Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Clarifying the Hips' Role

Sway (rear view).
Typical sway (rear view).

The dreaded sway is a plague. For one thing, it's hard to discern if you're guilty of it if you're not paying attention, and an amateur golfer with a sway is usually focused on other parts of the swing. And the opposing sensation--the correct one--will feel wrong when first attempted. Let's face it. A sway feels powerful to a beginning golfer; after all, they're "shifting weight to the back foot" like they've been told to do. But they can't figure out why they're seeing all these weak, floaty, fat shots coming off their club. Must need to swing faster...or sway more. Nope.

I recently understood why--finally--I had thought that keeping my right knee bent was helping me during a particular round but didn't seem to help much subsequent to that. I had assigned the results I was getting at the time to the wrong aspect of my backswing. Yes, I was keeping my right knee more bent in the backswing, but the real help was that my pelvis was passively turning in a more centered fashion WHILE keeping my right knee bent! This is a prime example of how we golfers can go on wild goose chases for that "thing" that will always be with us on the course, when in reality we can only count on a few key fundamentals and physics. We must continue coming back to those and working on them.

First, there are some setup characteristics that encourage an over-active hip rotation and its more desirable opposite. The more closed your stance (as if presetting for a draw), the more likely you will over-rotate the hips going back. Conversely, squaring your stance (or even opening it a bit) will decrease the possible amount of hip turn going back; the caveat is that a more open stance increases your chance of hitting outside-in. A ticked-in right knee will discourage hip over-rotation, as will a right foot that is kept perpendicular to the target line. Finally (already alluded to this), keeping the right knee bent in the backswing will prevent the hips from turning too much going back.

Correct right hip pivot.
Correct right hip pivot.

Even though you do shift weight to the right foot (for a right-handed player), the pelvis--and thus the right hip--should never move to the right from its address position. Instead, the right hip rotates both backwards and towards the target in response to the right shoulder pulling straight back (causing the left shoulder to turn behind the ball); the rear hip never moves away from the target or to the right, which is the textbook definition of a sway and probably some form of a reverse pivot. The weight automatically stays concentrated on the inside of right foot and right leg as its supposed to.

In other words, imagine a line drawn on the ground that extends from the ball to between one's legs at address (i.e., a line perpendicular to the target line). A correct backswing hip movement has the right hip rotating back and around towards that line while the left shoulder turns to point at or just behind the ball; the right hip should not move further away from that line. This is a key distinction. And when you first do it correctly--when you've been swaying away--it will feel wrong...until you actually hit the ball and feel what happens.

A sway usually involves a straightening right knee due to (or as a result of) active hip rotation, while the correct, passive hip pivot in the backswing--with the hips initially resisting and remaining stable during the takeaway--allows the right knee to stay bent in order to keep the hips level and prevent the upper body from leaning to the left. During the takeaway, you should strive for the feeling that the hips and knees stay parallel to the target line initially and only pivot back due to the shoulders continued turn; this creates tension in the body that can be used to add power to your swing, while the stable lower body contributes to more consistent contact.

Examine a professional golfer in their address and backswing positions and you'll see that their rear leg at the top of the backswing appears to keep the same angle it had in relation to the body at address: The rear leg appears--from the foot to the hip--to be angled towards the target throughout the swing, while a swayer's rear leg goes from the correct angled appearance at address to an upright or vertical appearance at the top of the backswing. Heck, a severe sway can even have the rear leg angled entirely in the other direction at the top!

It's that centralized pelvic motion brought about by the proper rear hip rotation that allows for an easy weight shift to the front leg, dynamic front hip rotation (that mirrors the rear hip rotation in the other direction), and powerful, compressive impact. This is what Shawn Clement refers to when he talks about the correct weight shift and hip pivoting action--his "braced tilt." As a matter of fact, the left hip in the downswing nearly mirrors the motion of the right hip's backswing movement. At the completion of the backswing, there's a subtle, small shift of pressure into the left foot (many call this shift a "hip bump"); following that subtle move, the left hip simply turns behind the golfer and away from the target, while the upper body and arms stay passive! In reality, the left hip pivots both away from the target and upwards, due to the straightening left leg. The upper body shortly follows, and this makes it easy to keep one's head behind the ball, swing inside-out, and hit a push-draw. Performed correctly, you will notice a distinct stretched feeling all along the left side of the rib cage; a line running along the side of the left leg and left torso will resemble a crescent shape at impact.

Also, keep this in mind: The correct sequence of the aforementioned rear hip movement for the takeaway and backswing always follows the turning of the shoulders. The shoulders, arms, and club make a centralized turn first while the lower body remains still, and the shoulders eventually reach a point where they can't turn further; it's here that the rear hip turns back and behind the golfer to allow a 90-degree shoulder turn. Don't turn the hips before the shoulders. The correct sequence is that the shoulders turn the hips going back, and the hips turn the shoulders on the way down.

Ernie Els' Downswing.
Left hip and crescent shape.

You see, the term “shift” is all wrong for the backswing. “Pivot” is a better term. The right hip will pivot back like sitting back in a chair and then around – actually coiling back toward the target slightly, not drifting sideways to the right. The right foot will stay braced on the instep, and the leg will remain leaning inward like a ball player braced to push off for a throw.

Weight Shift in Golf Swing – Herman Williams Golf

Have you ever hit balls at the range next to someone who made an awesome sound when they hit the ball? That sound is compression. It makes other players turn and watch because obviously this is a great ball striker. The player has made his divot past the ball and transferred the energy efficiently from the clubhead to the ball. Distance control is one of the keys to scoring. Great golfers don’t always hit the ball accurately but they often hit the ball pin high which means they are making solid contact. Proper hip action on the backswing plays a major role in compressing the ball. A common swing thought is to transfer your weight to your right side on the backswing. Unfortunately, most players sway their hips back to do this causing fat and thin contact. The key is to allow your hips to truly turn, not sway.

Hip Turn | Blog


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