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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bobby Jones on Proper Weight Shift

Sometimes you read something a dozen times before it suddenly jumps out at you. That was the case for me today. I was rereading a piece from Bobby Jones Golf Tips: Secrets of the Master by Sidney Matthew, a piece called On the Proper Method of Shifting Weight, and suddenly realized how simply it explained something that many of you are struggling with.

I can't quote the whole thing here; it's three pages long. But I'll give you the key thought that struck me so hard.

Jones notes that most amateur golfers can't really distinguish between a "shift" (which they've been told to do) and a "sway" (which they've been told they must avoid). Then he makes a most interesting statement:
Let me begin by saying that although I have in the past inclined toward a different view, it is now my definite opinion that there need be no shifting of weight from left foot to right during the backstroke. I have examined numbers of photographs of the very best players and I have been able to find no case in which such a shift was perceptible. But there should occur during the hitting stroke a quite pronounced shift from the right to the left, a shift which does not follow the club or pass smoothly along coincident with its progress, but which is executed quickly and leads the arms and club all the way through. (p92)
This is really quite an amazing statement. When he says the weight does NOT shift from the lead foot to the trailing foot during the backswing, he means there is no attempt to move the position of your body backward away from the target. However -- and this is important -- there IS a noticeable shift from the trailing foot to the lead foot during the downswing.

How can this be?

Well, what you feel during the backswing is a change in the muscles of the trailing leg. It's an increase in tension rather than a shift of weight. But that doesn't explain how you make a shift forward during the downswing. Wouldn't that destroy your balance?

Not according to Jones. First of all he says that most good players stand more erect at address so they can turn more easily. (You may recognize this advice. Tiger has a tendency to squat a bit at setup and it doesn't allow him to turn easily, according to the analysts.) Jones further says that the weight should be pretty evenly divided between the player's feet.

The key is his description of the downswing:
The downswing or hitting stroke presents another picture. There is a shift here, but there is no sway, and the difference is what the average golfer wants to understand. It is this: The weight shift which is proper is a shift of the hips -- a lateral movement of the middle part of the body which does not alter the position of the head and shoulders. The sway, which is entirely improper, is a forward motion of the entire body, which sends the head and shoulders forward too, and tends to upset the player's balance. (p93, emphasis mine)
Now this sounds like a typical description of a forward weight shift until you take his description of the backswing into account. If you don't move your body backward during the backswing, there is no need to move it forward during the downswing... and, more importantly, it means that the "lateral movement of the middle part of the body" is a relatively small movement compared to the one we normally try to make.

Now how do you make that small move? Jones says:
If we but examine the styles of different golfers, even with the naked eye, it is easy enough to tell whether the weight transference has been a sway or a shift. One characteristic of the proper body action, that is to say, the shift, is that the left leg is straight at and after impact. (p94)
When he says the lead leg is straight, he means perpendicular to the ground. (Some players may have a slight bend in the lead knee; that's okay.) And he says this is the result of the lead side "lengthening" during impact by the hip moving forward without the head and shoulders having to move. That's the "pushing up at impact" move so many teachers tell you will create power. It creates the "extension" that Martin Hall says you should get after impact -- you know, when he says your chest should be pointed slightly skyward at the finish. It's how you "use the ground" during your swing.

This tip should work for almost all of you, no matter what type of swing you have. I have to say "almost" because if I don't, somebody will write and tell me it didn't work for them. We're human so it's rare that anything works exactly the same for everybody. But I bet it'll work if you try it.

Here's the key to remember: If you can't keep your head and shoulders steady, you're either trying to do too much with your legs or you're too bent over at address... or both. When I do it properly, I actually feel as if I'm focused on turning my shoulders toward the ball to start my downswing -- it's almost impossible NOT to turn my hips when I do that. (Think of making a tennis stroke. You don't think about turning your hips; you think about getting the racket to the ball.) It's actually a move that we make naturally in most sports because we don't worry about it so much.

Give Bobby's advice a try. I bet it will help you make a better smoother swing.

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