Jim McLean's popular golf instructional book, The X Factor, describes the importance of creating a big shoulder turn against restricted hips.
By using a SportsSense Motion Trainer (SMT) developed by Mike McTeigue, Jim was able to monitor the amounts of shoulder and hip turns in different swings. He found that tour professionals, especially the longer hitters, tended to make big shoulder turns with relatively small hip turns.
There is no exact measurement of how much you should rotate your shoulders or hips but as a general guideline, you want to make the biggest shoulder turn you can while keeping the lower body as passive as you can. To make a full shoulder turn, you will need to naturally rotate your hips some but the key is to make sure that you don't overturn your hips and lose out on torque.
This is a pretty common biomechanical limitation in some people, especially as they get older. If you find yourself straining to get a full shoulder turn while keeping your lower body passive then experiment by allowing yourself a bigger hip turn until you can get at least a 90 degree turn with the shoulders. Make sure that when you rotate your hips that you keep your right knee flexed some.
You can also modify your stance to help increase or decrease rotation. Many golfers like to flare out their left foot (for a right handed golfer) some to help with the unwinding rotation on the downswing (pictured). If you want some help with rotation on the backswing, you could also flare the right foot away from the target some. Keep in mind, though, that if it aids rotation in one direction that it will hinder rotation in the other.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, remember that the hips lead the downswing sequence. If you look carefully at the swings of tour players, you'll notice that some of them start unwinding the hips before the backswing is fully finished. You probably don't want that as a swing thought but just know that the downswing starts with the hips unwinding. This should encourage your torso to unwind which then encourages the gradual acceleration of your arms and then club.
How to – The Best Way to Turn Your Hips
Golf is a rotational game. If you don't already understand that simple fact, make sure to repeat it over and over to yourself until it becomes lodged in your memory. You build speed in your swing through rotation, and turning your body toward the target in the downswing is the single most important thing you can do to deliver the club powerfully into the back of the ball. While the golf swings of various professionals will look different from player to player, they all have one thing in common – rotation is at the heart of what they do.
With that in mind, it is important to think about how you are going to generate the best possible rotation through the ball. Sure, you could simply rotation your arms away from the target in the backswing and then toward the target in the downswing, but that wouldn't be a very powerful method. You could add a big shoulder turn to that arm swing, which would be better, but you would still be lacking a key ingredient. In order to maximize your club head speed and deliver the club head into the ball with aggression, your hips are going to have to be the star of the show.
When you think about it carefully, it makes sense. Your hips are located right in the middle of your body, and they serve as the connection between your lower body and upper body. If you are going to get your entire body to work together with a common goal, it only stands to reason that your hips need to be involved. A powerful hip drive in the downswing has the potential to build tremendous speed coming into the ball while still allowing you to keep your balance and strike the shot with the center of the club face. The golf swing is a difficult motion to master, but learning how to use your hips correctly will take you a giant step closer to that goal.
Your hips play a significantly different role in the backswing as compared to the downswing. During the backswing, your hips only provide support, helping you to maintain your spine angle and a balanced, athletic stance. It is during the transition from backswing to downswing when the hips really jump into action and take over the swing. Learning how to time that transition, and how to sequence your movements so that you can maximize their effect, is your main challenge. It is crucial that you can not only rotate your hips fully in the downswing, but that you can also do it at exactly the right moment to allow the rest of your swing to stay on track.
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.
Setting the Stage in the Backswing
As mentioned above, the hips don't have a lot to do during the backswing. However, the backswing is still crucially important for executing a great hip turn later on in the downswing. If you were to arrive at the top of the swing with your body out of position, you would have trouble making the hip turn that you need to maximize your power. Get the backswing right and the rest of the motion becomes much easier to execute.
The following three points are keys that you should watch out for when making your backswing. While these points might not directly involve your hips, they are important for facilitating a great hip turn when the time comes.
- Maintain right knee position. This point is absolutely critical for making a great hip turn. You need something to 'push off' from when you start the downswing – and that something is your right leg. Both legs should be flexed at address, and it is important that you maintain most (or at least some) of that flex throughout the backswing. When you reach the top of your swing, your lower body should not look much different than it did at address. For many amateur golfers, this is where things start to go wrong. If you lose the flex in your knees and stand up straight during your backswing, it will be very difficult to engage your hips in the downswing. As you turn away from the ball, pay close attention to the position of your right leg and keep it as steady as possible.
