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June 1, 2014

Teaching Teachers

Have students drop one leg back to move their swings forward

BY: RON PHILO JR., PGA PHOTOS BY: MONTANA PRITCHARD/ THE PGA OF AMERICA

While playing with a student back in 2005 who hit a tee shot that was drifting towards the rough, I had an “A-ha!” moment. As my student’s ball was in the air, I was shouting encouragement for it to “sit” and stay in the fairway – and he was shouting for it to go and get into the rough. Puzzled, I queried him as to why he would rather be in the rough than the fairway. I said, “You pay dues to the club in large part to get these fairways in premium condition, better than the greens at certain places I’ve played, and you want your ball to go into the rough? What gives?”

He explained that when he was in the rough he had an easier time “getting under” the ball, and as a result usually hit better shots, especially with short irons. I explained that irons aren’t built to swing “under” the ball (inset below), but rather to hit through the ball (opposite page). As a result we began focusing our efforts on helping him create a forward lean in the shaft at impact in order to move the ball up into the sweet spot of the club – creating consistent solid contact, more distance and improved accuracy. The drill I am pictured demonstrating is the one that yielded the best result and has become a mainstay in my instructional sessions.

The concept is based in motor skill development. Students learn to make swings with their weight on their forward side foot. As they gain stability over their forward foot, they are able to deliver a forward-leaning shaft through contact. They also learn to pivot around the forward hip. After we accomplish this, we progress to moving the weight into this forward side as they swing and, voila, their irons get crisper, shots feel better, students want to practice more, play more, and take more lessons to see what else they may be able to learn.

So make sure you go beyond the practice tee with your students and get out on to the golf course. If you’re like me, you will development an even better understanding of how to help For this drill, I have students address the ball with an iron. Then I have them put all of their weight on the ball of their forward foot, making sure their chin and chest are out front and their arms are hanging freely. They should then extend their back leg and move it behind them and lift their heel off the ground, so the back foot’s big toe is only being used for balance so they don’t tip over. I then have them hit the ball. This stance causes them to close their hips and ensures complete core rotations on the backswing. It also helps them learn to initiate their transition to the downswing with the chest closed behind the hips, which helps them maintain a forward shaft angle through impact instead of rotating the chest early and swinging over the top. As they pivot through the swing with all their weight on their forward foot, their weight will shift from the ball of their foot to the outside of their foot.

This drill creates immediate results in terms of getting students to hit solid shots. There’s still a transition from solid hits to being able to score well, but getting students to hit the ball well is its own reward. I’m selling instruction, and in 25 years of teaching I find that my students respond more to making solid impact than shooting low scores. Our instructional philosophy is that learning is one-third awareness, one-third understanding and one-third practice. Students are aware they have a problem when they come to me, and this drill helps them understand how they can hit solid shots. And if they keep practicing and working with us, that last third will take care of itself. It’s hitting solid shots that keeps students coming back for more. You can lead them to water, but you need to get them in the saddle first.