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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Leg-Powered Swings

Part of the Route 67 series

Leg-powered swings, although they've been around for a long time, are still newer than arm-powered swings. Bobby Jones is probably the first player to be widely publicized as using a leg-powered swing, although I'm sure he wasn't the original. For example, over at World Golf Emporium, David Wakeman did a post on J. Douglas Edgar, another golfer who developed a leg-powered swing... and with whom Bobby Jones was quite familiar. (You can read his book, The Gate to Golf, at Google Books.)

Like the term "arm-powered swing," referring to a leg-powered swing can be a bit misleading. It's not that the hands and arms don't contribute to a leg-powered swing, only that you feel the swing primarily through the legs. It feels more like you drive the legs, which pulls the arms around. It works extremely well for athletic players, especially if they're good baseball or hockey players.

In a leg-powered swing, proper hip and leg movement is vital. For all the power you can create, it also increases your chances of getting tilted and out-of-position during the swing. You know all that talk about Tiger and other players "getting stuck" on the downswing? That doesn't with an arm-powered swing -- only with a leg-powered one.

A major teaching for this swing is "starting the downswing with the lower body." Now, just to be clear, it is physiologically impossible to start your downswing any other way, even in an arm-powered swing. "Coming over the top" doesn't mean you start the downswing with your upper body; it just means you straighten your arms and uncock your wrists too early in the swing. Your lower body still starts the swing; if it didn't, your hands and arms would uncock inside the target line, not across it. However, focusing on using your lower body to start the downswing aids in feeling the leg-powered swing properly.

One drill that gets used a lot with this swing is "moving behind the ball," where players are encouraged to let the upper body move away from the target during the backswing. The idea is twofold: First, to promote a weight shift to the right side (left side for lefties), which helps you make a proper weight shift toward the target on the downswing. And second, to help you get a good shoulder turn by getting the left shoulder (right shoulder for lefties) behind the ball.

A common fault for players who use a leg-powered swing? The notorious "reverse weight shift," where the weight doesn't transfer onto the foot nearest the target on the downswing. This causes players to "fire and fall back" -- instead of finishing in a balanced pose, they fall backward, away from the target as they contact the ball.

While different teachers have different preferences, neither leg-powered nor arm-powered swings are better or worse than the other. Some players are better with one than another, either because of mobility issues, relative muscle strength between the upper and lower bodies, or just because one move feels more natural to them. Other players find they can do either one equally well.

Personally, I think it's worth the effort to try it both ways. Although you'll almost certainly discover that one is better for you than the other, each focuses on certain moves. An increased understanding of how both swings work will improve your swing, no matter which one you use. Besides, if your ball ends up in trouble, you may find that knowing both swings increases your options.

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