When swinging a long club, such as a driver or hybrid, the left heel of a right-handed golfer will often lift off the ground if the hips have turned sufficiently (about 45° to their original, square position).
This is quite alright, provided the heel doesn't come too far up.
Not every golfer's left heel will leave the turf. Those with good flexibility, for example, sometimes keep the foot planted on the backswing. This is considered ideal as it creates power-generating torsion between the upper and lower bodies.
Though not every golfer can make a full turn while keeping the left heel down, it's best to limit the lift. A heel too high allows the body to sway, rather than turn, and makes timing the downswing more difficult.
Practice swinging the driver with a full backswing turn – shoulders at 90° to their original position, hips at 45° -- while standing flat-footed. Even if you can quite reach the top without lifting the left heel, you'll learn to keep it under control.
The left heel lift is not for everybody. For many golfers, the cons are going to outweigh the pros, and it is going to be a switch that simply isn't worth making. However, for others, the heel lift could be just the right technique to free up some missing power while adding rhythm to the swing at the same time. If you decide to work on the heel lift in your swing, take your time to get plenty of repetitions on the practice range before taking it out onto the course. Like with any swing change, don't expect to be smashing course records right out of the box – it is going to take some time to gain trust and confidence in this new move. With that said, the combination of a few practice sessions and a couple of rounds on the course using this new technique could leave you hitting the ball better than ever before.
Should the Left Heel Lift on the Backswing?
There is no one correct way to swing the golf club. If you don't know that already, make sure you commit that fact to memory as you work on becoming a better player. No matter what a golf teacher or golf book may try to tell you, there are always different ways to swing the club effectively. Golf is more art than science, meaning that you can always find your own way - as long as it is within the rules, and allows you to hit the ball at your target time after time.
One of the choices within the swing that you need to make for yourself is whether or not you are going to lift your left heel off the ground during the backswing (for a right handed golfer - it would be the right heel for a left handed player). There are pros and cons to allowing your left heel to come up off the ground, and good players can be found using both methods. Some of the top players in the history of the game, including Jack Nicklaus, have allowed their left heel to lift in the backswing. Other greats, such as Tiger Woods, keep the left heel flat on the ground. The fact that top pros can be found using each approach should be a sign to you that this is a point of personal preference. It is clearly possible to hit great shots either way, so you can decide for yourself which option works best for your game.
It is important that you make a decision one way or the other on this point, and then stick with that decision moving forward. You don't want to be stuck 'in between' when it comes to the position of your left heel. You need to have clarity in your golf swing, meaning that you need to know exactly what you are going to do before you do it. Whether you are going to leave your heel on the ground or allow it to come up into the air, make that decision confidently and then move forward with your swing based on that choice.
Your choice on this point should be based solely on what you think is best for your swing - not on what other players do, or what a certain golf teacher promotes. Also, don't pick based on what you think 'looks' best in your swing, either. Nobody will care what your swing looks like at the end of the day, they will only care what numbers you have written down on the scorecard.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions accordingly.
The Case for Lifting Your Left Heel
If a swing mechanic is good enough for Jack Nicklaus, it is certainly good enough for you to consider in your own game. Nicklaus allowed hit left heel to come off the ground during the backswing, and he rode that move all the way to 18 major titles. Even a casual sports fan understands how important Jack Nicklaus is to the history of golf, so anything he does is worth watching carefully.
So why did Jack let his right heel come off the ground in the backswing? While it is hard to determine his exact motivations, the following three points are compelling arguments in favor of this move.
- Added rotation. The golf swing is a rotational movement, and letting your left heel come off the ground will help to add rotation to your backswing. As you reach the top of the backswing, the muscles in your back and your legs begin to get tight as they are stretched to their limits. For most golfers, that means that the backswing must stop and the downswing begins. However, if you let your heel come off the ground, you can continue your backswing a little bit farther because you will be relieving some of the tension in your body. Think about it this way – letting your left heel come off the ground is kind of like instantly adding flexibility to your swing. Even without taking one trip to the gym, you can improve your turn and potentially add speed to your swing.
