The feet don't seem to play much of a part in the golf swing. After all, they're planted in place.
It's true that the feet don't perform a leading role like, say, the hips and shoulders. But that doesn't mean they aren't important.
Since the feet react to leg action and body rotation, a golfer's footwork is an indicator of their swing's fundamental soundness. Starting with weight balanced equally left and right, the feet during the golf swing should work in a sequence resembling this one (for a right-hander):
• On the takeaway, weight should shift to the inside of the left foot as the knee rotates right.
• At the top, the left heel may be slightly off the ground depending on your flexibility. About 75 percent of your weight should be on the right foot, with the instep bearing most of the load.
• The left heel returns to the ground to initiate the downswing.
• The right heel may rise just off the ground into and through impact, while the left foot is planted firmly as club meets ball.
• At the finish, the right heel is off the ground as you balance on the left heel.
The Role of Footwork in the Golf Swing
It only seems natural to focus on the movement of your hands and arms during the golf swing. After all, your hands are the only part of your body that is connected to the club, so doesn't it make sense to focus your time and effort on using them correctly? While it is important to use your hands properly, it is also essential to know what the rest of your body is doing while the club is in motion. From your shoulders and torso to your legs and even your feet, hitting a great golf shot requires whole-body effort.
The content below is going to focus on the role that your feet play in the golf swing. Using your feet correctly is more important than you might think, as your swing starts from the ground up. If there are things going wrong at the bottom of your swing, those mistakes are going to be magnified by the time they work their way up to your arms and hands. Proper footwork alone won't enable you to hit quality golf shots, but it will get you started in the right direction.
Using the term 'footwork' in golf can refer to a number of things. It can refer to the way you walk up to the ball to take your stance, it can relate to your stance itself, and it can relate to the way your feet move while the club is in motion. Each of these topics will be covered below, as each is important in its own way. Golf is a hard game, so you want to do everything you can with your technique to make it a little bit easier. By using your feet the right way, you will eliminate one big variable from the swing, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your technique.
When you think of the sources of power that you can use to generate club head speed in your golf swing, you probably think about your body rotation, your hands and wrists, and even the equipment you choose to use. However, there is another source of potential power waiting to be called upon when proper swing technique is used – the ground. If you use your feet (and the rest of your lower body) properly in the golf swing, you can actually use the ground to help propel your body and the club through the shot. Nearly every professional golfer in the world understands how to benefit from the resistance that the ground can provide, and you should attempt to learn from their example. Power can be hard to come by on the golf course, so it is a good idea to take every bit of it that you can find.
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.
The Importance of the Walk Up
The techniques and mechanics that will define the success or failure of your golf swing begin well before you actually start to swing the club. Hitting good golf shots is a process – and that process starts from the moment you arrive at your next shot, whether it be on the tee, in the fairway, in the rough, or anywhere else throughout the course. If you wish to play up to your full potential, you will need to know exactly what you are doing from the time you pick a club until the ball is on its way to the target. There is no detail in golf too small to consider. By carefully planning each little step in the process of hitting your shots, you can gain increased control over the outcome.
One of the seemingly minor details that you can work on in your game is the way you walk up to the ball prior to hitting a shot. While you are thinking about what club to hit and what target to pick, you will be standing behind the ball looking out toward the hole. Once those choices are made, you need to walk up to the ball and take your stance. But how do you get there? How many steps do you take, and which foot do you plant in the ground first when you arrive? This might seem like a pointlessly small detail, but it can actually help you to improve your consistency dramatically.
Following are three tips that you can use to master your walk up process –
- Don't stand too far away. You don't actually have to determine the exact number of steps that you use each time to walk into your stance, but it shouldn't be more than 2 or 3. When you are behind the ball, you have a great visual of the target in front of you. If you take too long of a walk to get up to your ball, you will run the risk of losing that visual in your mind. Stand only a couple of steps behind your ball while preparing for the shot so that it is a short walk once you are ready to go.
