It’s a well-known axiom that at the moment of impact with the golf ball, the shoulders, arms, hands and club shaft should replicate their positions from address.
But what about the hips? Do they follow the same rule?
The short answer is, no. The hips should be square to the target line at setup, but when the club returns to the ball they should be open. (To illustrate, if you place a club across the hips at impact, the club should point left of the target for a right-handed golfer. A 40° angle to the target line is a good rule of thumb.) If the hips do not rotate to an open position, your shots will lack power and accuracy.
Golfers whose hips remain square, closed (pointed right) or not open enough are typically guilty of not rotating the hips properly on the backswing, letting the arms and shoulders control the downswing, or sliding the hips toward the target rather than rotating them on the downswing.
If your hips are restricted through the downswing, the first thing to do is flare the left foot slightly toward the target at address. This will free the left hip to turn through the shot.
Next, as you complete the backswing and start back down, imagine your hips rotating so that your belt buckle points left of the target at impact, and continues moving as you come to a full, flowing finish.
It takes practice to get the hips, upper body and arms working together. But once you achieve this, your shots will fly much farther and straighter.
How to Learn the Correct Golf Hip Action
Hips are the power center of the golf swing. If you have ever watched one of your playing partners hit a drive longer than your own down the fairway – even though it didn’t look like they swung that hard – it is likely that they are using their hips more efficiently than you are. The hips drive the lower body forward through its rotation toward the target and provide the power for the upper body to build on and rip the club through the hitting area. Most amateur golfers struggle to get the best possible use from their hips during the swing, and the outcome is shots that fly much shorter than they should. Using your hips properly is one of the most effective ways to gain power in your swing.
Naturally, it is important to understand how to your hips in the swing, and when. The hips role in the golf swing is fairly simple, as long as you follow some basic rules. Once you do manage to discover the proper hip action in golf, the results can be stunning. Many golfers feel like they are actually swinging slower than before, yet the ball is going significantly farther. That’s because the proper hip action in golf leads to perfect sequencing of the swing, which allows you to feel like things have slowed down since everything is moving when and how it should. It might take you some practice time to learn the hips role in the golf swing, but it is something so powerful that you will be happy you put in the work. Longer drives and better ball striking could be waiting once you get this equation just right.
When people talk about starting golf swing with the hips, they are really talking about initiating the downswing with hip rotation toward the target. In fact, you want your hips to remain relatively quiet during the early part of the swing while you move the club back into position. Then, starting golf swing with the hips from the top of your backswing down into the ball will give you the best chance to develop power efficiently. The order of your mechanics is very important, and there will be more information on that below.
The nice thing about working on your golf hip action is that this lesson applies to all of the clubs in your bag (well, other than the putter). You want to use the lower body in just the same way when you are hitting a wedge as when you are hitting a driver off the tee. The best golfers are usually the ones who can control their swings largely with the lower body and allow their upper body to pretty much hang on for the ride. This might be drastically different than how you swing the club currently, however, so plenty of repetitions on the practice tee will likely be needed to make serious changes.
Before going on, please note that the instructions below are based on a right handed golfer. Those of you that play golf left handed should be sure to reverse the directions as needed.
Getting Your Hips Set
It is going to be difficult to use your hips properly during the swing if you don’t set them up properly before the swing begins. The address position that you use is important for a variety of reasons, but getting your hips in the right place is near the top of that list. Your hips should be level with each other, and most importantly, they should be parallel to your target line. You don’t want to start your swing with your hips open or closed, because it will become more difficult to use them correctly once the swing get started.
To check on the position of your hips at address, try this simple drill. On the driving range, take your stance like you normally would with any of the clubs in your bag. Once you have set up like you are going to hit a shot, pick your club up and hold it across your waist right at your belt line. Get it lined up with your hips so that the shaft of the club is a visual representation of the angle at which your hips are set. Are you parallel to the intended target line? It should be pretty easy to see how you are doing when you use this drill. Make any adjustments that might be necessary and then hit a few shots.
