When he began his PGA Tour career in 2011, Keegan Bradley's claim to fame was being the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley. By year's end, he was best known as a major champion.
Bradley made an initial splash by winning the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May, but he didn't stop there. Three months later, he defeated Jason Dufner in a playoff to win the PGA Championship – the first major he competed in as a pro.
Far from a flash in the pan, Bradley appears to have genuine staying power. You wouldn't necessarily know it by analyzing his setup, though.
Unconventional move: At address, a majority of Bradley's weight is positioned on his heels.
Who else does it: Few if any other professional golfers.
Viewed from behind, looking down the target line, Bradley's backside is well behind his heels. Whereas the conventional position finds the player balanced between the balls and heels of both feet, it's obvious that Bradley leans backward, away from the ball.
Why it's a problem for amateurs: Swing from your heels, hit shots off the toe. That's a common result of such an unbalanced setup. The opposite can happen, too; often, a golfer who starts on his heels will lurch forward during the swing, creating contact off the club's heel or, far worse, shanking it off the hosel. Finally, a heel-weighted posture can cause the club to approach the ball on an exaggerated inside-to-outside path, producing hooks and pulls.
How Bradley gets away with it: Like many amateurs, Bradley's weight shifts from the heels forward during the swing. But this movement happens concurrently with his enormous lower-body rotation, which pulls the club down onto the proper plane and path heading toward the ball. At impact, Bradley's hips are turned as much as 70° in relation to the target line, while his shoulders are square.
The cure: There are several ways to check your balance and make any necessary corrections.
- Take your normal address position and look at your knees. They should be directly above the balls of your feet (or very close). If the knees are farther back, your weight is on the heels, and vice versa.
- Take your address, then check the position of your right hip by placing the club vertically against the outer seam of your right back pocket. The shaft should meet the ground beside your right ankle. If it's behind the heel, your weight is too far back. (In front of the heel and your balance is tipped toward the toes.)
- At address, try to lift your toes off the ground. If they come up easily, there's too much weight on your heels. On the other hand, if you can lift the heels, then you're leaning forward.
Keegan Bradley Weight on Heels at Address
At the 2011 PGA Championship, Keegan Bradley took home his first career major title. It also happened to be his first ever appearance in a major. The win made him only the fourth golfer in history to win in his major debut, and it launched him onto the world golf scene. Since that title, Bradley has gone on to win a World Golf Championship event, and has been a member of two Ryder Cup teams. While he has not captured another major title since that victory at the 2011 PGA, Bradley has secured his spot as one of the top American players in the game today.
When compared to some of the other top players in the world, Keegan Bradley doesn't have what most people would consider to be a 'classic' golf swing. There are a couple of quirks in his swing that make it unique to him – of course, those quirks haven't stopped him from being highly successful on the PGA Tour. One of the unique aspects of Bradley's swing is that he seems to sit back onto his heels at address. This is counter to what most golf teachers advise. If you take a golf lesson from your local pro, you will likely be told to place your weight on the balls of your feet at address, rather than leaning back onto your heels. The prevalent thinking among golf teachers is that keeping your weight on the balls of your feet will allow you to take an athletic stance which can be used to keep your entire body engaged during the swing.
So how is Bradley able to play so well while setting up with his weight back on his heels? It all comes down to repeatability. Bradley is able to swing the golf club in the same manner time after time, meaning he can deliver the club to the back of the ball accurately on a majority of his swings. Even if his address position isn't quite conventional, the golf ball doesn't care – as long as the club face is square at impact and he is bringing the club down on a good path, a beautiful ball flight will result.
Seeing how well Bradley is able to play while setting up with his feet back on his heels should at least encourage you to consider what a similar set up would do for your game. If you have trouble feeling comfortable over the ball at address, perhaps shifting your weight back slightly onto your heels would help you feel more balanced and prepared for the swing. This isn't a technique that is going to work for everyone, but there is a chance that it could help you get your swing on track.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Although somewhat unconventional, there are some benefits to be gained from placing your weight onto your heels at address. Creating a good golf swing is all about balancing pros and cons – adding elements that help your swing while taking away things that are giving you trouble. This is a never ending process for players who strive to get better. As long as you play golf, you will forever be tinkering with your swing in the hopes of finding just the right formula for success.
Below is a list of benefits that you may experience when trying out this unique setup position for yourself. If you enjoy most or all of these benefits when you shift your weight onto your heels at address, you just might want to consider sticking with this technique for the long run.
