The Lost Art of the Lifted Left Heel in Golf

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One thing that everyone should know by now is that I never stop studying the film and I never stop working on getting better as a player and a teacher. I may be 54 years old, but I am not finished as a player, and I am not as good a teacher as I will be in the future. It simply is not possible to know everything you need to know about the game at any given point in time: it is always a challenge to improve. Thus, when you find that I have changed my mind on something in the swing (such as “hands out toward the ball in transition” or “takeaway sequence starts from the ground as opposed to just the upper body”) you can be assured that I have given it a lot of thought and have already worked it into my game to make sure I have a handle on the information as far as both look and feel.

The item for discussion here is the left heel and leg movement in the backswing, and ultimately the role of each leg during the entire swing. My previous instruction was conventional in the sense that after 1980 or so it became standard to teach “left heel down”, in spite of the fact that prior to that time pretty much every great player who ever lived lifted the left heel to some degree in the backswing. My swing suffers from pivot problems stemming from my multiple back surgeries. More specifically, I have a tendency to lift in the second half of the backswing, then to move my weight to the front of my left foot in transition, which in turn retards my downswing rotation and keeps my hips from ever getting deep enough to exit the club on the shaft plane. One day recently I experimented with lifting my heel, and I found immediately that doing so allowed me to keep my knees more level, and just as importantly gave me a better “feel” for putting the left heel back down again in such a fashion that my leg was now retracting sooner while the right was able to push forward without getting me “stuck” and exiting out to the right. I found this exciting, so I went back to the video to make a closer study of my model swings, and when I looked at the list of players that lifted the heel I found I was looking at a list of the Hall of Fame from about 1990 and back to the 1920’s. Here was every great player doing essentially the same thing, and somewhere along the line someone decided that it wasn’t a good idea.

I can pretty much place the change in philosophy to a more restrictive lower body action in the backswing to David Leadbetter and Mac O’Grady. They became such a hugely influential force in golf instruction that whatever they came up with became almost immediately accepted and unquestioned. If those guys decided that it was less complicated to lift the heel then it was better to keep it down, in spite of the fact that Nicklaus and Watson and Norman were still the dominant players and all lifted their heel. I have to admit that I blindly accepted this dictum, and it is only now that I am not only questioning the wisdom of it, but am advocating the return to the classic leg movement exhibited by Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Bobby Jones and others that I mention in the video. I don’t feel that I am adding a new wrinkle to the teaching vocabulary. This is merely a return to a tried and true method that I feel is more athletic and more natural than what has been standard instruction for the last 30 years.

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