You also want to have a little bit of ‘tilt’ in your hips at address. That means that you want your midsection to be tilted down toward the ball slightly instead of standing straight up and down. This tilt will make it easier to turn in the backswing, and it will also help you to keep your legs engaged in the swing overall. The best way to ensure you have good hip tilt is to feel like you are sitting in a chair when you take your address position. Obviously you don’t want to bend your knees down to 90* like you would when sitting in a real chair, but you should feel your upper legs engaging as you hold your body in place. As long as you take a stance in which your legs are bent slightly at the knees and your back is relatively straight, you should be ready to make a powerful swing.
Remember that your hips are only one part of the overall address position picture, and your stance as a whole is very important to the success of your swing. While it might not be the most exciting thing to practice, make sure you are spending enough time working on your stance on the practice range so that it is consistent and reliable on the course during a round.
Making the Transition the Right Way
At some point, the club has to stop moving away from the target and start moving toward it – there is no way around the fact in the golf swing. So, there is going to be a transition from backswing to downswing where the club and your body change directions. How are you going to complete that transition? For most amateur golfers, the answer is simply starting to move their arms forward, bringing the club along with them. While you can certainly hit the golf ball this way, there isn’t going to be much power behind your shots, and your ball striking will be inconsistent at best.
Simply starting your arms down toward the ball is not going to be good enough to improve your game. Instead, you need to initiate the downswing with your hips, using them to force the transition of the club and start everything moving forward toward the target. For good golfers, this is a move that they have so done so many times it becomes completely natural and automatic. However, for golfers who are used to just swinging with their arms, it will take some serious time and effort to make this change.
When it comes to making the right kind of transition in your swing, it is all about timing. You need to have the right timing between the movement of your shoulders turning away from the target and your hips turning to the left toward the target. The tricky part is that you don’t want to complete your shoulder turn before moving your hips. Instead, there should be some overlap of the two motions. While your shoulders continue to turn back away from the target, your hips should start up and begin unwinding to the left. This is not something that can be quantified or measured – you will need to practice this kind of transition until you are able to master the right order of things.
Just like with many other parts of the golf swing, it might help to start small when working on your transition and build up to a full swing. Head to the driving range with a bucket of practice balls and your sand wedge. The idea here is to hit shots of around 50 or 60 yards using your hips to drive the transition. Obviously, you won’t be making much of a shoulder turn with such a short shot, so your hips will need to engage pretty quickly after the backswing has begun. Really think about your rhythm and tempo when hitting these shots – they should be fluid with no sudden movements in either direction.
As you start to get the feel for how you can start the downswing by rotating your hips, gradually try to hit the ball farther and farther. At first, just work on hitting your sand wedge up to full distance. Then, reach for some longer clubs while continuing to pay attention to your tempo and timing within the swing. As long as the transition remains in the right order, with your hips leading the way and your arms and the club being pulled along, you shouldn’t have much trouble moving up to longer shots. Work your way up to the driver and hopefully you will be hitting some of the longest drives of your life now that you have your transition and downswing working properly.
No Turning Back
Once you start up the engine that is your hips turning toward the target, it is crucial that they keep turning all the way through the shot until the ball is gone. Plenty of amateur golfers figure out how to use their hips to start the downswing, only to stop them a few moments later while the club is still coming down toward impact. Using your hips correctly means not only mastering the transition but then having the trust and confidence to keep them moving all the way through the shot into the finish position.
How do you know if you have done this correctly? It is pretty easy to tell just by looking at the position of your body when the swing is finished. If your hips are perpendicular to the target line (your belt buckle is pointing at the target), then you have done a good job of continuing the rotation through the shot. Many golfers get stuck halfway through the swing and they end up with their belt buckle pointing at where the ball used to be. That kind of swing is never going to generate enough power to give you the kind of shots you are hoping to hit.
One of the reasons that many golfers get stuck on the way down and don’t end up finishing their rotation is they slide their hips instead of rotating them. The golf swing is a rotational motion, and there is very little room for side to side movement in the downswing. While your weight will end up on your front foot at the end of the swing, that is more a result of the momentum of the swing and the follow through than it is a conscious effort to slide to the left. As you are making your transition from backswing to downswing, think mostly about rotating your hips to the left while keeping your center of gravity in place as much as possible. There is going to be a little bit of leftward movement in the swing, but that should be a result of your rotation – not the other way around.