- Build some rhythm. When executed correctly, the left heel lift can act as a timing mechanism to help you create rhythm and tempo in your swing. Timing is a crucial element in hitting good golf shots, but it is something that eludes most amateur golfers. Using your left heel as a timing mechanism is a viable option because you can use it to trigger your downswing motion successfully. If you are a player who struggles with consistency throughout a round of golf, using a left heel lift to help your rhythm may be a great option.
- Engage your lower body. Not using enough lower body rotation toward the target is one of the biggest mistakes that amateur golfers make. With that in mind, your left heel can serve as a starting point to engage the rest of your lower body in the downswing. As you reach the top of your backswing, the left heel will be off the ground, and it will need to come back down as the downswing begins. As it hits the turf, you can simply continue the motion that is created by turning your legs and hips toward the target. It can be difficult to learn how to use your lower body correctly in the downswing, so allowing your left heel to guide the way is a strategy worth considering.
There are probably other benefits beyond the three listed above to using a heel lift in your swing. However, the gains that can be made in your game just from those three points are enough to at least encourage you to experiment with this move. Think about the status of your game currently and decide if your swing could be improved by adding any of these three benefits.
The Case for Keeping Your Left Heel Down
In golf, there is always a counterargument. Just as there are plenty of benefits to using a heel lift, there are plenty of drawbacks as well. If there were no cons, you would simply add this move to your swing and move on. Of course, golf is rarely that simple. When you want to add something to your game, you have to balance the pros and the cons before you decide how to proceed. The best golfers are the ones who make smart decisions about the direction of their golf swing, and then work hard to implement any changes they choose to make.
When you watch golf on television, most of the players that you see will be keeping their left heel flat on the ground. In many ways, this is considered a modern golf swing. While a few players around the Tour still use a heel lift, most have opted for a flat-footed approach to the golf swing. These players have certainly weighed the benefits and drawbacks of this method, and have decided that eliminating the heel lift is the best choice for them.
Below are three drawbacks to using a heel lift during your backswing.
- Another piece of the puzzle. The golf swing is a complicated motion no matter how you look at it, and adding another moving piece will only complicate the process further. When you are out on the golf course and you start to struggle, the process of finding the problem in your swing can be a difficult one. When you have yet another moving part in your swing to consider, the task of getting your swing back on track can become even more difficult. One of the main arguments against using a heel lift is simply that it complicates the golf swing beyond what it necessary.
- Balance. Maintain your balance is one of the cardinal rules to playing good golf, and some players will feel like lifting their left heel off the ground can cause them to lose balance in the backswing. To be sure, picking up the left heel will push you a little more onto your right foot than if you left that foot flat on the ground. That isn't necessarily a bad thing – but it is something that needs to be considered. If you are a player who already has trouble staying balanced through impact, forcing yourself farther onto the right foot during the backswing might not be a good idea.
- Losing your posture. Some players may have a tendency to lift up out of their posture in the backswing when using the left heel lift. As your left heel comes up off the ground, you might find that your upper body (including your head) wants to lift up at the same time. That motion would mean big trouble for the rest of the swing. You want to maintain your posture throughout the golf swing, and doing anything to damage that posture could be costly to your performance. With that said, it is possible to lift the left heel without coming out of your stance – you just have to be very careful with your technique to avoid this error.
Just as with the benefits, there are probably more than three drawbacks to using a left heel lift in your golf swing. Of course, the actual drawbacks that you experience may vary. For example, you might find that you have no trouble at all with your balance once you add a heel lift, and that your posture is unaffected by this change. That is why getting out to the driving range and trying this method for yourself is so important. You can read all of the instruction you want, but at the end of the day it is going to come down to what works best in your specific swing.
How to Execute a Left Heel Lift
You don't have to decide that you are going to use a heel lift in your swing in order to test it out. In fact, you probably shouldn't make that decision until you have at least given it a try on the range. After all, there is no way to know for sure if this technique will help your swing until you hit a few balls and see for yourself. Maybe you will end up incorporating this move into your regular swing, and maybe you won't – but it is worth your time to try it out during at least one practice session.
