Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.
THE FLARED FOOT POSITION
The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.
The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.
The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG. The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.
As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.
FOOT FLARE ISSUES
The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:
In the backswing, the flared left foot:
- Discourages a full left- hip turn;
- Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
- Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.
In the downswing, the flared left foot:
- Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
- Does not allow for a solid post at impact.
In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.
THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL
There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.
A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing. This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.
THE DISCUS THROWER
The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.
The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.
REPAIRING YOUR SWING
Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.
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