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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clearing Your Hips

Over at Golf Tips & Quips Dexter posted an article about how Jim Furyk clears his hips during his swing. I left a comment there, but it occurred to me that we've been talking about this hip thing quite a bit lately... without actually calling it that. I thought this might be a good time to pull all these thoughts together in one place and give Dexter a fuller answer than the comment on his blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "clearing your hips" -- sometimes called "opening your hips" -- simply describes how your hips and legs move during your downswing. "Opening" may be the most natural image if you know what an open stance is. An open stance is when you set up with your forward foot farther from your target line than your back foot. This diagram from the Swing Machine Blog is a great illustration of an open stance:

Open stance diagram from

See how the forward foot is farther from the target line? Well, when you open your hips, you turn your hips during your downswing so they are parallel to the arrow drawn across the toes... and then they keep on turning until your belly button is pointed straight toward the target. Obviously it's easier to open your hips from an open stance, but it's also natural to open your hips from either a square stance or a closed stance; it's just part of the swinging motion.

Some teachers prefer the term "clearing your hips," which has to do with "making room" for your hands. Again, it's not a difficult image to picture -- if your hips stayed parallel to the target line, your hands would get awfully close to your forward hip -- maybe even hit it -- as your hands swung past the ball. To prevent this, your hips keep turning as you swing through. It's the same move as "opening" your hips, just with a different name.

As I told Dexter, Jim Furyk clears his hips more than most players, and it's simply because he has to. He sets up with his hands much closer to his body than almost any other player on any tour. To keep his hips from moving in some weird way that changes his spine angle (and thus affects his accuracy), he has to really turn his hips to avoid hitting them with his hands.

Most players don't need to clear their hips as dramatically as Jim Furyk because they don't set up with their hands so close to their bodies. In fact, if you try to clear them too much you'll tend to lean backwards, changing your spine angle and causing the very problem that Jim is trying to avoid with his hip movement!

When I did the post about J.B. Holmes last week, I talked a bit about how teachers sometimes overemphasize things in the swing to get you to do them. Actually, the moves themselves aren't as big as you may be led to believe. As an example, I had taken the following 4 positions from a video (with arm and club lines added) and you could see that, despite being a big hitter, J.B. doesn't move his hips all that much -- in fact, if you watch the slo-mo in the video on that post, you can see that J.B. is basically just replanting his feet so they match his setup position, which returns his hips to his setup position, and that's how he "starts his downswing with his hips."

J.B. in 4 positions

Please notice that, although J.B.'s left hip has moved toward the target between position 1 and position 2, it's still well inside his left foot in position 2 -- his left foot is still closer to the target than his left hip.

I know you've probably read a lot of teachers who describe the hip move that "starts the downswing" as a "slide and turn," but I want to stress once again that this is a matter of degree. If you compare positions 1 and 2 in the sequence above, J.B.'s left hip has indeed moved toward the target based on where it was at the top of his backswing... but that new position is basically the same position as his setup. While his hips may have "slid and turned" relative to their position at the top of his backswing, essentially all he did was return to his setup position! I know I'm belaboring this point -- I'll do it more before this post is over -- but you have to understand that this "slide and turn" instruction is a matter of perspective.

Let me repeat that again: If you try to "slide and turn" relative to your setup position, you're going to overdo it and create problems in your swing. From the top of your backswing, all you want to do is return to your setup position; that has the same effect as the "slide and turn" you're trying to feel.

The process of clearing or opening your hips starts at the top of your downswing. When you let your hips start unwinding by replanting both feet solidly in your original setup position (this is very natural if your knees stay flexed slightly during your entire swing), your hips will just naturally continue to unwind unless you interfere with them. So the problem comes when your hips stop turning during your downswing; then they don't clear at all. How much you need to clear your hips before you hit the ball depends on the amount of motion in your swing.

Let me just quote some of what I told Dexter:
A good key thought here -- one we keep coming back to, beginning with that one-piece takeaway -- is that you want to keep your hands "in front of" your body throughout the swing. You don't want them to get stuck behind you, which causes a push-slice; but you don't want them to "get ahead of you" either, because that causes a pull-hook.

At the risk of oversimplifying this:
  1. Your shoulders are turned more than your hips at the top of the backswing.
  2. This angle stays almost the same until your hands are near your back thigh on the downswing -- some players describe this as the hips pulling the hands and arms down -- and then the shoulder-hip angle starts closing.
  3. At impact your shoulders are pretty much parallel to your target line and your hips are facing about halfway between the ball and the target.
  4. And at the top of your followthrough, your belly button points toward the target and your shoulders pretty much match your hip position (they "pass" your hips as the club arcs over your shoulders and points down at the ground for your finish).
If you're not clearing your hips, you're probably locking your knees when you hit the ball. If you maintain a little flex in them until the ball is gone, you'll probably clear your hips naturally. Just make sure that you don't start tilting backwards as you try to clear your hips, and you'll probably find the balance for your swing pretty easily.
By "find the balance for your swing" I just mean understanding how much your hips need to turn to let your hands swing through.

One other thing I should mention: Too many people make the mistake of thinking they are opening or clearing their hips when all they're doing is sliding their hips toward the target on the downswing. This makes you lean backward and actually keeps your hips from opening; your hips end up stuck in their setup position, only pushed toward the target, so they get in the way of your hands.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion -- and problems -- many of you are having when you try to clear your hips. Many of the instructions you've heard are attempts to describe the feel of various movements, not the actual physical moves you make while feeling them. As a general rule, too little movement is better than too much movement when it comes to your body, because it's easier to keep everything together. And if everything stays together, it's easier to move everything faster and develop more clubhead speed. Just look at J.B. if you don't believe me.


  1. Geat article. Very clear. Cant wait to work on it to solve my hooking. I currently slide way too much and arms get through with no hip turn.

  2. Glad to know it helps. It's a common problem for weekend players. (Yeah, I had it too!)

  3. If you're opening up your hips the right shoulder must come out thus the over the top, isn't there a lateral component to start first ? This I can get away with with my woods and hybrids but not irons !!

  4. Well, Paul, I typed in my explanation and it was too long for the comment box! So I'm going to do it as a regular post dated 10-20-16. That way, maybe it will help everybody.