During your next practice session (not a warm up before a round), try hitting a series of shots while using a heel lift. Just like when you are making any other swing change, you should start out by hitting your short clubs and gradually work up to longer shots as you gain confidence. If you are going to try this method during a practice session, commit yourself to hitting at least 25 or 30 shots before you start making any decisions. While it will take far longer than that to actually incorporate this move into your swing full time, you should have a good sense of whether or not this will work for you after just a small bucket of balls.
To hit your first shots with the heel lift in your backswing, follow the steps below.
- Use a pitching wedge for your first shots with this new move. Your sand wedges won't give you a long enough swing to truly judge the quality of your ball striking, and longer clubs will just be too hard to hit. Start out with the pitching wedge for at least a few balls and move on from there as you progress.
- Keep your setup the same as it would be with any standard shot that you hit out on the course. There is no need to alter your stance or posture at all in order to add the heel lift in to your technique. Make sure that you are going through your full pre-shot routine prior to every shot, and pay attention to the details in your stance. If you get lazy and take a poor stance over the ball, you will be compromising your ability to hit a good shot before you even put the club in motion.
- As the club starts back, don't force your heel off the ground. Your left foot should actually remain firmly on the ground throughout most of the backswing – the lift only starts to occur up toward the top of the swing.
- When you are most of the way finished with your backswing, you should start to feel a slight buildup of tension in your back and legs. Instead of fighting against that tension, relieve it by allowing your left heel to come up off the ground. Don't feel like you are pushing up onto the toes of your left foot. Rather, you want your left heel to be pulled off the ground by the rotation of your swing. This is an important difference. The momentum of your swing should carry you around to the right until your left heel is naturally lifted up off the turf. Forcing your left heel up will cause all kinds of problems, so work hard to ensure that this is a natural movement.
- Just as quick as your left heel came up, it should go right back down again. This is where this swing move can really start to pay off. At the top of your swing, drop your left heel back down to the ground and use that motion as the trigger for the rest of your forward swing. Your left heel falling to the ground will naturally put your lower body in motion, which will give you a great start in rotating toward the target.
- Swing through the rest of the shot as you would normally. Make sure to get all the way up into a balanced position, and watch the ball fly until it falls to the ground.
The steps above should be relatively simple to follow, and they should help you properly integrate the heel lift into your swing. Remember, you shouldn't expect amazing results on the first few swings, so be patient and give each shot your full effort. Try not to make any rash decisions early in the practice session – give this new move time to feel comfortable before you decide if it is actually helping you hit better shots.
Playing with a Heel Lift on the Course
You may or may not decide to integrate the heel lift into your actual golf swing. If you work through the steps above and decide that the heel lift is not for you, then that takes care of it – you can move on knowing you are committed to playing with your left heel flat on the ground. However, if you do decide to carry on with this move, the next step will be taking it out onto the golf course.
As every golfer knows, there is a massive difference between the driving range and the golf course. While the ball might be the same size, everything just seems harder when you are trying to hit good shots into the fairway or onto the green. Therefore, just because you have hit some good shots using your heel lift on the range does not mean you should expect brilliant results during your first round on the course.
Before you start that round, take a moment to review the tips below. Hopefully, these tips will help you to adjust to your new swing on the course as quickly as possible.
- Slow down. The natural tendency when making any change to your swing is to rush when you get out on the course. You will be excited to test out the new swing you are using, and you may be trying to impress your buddies at the same time. Before each shot, take a deep breath and focus on the fundamentals that you were using on the driving range. Even just by taking one extra deep breath before you shots, you can greatly improve your results.
- Make a full turn. This second point is along the same lines as the first one. When you start to rush your swing, one of the first things that happens is you cut your backswing short and rush to get into the downswing. As you turn away from the ball, focus on making a big shoulder turn and rotating far enough to lift your left heel naturally from the ground. Using a left heel lift is all about making a big turn, so don't cut it short and ruin what you have been working on.
- Aim a little left. Most golfers will tend to hit a slight fade when using a heel lift, so consider adjusting your aim point a little bit to the left early in your round. As the round goes on, you should get a better and better idea of the ball flight you are creating, and you can use that information to guide your target selection for the rest of the day.