- Position your left foot first. One of the biggest keys in your setup is positioning the ball correctly in your stance, and that happens when you place your feet at address. You need to have the ball in the proper position in order to strike your shots with consistency. As you walk up, place your left foot into position first, as it is the one that will usually be closest to the ball. When you are happy with the position of your left foot, place your right foot to complete the stance. Of course, you can make minor adjustments from there as you settle in for the swing, but putting your left foot down to start will make the whole process easier.
- Practice it! Most golfers, when they go to the driving range, only practice the golf swing itself. This is a mistake. Instead, you should be practicing all aspects of the process that is required to produce a shot. That means you need to work on picking a target, getting aligned to that target, visualizing your ball flight, and even walking into your shots. Each swing should be a process that mimics what you will be doing out on the course. If you cut corners and simply make swing after swing with no consideration for other details, you will be missing out on a great chance to improve your overall game.
Walking up to the golf ball may not seem like an important piece of the overall golf puzzle, but it is something that you should take time to practice along with the rest of your technique. It shouldn't take long to create a repeatable process that you can use for each and every shot that you hit on the course. Not only will repeating your walk up time after time help your physical execution of the swing, it will also provide you with a degree of confidence that you can use to handle even the toughest pressure situations.
Building a Great Stance
You should already be familiar with the importance of taking a proper stance. The stance is the foundation of the golf swing, so you shouldn't expect to hit quality shots without first learning how to position your body correctly prior to the swing. Fortunately, a good golf stance is actually pretty simple. You want to be in an athletic position with plenty of knee flex and great balance. As you would expect, your feet play a major role in the creation of your stance. With your feet in the right spot in relationship to the ball, the rest of the pieces can quickly fall into place.
Below is a list of three tips related specifically to the positioning of your feet in the stance.
- Square or slightly open. Your feet should either be square to your target line, or slightly open, depending on your personal preference and the amount of flexibility you have in your legs. For your right foot, opening up to the line slightly will make it easier to make a big backswing, so consider that adjustment if you are limited in your rotational flexibility. If you keep that right foot square, your right knee can potentially be subjected to undue stress depending on the rest of your swing mechanics. It is a similar story with your left foot. As you come down toward impact, your left leg will begin to rotate while your foot remains stationary on the ground. If you find that the rotation begins to wear on your left knee, try opening your left foot slightly so that your toes are pointed a little bit to the left. This will feel like a minor adjustment, but it can make swinging the club all day long a much more comfortable experience.
- Flat on the ground. This may seem like an obvious point, but it is one that many people get wrong in their swings. As you address the ball, make sure both of your feet are totally flat on the ground. Keeping your feet down flat has a lot to do with your balance at address. If you allow your balance to drift out toward your toes or back toward your heels, that mistake will be reflected in the position of your feet. Use this tip as a 'checkpoint to ensure you are doing things right in your stance - as long as you can feel both of your feet remaining flat down on the ground, you can be confident that your stance is at least close to correct.
- Dig in to the sand. You aren't allowed to build your stance when you are on the grass portion of the course, but you can legally 'wiggle' your way down into the sand when playing from a bunker. It is surprising how many players neglect to take advantage of this important opportunity when their ball finds its way into the sand. Simply by wiggling your feet back and forth for a couple of seconds prior to hitting your bunker shot, you can lock up your footing so you don't have to worry about slipping during the downswing. There is one thing to be aware of, however, when it comes to footing in the bunker - don't dig in too deep when hitting a full shot from the sand. If you are in a fairway bunker, only wiggle your feet down just enough to get good footing. If you go down too far, you will create an awkward angle for yourself during the swing, and there is a good chance you will hit the ball fat.
For an experienced golfer, the points above are probably second nature at this point. However, if you are a new golfer, or a player who just needs to review the fundamentals to get your game back on track, these tips can be important. Quickly check to make sure you are following each of the three 'rules' above before moving on to the next piece of the footwork puzzle.
Footwork During the Golf Swing
Finally, the golf swing gets underway. With all of the 'pre-flight' details taken care of, you can begin your swing and send the ball on its way toward the target. Even now, however, you need to remain away of the role that your feet play in the swing. Sloppy footwork during the swing can ruin all of the hard work you have done up until this point.