- Engaging your lower body. A large percentage of amateur golfers fail to get their legs engaged in the golf swing, and they hit weak shots that float out to the right as a result. Hitting a slice is a common struggle among amateur players, and that slice is often created due to a lack of lower body rotation in the golf swing. When you move your weight back onto your heels, you will be forcing your lower body to engage at address. Specifically the large muscles in your upper legs will become active, much like when you go to sit down in a chair. Setting up with your knees flexed and your muscles engaged is a great way to ensure that your lower body does its job once the swing begins.
- Creating room for your arm swing. It is important for your arms to have plenty of room to swing down through the ball, but some players who set up leaning out over the ball have a problem with getting crowded at impact. If you decide to set up with your weight on your heels, there should be plenty of room between you and the ball for your hands to swing the club through aggressively. This can be particularly beneficial for players who have never been able to successfully hit a draw on a consistent basis. If you would like to be able to turn the ball over from right to left, you will need to have room for a full release of the club through the hitting area. Setting up on your heels can create all the room you will need to make a right to left ball flight a reality.
- Making solid contact. During the downswing, some players have a bad habit of leaning out over the ball as they let their weight move onto the balls of their feet. What that happens, it becomes very easy to hit the ball fat. By staying back on your heels, you should have an easier time remaining level through the hitting area, leading to solid contact with the shot. This is important with all of your clubs, but it is particularly helpful with your short irons. If you are struggling with hitting your short irons fat from time to time, an adjustment to get your weight back onto your heels might be a step in the right direction.
The only way to know how moving your weight at address is going to affect your swing is to get out and try it for yourself. Head to the driving range to hit a bucket of balls and work on using this altered set up position. Start by hitting some soft shots with your short irons and work all the way up to the driver. Try not to make a snap judgment on this technique, either – give it enough time to become comfortable before you decide if it is worth pursuing further. If, after a few practice sessions, you are not seeing improved results, you can go back to your normal swing knowing you at least gave it a shot.
If you are expecting to roll your weight slightly back onto your heels and suddenly begin striking the ball like a tour player, you are sadly mistaken. Like any other change that you attempt to make to your swing, there will be drawbacks that come along with the benefits. Hopefully, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in the end. If not, it will be time to scrap this idea and start looking for something else to work on.
So what are some of the drawbacks that you can expect to experience when you move your weight back onto your heels at address? The following three problems are all possibilities –
- Poor balance. By intentionally placing your weight toward the back of your feet, you will be starting off your swing from a lightly off-balance position. In order to make the rest of the swing work properly, you are going to have to 'recover' your balance at some point along the way. You might be able to do that easily – and you might not. Some players will have trouble getting back on balance before they reach the impact position. Without good balance, both your power and your accuracy may suffer. Pay close attention to how your balance feels throughout the swing, and don't use this method if you are struggling to control the positioning of your body.
- Inside takeaway. Since you will be leaning away from the golf ball slightly at address, you might find that the club naturally wants to move to the inside during the takeaway. This can be a problem as it may lead you to reroute the club over the top during the transition – leading to a slice. To counteract this problem, you will have to make sure you get great extension with your arms during the takeaway to avoid getting stuck in an inside position. By reaching your arms out away from your body early in the backswing, you may be able to get the club on plane even while your weight is back on your heels.
- Loss of power. For some players, leaning back at address will lead to a shorter shoulder turn, which will cause lost power at the bottom of the swing. The last thing you want to do is give away power in your golf swing, so make sure this modified address position is not leading to a poor shoulder rotation away from the ball. If you can't make your full turn when setting up with your weight on your heels, this technique is probably not right for you.
It is difficult to predict how a specific swing adjustment will affect the ball flight of an individual golfer. You may move your weight back onto your heels and find great results, and you may find that you can barely get the ball off the ground. Now that you know what to look for in the way of drawbacks to this method, you can be aware of the potential problems as you work on this technique. Should one or more of these issues become prevalent in your game, the best course of action may be to return to your old setup position.
Adjusting to a Changing Ball Flight
Any time you make technical changes to your golf swing, you can expect a new ball flight as a result. Sometimes, the alteration to your ball flight will be minor, such as a draw that turns a couple extra yards to the left. Other times, however, it will be a major change, like a draw that turns into a fade. Since having control over your ball flight is one of the biggest keys to playing good golf, it is important that you monitor any new ball flight patterns so you can adjust your game plan accordingly.
