At the instant the club contacts the golf ball, your arms, shoulders, clubface and shaft should essentially mirror their positions from address. The hips are another matter. Let's look at where the hips should be when you set up to the ball, and the different position you want them in at impact.
At setup, the hips should be aligned directly with the shoulders – aiming at the spot where you want the ball to start. If your hips are open or closed to the target line, you'll struggle to sync them up properly with the shoulders on the backswing and downswing.
But while you want the shoulders to return to square at impact, the hips must be open (pointing left of target for a right-hander) at this crucial point. Why?
Because the hips must lead or pull the upper body as you begin the downswing. If you start down with the upper body, you'll sacrifice both power and accuracy. “Clearing” the hips allows the arms to work freely, uninhibited, into the impact zone.
If the hips are square or only slightly open at impact, your shoulders and arms will lag behind, causing pushed or pulled shots. There's no ideal amount of downswing hip rotation, but studies show the average PGA Tour pro's hips to be around 40° open in relation to the target line as club meets ball. By contrast, amateurs are often at 10° - 20° open.
To make sure your hips are turning enough through the shot, imagine “firing” your right pants pocket toward the target on the downswing, or rotating so that your belt buckle faces the target at the finish.
Hips Should Be Open at Impact - But What About Address?
When you reach the point of impact in your golf swing, you should have your hips open to the target line - that is not a secret. In order to create power and strike the ball effectively, your lower body must be turning aggressively to the left throughout the downswing (for a right handed golfer). If you aren't able to get your hips open to the line by the time you reach impact, it will be essentially impossible to hit powerful golf shots. With that said, what should your hips look like at address? Should they be in an open position as they are at impact, or should you set up with your feet, hips, and shoulders all square? While it might seem simpler to set up in the same position that you are looking for at impact, you will actually be better served to use a square stance with your hips parallel to the target line.
Everything that you do with your golf swing should be designed with the goal of making the overall motion as simple and repeatable as possible. A golf swing that is capable of hitting powerful shots will do you no good if you can only control those shots 50% of the time. You need to have control over your ball as often as possible, as golf is a game of position rather than raw power. The ability to hit long shots will serve you well, but only if you hit targets with regularity. By setting up with your hips square to the target line, you will be positioning your body to make a simple, yet powerful, swinging motion.
Building a good address position is one of those golf fundamentals that tends to get lost in the shuffle. Plenty of golfers focus their energy only on the moving parts of the swing, completely ignoring the importance of how they are positioned before the club starts in motion. Your address position has a lot to do with the shots you will be able to create with your swing, so it would be a serious mistake to overlook this element of your game. Take the time to create a fundamentally-sound address position during your practice sessions and you will be rewarded in the end.
There aren't very many golfers who find it exciting to work on their address position – which is probably why this is a fundamental that is so often ignored. No one will blame you if you would rather stand on the range and blast drives as far as possible instead of working on the details of your stance. However, golf practice isn't always exciting, but it must be done if you want to get better. Let other players swing away on the range while you get down to the actual work of becoming a better player. Most likely, you will wind up beating them on the golf course thanks to the preparation you completed on the range.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
What Does It Mean to Be Square?
In order to successfully get your hips square to the target line at address, you first have to know exactly what that means. Not only should your hips be square, but in fact your feet and shoulders should also be square to the line when you step up to the ball. Establishing a square position will put you on track for a swing that starts on the right path and remains on that path all the way through impact.
In this case, square means that you are lined up parallel to the left of the target line. So, obviously, you need to first know what that target line is before you take your stance. As you prepare to hit a shot, stand somewhere behind your golf ball and look down the hole. For a tee shot, you will likely be picking a spot in the fairway to use as your target. On an approach, you will be picking somewhere on or near the green. It is important to note that the target for your shots is not necessarily going to be the hole. Sometimes it will be, but many times you will want to aim either right or left of the hole itself in order to avoid hazards around the green. No matter what it is that you choose to aim at on a given shot, it is crucial that you do, in fact, aim at something very specific.
