Quietly, Hunter Mahan has risen to the ranks of golf's elite. A pair of wins in early 2012 brought the 30-year-old Oklahoma State product to the attention of many fans, but he'd already spent several seasons building the foundation for a stellar career.
Mahan finished among the PGA Tour's top 30 money winners every year from 2007-11, and ranks fourth in 2012 as of this writing. His game has no glaring weaknesses – he drives it straight and reasonably long, hits tons of greens in regulation and makes more than his share of putts.
His game, in other words, appears built to last.
Mahan's signature: Powerful rotary action through the swing, most notably with the hips.
Mahan earns plenty of praise for the effortless action of his full swing. But there's a lot going on – especially down below.
Mahan reaches the top of the backswing in great position – full shoulder turn, club parallel to the ground, back of the left wrist flat and everything on plane. It only gets better from there. He starts the downswing like nearly all top players, by moving the left hip toward the target. Unlike some, however, Mahan's lower body rotates left rather than sliding laterally. He remains well balanced as his right side drives around through the ball, generating more power than his 5'11”, 175-pound body would indicate.
At impact, Mahan's hips have turned to nearly face the target directly, a hallmark of many young pros today.
Why it works for Mahan: His swing may not be precisely textbook, but it's awfully sound. That said, Mahan's favored shot – the fade – could easily morph into a push were his lower body less dynamic. The hip rotation clears the way for his shoulders and arms to work freely into impact, where he releases the club beautifully.
By rotating around his core rather than sliding side to side, Mahan stays centered over the ball. That's why his swing is so efficient: It requires no intricate hands-and-arms manipulations that demand feats of timing. It's the reason he's so consistent, too.
How it can work for you: If you tend to shift sideways on the backswing and/or downswing, concentrate on rotating around your head, spine and chest. Practice by placing a club across the back of your shoulders and turning right, then left, while standing upright. Do this repeatedly, with the feet shoulder-width apart, to ingrain the correct rotary motion, then use the same drill while standing in your golf posture.
To activate your lower body for a downswing like Mahan's, visualize turning your belt buckle toward the target (around to the left) as you swing down and into impact. The belt buckle should face the target at the completion of the swing.
Hunter Mahan and Superior Hip Rotation
If you were to ask players on the PGA Tour to identify a player with the single best swing in the game, the name Hunter Mahan would come up at least a few times. Mahan has a beautiful golf swing, and he has used that swing to secure six PGA Tour wins since turning professional in 2003. He has finished within the top ten at least once in each of the four majors, including a tie for fourth at the 2013 U.S. Open. While Mahan does not yet own a title in a major championship, no one in the game would be surprised if such an accomplishment were to come his way.
Even to the untrained eye, it is easy to see that Hunter Mahan's swing is as close to perfect as you can get. The swing looks incredibly simple from start to finish, and there doesn't look to be very much energy put into the shot – despite the fact that he drives the ball over 290 yards on average (during the 2015 season). The combination of power and accuracy is hard to find in any golf swing, but those two elements are blended beautifully in the swing of Hunter Mahan.
A crucial element to the success of his swing is great hip rotation through the shot. The hips are really the engine of the golf swing, and most professionals are adept at using their lower body to drive the club into the ball. Since Hunter Mahan makes a swing that is under control and balanced at all times, it is particularly easy to watch his hip rotation in the downswing. If you would like to add power and consistency to your game, following Mahan's lead and using your hips aggressively in the shot is a wonderful idea.
Of course, you are going to need to invest some practice time if you wish to better incorporate your lower body into your golf swing. Hunter Mahan has spent most of his life refining his swing technique, so you shouldn't expect to just head out to the range and pick it up in an afternoon. It will take plenty of practice to use your hips better in the golf swing, but that effort will be rewarded with some of the best shots you have ever hit.
The content below will help you work through the process of learning how to hit the ball farther and straighter using superior hip rotation. While your ball striking ability is unlikely to rise to the level of Hunter Mahan, you can certainly make improvements on the technique you are currently using. Good hip rotation doesn't have to be reserved for the top pros – anyone will to work hard and spend some time practicing can improve the way they use their lower body through the shot.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
The Basics of Hip Rotation
Before you take a trip to the driving range to start working on your own hip rotation, it is important that you understand exactly how your hips are supposed to work during the swing. It isn't enough to just use your hips – you have to use them at the right time and in the right manner. Good hip rotation isn't necessarily complicated, but the order of operations is crucial to your success. Get it right and your swing will feel more powerful than ever before. Get it wrong, and you will have trouble even getting the ball off the ground.
Following are three points related to hip rotation that you need to understand before going any farther.
