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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Feeling the Start of the Downswing

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View the diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

Once you know how the lower body behaves―and the barrel drill from yesterday will teach you that―you’re faced with the more difficult problem of finding out exactly what that behavior feels like to you. This may be the biggest source of confusion in modern teaching, simply because many teachers have a predetermined idea about how it should feel… and that idea is based on their teaching theory. For example, if you’re teaching a lefthander that the left side should drive the downswing, you’re automatically going to describe the lower body action in terms of the left leg “driving” or “releasing through.”

But what if it doesn’t feel that way to everybody?

Here’s my “feel drill,” which I believe will help you identify how the downswing move feels to you. You don’t need a club to do this, so you can do it almost anywhere and as often as necessary until you determine just what you want to feel when you start down.

Lefthander Starting Down Practice Setup

The setup is pretty simple. Find a door jamb and take your normal stance with your left heel about 6” from the jamb, then make a full coil with your upper body and place your left hand on the inside of the door jamb. It’s alright if your right heel needs to come off the ground when you coil.

Now, all you have to do is try to turn your shoulders back to your setup position. Resist with your left hand and pay attention to which muscles seem to be starting the downswing.

I bet most of you are going to be surprised. I thought the left leg would start the downswing with a push, but I felt the right leg pulling me through the swing. (I’m a rightie, of course, but that’s the “leftie explanation” of what I felt.)

In retrospect, it makes sense. It’s basic physics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I want the left shoulder to start pushing the club forward, so the right leg starts pulling the body around. That’s the most opposite motion available.

Knowing this is an important part of the puzzle, but it doesn’t give us the full answer to our question. Just what does that pulling motion feel like? Take a look at this diagram, drawn as if I were standing in front of you and facing the doorway:

How the Lower Body Moves Through the Downswing

As you can see, there are several aspects to this movement. The right foot is rolling over to the outside, toward the target, which could feel to you as if it’s digging into the ground. The right knee swings to the right, and it also straightens a little; you may feel one or the other, or both. The right hip moves back (some teachers call this “opening” the hip) and it also moves upward a little. Again, you may feel either or both.

You might feel any one or any combination of these actions. That’s the beauty of this drill: You can use it to help you identify just what combination you’re feeling.

For example, I feel my knee swinging out and causing my foot to roll. Because of this, I want to start my downswing by feeling that action. I don’t have to get technical and watch to see how much they move, or if one moves first, or anything like that; all I need to do is identify the feel of the movement, then… well, feel that when I start down. And if at any time my feel changes (which happens to golfers every now and then), I can just do the “feel drill” again to discover the new feel.

So, use the barrel drill to learn the proper mechanics of your lower body movement, then use the “feel drill” to determine how those mechanics feel to you. Once you do that, you can swing by feel, which is the Holy Grail of golf. You’ll know your mechanics are ok, and you can just focus on the shot you’re trying to make.

These last few posts should have provided enough material to keep everyone busy practicing this week, so I'm going to take a brief break from the series. That will also give you a few days to post comments and let me know if I covered things thoroughly enough. Consider this the first "season" of Project Brian; I'll continue with the second season next week.


  1. Hi Mike!
    Sorry but I'm confused by the door jamb drill.
    Is my back facing the jamb or am I supposed to face it?
    If my back is towards the jamb, do I reach behind me to put the left hand in the jamb?
    Sorry, I'm just not able to figure it the picture for this one!
    I think I'm so used to inverting all instruction in my head to make the compensation for lefties (i.e. I immediately read "left" as "right") that I'm totally confused now! :)

    In regard to your question to Apryl in the other post about how best to describe body movements in a lefty/rightly neutral way, my suggestion is to use "Front" and "Back". I.e. keep your front arm straight and let your back arm fold in the backswing. Turn away from the target and load into your back leg...
    Just a thought!

    Thanks as always!
    Project Brian

  2. Oops never-mind! I get it now - and WOW!
    That is truly amazing! You're totally right about it feeling like my right/front side pulling against the resistance of the left hand.

  3. I'm glad it's helping, Brian.

    First, I'll definitely consider the front/back terminology. I don't remember if I tried those before or not.

    Second, it is amazing! I remember reading about the "pull" in some of the classic teaching materials, but it never felt right to me. I became convinced it was a pushing motion, just the way most teachers are teaching it today, but this drill definitely shows that it is a pulling motion.

    Pushing with your left leg merely shoves your right hip too far forward. It may feel more powerful, but it just makes solid contact more difficult.

