Legs in the Backswing
By Gerald Haynes
ROK Golf - Director of Instruction
Today I will be covering the lower body and the role the legs have in your golf swing. The first thing is understanding that your legs are your foundation, and just like your house, the foundation keeps your swing in tact.
When we go through the history of golf and see all the swings that are well known through the years, there is really a mixed bag of leg motions to look at. From Bobby Jones with his active legs, to Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus with their less active legs, to Tiger Woods and most modern golfers with their inactive and braced legs.
When talking about the legs I'm really referring to the backswing and the motion of the legs going back. Bobby Jones played with hickory shafts for the most part so having a lot of activity was not always a bad thing. Tiger plays with precision matched shafts that have very little play in them, so the more he moves his legs the harder it is to time up with the shaft.
Let's take a look at some swings and see some things that we see in here and one that is more how it should be!
This is a move that we see quite often as instructors. I see this a lot with people that are left eye dominant, and people that are trying to create more power because they either read it somewhere or someone told them to get more weight into their right side to create power. They often times have a severely bent left arm at the top, taking away any width they could you to create power.
What happens when you have a big sway like this, is you take away any consistency that you may have had when you started. You will hit a lot of fat and thin balls and put a lot of pressure on your back and knees. This player will also tend to hit a lot of slices and pull hooks because the swing plane will usually be very outside-in.
Try to anchor your left hip over your left ankle and use your upper body to create your backswing. You can practice in your house or office by anchoring your hip against a counter top or desk and turn away from it with your upper body. Also, try to lean your upper body slightly away from your left hip at address, so your head and eyes get behind the ball, you can see I actually have a little bit of that lean in the video. This will create a center that your upper body can rotate around.
The Knee Dip
Related to the Hip Sway, the knee dip is something we don't see quite as often as the sway, but is also relatively common. Same as the sway this player is trying to create more power by getting the weight into the right side, but they are trying to use the ground and their legs more than the swayer.
The most common miss for this player is going to be a fat shot or a top. They get so low on the way back that they will tend to pop-up at impact and either hit it fat or top it. Often they also hit low hooks as a result.
Put a ball, like a basketball or a kick ball, between your knees and try to keep it stable. This will give you a center to turn around. This player doesn't typically have much shoulder turn either, so that will more than likely have to be the next piece after your knees stabilize.
Mr. Straight Legs
Here is the opposite of the first two swings we looked at. This player is not using the ground at all and using their upper body and arms to create all the power during the swing. They will not it it far, they will hit a lot of topped shots, and their back will be very sore after they play golf. We see this more with Senior, Juniors and Beginners than anyone else.
SIT DOWN! Get a bar stool or a tall chair and hit balls sitting on the chair. Though you still won't create a lot of power on a chair, you can still get the sensation of being lower during your swing. You will feel like you're sitting on the toilet the first few swings after you learn how to bend the legs.
Having had a similar motion to this in my early years, this player can be somewhat successful. However, the amount of strain that it puts on your body can also be tremendous, especially if you have knee or back problems. When making this swing I was incredibly inconsistent, which combined with the knee and back problems I was suffering, is why I changed it. I, also was not sure how to get back through the ball at the time, but not being a fan of post round icing I decided to go another way.
The reason you would maybe teach this to someone is because they were a previous swayer, or your trying to help some get more turn in their backswing. This player can typically hit the ball very solid and consistently, because their center of gravity doesn't change during the backswing. The problem with it is, that it is not athletic, and as the club gets longer you will have a hard time creating power. You can get a ton of turn back, but it can be very difficult for an average player to get the hips and body back to impact.
With this motion you will be able to hit a consistent draw, but your miss will be a big block and snap hooks with longer clubs. Much like the knee dip, you will have to come back up at impact.
Go right back to a ball between the knees, but try to keep the knees level as you swing. Also, you can try to keep your center, but let that center be slightly behind the ball.
This is what I'm looking for in a swing, this is what I see most on tour, and will be the most consistent with every club in your bag. There is a slight bend in the knees at address, enough that you can feel the ground with your feet and maybe even dig in just a little bit with your fee.
During the backswing the hips rotate, but the hips and knee relationship stays consistent through the backswing. The left hip stays anchored, and the left knee will move very little as you rotate back. Because your legs have stayed stable you will be creating coil in your glutes and quads, creating power to unleash on the downswing. It is also easier to drive through with your legs because you there hasn't been any drastic moves with them going back.
I believe the average golf has about 90 degrees of hip turn available to them from address to impact. So, if we can get 45 degrees of turn back, you will have 45 degrees left to use at impact. Unlike the other examples that either had too much turn back or not enough, we are trying to balance out the swing and not overuse your energy going back.
Having back and knee injuries from the military, I've learned how to use this leg motion to take away any pain I use to have using the other methods, and believe me, I have tried everything! You won't see it in the numbers for this swing, but I still play a 7 iron at 185 and hit the driver close to 300 yards consistently, so I can still create a lot of power without making dramatic moves going back.
I believe the legs are the key to creating both power and consistency. Once you get in a good address position, your legs are the foundation of your entire swing, they will dictate what your body and arms do the rest of your swing. If your legs work properly it will take a lot of pressure off of your arms during your swing, they just have to follow your legs around. Good legs also make it easier to time your swing, and keep your tempo consistent.
I will not say that you can't be successful with the other methods, but it will be a lot easier if you have a good foundation to start with, and your body will thank you! Next time you watch golf on TV, pay attention to their legs during their backswing. If you would like to learn what you do during your swing, setup a lesson and we will get it fixed - firstname.lastname@example.org.