- The backswing is quiet. The backswing should be completed with very little activity in your hips whatsoever. If you watch the swing of Hunter Mahan, you will notice that his hips move very little in the backswing. Your right rip may want to move back away from the ball slightly as you turn, and that is fine. However, you should not be making a significant rotation with your hips at any point during the backswing. All you are trying to do in the backswing is load your body up to prepare for an aggressive and powerful downswing, so you want your hips to remain mostly stacked over your feet and knees. The backswing is completed mostly by the upper body so that the lower body can spring into action and take over when the club starts to move down toward the ball.
- Left hip starts the action. It is easiest to think about your hip rotation as being started by your left hip turning to the left (toward the target). Focusing on your left hip will give your mind a very specific point to think about as you reach the top of the swing. When the club is arriving at the top of the backswing – but hasn't yet changed directions – you want to tell your left hip to get involved and turn toward the target. This will start in motion a complete rotation of your lower body that you will use to power the club through the shot. The timing at the top of the swing is critical as to when you start your hips moving forward, so much of your practice time will be spent trying to master the rhythm required to get the most from your hips.
- Don't stop until you reach a full finish. Many amateurs who do manage to get their hip rotation working nicely in the downswing end up wasting that effort when they stop their rotation prematurely. Once you have started to turn your hips toward the target, don't stop until you are all the way into your finish position. If you hesitate at all on the way through the shot, you will throw off the timing of the swing and you will waste the power that you worked so hard to create. Commit to the swing completely and turn your hips hard to the left until the ball is long gone.
As you can see, those three points are pretty simple. If you can manage to keep your hips quiet during the backswing, use your left hip to start the downswing, and move all the way through the finish, you will be rotating your hips effectively. While it will take some practice time to master this move, you shouldn't be in for a long and complicated process – in fact, you could see progress in your ball flight after just one or two trips to the range.
Checking Your Current Positions
You can't get where you want to go unless you know where you are right now. That is a saying that applies to a lot of areas of life, and it certainly applies to your golf swing. Without a clear picture of what your swing looks like at the moment, it is impossible to make the proper changes to improve your technique. As it relates to hip rotation, that means that you have to have a good understanding of how your hips are working in your swing before you start making changes. Knowing where you are starting from is going to make it a lot easier to successfully reach your goal of having superior hip rotation.
It shouldn't take long to check on the present condition of your hip rotation, but the information you receive will be valuable. The best way to work through this process is to ask a friend to come with you to the driving range. Once you arrive and start to hit some balls, ask your friend to record your swing on video (the camera on a cell phone will work just fine). Hit a few shots with a long club (at least a five iron) while they are recording. You don't need to watch the video right away – it is best to review it once you are back at home.
When you are able to set aside a few minutes for the purpose of reviewing your video, first note how your hips are behaving during the backswing portion of the swing. Are they stable as in Hunter Mahan's swing, or are you turning your right hip significantly away from the target? If there is a lot of hip action taking place during your backswing, you will quickly know what needs to be worked on first.
Next, carefully watch your transition from backswing to downswing. If you have the option of slowing down your video, do so now in order to get a better look at the transition. Is your left hip leading the way like it should, or are your hands starting down before your hips get involved? You want to see your left hip start to turn before your hands have even finished moving the club up to the top of the swing – if this sequence is out of order, you will have another point to work on when you head back to the range.
Finally, watch for a balanced finish position at the end of the swing. You should be holding your finish position while the ball is flying, and your hips should be completely turned toward the target. If your lower body is coming up short of a full finish, go back through the video and see if you can spot a point where your hips slow down their rotation. As mentioned above, it is crucial that you turn aggressively through the shot with no reservations. You can't fix your swing once the club starts down toward the ball anyway, so you may as well swing with confidence and take your lower body all the way through to a full finish.
Reviewing your swing on video is quick and easy with today's technology, and it can be a huge help in your quest to optimize hip rotation. After you have reviewed the video of your swing, you should have a great idea of what you are doing right when it comes to hip rotation, and what needs to be fixed. The next step, of course, is fixing the problems that you found.
Fixing Common Problems
Most of the problems that amateur golfers face when it comes to the hip rotation can be lumped into a few basic categories. If you are having problems turning your hips correctly in the downswing, the issue can likely be found in one of the points below. Use the instruction that relates to the problem (or problems) you are struggling with during your next trip to the driving range.
