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Why moving off the ball is causing you to lose distance

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One of the more debatable topics in golf instruction is whether moving off the ball in your backswing is beneficial and will produce power and consistency. Now, with golf heading into the direction of fitness (which is great for strength, accessing physical limitations and mental health), amateur swings are getting even longer with swings moving in every direction possible. Terms such as “power,” “loading” and “guaranteed distance” are being promoted left and right to students. Even swings from long drive champions are being used to teach students how to get that extra 10 yards.

With all this information taught and published, both instructors and students have forgotten the most important element to hitting the ball with consistency and distance: Striking the ball in the center of the club face consistently.

This topic is now even more relevant with upcoming stars such as Maverick McNealy and Bryson DeChambeau making headlines, both having very efficient golf swings with no lateral movement. This is contrary to older teaching methods, which stressed moving off the ball with a lateral shift of the body. So how do we increase our chances to consistently hit the center of the face with speed? Having spent countless hours researching this, I can assure you whenever we limit movement and turn our body in the right direction, we increase the probability to not only hit the center of the face, but to produce speed.

Before we dive into the instructional side of this — on how we get ourselves to not move off the ball and get rid of all those extra moving parts — let’s examine the reasons why moving off the ball can hurt your chances to a consistent shot.

Balance

Balance is a very important aspect to having a solid golf swing. Poor balance will affect a player’s ability to transfer weight and turn in the proper direction. Balance is comprised of three control centers: the eyes, the inner ear and our proprioceptive system. How do these three control centers relate to our golf swing? Let’s examine the eyes. Whenever we readjust our eye line, or have our head move off the ball, we have to readjust to our original position, which affects our balance. Just think about a three-foot putt. Our head must stay still to make solid contact and start the ball in the direction we want it to go. Moving your head to the right during your stroke will make it much more difficult to start the ball on the intended line. Then there is our proprioceptive system. Simply put, our proprioceptive system is our ability to figure out where our body is at a current time without seeing it. With less movement of the body, the less we need to rely on finding our body positions throughout the swing.

Golf is not a moving target sport: Too many times I hear instructors compare swinging a golf club to hitting a baseball pitch. Yes, a baseball hitter loads back on his trail foot. But does a MLB hitting coach compare the baseball swing to a golf swing? Golf is a sport, and unlike most sports, the ball is not moving when we start our swing; the ball is static. Although there are positions similar to any hitting motion, how we get there should be taught differently. In “The Quiet Eye” by Joan Vickers, she classifies sports into three categories:

  • Single, Fixed Target: Shooting a basketball into a hoop
  • Moving-Target Tasks: Throwing a football to a wide receiver
  • Abstract-Target Tasks: Putting a golf ball into the hole where you cannot see the target

Each one of these types of sports require a different skill set, and how we use our eye sight to process information to perform the task.

Great golfers and athletes do more with less

Ever wonder why it looks like Tour players aren’t swinging very hard? I can assure you that they are. You don’t get 115 mph driver speed by swinging lightly. Usually, amateurs hit it farther and have more success when they slow down their swing because they can have more success hitting the center of the face. Tour players are able to swing as hard they want and still hit the center of the face due to either great timing or efficient swings with their body coiling in the right direction. This makes it easier for them to make repeatable solid contact, which gives the perception of a smooth swing that produces speed. Think of a swimmer swimming in a race: Swimming in a direct line results in a much faster pace than one with lateral movement.

Now let’s put aside all the kinematic talk and implement this into our golf swing. The majority of amateurs I teach have a lot of lateral movement into their trail foot. This is usually done with their hips in an effort to get what they feel as their weight into their trail foot. The glutes are the engine of our swing, and critical to making a proper coil. We can still move pressure in our feet laterally without excess lateral body movement.

Here are several things I look for, and drills to get rid of that lateral movement and make your swing more efficient.

The Setup

A proper setup is critical to being able to make an efficient backswing with no excess or lateral movement. I like to see a tilt to the upper body, so our head is back behind the ball, and our right shoulder is lower than the left, for a right-handed golfer. This will limit the amount of movement we need to make in our backswing. To practice this, check your setup in a mirror face-on and take note of the position of your head in relation to the ball and the angles of your shoulders. Take advantage of the camera on your phone and have someone photograph your setup next time you are on the range.

the-setup

Right glute toward the target

Feel as if your right glute moves directly toward the target on your backswing. The direction you turn your hips and body is more important than the amount. We can still move our pressure into the inside of our right foot while feeling our right glute rotate backward, toward the target. Almost feel as if your right side moves instantly back and your left side moves out, putting your left side in the way. To practice this, put an alignment stick across your waist and note how the shaft moves, specifically the right side of the shaft. If executed correctly, the right side of the shaft will move directly back.

right-glute-toward-target

Alignment stick next to hip drill

This is a great drill to keep your hips “in the box” and not sway laterally, which changes your spine angle. Place an alignment stick at hip height, angled in so that it almost touches the side of your hip. Give it a few inches of space outside your hip. When you take your backswing, your right hip should not touch the alignment stick. If it does, you have shifted laterally and made an improper turn. A proper turn with your hips will create slightly more space next to the alignment stick.

shaft-drill

Practice at home in front of a mirror, face on. Start by checking your setup, and swing back making sure there is no lateral movement with your hips and head. You can practice your backswing while keeping your head up looking in the mirror. This will give your swing a much more efficient move at the ball.