With that specific point in mind, you can 'draw' a mental line between your ball and that target. This line is known as your 'target line', and it will dictate everything that you do for the rest of the shot preparation. As you walk up to the ball to take your stance, keep your target line in mind and set your feet on a line that is parallel left of the target line you have chosen. With your feet in place, simply stack your hips and shoulders directly above your feet, and everything will be square and ready to go. If even one of these three pieces (feet, hips, shoulders) is out of position, you will run the risk of ruining your entire swing right from the start.
Have you ever made what you thought was a good swing, only to look up and see the ball heading in the wrong direction? This happens to many golfers, and the common response from most players is to assume that something went wrong within the swing itself. Even if the swing felt just as good as others that resulted in quality shots, most players will blame their swing mechanics when the ball fails to travel toward the target. In reality, however, there is a much better chance that the breakdown was in your address position than in your swing. Your swing is unlikely to change much during the course of a round, unless you are being affected by pressure and nerves. Otherwise, poor shots are often a reflection of poor preparation. If you don't take the time to pick a specific target, or if you fail to get your body square to that target line, the outcome of the shot is not going to be a good one.
Your hips play a critically important role in the golf swing, so don't take them for granted at any point – especially at address. Your swing will benefit greatly from getting into a square position at address, even though you do want those hips to be open by the time you reach impact. If you haven't yet taken the time to learn how to build a great stance, you should put that task near the top of your golf to-do list. It will take some time and effort to find a comfortable and repeatable stance that gets you squared up to the target line, but you will love the results at the end of the process.
Facilitate a Full Backswing
One of the main reasons you should keep your hips square at impact is to allow for a full backswing. Your shoulders need to completely turn away from the target in your backswing if you are going to be able to generate power coming down, but that turn will be nearly impossible if you start with your hips open to the line. With your hips open, your shoulders would be restricted and your backswing would be cut short. A short backswing is rarely an ingredient for success on the course, so you should focus on starting from a square position in order to give your shoulders every possible chance to make a great turn.
Many amateur golfers struggle with a short backswing for a variety of reasons. Among the most common causes of this mechanical problem include the following –
- Open hips at address. This is obviously the point that pertains to the topic covered in this article. If your hips are open at address, they will essentially be fighting against your shoulders as they try to turn back to the right. Unless you turn your hips at the same time (which is a bad idea), your shoulder turn will never be able to reach its full potential. At that point, you will left with a short and weak golf swing that produces disappointing results.
- Lack of flexibility. Some golfers are unable to make a full turn simply because they aren't flexible enough in their lower back and torso to make the rotation work. If this applies to you, the answer has more to do with fitness than it does with golf instruction. By finding ways to improve your overall level of fitness and flexibility, you will be able to make a longer backswing – which should lead you to making a better golf swing overall.
- Rushing through the swing. Many amateur players fall short of their backswing potential because they are in too much of a hurry to swing the club forward and hit the ball. There is no hurry during the golf swing, as the ball isn't going to move until you hit it. Take your time during the early phases of the swing to get the club up into position so you can strike down aggressively through impact.
- Arms only. It might sound obvious, but you aren't going to make a great shoulder turn if you never get your shoulders involved in the swing to start with. Right from the beginning of the takeaway your shoulders should be engaged, as your left shoulder leads the turn away from the ball. Some golfers move the club with their arms only, leading to a short swing that is also out of sequence. Make sure your shoulders are in charge of the backswing right from the start in order to encourage a great turn.
A full backswing is one of the cornerstone elements of playing good golf, but you aren't going to be able to meet the goal of a full turn if you keep your hips open at address. If you are currently making a short backswing in your game, check on all of the points above until you are able to reach a better position at the top of your swing.
Going from Square to Open
It should go without saying that you are going to have to make a move with your hips at some point during the swing in order to get them from square to open at impact. Starting with your hips square is a great idea for all of the reasons provided above, but you definitely will want to have them open at impact in order to generate power and speed through the ball. Therefore, your hips will obviously need to play an active role in the swing in order to wind up where they need to be at the moment of truth.
So how do you get your hips from square to open while also executing all of the other moves that make up your golf swing? Simple – you put them in charge of turning your backswing into a downswing. As the club arrives at the top of the backswing, your hips should take over the action and begin the job of turning to the left (toward the target). When timed properly, the rotation of your hips to the left is the perfect catalyst to get the rest of your body rotating toward the target in a balanced yet powerful manner. Most amateur golfers miss on this point, so mastering the hip turn in the downswing is a great chance to rise above your competition.
