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Trying to clear your hips could be hurting your golf swing

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As most golfers know, the downswing starts from the ground up. The proper kinematic sequence is as follows: the hips move left and open up to the target, followed by the torso, then the arms and finally the club. Slow-motion video and modern technology has shown us this.

Despite the knowledge of the proper kinematic sequence, however, players are better off practicing the start of their downswing a different way. They should strive to keep their hips closed (relative to the target), let their arms swing down and only then allow their hips to clear as the arms swing through.

“Why,” you’re probably asking?

In my experience, golfers who consciously try to get their hips open at impact by aggressively clearing them from the start can create timing issues… and the dreaded two-way miss. Yes, for maximum speed, golfers still need to hit shots using their hips, but they need to make sure they use them at the correct time.

When golfers stay more closed off with their hips and upper body in the start of the downswing, their lower body will bump left toward the target and their club shaft will shallow out as their arms transition down. This is a key move for delivering an inside, powerful path to the golf ball. Once in this closed position, you can then hit the ball with the right side of your body as hard as you want, producing maximum power and speed. This will also keep the clubhead square to the body through the shot as your right side rotates around your left side; a major key for consistency.

October splt 1

When we add speed to the swing, centrifugal force will take over if you allow it, and our hips and body will naturally clear as we swing our arms. The downswing does not need to be a consciously controlled movement, rather an instinctive move toward the target. The majority of amateurs are way too active with their bodies, especially their hips, and they don’t often realize it until they see it on film.

Amateurs often get in trouble when they try to re-create still images that were taken at full speed from tour players; for example, open hips at impact. This gives players and even instructors the idea that these images should be taught. When I walk up and down driving ranges, I constantly see players rehearsing their downswing trying to get their hips open as possible at impact or clearing them as fast as they can early in their swing. This is a false sense of power and is not necessary if our body angles and backswing sequence are correct.

Watch PGA Tour players’ rehearsals and practice swings before their shot. Notice the sequence: they swing their arms and hips, never aggressively trying to clear their hips early.

In the video below you’ll see practice swings of Henrik Stenson and Patrick Reed. Do you see them aggressively trying to clear their hips?

Clearing your hips early can cause several faults. Some players will come “over the top,” as clearing early can cause your upper body to open early, pushing your arms out from your body, producing an out-to-in swing path and the dreaded slice. Better players who clear early can still manage to stay closed off with their upper body and shallow out the shaft, but they then have to square the clubface with their hands and will become “handsy” at impact, or the club will get stuck behind them.

incorrect october

My favorite drill to combat clearing early and to get the proper feeling of how your hips and body move on the downswing.

  1. Take your normal stance when addressing the ball.
  2. Drop your right foot back behind your left (if you’re right-handed).
  3. Swing from this position.

This will give you the feeling of being closed off with your lower body. To golfers with over-active hips, this will feel like more of an arms swing, but they will still notice their hips have rotated.

drill october

Once you have the feeling of the correct downswing timing, you will instantly notice how much more effortless your swing feels. Better timing and fewer moving parts equals better ball striking and a swing that is much easier on your body.

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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

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Grant

    Jun 15, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    Awesome article! Why is it that with holding my right hip back like your saying is really tough with the driver and 3wood? With the longer clubs it’s more difficult. I don’t have issues with the 4 iron at all. I shoot in the 70s so idk. Snaphook toe shots.

  2. stephenf

    Nov 4, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    People will probably argue with you (a lot of them will be 15-handicappers who know everything about theory), but what you’re saying is time-tested and correct.

    What all these people so wrapped up in “rotation” don’t understand is that it will happen more or less naturally if your path and plane are decent. Throwing yourself into big efforts at rotation usually results in the rotation forces (mainly the torso and hips) shoving the club around and destroying the swing and its path.

    It’s also true that a big rotational move early in the downswing forces you to hold _back_ through impact if you’re going to save the shot at all. Which is to say that if you really want your hips and shoulders to “clear,” don’t do it early. Once the path gets outside and steep at the outset of the downswing, it’s all rescue from that point on, and usually not a successful one. That’s the kind of swing where everything just stops moving through impact.

    I used to get people to toss a ball a few feet and then try to throw it 30 yards and 70 yards. Unless you’re just totally nonathletic, you’ll step into the throw and rotate more aggressively as a response to what you’re trying to do with the swing of your arm and the snap of your hand, whether it involves more force or less force.

    You’re probably aware of people like Seymour Dunn, and after them people like Toski et al., who have repeated one of the best lines I’ve ever heard. I used it often when I was playing competitively and teaching: “Never confuse something that happens with something you have to try to do.”