- Don't drift right. Another popular mistake that amateur golfers make is drifting to the right during the backswing. Ideally, you would like to be perfectly balanced at the top of your swing, and that won't be the case if you have drifted too far onto your right foot. If your weight is mostly over your right leg at the top of the swing, your first move is going to have to be a slide to the left instead of a turn of your hips. That will cause a couple of problems. First, it will cost you power, and you will be missing out on part of your hip rotation as you slide left. Also, you will have greater difficulty timing your swing when you have to incorporate both a slide and a hip turn in your downswing. To simply the process, keep yourself on balance so you can start your hip turn directly from the top of the backswing.
- Take your time. Rushing the backswing is a classic way to ruin your hip turn. You might not think of those two things as being connected, but a quick backswing can actually make it almost impossible to make a good hip turn through the ball. When you rush through the early parts of your swing, your body will not be able to get into the correct position to prepare for the hip turn. A fast backswing will generally lead to a quick transition, meaning your hands and arms will be heading down toward the ball before your body has a chance to get involved. Slow everything down and you will instantly have a better chance of using your hips properly.
The three points above can be considered solid fundamentals for any backswing. By keeping your right knee in place, staying on balance, and having good rhythm, you will be able to hit quality shots more often than not. In addition to benefitting your swing as a whole, these three points specifically make it easier to use your hips in the downswing. Build a great backswing and mastering the hip turn might be a lot easier than you expected.
The Perfect Timing for a Turn
Perhaps the most difficult part of executing a good hip turn is starting that turn at precisely the right moment. If you start your turn too early, you won't have a chance to make a full backswing and the club will be out of position. On the other hand, if you start the turn too late, the club will beat your body down to the ball, and the shot will lack the power that it could have otherwise possessed. Learning how to time the start of your hip turn just perfectly is a task that will take plenty of practice.
So when is the right moment to initiate your hip turn toward the target? For most golfers, that perfect moment is just before the club finishes the backswing. By starting your hip turn just slightly before the club finishes its backswing, you can create a smooth and seamless transition between the backswing and downswing. If you were to wait any longer (until the club completely finished the backswing), you would create an awkward hesitation in your swinging motion. You want the swing to be as fluid as possible, so start your hips toward the target a fraction of a second before the backswing is finished. Of course, you don't want to overdo this point and start turning left before the club is even close to done with the backswing. There is no way to quantify this point, so you have to go through plenty of trial and error until you are able to strike the perfect balance.
A great way to work on mastering the hip turn is by making practice swings where you aren't going to actually hit a ball. Without a ball to distract you, your mind will be free to focus on the timing of your hip turn. Swing back with a nice rhythm and initiate your downswing with a rotation of your hips to the left. Pay particular attention to the moment when you start your hip turn. When done correctly, you should feel the club continue just a couple more inches in the backswing as your hips are starting toward the target. As your hips continue to turn, their motion will bring the rest of your body along for the ride and the club will quickly change directions and head down toward impact.
No golf teacher in the world can make this motion for you – it is something that you have to learn for yourself. The best way to know when you have found the right timing is when you start to notice a feeling of 'easy' power in your swing. A good golf swing feels effortless, and the acceleration of the club feels like it is happening naturally as a result of the lower body rotation. If you still feel like you are having to force the club down toward the ball, keep working on the timing of your hip turn until that power begins to flow naturally.
The Mechanics of a Good Hip Turn
Now that you know when you need to start turning your hips toward the target, it is important to focus on how you should execute that turn. A good hip turn is a relatively simple motion, but many amateur golfers make extra moves that are unnecessary and only serve to slow down the process. You want to keep your hip turn as 'clean' as possible because that will allow you to maximize the speed that is created. Remember, the faster you turn your hips, the faster the club will tear through the hitting area.
Following are some basic fundamentals that you want to keep in mind while working on your hip turn technique –
- Keep your left foot flat on the ground. Among the leading problems that amateur golfers have in their downswings, the left heel coming up off the ground just might be the biggest issue. When you allow your left heel to come off the ground during the downswing, you will be instantly making it more difficult for your hips to turn through the shot. The upward movement that is caused by coming up on your toes is counterproductive to your hip turn. Instead of carrying rotational power all the way through the shot, you will be interrupting that motion with an upward thrust of your left side. The result is a slower hip turn, and a decreased ability to hit the ball on the sweet spot. Keep your left heel on the ground and you will be able to continue turning left uninterrupted.