Remember, golf is hard, we don’t need to make it harder on ourselves with extra movement in our backswing.

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Kelvin is a Class A PGA golf professional in San Francisco, California. He teaches and has taught at some of the top golf clubs in the Bay Area, including the Olympic Club and Sonoma Golf Club. He is TPI certified, and a certified Callaway and Titleist club fitter. Kelvin has sought advice and learned under several of the top instructors in the game, including Alex Murray and Scott Hamilton. To schedule a lesson, please call 818.359.0352 Online lessons also available at www.kelleygolf.com

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Corey Anthony

    Dec 22, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    I am sorry but I must question a few things here…how can you tell golfers that having their head still in the backswing is going to help anyone play better golf when literally the list of the best players to ever play the game all had NATURAL head movement at a minimum. Jack even preset his head. Of course you don’t want to shift your weight outside of your trail foot. That would cause a loss of balance, stability,power, and the ability to return their center of gravity back to their front leg and into a proper finish. But telling people to consciously limit movement is a sure fire killer. Stack and tilt tried this and it’s a great way to hit low, powerless shots for those who aren’t excellent athletes..

    Golfers need to be able to get the ball into the air and acquire the ability to generate power. Telling people to keep their heads still is a great way to limit that and hurt those with limited flexibility. Not all people who golf can take TPI or anything of the like to become strong and flexible enough to literally not injure themselves swinging hard while trying to keep your head still.

    First your analogy to baseball is so off base. If you were to try to hit a baseball off of a tee ball as far as possible you wouldn’t keep your head still would you? I think not.
    The fact that the golf ball is static makes no difference at all it is just simple physics, and using other activities that involve propelling anything forward with power and accuracy require the same thing as well static or not.

    A hockey puck that’s static requires natural head motion.
    A baseball on a tee requires natural head motion
    A soccer ball at a free kick requires natural body and head motion
    So does closing a heavy sliding door and the list is endless. We don’t suspended this when we get to golf.

    (In one breath you say baseball isn’t a good example to use for golf yet swimming in relation to golf is? A direct path isn’t the key to distance, speed,contact, and weight and how it transfers are the keys period)

    Secondly your previous article I was linked through is also confusing I’m sure to anyone attemping to follow the instruction of moving the club and shaft first in order to not have golfers get the club wrapped behind themselves and stuck? This literally makes zero sense and is a great way to teach people to rapidly open the face of the golf club. While I a fellow instructor understand what you are getting at the average golfers will be fanning the club open and hitting more slices than ever. Using Dustin Johnson as a visual example is not wise because you neglected the fact that he bows his wrist severely to keep his club face square after so so much club and arm movement early.

    Why not use tiger jack Hogan Snead Nelson or Jones to show that a one piece takeaway is ideal and not generated by thinking about only moving the club and arms. Absolute insanity. Most golfers in the world are pure ARM swingers and that’s a fact. Golfers need much more rotation from other parts of the body to remedy this not more effort to swing the arms.

    And lastly I seriously advise anyone to look very closely at the cupped position that is claimed to be ideal by this instruction series….miller absolutely did not cup his wrist they were flat or close to it when attempting a straight shot. This can be found simply and quickly be googling and image of miller’s swing and as a matter of fact the best ever iron player Mr. HOGAN cupped his wrist at times to fight against the ball hooking to his left or drawing. So if you like most golfers have an issue with slicing DO NOT CUP YOUR WRISTS because this helps the ball fade.

    To honestly advise golfers to cup their wrist…limit head motion consciously..and to initiate the swing with all hands and arms is one of the best ways I’ve ever seen to get golfers hitting more and more slices with less and less power on their shots.

    Please do your own research of the world’s best and compare for yourself when it comes to this info. But my real advise to anyone who happens to read my response is to not get so technical, don’t try to emulate anyone, and use as much of the natural motions from other activities like balance, rotation, and rythem that you use or have used at other points in your life.

    Cheers!

    Great writing but I disagree.
    For a comprehensive explanation about more into why this is the case please email [email protected]

  2. Steven

    Jun 22, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Great article Kelvin. I think a large problem with amateur golfers is most of us (me included) are trying to execute tour swings/positions that are complicated. Moving off the ball requires precision to move back to the right spot with our lower body while also controlling the head to stay slightly behind ball, but we also need the hands ahead of the ball at impact. Tour players have the timing and ability to do it because they practice it exponentially more than we do. I think your advice is a simplier swing that will produce consistent results for most of us. Now if I could only follow your advice on every swing.