It could easily be said that the transition phase of the golf swing is the most important single piece of the overall puzzle. If you can get the transition right time after time, you will stand a great chance of hitting quality shots. Unfortunately, most players don't get the transition right, as they use something other than their hips to initiate the downswing. Typically, it is quick hands that are to blame for the failure of the transition portion of the swing. When the club stops moving back, it is the hips that should start moving toward the target before any other part of the body. However, if the hands win that race and start pulling the club down to the ball before the hips get going, the swing will effectively be ruined.
The average golfer is tempted to start the downswing with the hands because the hands are holding onto the club, and it is the club that actually strikes the ball. In some ways, it makes sense to think that the downswing should start with hand and arm movement to the left. While that style of swing may be able to strike the ball solidly from time to time, it will never contain the kind of power that is possible from a swing which uses the hips properly. By starting the downswing with the hips, your body will have time to build speed before the moment of impact arrives. Basically, you will be making the downswing longer, which gives the club head more time to accelerate. As long as your hips lead the way and your hands lag behind, a powerful downswing motion should be the outcome.
You shouldn't need to think about getting your hips into an open position at impact, because they should naturally be in that position as a result of your downswing mechanics. When the downswing starts with a hip turn to the left, you can be sure that your hips will have arrived at an open position by the time the club gets down to the ball.
The Advantages of Open Hips
You probably already knew that your hips should be open at impact, but do you know why? It is always helpful to have a clear picture of not only what you are trying to do in the golf swing, but also why you are trying to do it. Knowing the 'why' portion of the equation is helpful because it will make you more knowledgeable about the golf swing as a whole. That way, when something breaks down on the course and you need to make an adjustment to your swing, you will have the ability to solve the problem and get yourself back on track.
Following are three important advantages that can be gained by getting your hips open at impact –
- Delayed hit. The delayed hit is possibly the most important concept in golf – and yet many players don't even know what it means. When golf teachers talk about a delayed hit, they mean that the club is the last thing to come through the hitting area. Your entire body should have already rotated through the shot, while the club lags behind and builds speed. When the club finally arrives at impact, it can deliver a powerful blow because of all of the time it has had to accelerate. By getting your hips into an open position at impact you will have a great chance to use the delayed hit to your advantage.
- Downward strike. With most of your clubs, you want to hit down on the ball through impact. This is certainly true with your irons, and it applies to some fairway wood and hybrid shots as well. In order to hit down, your center of gravity needs to be slightly past the ball, and open hips will help you find that position successfully. When your hips are open, you will likely have your weight over your left foot, which is perfect for hitting down through the shot. Many amateur golfers get into the bad habit of 'scooping' the ball at impact, which can lead to any number of bad results. However, you can avoid scooping if you are able to get your hips open and your weight onto your left foot.
- Stay on plane. Golfers who keep their hips square to the line at impact usually have to come 'over the top' in order to hit the ball. An over the top swing is usually associated with a slice, since the club will be swinging across the ball at impact from right to left. Slice spin will be passed to the ball when this kind of swing is made, and you will have little chance of hitting a good shot. By getting your hips open at impact, you can establish the proper inside-out path to strike the ball properly. You won't hit every single shot straight just because your hips are open, but you will certainly big a big step closer to controlling your ball flight.
No matter what club you happen to be hitting, or what type of shot you are trying to hit, you should be working hard to get your hips into an open position at impact. There are many advantages to this method of swinging the club, including points that weren't even included in this article. If you need any more proof that you should be playing from an open hip position at impact, simply look to the PGA Tour. If you watch the swing of just about any player on the Tour, you will see an open hip position when the club strikes the ball. That should be all the proof you need to copy this action for yourself. If it is good enough for the best players in the world, it is certainly good enough to help you play better golf.
While your hips should absolutely be open at impact, they should certainly start the swing in a square position. Starting with your hips square to the line will enable you to make a better backswing, and it will position you at the top of the swing to use your hips aggressively coming forward. Square hips at address lead to open hips at impact, so work on this fundamental in your game and your swing as a whole will improve.