One of my first experiences learning to teach the game of golf was watching Martin Hall give a short-game lesson to one of the members of the club where I was working. She insisted I watch and spend some time with him. She always said that some day Martin was going to be a legend at teaching the game, and she was right. Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of quality time with him.
This particular member was older and could not walk very well. Golf was a way for her to get out of the house and have a routine. Everyone plays golf for different reasons, and this particular person had it defined. She had a disease where her ankles were weak and she had to wear braces to keep her balance. For this reason, when she swung the club, her legs would not move. It was as if they were frozen in ice and all she could do was swing her arms and hands. It is important to have the correct lower body motion when swinging the club, and with her disability it was difficult for her to take this instruction.
The lower body is a power source, as I have mentioned in previous articles. If you are not using it properly, other sources such as the arms and hands will be overused. In the downswing of a pitch shot or a normal motion, the legs will drive and the body will need to turn. The shifting of the legs will allow the golf club to drop into the natural path approaching the ball from the inside. In addition, this shift will lag the club behind the hands and allow the ball to be compressed with the bottom of the arc moved slightly in front of the ball. In this student’s case it was physically impossible for her to have any shift and very little body motion, and in turn, she would swing the club head too fast with her arms and hands.
I have heard instructors teaching students to keep their lower body still when pitching, and from day one I knew this was incorrect. A player must “swoop” on the downswing and maintain the structure in the arms and hands. “Swoop” was the term Martin used to describe the shifting of the lower body where the lead ankle will roll and the lead knee will drive toward the target. If there is no “swoop,” the arms and hands will over-accelerate, causing a scooping motion and poor contact. In reality we need the lead wrist to be flat and the arms to maintain their length at contact. This will also allow the hands to be ahead at the strike. Most amateurs start the downswing with the head of the golf club as opposed to leading with the legs. Good lower motion creates good arm and hand motion.
One of the biggest reasons that Jack Nicklaus was so powerful hitting the golf ball was because he had very strong legs. Playing good golf is a blend of many things, including the lower body. Whether you are driving the ball 300 yards or hitting small pitch shots, learn to use the lower body properly and you will be able to maintain the structure of the arms and hands and hit crisp shots.
Darren deMaille is the Head Golf Professional at The Bridge in Bridgehampton. Prior to The Bridge, Darren worked at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla. and The Country Club of Fairfield in Fairfield, Conn. Darren has had many top 100 instructors influence his philosophy but most of his principles are based on Jack Nicklaus’ way to play golf.