Friday, March 27, 2015

Become an Angled Pile Driver

Roman Pile Driver
Roman Pile Driver

Shift your weight. You're supposed to do that--first into your right foot on the backswing and then into your left foot on the downswing. Instructors explain this to new golfers who then typically proceed to sway their hips in an effort to transfer the weight. But that's not how it actually should occur; the hips shouldn't move at all to the right on the backswing and only fractionally to the left on the downswing. Instructors would be better served by telling their students to leverage the ground by pressing their weight into the earth going back and coming down, as they turn. That's a better description that results in a lot less lateral movement.

I'm a huge proponent of "swing centers." You have two. The first--the lower--is in the middle of your pelvis, a few inches below your navel. The second--the upper--is your sternum. You need to understand how these two centers should align in the golf swing at address (creating your "secondary spine angle" or "Reverse K"); at the top (upper center is over the right instep, pressing nearly straight down on the right leg, while the lower center remains in place); and finally their orientation coming down.

It's the transition--starting down--where the upper center switches it's "pressing" focus. It might seem strange, but the key to "shifting weight" properly doesn't just rely on your lower body; your torso has a large role, because the torso, along with the arms and club, represents a lot of weight; the legs simply serve as posts over which the torso weight is concentrated (makes sense if you think about it, because both legs are the same weight and collateral). The upper swing center should stay behind the lower, creating an angled midbody line that points inside the left foot at the top and coming down; this angle may even shallow somewhat in the downswing, meaning the lower swing center moves towards the target while the upper center moves little or not at all (this varies among players).

I like to think that I become an "angled pile driver" in the downswing. (Not to be confused with the wrestling variety, I'm talking about a mechanical pile driver, much like the angled one pictured above used in ancient Rome.) To start down, with my back still turned to the target, I feel that my upper swing center begins pushing into my left leg as my arms drop, causing my left foot to press into the ground; the tilt of the torso means the upper swing center is pushing into the left leg at an angle. My upper swing center acts as the "driver" and the left leg acts as the "angled pile." This is from where that "press a sponge" with the left foot image comes; I think the only real problem with that simple sponge image is that the student might believe it means to press straight down, which could cause too much lateral movement and get the upper center too vertical or the torso too much "on top of the ball" or even over the left leg (i.e., lunging).

In the attached images of Brendon Todd at the top of his backswing and start of his downswing (below from Golf Digest), the yellow circle illustrates the upper swing center and the red circle illustrates the lower center. The orange line indicates the torso tilt or secondary axis tilt created by the correct orientation between these two centers. The green arrow shows how the upper swing center is directing pressure into the feet--either the right foot at the top of the backswing or the left foot during transition and downswing. In the case of the left foot, you can see that the pressure is moving into the left leg at an angle, whereas it was much more on top of the right foot at the end of the backswing.

Green arrow shows "weight shift"
Follow the Green Arrow

When you press into the ground at an angle with your left foot, you're learning to leverage against the ground for power. Otherwise, you're just "firing a cannon from a canoe" by swaying left and spinning your hips. The correct move, however, is what causes a simple, centralilzed "weight shift" and hitting from the ground-up, which is one of those near universally espoused tenants of golf (in golf instruction, there's always some outlier who will disagree with something). This is from where hitting into a firm left side and bump the left hip advice come. This creates that appearance or feel of "squatting" that's so often described in great swings, where the upper center dips slightly (see Todd's head dipping down, as he pressures the ground using his chest to push into the left leg and foot). You're setting the stage to sequence the downswing properly when you make this your first move before starting down.

Pressing into the ground doesn't mean introducing tension. Be careful that you do not straighten the left leg early, extend early, or grip the club tighter. Another feel is that you're sliding into home base with your left leg. Your left leg should be generously bent when you pressure your left foot (it may feel like it flexes a bit more), and your left leg should gradually straigten out towards the finish. Ensure that you have a generous lateral bend as you rotate forward to prevent losing your incline to the ground (i.e., early extension); the chest is both pushing down on the inside of the left leg and covering it. Don't grip the club harder just because you're pressuring the ground or you may end up slicing.

Shawn Clement speaks about pressuring the ground in one of his videos on downswing weight shift ("Best Downswing Weight Shift"). He talks about the "weight shift" being "about an inch long" and that it "happens from behind you." This is another way to describe pressuring the ground. It's an apt description, as it removes the perception that the hips sway around to shift weight; instead, Shawn states that rotation causes the weight to move. Shawn describes and demonstrates the weight falling back into the left leg, with the torso still tilted away from the target. And when he does it, he looks just like an angled pile driver--his tilted torso pushes down into his left leg while his back is still turned. About midway through the second video on the transition, Shawn talks about the "squat," where the torso is pushing down into his left leg for leverage.

If you do this properly you should notice a more piercing ball flight and more distance, because the move leads to more lag and compression. If you've been hitting pulls of any flavor, you may notice more pushes, as your path is being moved more in-to-out.

So in review: From the top and before unwinding, feel like you're pressing your left foot into the ground, while your chest and shoulders stay back. Your head and chest may drop a little as you load into your left leg with your torso still angled away from the target. You'll be an angled pile driver.

The body should feel as though it's driving down and into your left leg as you rotate toward the target. A great way for you to ingrain this proper feel is to drive your right knee toward the target as you swing. This will help you move weight both toward the target and into the ground. The more effectively you do this, the easier it is to rotate the body and also to make a full extension of the arms through impact.

Ground Up vs. Top Down

An image I use with my students is to imagine a sponge filled with water underneath the left foot. Begin the downswing by squeezing the water out of the sponge.

Better Downswing Sequence In The Golf Swing

As you start down, you need to feel your weight going straight through your left foot and into the ground. In essence, you're using the ground as the resistance needed to generate power...

...But as you change direction and swing down, the pressure should increase dramatically -- in other words, squash the sponge!

David Leadbetter:Squash The Sponge

Maximum power is achieved, when hitting the ball, as your weight is hitting your front foot...

...Another common problem that occurs when your weight is not transferred to the front foot prior to impact is allowing the clubface to get ahead of your hands at impact. If this happens, you will be adding loft to the club and losing distance.

Arizona Golfer News


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