Footwork and Golf
(Lead = Closer to target, Back = Further from target)
Last week, we wrote about making an athletic transition from backswing to throughswing. The quality of your transition will almost always have a direct relation to the quality of your shot. This week, we’ll dive a little deeper, and go over one of the most overlooked aspects of the swing, footwork.
Footwork is often overlooked in golf because it’s difficult to distinguish exactly what is happening. As with any athletic motion, the golf swing begins with the feet. You hear a lot about footwork in other sports; i.e. how Kawhi Leonard plays defense, or how well a cornerback changes direction at the NFL combine, or the way Francisco Lindor goes to his right to field a grounder. Any sport you play, from bowling to tennis to golf, is predicated on footwork.
The feet determine a lot. They influence swing plane, balance, contact, transition, tempo and numerous other aspects. If you can learn to use your feet well, you’re on the path to good golf. You’ll often see kids, when they’re just beginning, move their feet all over the place as the club is throwing them a bit off balance. Rather than trying to work with their swing, it’s best if you can get them to quiet their feet a bit (it’s OK if they want to lift their lead heel off the ground). They’ll begin to learn how to stay in balance and swing the club through the ball naturally.
Although there are a few issues related to footwork, we’ll focus on the one that most golfers have trouble with. Many players, in an attempt to HIT THE BALL HARD, lose their posture through the shot. The hips move towards the ball and invade the space where the arms swing, resulting in bad contact and many times, the dreaded shank.
While most people see this as an issue with the hips (and it’s true that a lack of flexibility can result in a loss of posture), for the most part it’s due to a misunderstanding of how the back foot works. In our through-swing, the back foot needs to roll inwards, on the instep, then up on the toe. If the back heel simply lifts, our back knee moves towards the ball, and we have to make some sort of compensation with our hands and/or arms to get the sweet spot on the ball. It is not a consistent way to play.
If you’re one of the many golfers who has a loss-of-posture issue, here are a couple drills:
Extremely Closed Stance:
Close your stance drastically by dragging your back toes in line with your left heel (try to keep your shoulders square as best you can). Make some swings, but be sure to keep your right heel on the ground all the way through. If you have a tendency to swing over the top, this will be a very different sensation for you. You now have plenty of space for the arms to swing inside the ball, and it’s impossible to come over the top. You’ll also feel how the club releases past the body. Move your back foot in closer to square, little by little, until you feel the same sensation when your feet are set up parallel to the target.
It seems odd that little appendages such as the toes can influence our swing so much, but they do. When we swing hard, our back toes will try to grip the ground for balance (it’s an anatomy thing). This causes the same issue…the back knee kicks in towards the ball and our hips go with it. Try taking some slow swings (50%, or it will be extremely difficult to keep your balance) with your back toes raised up on the inside of your shoe. Keep them there through the entire swing. You’ll see how your back ankle will roll inwards on the through-swing. You now have room for your arms. Progress by just lifting your back big toe, then feel the same sensation with all your toes as normal.
Certainly we want to finish up on our back toes, with all our weight on our lead leg in a classic, balanced position. If we try to get there early, however, we’re going to be thrown off balance and lose our posture. Hopefully you can see how improving footwork can make huge differences with the swing. Good luck!