    I may have to do another, clearer diagram for this post. I didn't have a lot of time to do these two.

  4. Hi Mike,
    I like your writing and your lessons. Like you I believe "feel" is very important to the golfer.

    I've struggled with this game most of my life. Being an avid reader, I studied and researched much about the swing and concluded that two aspects of the swing were irrefutable, namely: maintain your spine angle and keep your head behind the ball through impact.

    These aspects led me to invent the PRO-HEAD Trainer. I finally got the "feel" for maintaining my spine angle and keeping my head back. It was indeed a revelation. Finally broke 80 at age 65 and have done it several times since.

    Should you or your followers want to read my white paper, they can get free instant access at

    Keep up the good writing.
    Bob Doyle

  5. I've never really thought of my readers as "followers," Bob... just fellow golfers.

    I'll be honest with you, I've never cared much for training devices. Some people certainly find them useful, which is why I'm going to leave your comment (and link) on this post. But I believe most golfers move incorrectly because they don't really understand what they're trying to do, and devices designed to hold your body in place don't create that understanding.

    I prefer to try and build that understanding, which is what I hope to do with this blog. Good luck with your trainer though.

  6. Hi Mike - just checking in from the frigid north.
    It hasn't snowed here yet, but it's getting pretty cold! Despite the cooling temps, I've been out to the range a few times to work on some of these lessons.

    As I said above, I was blown away by the "door jamb drill" in terms of learning how much of the leg movement is pulling with the front hip as opposed to pushing off with the back.

    Results have been pretty good, but I'm still having some issues with hooks - particularly with the driver.

    There are two things I'm pondering at the moment that you might want to comment on...

    The door jamb drill really lets you feel the strength created by the turning of the front hip against the resistance of the back hand which is pressing against the door jamb - but what I can't get my head around is how to re-create that feeling in the swing, because there isn't really any resistance created by the arms at the top of the swing. How does one get that same feeling of resistance when only holding the club, and not a immovable object like the doorway?

    The second question is an age old one - what should be the first action to trigger the downswing?

    I've read much in the past about the "bump" of the hips forward. Does the sensation of the door jam drill amount to the "bump" and if so, should that be the first movement from the top?

    Are the hands still going back as the hips open up (Hank Haney seems to believe that).

    I'm curious to hear your thoughts Mike! I know you say you open your front knee, but is that the first thing you do to start the downswing?

    Thanks for all the help - I'm learning a lot about my swing, and the golf swing in general!


  7. Wow... that's a lot of questions...

    I'll try to address a lot of them in Thursday's post, because I'll be focusing on how the hips move... but let me give you a couple of quick answers. The next post(s) will deal with them more fully.

    First though, about that hook... are you starting the ball straight or are you pulling it? Although you may still be twisting your forearms (that can be a tough habit to break), the path of the club influences how the forearms act.

    Now for the other questions...

    Forget the "bump." That's an image created by some teacher years ago to help a certain student with a certain problem. If it was helping you, you wouldn't have this question. We'll find another image that works better for you.

    A lot of your questions made me smile, simply because they show a common misunderstanding about the swing. And yes, just about every player - including me! - has struggled with this exact same misunderstanding, so don't let it bother you. This is what confuses us: The vast majority of swing instruction isn't about how a player moves, but about how a player feels that movement.

    For example, when you ask "what should be the first action to trigger the downswing?" what you really want to know is "what should I feel when I start the downswing?" And the answer to that question is different for every player. If that answer was the same for everybody, then we could all become expert golfers using one golf instructional manual about 32 pages long... the length of a child's picture book. Instead, we have hundreds of teachers, each with their own teaching methods.

    If you go back and reread this post with that thought in mind, you'll realize that's the purpose of the feel drill - to force you to make the proper movement so you can identify how that movement feels to you.

    But DON'T think you're asking dumb questions. They prove you're trying to understand something that most teachers don't adequately talk about and, if it was intuitive... well, bring out the picture book.

    I'll try to answer all your questions more fully over the next few posts.

  8. Sorry for all the questions Mike - it was more just thinking out loud than actually expecting answers!

    Re "pulling":I think my current pull is somewhere in the middle between a dead pull and a curving hook.
    Most of my shots now have a gentle draw to them which feels great - I tend to overcook the driver though.

  9. There's nothing wrong with lots of questions, Brian.

    Since it sounds like your problem is more of a pull than a hook, just be patient. After we get your leg action straightened out, we'll get your arm swing sync'ed up with it.