To work on your hip rotation in the downswing, put down your clubs and just make some practice ‘swings’ using only the motion of your body. Instead of holding your arms out like you normally would while swinging the club, cross your arms across your chest while you practice your turn. Use your shoulders to rotate through the backswing, then start your hips turning toward the target. Do this over and over again until you start to feel how those two motions can work together to create a powerful swing. After doing plenty of repetitions of this basic drill, pick your club back up and try hitting a few shots.
There is a mental game component to this part of the swing as well that should be addressed. If you aren’t feeling confident in the swing you are making – or the target that you have picked for the shot – you are going to have a hard time rotating aggressively through the shot like you should. Instead, you might find that you are slowing your hips down to protect against a bad shot as you swing down toward the ball. Countless amateur golfers undermine their own swings simply through a lack of confidence and belief in their own ability. If you are going to maximize your power and really use your hips the way they should be used in the swing, you will need to commit fully to the rotation through the shot. Hold nothing back and trust yourself completely – even if a bad shot is the result, at least you will have given it your best effort with no reservations.
The more you practice and refine your technique, the more consistent the results will be. Prior to each shot you hit on the course, make sure you have 100% belief in your mind that you can execute properly and send the ball exactly where you are aiming. You will never be perfect in golf, but that shouldn’t change your confidence – trust in yourself completely for the best possible results.
A Few Other Notes
By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of how your hips need to work in the golf swing, and how important they are to building power and speed. It is likely going to take some time until you are able to use your hips to the maximum potential, but at least you should be on the right path. To make sure you keep working in the right direction, following are a few more tips to keep in mind while improving this area of your game.
- Don’t be in a rush. Once you start working on your hip turn in the downswing, you might find that you are tempted to cut your backswing short in a hurry to start the hip turn. Don’t make this mistake. You still need a full shoulder turn back to set up everything that is going to happen in the downswing. Take your time and finish the backswing completely – the ball isn’t going anywhere. As your shoulders start to reach the end of their turn, your hips should jump into action and take over the swing going forward.
- Make it look smooth. While you should care far more about the results of your swing than the looks, in this case it can be helpful to try and make your swing look ‘pretty’. You want the transition from backswing to downswing to be smooth and fluid – not choppy and mechanical. Watch your swing on video and work on ironing out any rough spots until you are making a clean transition that flows nicely together. You know that look that the pros achieve where they hit the ball 300 yards and it doesn’t even look like they are trying very hard? That is the goal, even if you are never able to reach those impressive distances.
- Maintain your knee flex. One of the common mistakes that amateur golfers make is to stand up out of their posture during the backswing. This can have a negative effect on your hip rotation because your legs won’t be ready to drive toward the target like they should be. Focus on keeping your knees as stable as possible throughout the backswing so that you are ready and able to rotate your hips when the time comes. If you give up too much knee flex early in the swing, your hip action is going to be lacking.
- Flexibility helps. If you want to be able to build more power in your swing, and get more speed from your hip action, focus on improving your own level of physical fitness. Specifically, flexibility in your legs and core is crucial to being able to create as much speed as possible. Of course, physical fitness is good for countless other areas of your life as well, not just your golf game. Talk to your doctor before getting started on any new fitness regimen.
- There might be other changes. If you have been making a swing which used mostly arm motion to get the club down to the ball, there is a good chance that you will need to make some other changes in your swing in order to get the ball flight you are looking for. Once you add better hip action to the equation, you might find that the club is coming down from a different angle or that your club face position has changed slightly. It is certainly still worth it to work on your hip rotation, but don’t be surprised if there is a little more work to be done on other parts of your swing.
There really isn’t a ‘secret’ to the golf swing in terms of how to hit great shots. The swing is simple a collection of mechanics, and the better your mechanics become, the more good shots you are going to hit. However, if there is one ‘secret’ to that effortless power that the pros seem to possess, it is hip action. Proper hip action from the transition down to impact is where tremendous club head speed can be developed.
For your own game, start small when working on hip action. Hit short shots on the driving range and focus on learning the feeling of turning your backswing into a downswing through good hip action and an aggressive turn through the ball. Slowly make your swings bigger and bigger until you are hitting full shots with the ideal hip rotation all the way to the finish position. When all is said and done, you should be left with a powerful swing that is reliable from the first hole to the last.