There isn't any way to accurately predict how your ball flight is going to chance once you move your weight back onto your heels at address. Some players may find it easier to hit a draw, while others will use the lower body rotation they gain to hit a power fade. As you begin to experiment with this style of golf swing, you should quickly notice how your ball flight is changing. The changes will be inconsistent at first, but they should start to stabilize as you gain confidence and trust in the new stance.
You may be frustrated to find that your scores don't come down right away in your first few rounds with the adjusted setup position – even if you feel like you are hitting the ball great. The problem isn't necessarily your swing as much as it is your aiming and course management plan. Since you will be hitting a new ball flight, you are going to have to 'relearn' how to work your way around the course. The shots that you used to be able to rely on might not be as predictable as they once were. Until you gain a good understanding of your new trajectories, lower scores may prove to be elusive.
If you would like to master your new ball flights as quickly as possible, try using the tips below –
- Take detailed notes. During the first few rounds that you play using the new stance, try taking detailed notes about every shot that you hit. This process doesn't have to add time to your round – you should be able to make the notes while the other players in your group are hitting their shots. Write down all of the important details such as the club you used, the distance of the shot, the curve (right to left or left to right) and the height of the trajectory (low, medium, high). While the information from one or two shots won't be able to tell you very much, you will be able to learn a lot about your new ball flight from a few rounds' worth of data. Take a look over the notes after four or five rounds and you should be able to spot patterns that will help you determine your new go-to ball flights.
- Try hitting different shots. As you make your way around the course, look for opportunities to attempt hitting draws or fades on command. After trying a few of each, you should have a pretty good idea of which one is easier for you to create. If you are having a much easier time hitting a draw than a fade, for example, you will know that your new stance lends itself to a right to left shot.
- Give your whole bag a workout. To get the best possible look at your new ball flight, you want to hit shots with a variety of different clubs. Make it a goal to hit every club in your bag during those first few rounds so you can see how each of them performs with the new stance. That might mean that you need to hit something less than driver off the tee in some cases. Remember, these rounds shouldn't be about shooting the lowest score possible – they should be about learning your new patterns so they can pay dividends for you in the future.
There is a chance that altering your setup position to move more weight onto your heels won't do much of anything to your ball flight. If that is the case, you obviously don't need to worry about making any adjustments. However, it is more likely that your ball flight will change at least a little bit, so be sure to consider using the tips above if you want to make the transition to your new ball flight patterns an easy one.
What about the Short Game?
Consistency is a great thing in golf, although it can be hard to find. With consistency in mind, you might think that you would want to put your weight back toward your heels in the short game, if that is what you are going to do with your full swing. However, that isn't necessarily a good idea. Depending on the short game shot in question, you could actually create problems with your short shots if you try to play them while leaning back into your heels.
When putting, you don't want to put your weight on your heels because you need your eyes to be out over the ball during the stroke. Ideally, you will have your eyes just inside of the target line while making your putting stroke, and placing your weight on your heels will simply pull your head too far back away from that line. Regardless of what kind of stance you use during your full swing, your weight should be on or near the balls of your feet during your putting stroke.
The story is the same when it comes to chipping the ball. A good chipping motion is one that moves down through the golf ball, and keeping your weight back will usually shallow out your swing plane. Your stance when chipping should be very similar to the one you use while putting, except you want to be leaning slightly to the left to encourage a downward strike. Even when you are pitching the ball from 20 or 30 yards away from the target, you want to remain in a position where your weight is at least in the middle of your feet, if not out closer to your toes.
With all of that said, there is one time when you can put your weight back into your heels in the short game with great results – greenside bunker shots. As you are preparing to hit a shot from a greenside bunker, go ahead and dig your heels into the sand so that your knees are flexed and you are comfortably balanced. Normally, this kind of stance would cause you to hit the ball fat, but that is exactly what you are looking for from the bunker. Sit your weight back into your heels and thump the club into the sand behind the ball – when done correctly, the ball will float up out of the bunker and land softly on the green.
If you do choose to sit back on your heels when playing bunker shots, be sure not to choke down too far on the grip of your wedge. When you choke down you make the club effectively shorter, and you will need all the length you can get to allow the club head to slide under the ball. Keep your hands up on the end of the grip (or close to it) to ensure you have enough club to hit the shot correctly.
You may or may not wish to emulate the way Keegan Bradley stands over the golf ball at address. Some players will find that they hit the ball better when moving their weight back onto their heels, while others will experience no benefit whatsoever. In order to determine if this technique will help you play better golf, give it a try during one of your upcoming practice sessions. You can always abandon the idea if it doesn't seem to be a good fit for your swing, but it just might help you bring everything together to create the best ball striking of your life.