At least once a day, I tell someone in a lesson to flare their right foot outwards at address, and I’m met with a look of shock and confusion.
Well-meaning golf instructors, magazines, books, and TV shows have been telling golfers for decades to have their left foot flared open, and their right foot square to the target line. This is not only hurting your performance, but it’s also using your body against it’s natural design. This month’s article is going to cover the science behind why this advice is wrong, and show examples of golfers through the ages who did it right.
In November of 2012 Dave Phillips, of the Titleist Performance Institute, published an article explaining why you should have your trail foot at a right angle to the target line at address. His premise was based on the idea that in order to create a connection between the feet and the ground, the foot must be square to keep the arch of the foot elevated.
I recommend reading the article before going any further. It can be found at http://www.mytpi.com/articles/swin/the_position_of_the_right_foot?search=right%20foot
Mr. Phillips used two references in his article, one for and one against the flaring of the right foot. The against side of the argument was Ben Hogan, and excerpts from his famous book “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf”. The for side of the argument was taken from instructor Gerry Hogan (no relation to Ben). Mr. Phillips outlines how you would test the difference between the performance of flared feet and square feet through a vertical jump test and an exercise called the “pigeon-toed twist”.
What struck me in the article, was the lack of reference to how the best players in the world position their feet at address. It is one thing to make a statement and cite physical screens to back up your position, however, without having evidence of it’s effectiveness at the highest levels of the game, it lacks credibility.
Before we can get in to how this applies to your golf swing, we need to understand first how the flaring of the feet affects the rest of the body.
When discussing foot flare, what you are actually describing is external rotation of the hip. Seen in the diagram below, the external rotation of the hip has the equal affect on the orientation of the knee and the flaring of the foot. Try it for yourself; stand up straight, and turn your right foot out. You will notice the knee and the hip both opening with your foot, the foot is not isolated.
So how does that apply to my golf game?
In my experience, golfers have too much flare in their lead foot and none in their trail foot. The reasoning for this has always been that you need the lead foot flared open because you need to turn towards the target in your finish.
The picture below is the generally accepted approach to the setup.
Below is a table that lays out the range of motion for the segments of the spine and the hips. This table is taken directly from the TPI website, in an article titled “5 Exercises For Increasing Thoracic Spine Mobility In Your Golf Swing”.
The reason the above table is important, is you need the pelvis to rotate in both the back-swing AND the follow-through. The conventional model teaches a swing that resists the pelvis against the spine, and keeping the trail foot square helps limit the pelvis from rotating. Below is an excerpt from Golf Magazine displaying the common approach to the golf swing with respect to the lower body.
Two pieces to note here are in the first picture where it says the right knee remains flexed, and in the second picture where it says, “digging in with your feet helps you to turn your back without turning your hips.”
The question then has to be, if you need to turn 90 degrees in the back-swing, and the combined rotation of the thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar spine (lower back) is 48 degrees, then where is the other 42 degrees of rotation going to come from?
Is it pure coincidence that the conventional golf swing promotes turning your back without turning your pelvis, and golfers at all level are plagued by back problems?
Now that we have the anatomical understanding, we should look through the pages of history to see if everyone actually kept their trail foot square.
The pillar that Mr. Phillips’ argument stood on was Ben Hogan. The interesting thing about Hogan and his famous book, was that he didn’t do a lot of what he said in that book. This is true for Ben’s right foot.
Below is a picture taken from Five Lessons, detailing the flaring of the feet at address. The left foot is turned out what Hogan termed “a quarter turn” and the right foot is square to the target line.
I mentioned a second ago that Hogan didn’t exactly take his own advice as outlined in the book. Below is a photo of him at address, with both feet turned out equally.
The above photo wasn’t a fluke. Here are four more photos of Hogan at different stages of his career, all displaying a flared right foot.
What’s interesting is that it wasn’t just Hogan doing this. Here are some of the greats from the 50s and 60s.
What about before Hogan’s time?
Surely by the 70s and 80s they had realized your feet should be square. I guess not.
The 1990s brought us grunge music, beanie babies, and even more flared feet.
And now present day.
We can also take today’s PGA Tour and rate from the least amount of foot flare to the most, creating a spectrum.
As referenced in the anatomical discussion, foot flare is a form of hip rotation. If we take those same 4 golfers above, and look at their back-swings, we will see the result of their amount of foot flare displayed in their ability to turn their pelvis.
It’s easy to see in the photo above how the foot flare has influenced the amount of pelvic rotation, through flexing the left knee and extending the right leg. The same logic would then have to apply to the golfers of previous generations.
It would have to be said then, that if you are invested in a model of swing that promotes a square trail foot, you are resisting the amount you can turn your pelvis in the back-swing. This places the responsibility on the shoulders rotating 90 degrees without any assistance, which has been branded as creating “X-factor” stretch (maximizing the stretch between the turn of the shoulders and the stable hips).
Jim McLean, pictured above, has been the spokesperson of the X-Factor golf swing for many years. Jason Day would be the modern day example of a player who displays this approach and, not coincidentally, he is also plagued with back injuries.
The safest and most efficient way to swing would be to allow a greater range of motion throughout each segment of the body, to share the responsibility of rotation. Limiting one segment’s ability to rotate only places greater stress on the remaining segments. This all begins at the feet and how they are positioned.
The science agrees, the greatest players of all time agree, do you?
Hogan, Ben “Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf”. (1957) 25. Print.
Gray, Henry. “Grays Book of Anatomy” (1918, Revised 2016) 604-640. Print.