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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swinging in a Barrel

(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 photos as if you were looking in a mirror.)

This post is the first of two intended to help Brian learn proper hip and leg movement. I think so many players are confused because too many teachers confuse mechanics and feel. Here’s my approach: Today we focus on mechanics, tomorrow on feel. It’s simpler that way.

Why? Because the best way to teach proper mechanics is by using drills that feel nothing like your actual swing. A drill usually isolates certain groups of muscles, while your whole body is involved in the feel of your swing. The drill allows you to focus on a single part of the movement; but when you work on feel, you always want to work on the total swing.

For lack of better terms, mechanics are components while feel is holistic. Got it?

Now for the drill. It’s an old one, but very effective. It’s called “swinging in a barrel.” Unlike the feel drill I’ll give you in the next post, this requires a club and room to swing, so you’ll need to go outside. (However, you don’t have to hit balls if you don’t want to, so you can do it in the backyard.) Let me give you a brief description―it’s really simple, so I haven’t included an illustration―and then I’ll tell you how it helps.

Stand with your feet just slightly wider than shoulder-width, then squat. You don’t have to do deep knee bends, but you want to bend your knees more than you would normally… much more, enough to make you about 5-6” shorter. Call it a half-squat.

Now, from this position, practice your golf swing. It’s that simple.

This drill does several things:
  • It severely limits your hip movement, which will slow down those spinning hips and require you to use your hands and arms more. That means you have to “swing” the club rather than “hit” with it.
  • Most people think more hip movement means more knee movement, but excess hip movement actually takes your knees out of the swing. The more your hips move, the straighter your knees get. Because you can’t use your hips as much in this drill, it forces you to use your knees a lot more. Specifically, your right knee will move toward the ball on the backswing while the left knee stabilizes you; then your left knee will move toward the ball on the downswing while your right knee returns to a stable position. It’s automatic; you can’t help it!
  • Your feet will stay on the ground better. Because the hips are restrained and the knees move in more of a side-to-side motion rather than twisting and straightening, your feet will “roll” from one side to the other.
  • The “rolling” motion of the knees and feet will allow the hips to turn without moving much from side-to-side. Result: More stability during the swing, because your body weight stays between your feet.
  • As a bonus, it will also help you improve your ability to coil and maintain your spine angle.
I like this drill because it accomplishes so much with so little effort. Once you take your stance, it’s almost impossible to do it wrong, plus it teaches you just how little movement is required in order to get a full golf swing. Most weekend players have heard the pros say they need to use their whole body when they swing, but using your whole body is NOT the same as making violent lurches at the ball. This drill will help you tame those bad impulses quickly, because you can make a practice swing using this drill any time you need it, even during a round.

And Brian, I bet you won’t come “over-the-top” when you do this. You may uncock your wrists too early, which can cause you to pull shots, but that’s just a further indication that you haven’t been swinging the club properly. First things first―get rid of the excessive hip movement, then you can learn correct hand and arm action.

Working with this drill gives you a better idea of what good hip, leg, and foot action is like, but it doesn’t teach you how your body will feel when you move during a normal swing. In the next post, I’ll help you “feel” better about your swing.


  1. Thanks Mike! It is really nice to read something that I don't have to turn around!

  2. I'm glad you're enjoying it, Apryl. I struggled with this when I wrote Ruthless Putting because I couldn't find a clear way to describe things both ways, or a single term that worked for everybody. (Lead and lag hands? Near and away? Upper and lower - oops, what about crosshanded?) And since the vast majority of players are righthanded, if I had to choose one "side," it was the right. Fortunately, putting is simple enough that I felt I could slide by and still be understood by everyone.

    Obviously the full swing is more complex. Got any ideas?