- Left hip starts the action. While your hips are naturally going to move together, it helps to focus on your left hip specifically when starting the action. Try to move your left hip left and back as you start the rotation. You don't want to be sliding laterally to the left, but you should be simultaneously moving that left hip toward the target and away from the ball. In fact, to combine this tip with the previous tip, you can think about your left hip moving your weight onto the heel of your left foot. That way, you will be sure that you are moving in the right direction, and you will also be ensuring that your left heel stays on the ground.
- Maintain your level. You want to keep your hips mostly level as you turn them toward the target. A common mistake for amateur golfers is to drop the level of the right hip as the downswing begins. This is a major problem because you will be dropping the level of the club at the same time, and your swing will likely bottom-out prior to reaching the ball. The result of a swing made with a low right hip is usually a fat shot. Keep your right hip at the same level as your left for optimum results.
- Belt buckle at the target to finish. When your swing is complete, you should have your belt buckle pointed directly at the target. This finish position is a great indication that you have finished the hip turn successfully. If you notice that your belt buckle is still pointing to the right of the target when your swing has finished, you will know that your hip turn is stopping short of completing the job. Keep track of this important point on the driving range and use it as a reminder to complete the hip turn all the way through the shot until you reach a balanced finish.
There isn't anything terribly complicated about the hip turn. When done correctly it looks incredibly simple, and in fact, it is pretty simple when you follow the basic tips above. Beyond those four points that are listed, remember the important role that balance plays in the golf swing in general. If you are off balance as you come down toward the ball, it will be impossible to swing aggressively through the hitting area. You always need to focus on balance because it makes so many other things possible in the swing. A balanced golfer is one that will never be far away from making a great swing.
What You Stand to Gain
As a little bit of added motivation to get you out on the driving range to work on your hip turn, it will be helpful to highlight some of the main advantages to making a great hip turn. It is easy to settle for 'good enough' with your golf swing, choosing to stick with the status quo instead of working hard to improve your technique. However, when you review the list below and see just how much better you can be simply by working on your hip turn, it should then be easy to find the motivation to get down to work on this critical swing component.
- Distance! This is the big point, and the main reason that most golfers decide to work on their hip turn in the first place. Think of your hips as being the engine of the golf swing. If you aren't aggressively turning your hips through the hitting area, you aren't using all of the power that the engine has to offer – you are stuck in second gear, basically. By engaging your hip turn right from the top, you are using all of the gears and unleashing all of the power that the engine can generate. Will you automatically start to drive the ball 300 yards when you use your hips? No, not necessarily. However, a great hip turn will allow you to live up to your own distance potential, whatever that may happen to be. Until you are using your hips correctly, you will not be hitting the golf ball to the limits of your ability.
- Solid ball striking. A better hip turn not only adds speed, but it also makes it easier to direct the club head into the back of the ball. Using body rotation is a more consistent approach than simply swinging your arms around, meaning the club will follow the same path over and over again. If you struggle with inconsistency in your ball striking, there is a good chance that a weak hip turn is the culprit. When you engage your hips properly, all your arms and hands have to do is simply come along for the ride.
- Deal with a variety of lies. Since a swing that uses a good hip turn is more powerful, you will more easily be able to deal with poor lies that you encounter on the course. As you know, not every shot that you hit during a round of golf is going to be played from a perfect fairway lie. Keeping that in mind, having the ability to strike the ball solidly even from longer grass or other nasty spots is a great advantage over your competition. Use your hip turn to force the club down through the grass and onto the back of the ball.
- Develop a rhythm. One of the overlooked benefits of a good hip turn is the positive influence that it can have on your tempo. Once you master the idea of using your hips to start the downswing, you will find that you are able to repeat the same rhythm over and over again. Great tempo is another way to improve your consistency on the course, and it all starts with a fundamentally sound hip turn.
You game stands to improve dramatically just by improving the hip turn that you use in the downswing. It is hard to find large improvements on the golf course, but this is one element of the swing that can have a big impact when used properly. Sure, it may take some time to successfully integrate this fundamental into your swing, but you will be glad you put in the work when you start to see the results.
Don't overcomplicate the hip turn. If you cloud your mind with too many thoughts, you will never be able to execute the motion properly time after time. The first thing to learn is the timing of when you should start your turn. Once that timing is in place, you can then work on refining your turn by going through the list of fundamentals provided above. As long as you stick to those fundamentals, your game will have nowhere to go but up with your new and improved hip turn.