The best way to think about footwork during the golf swing is that your feet should not be moving unless absolutely necessary. Maintaining 'quiet' feet is a great goal during your swing, as your feet should simply serve as a platform on which the rest of your swing can take place. Of course, you won't be able to keep your feet totally silent, but limiting their action should simplify your overall swing – and simplicity is always good on the golf course.
Over the years, you have probably noticed that some golfers take their left heel up off the ground during the backswing. As the club approaches the top of the swing, the left heel comes up into the air, only to return back to the ground when the downswing begins. What are these golfers doing, and is it something that you should try in your swing? Usually, when the left heel comes off the ground, it is to enable a larger turn away from the ball. At some point, the flexibility of your lower body and your back will stop you from turning any farther right, but you can add a little bit of distance to that turn by pulling your heel up off the ground. In theory, the longer turn should allow you to hit more powerful shots.
With that said, pulling your left heel up off the ground isn't something that you should do on purpose. If you force your left feel to come up, you will run the risk of getting off balance in the swing – specifically, you could get your weight stuck on your right side, which would be a big problem as you approach impact. If your heel 'wants' to come up off the ground naturally as a response to the rest of your swing, that is fine. Don't prevent it from coming off the ground, but don't force it to happen either. Focus on the other parts of your swing and let your left foot respond naturally to the movement of your body.
The other element of footwork you will commonly see in the golf swing is the right heel coming off the ground during the downswing (prior to impact). This is a move that you will even see on the PGA Tour, as some players turn so aggressively that they can't help but have that heel be pulled off the ground. Even though it is used by some of the game's best players, allowing your right heel to come up is something that you should try to avoid. As the right heel leaves the ground, you will run the risk of forcing the club to the outside of the proper path – something that you certainly don't want to do. When the club swings down from the outside, the two likely outcomes are either a slice or a pull. Neither of those are attractive options, so try to keep your right heel down as much as possible prior to making contact with the ball. Of course, after you have struck the ball, your right heel is free to come up off the ground so you can release into a full finish position.
The basic rule of thumb that you should have in the back of your mind regarding footwork is this – quiet feet are almost always better than active feet in the golf swing. If you feel like your feet are remaining stationary during the swing while your legs, torso, and arms do the job of swinging the club, you are probably doing a pretty good job. Active feet will lead to inconsistent ball striking, especially under pressure. Anchor your feet to the ground while taking your stance and then leave them alone while you complete your swing.
Finding the Right Shoes
One last point to consider related to your footwork on the golf course is the shoes that you choose to wear. It might not seem as important to have good shoes while playing golf as it is in sports like basketball or baseball, but footwear on the golf course is actually critically important for a number of reasons. You should look for shoes that are comfortable on your feet, provide good traction, and keep the water out all day long. Following are a few reasons why it is so important to find good quality shoes to add to your golf equipment collection.
- Stay comfortable. Rounds of golf routinely take four hours or more to complete, and playing in uncomfortable shoes can make your day miserable. You want your shoes to keep water out so you don't wind up with waterlogged socks and shriveled feet by the end of the day. Comfort is important because you will make your best decisions when your body is comfortable and relaxed. If you are frustrated and irritable because your feet hurt late in the round, those emotions are likely to lead you into bad decisions when it comes to your game.
- Maintain your grip on the turf. Think of your golf shoes in the same what that you think of your golf glove. Your glove helps you maintain a good grip on the club while you are making your swing, and golf shoes help you keep a good grip on the ground. It one of your feet were to slip during the swing, your chances of hitting a quality shot would disappear almost completely. You have put a lot of hard work into master your foot placement and movement up to this point, don't ruin it by playing in shoes with no traction on the bottom.
- Enjoy walking the course. For many golfers, walking the course is one of the great joys of the game. Taking time to enjoy the scenery, smell the grass, and more is all part of the golf experience. Unfortunately, uncomfortable shoes can ruin that part of the game because you will simply be counting the steps until you can get off your feet. If you wish to maximize your enjoyment of this great game, be sure that your golf shoes are in good condition and ready to carry you from the first hole to the last.
Footwork is important in golf. You might not move your feet on the golf course like a soccer player does on the field, but you still need to know how to use your feet properly to hit good shots. Take time on the driving range to practice the points contained above and your footwork can quickly become a strength of your game.