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Jun 22, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      Steven,

      Glad you enjoyed it, great insight as well.

  3. surewin73

    Jun 20, 2016 at 11:17 am

    I’ll stick with my Jimmy Ballard swing.

  4. Steve

    Jun 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Great article. Very informative and helpful. Thanks.

  5. michael johnson

    Jun 18, 2016 at 10:50 am

    great article. this is something that i have been struggling with for a long time. now that i learned how to get rid of the hipsway, i shot 62 at oakmont a couple of weeks ago. it was very easy.

  6. MP-4

    Jun 17, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    One of the best instruction articles to date on GolfWRX.

  7. mikee

    Jun 17, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Recently cut my driver down to 45 inches from 46…….hitting more consistently in the middle of the face….longer drives

  8. Mike W

    Jun 17, 2016 at 12:55 am

    In the last drill the alignment stick is a few inches away from the hips. So, does that mean it’s ok for the hips to sway a little (ie. less than 3 inches)?

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Jun 17, 2016 at 3:13 am

      Ideally you would get the shaft as close as possible

  9. Pete

    Jun 17, 2016 at 12:53 am

    Again, and again the dynamics and rythm is overrun by positions. You may learn the positions and lateral move elimination are fairly easy to learn, but club head speed is a result of proper rythm and sequencing more, than restricting something, that would create more power, if done properly.

    Comparing baseball batting and swinging is very good analogue to, what is needed to create your maximum rotational speed and what to do at impact. Stepping in drill is also very good for the same reasons.

    Anyway the problem is not mostly in the clubhead speed, but the quality of contact, that varies, when you don’t have strong enough legs to your desired swinging speed. Dynamic balance and proper support for front hip at impact is the most important single variable to hit hard.

    If the initially lateral movement can be changed consistently to rotational speed there is no trouble flushing it.

    • Pete

      Jun 17, 2016 at 2:31 am

      Right glute toward the target -picture is not the best selection to implement, what to do, instead of the basically right things explained in the text your eye catches the more horisontal alignment stick on the “Correct”-side of the picture. Instead having your hips turning horisontally, the front hip may drop towards the ball, when turning back giving relief to your lumbar spine.

      If you turn your hips too much horisontally, spine will take all the strain of holding early extension off swinging the hands around your torso. The picture would be more informative, if you had your right thigh already opened towards the target and loaded to be ready for the front leg to fire for front hip support to produce solid pivot for your rotation and down swing.

  10. KK

    Jun 16, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Mechanics are great but spin control is very poorly understood. Vast majority of golfers I see have too high-spin drivers. And poor mechanics.

  11. Other Paul

    Jun 16, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Now we just need kelvin Miyahira and golfwrx will be complete.

  12. Jorge

    Jun 16, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Hi Kelvin, thanks for your article. We hear a lot about correct sequencing in the backswing especially around trying not to rotate your hips/glutes too early in the swing as this will cause over-rotation and get the arms and body out of sync. The long hitters such as Jason Day state that they try to minimise hip rotation as much as possible in order to create torque, which ultimately creates speed/power.
    In your opinion, at what point should we start activitating the hip rotation in our backswing (as part of the takeaway or halfway back)? Also, are you an advocate of keeping the right knee flexed or letting it straighten a bit in the backswing because when you focus on hip rotation, the right knee reacts by straightening?
    Thanks!

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Jun 16, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      Jorge,

      Great question. The ideal sequence would be moving the clubhead/shaft first (since this is the furthest point away from us) and letting our arms pull us into a turn or coil position. Still start start the swing moving the shaft, and then let your arms almost feel they pull your right glute around as you get closer to the top of your swing. This will give you the resistant and proper coil and more importantly, maintain your spine angle. Will also prevent getting too long. Feel it in your glutes and groin, not in the knees… I don’t mind if the right knee doesn’t stay the same flex, but obviously not straightened.

      Hope this helps

  13. larrybud

    Jun 16, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    ” If executed correctly, the right side of the shaft will move directly back.”

    How can the right side of the shaft “move directly back” when the hips are set at an angle when looking at them down the line? The right shaft should move back and UP.

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Jun 16, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Thanks for the comment/question,

      The alignment stick would move up eventually you are correct… The initial direction should “feel” directly back and will in fact start directly back when looking down initially, and this is a very subtle move. More importantly, feel and reality are separate.

  14. Adam

    Jun 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Great to see Kelvin Kelley on golfwrx, he’s one of the top instructors around”

  15. Joe Brenna

    Jun 16, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Wow, this technique really helped me out a lot. Thanks man..

  16. KJ

    Jun 16, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Nice job Melvin!

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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