- Overactive hips during the backswing. When the hips turn too much to the right during the backswing, you will run the risk of putting yourself off balance and out of position for the downswing. Getting control of this problem comes down to managing the position of your right leg. As the backswing begins, watch carefully to make sure that your right leg doesn't quickly start to drift to the right and away from the target. Ideally, your right leg will be steady in the early part of the swing. For most people, it is a swaying right leg that is the root cause of overactive hips in the backswing. By stabilizing your right leg early in the takeaway, you will be preventing your hips from turning and your technique will quickly improve. On the range, hit a few shots at about 50% of your normal power so you can focus on that right leg position. Gradually increase speed as you get comfortable with this change, and pretty soon you will be hitting full shots without allowing your hips to rotate much at all during the backswing.
- Late hip turn toward the target. Of all of the problems that amateur golfers face in the swing, this just might be the most common. Very few amateur players successfully use their hips at the right time during the transition from backswing to downswing. Get this point right and you will be way ahead of the competition at your local club. To learn how to time the transition perfectly, it can help to divide your swing into two phases. Try making some practice swings on the driving range by swinging up to the top of your backswing and stopping cold. Hold that position for a second, and then initiate your downswing by turning your left hip toward the target. From there, swing down through the shot normally. You can repeat this 'two-phase' swing over and over again until you get the proper feeling for how your hips should start the downswing. As you go through this drill, gradually shorten the stop at the top of your swing, until you aren't stopping at all and you are back to a normal swing. If you have done the drill correctly, you will now be able to transition perfectly from backswing to downswing by turning your hips toward the target.
- Never reaching the finish position. During your next trip to the range, stand back and simply watch the other golfers hit balls for a few minutes. Do you notice a pattern among most of the players? Unless you happen to practice on a range with a lot of good golfers, you will likely notice that most of the players are not reaching a full finish position. If you think about it, this makes sense – since most amateur golfers don't use their hips correctly in the downswing, it stands to reason that they wouldn't ever reach a balanced finish. However, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd by learning how to get into a full finish. Now that you are using your hips correctly at the top of the swing, finding a full finish is more about confidence than anything else. As you swing the club down toward the ball, don't let any doubt or concern creep into your mind. Your only thought during the downswing should be to turn your body all the way into a full finish. As you hit balls on the range, go through a set of five or ten shots where you only think about your finish. Don't concern yourself with other parts of your swing technique or anything else – just make it a goal to reach a balanced finish. If you can do that on the range time after time, you should be able to make a full and confident swing out on the course.
Mastering the hip rotation is more about thinking correctly than it is about learning some complicated technical process. The instruction above doesn't included complicated drills or lengthy exercises you need to go through in order to learn a good hip turn. Keeping it simple is best when it comes to this area of the game. By identifying your problem areas in the hip turn, and then using the tips above to correct those areas, your hip rotation should be looking better than ever in the near future.
The Role of Fitness
As you watch a video of Hunter Mahan swinging the golf club, you will notice many things. First, you will notice how incredibly simple and repeatable his swing appears to be. It is not a surprise that he is among the best golfers in the world when you watch the simple action that he has built. Also, you will likely notice his superior hip rotation and the beautiful balance that he maintains throughout the swing.
However, there is another point that you should notice while watching him swing the club – the man is in excellent physical condition. This is an often overlooked part of golf, but Mahan's ability to make such a great turn is no doubt linked to the level of physical conditioning that he maintains. By keeping himself fit, Mahan can make a powerful and athletic swing, and he can also hold up to the rigors of a long and challenging season on the PGA Tour.
Fitness is important to your hip rotation for a number of reasons, including the following –
- Maintaining proper weight. Overweight golfers may find that they have more trouble making a good hip turn simply because their midsection has more weight to move through the shot. You should still be able to make the proper move through the ball, but if you are overweight your swing will likely lack some of the velocity that can be generated by a thinner player.
- Strength development. There is no replacement for great strength in your legs and your core. As you turn through the shot, all of the muscles in the middle of your body are going to spring into action. If those muscles are well-conditioned and developed, you should be ab le to create more power – which will turn into more yards on the end of your shots.
- Flexibility. This is the big one. Keeping your body flexible – especially as you age – is important to maintaining or improving your level of play. Flexibility in your legs and your core will help to facilitate a full turn in the golf swing. Inflexible players will often fall off balance while trying to make a full turn simply because their muscles are fighting against them throughout the swing.
Before getting started on any kind of fitness routine, be sure to check with your doctor. If you would like to work on fitness specifically for golf, you might be able to find a professional trainer at a gym near you who specializes in conditioning for various sports.
Hunter Mahan has a great golf swing, which includes an impressive hip rotation through the golf ball. Living up to the standard of his swing would be a tall order, but watching the way he uses his body is a great template for any amateur player. As you work on your own hip rotation, remember to keep everything as simple as possible. Focus on the few points outlined above, and spend plenty of driving range time working on your hip rotation so you can successfully transfer your improvements onto the course.