How to Improve This Winter (Part 1)
Lower Body Stability
Since we’re reaching the end of the golf season, I’ve decided to write a short instruction series (not sure how many parts yet) on how you can improve your game in the offseason so you’re ready when spring rolls around again. I’ll offer some simple tips and drills to work on indoors (remember, we’ll have the simulator up and running November 1st!). If you’ve played much golf, you know trying to make swing changes on the course is disastrous. If you’re going to refine your technique, you need to work on it on the range or in the house, not while playing.
Our first installment is on lower body stability, something we all struggle with time-to-time. As in all sports, the quality of your game is predicated on balance and stability. Watch an NFL quarterback. When they’re forced to throw off their back foot and off-balance, interceptions happen. When they step up in the pocket without pressure, they rifle the ball. It’s the same in tennis, baseball and any other sport where a club/racket is used or a throw is required. Your lower body is your foundation, so we’ll focus on that first.
We generally see one of two things: the legs and hips wildly swaying, or no lower body movement at all. Both are going to cause bad contact and errant shots. Let’s take a quick look at both:
Swaying (Most Common):
This is a fault you’ll see on any common driving range. The legs are moving all over the place, and there’s no foundation to the swing. Big compensations are required to even make contact with the ball, let alone hit it square.
The trail knee (right for right-handers, left for lefties) is the key here. It provides stability in your backswing and sequencing in your downswing (more on that in a later installment). If your trail knee is buckling backwards or drastically straightening, you’re in trouble.
Set up a with your trail knee a few inches from a wall (or if it’s nice enough out to hit the range, use an alignment stick and actually hit balls). Your goal is to turn back without the trail knee moving towards (swaying) or away (straightening) from the wall. You should feel a strong coil in your torso as you turn against the back knee, and a good amount of pressure under your right foot. This is the exact feeling you want in your swing. Also, your lead knee (left for a righty) should point slightly behind where a ball would be on the ground. If needed, your lead heel can come off the ground a bit. If your lead knee points straight forward (not behind the ball), you’re not allowing your hips to turn. If it’s almost touching your right knee, you’re over-rotating your hips.
The trail knee is key here, but I’ll give you a word of caution. Don’t try to completely lock your trail knee in place or over-flex your knees at address. This is a dynamic movement, and trying to do too much here can result in injury. Simply try to retain the SLIGHT flex you had in your trail knee at address while you turn into it. The knee might rotate a bit, and that’s fine. You just don’t want it to straighten or kick outwards.
No Lower Body (Less Common):
This comes from the modern “restrict your hips as much as possible to create torque” myth. The idea is to wind your body up like a spring. Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t springs and don’t work that way. Yes, we need stability and want to coil, but completely restricting the hips usually results in an arms-only slash where we get really out of sequence and take away all athleticism. We’ll often see people flex their knees way too much at address in an attempt to achieve this “torque.”
Take good posture by bending from your hips (not your waist) and locking your knees straight. Now simply unlock or soften your knees (DO NOT FLEX THEM). Practice turning back slowly, and allow your front trail pocket to turn directly behind you while maintaining the same bend you had in your trail knee at address. Now your hips are rotating, allowing you to get behind the ball and deliver a powerful downswing. The key is to not let your trail knee straighten as you rotate your hips back. The trail knee will keep you from over-rotating your hips and having to make a big compensatory move back to the ball.
There are other good lower body drills, like putting a ball under your back foot, a range bucket between your legs, etc. Feel free to explore of course, just remember what we’re trying to achieve. You want to use your lower body in the backswing and rotate your hips enough to get behind the ball, but be stable so you have a good foundation and don’t need to make drastic compensations in your downswing. Most people are going to err on the side of using TOO MUCH lower body, but that’s why it’s important to know your faults before working on your game. Hope this helps!