  3. Mark

    Oct 30, 2016 at 8:09 am

    I read this article and then watched some golf. I can definitely see this in their swings.

    I’ve always had a problem with over active hips (and right leg) at the start of the downswing.

    This move fixed that!

    First round doing this at University Ridge with aerated greens, shot a 70!

    Several thumbs up on this one!

  4. Sometimes a Smizzle

    Oct 22, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    I heard over on youtube that if you have fast hips, you have to feel like you start your swing with your hands. It worked for me. I rotate crazy hard and hit it pretty far. But i always hit a snap hook because my hands couldnt catch up and i would twist the club while trying to get it caught up. Fix: start the swing with the hands. I had slow motion vid of the two different swings i would post if my phone hadn’t been wiped recently ????

  5. Double Mocha Man

    Oct 21, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Ya gotta love golf advice. Two days ago we had the boys telling us to clear our hips. Today we have Mr. Kelley telling us not to clear our hips. Sheesh, I’ll just buy an Iron Byron and take that onto the course to stand in for my golf game. Can Iron Byron putt?

  6. Geo

    Oct 21, 2016 at 9:41 am

    I do this drill and it feels good. I try it with my normal swing after and I clear the hips early and i feel all the problems. Hard to get the feel from the drill. Is there a better maybe transition drill that might help?

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Oct 22, 2016 at 12:36 am

      Feel your hips stay closed off when you swing your arms down, the way the drill forces you to feel

  7. Pingback: Trying to clear your hips could be hurting your golf swing | Swing Update

  8. john

    Oct 20, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    interesting article.
    if you slide forward with the hips bringing that club way on the inside can mean the player has to ‘flick’ their wrists at the ball to be able to make effective contact and not end up with the massive downward AoA that Henrik Stenson has – which in itself creates far more inconsistency. Turning through it is the only way to be consistent, you just need to separate the hips and shoulders properly and that is the issue you’re talking about here – not the need to slide forward and throw the club way on the inside and way behind you.

  9. TR1PTIK

    Oct 20, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    I’ve struggled to grasp this concept, but the more I watch tour players closely the more I realize the truth of this.

    During one of the last lessons I had this past season, my instructor told me to “feel” like I was starting down with hands and arms first and to stay over the ball as if I were trying to hit a “smother hook” (his words). When I got it right I could tell a noticeable difference in how the swing felt. It was considerably more effortless and we saw club speed jump by almost 4mph simply because my sequence was better.

    My biggest problem now is getting this motion ingrained and firm up my wrists a little at the top. I have a tendency to cock the wrists too much and then release early. I have a 105~ ss on average, but could only muster about 1.43 (at best) smash factor leading to significant loss in distance. GREAT ARTICLE!

  10. Pickle

    Oct 20, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Great advice. I wish I had it 5 years ago. I spent 3 years trying to rotate my hips open faster so I could hit it farther. Went from a +4 to a 1. Opening hips too early caused all kinds of swing plane issues – steep, a bit over the top, and army’s. I’m slowly getting my old swing back. But it’s taken a long time and I do the Drill you mention every range session.

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Oct 22, 2016 at 12:39 am

      Pickle, good to hear this drill helps you!

  11. Joe Burnett

    Oct 20, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    This article is exactly right. Many amateur golfers hear “get your hips through,” but they actually may be getting them through way too early. You have to have your lower body and upper body coinciding with each other perfectly.

    This is why it’s important to get lessons from a professional and not one of your buddies!

    • Kelvin Kelley

      Oct 22, 2016 at 12:38 am

      Joe,

      Thanks for the advice.

    • Ramrod

      Oct 25, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      ‘You have to have your lower body and upper body coinciding with each other perfectly’.

      No you don’t. As somebody said above, you need the upper and lower body to work INDEPENDENTLY. If you spin your hips and shoulders at the same time you’re coming way over the top, out to in, and all manner of other bad things.

  12. Richard Grime

    Oct 20, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I’m not too sure about this. I hit too far from the inside. Too narrow and lose posture in the downswing, clearing hard left brings me down on a more outside path but still not too steep. If I overdo it then start left hip diagonally right first then clear left.

    • Gonzo

      Oct 20, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      You are overthinking your hips. You are probably losing posture because you are not maintaining the flex in your rear leg. It’s probably straightening at some point which for most people not name Rory or Brooks doesn’t work. Article is exactly right, you cannot actively think about turning or bumping your hips in a fraction of a second it takes to make your downswing.

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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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