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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Hip Action Matters

(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 any diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

Brian left a comment on the last post of Series 1 that included a HUGE load of questions. (I don’t mind, as it gives me lots of new ideas for posts!) I had intended to talk about hip action today, but his questions made me realize that I should probably provide a little more background info before jumping into detail.

One question he asked was “What should be the first action to trigger the downswing?” That seems a good place to start.

Technically speaking, the swing always starts from the ground up. If you were to stand on a lazy Susan and try to swing your club, you’d find it nearly impossible to strike the ball. Any attempt to swing the club would cause your feet to spin in the opposite direction, because you need friction between your feet and the ground in order to make a swing.

However, none of your muscles work in isolation in a golf swing. You use your entire body to make a swing, so all the muscles are working at once as you move. But since the contact between your feet and the ground serves as an anchor point, and since you can’t make a swing without that contact, you could argue (as many teachers do) that the feet start the downswing.

Having acknowledged that, there really isn’t a specific move that begins the downswing. The “move down” is a complex combination of muscles all over your body acting in unison. When we talk about “starting the downswing,” what we’re referring to is the specific way that a given player feels that muscle activity. And for that given player, this overall movement is predominantly felt in a certain “part” of his or her body. This “part” can be different for different players. Sometimes, this “part” even changes from day-to-day for our hypothetical player; if you’ve ever heard a pro discuss his or her search for a “swing thought” that allows he or she to overcome a problem he or she is having, this is what they’re talking about.

As I told Brian in my reply, if everybody felt a golf swing in the same way, then we could all become expert golfers using a single golf instructional manual about the length of a child's picture book. Instead, we have hundreds of teachers, each with their own teaching method, and each teacher’s method is perfectly valid because there are so many different ways to feel a golf swing.

Now, because the hips are literally in the middle of this full body movement, the action of the hips almost always figures into this “feel” somehow. That has led to some interesting swing methods, like the “stack and tilt” (formerly used by Aaron Baddeley and Mike Weir), “Natural Golf” (a la Canadian legend Moe Norman) and the “Golf Machine” (used by Morgan Pressel). And it’s also led to the creation of some now-famous teaching images.

One of the most popular of these images is the “bump,” which Brian mentioned in his comments. I’ll discuss the rationale behind that image in the next post.

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