Those who have read my articles over the past two years understand how much I despise common misconceptions shared between playing partners. Advice like: You lifted your head; you took your eye off the ball; keep your left arm straight; follow through, etc., etc. As well-intentioned as they are, such pearls of wisdom have no real meaning– and no purpose– to improving performance. They are commonly shared because playing partners see visual errors that they feel need to be fixed, but they lack complete understanding about all that’s involved in correcting what really causes a bad shot. The key to being a good golf instructor is finding the root cause of ball-flight issues, and helping golfers develop a better motor pattern. For example, when a player “tops” a golf ball, visually we see that the head is higher than needed, but that does not mean we can fix this visual error by simply keeping the head down. If only it was that easy.
If I had one wish as an instructor/coach it would be to never again hear anybody for the rest of my teaching days say, “You lifted your head,” or “You did not keep your eye on the ball,” after a bad shot.
These two phrases decrease a golfer’s ability to have proper movement throughout the swing, and they kill any chance of making an athletic pass at the golf ball. Rotation of the torso is important. Even though there are many other factors that need to be aligned and coordinated during the rotation of the body, like the movement and direction of the club’s handle and club head, we must first be able to rotate properly to allow these movements to function properly. As I tell many of my students, let us learn howto move well, not stop moving. Not moving our body in the downswing makes proper contact very difficult, and kills speed, the two most important factors in shooting lower scores.
When hitting both short and long shots, taking your eye off the ball can actually be beneficial, especially for golfers with functional movement limitations, such as rounded shoulders, poor torso mobility, poor hip mobility, etc. As a golfer starts to make the downswing, it can be beneficial to start turning the chin, and the eye gaze in the same direction as the body rotates. For example, Dustin Johnson, #1 ranked golfer in the world, is hitting a short shot in the picture shown. He has “released” his chin, and let his gaze lead the rotation of his body. This allows his body to function properly, and not have any resistance in the turn, resulting in an athletically sequenced motion. Other touring pros, past and present, such as David Duval, Annika Sorenstam (as shown), Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Charley Hoffman, etc., move their chin/gaze before impact with great success.
A golfer’s shoulders will have a hard time moving smoothly and athletically when the golfer is concentrating on “keeping your eye on the ball” — or even the ground, for that matter. This could prevent the entire kinetic chain of sequences that is needed to strike the golf ball solidly, and with maximum speed. The technique of letting the head rotate with the turn of the body positively impacts a golfer’s ability to gauge the correct speed needed for each short shot, and allowing maximum speed on full shots.
The “releasing” of the chin, as in any movement, needs to be done in a rhythmic manner. The movement should glide along with the rotation of the body. Any radical accelerationof any part of the body, including the rotation of the chin, inhibits a golfer from obtaining a functional kinetic sequence. One of the major reasons this ideal can benefit golfers is that if the rotation of the legs and torso is impeded in any way the body will tend to stand up, lose flexion in the legs and the torso, which leads to “early extension.” So, we all raise our heads, or should if we do not want to injure ourselves. As I always tell my students, it is not if we raise the head, it’s when we raise it. Trying to keep the head down/eye on the ball actually kills rotation, and that makes us lose our spine angle before impact. So, just to make it very clear, trying to accomplish these common phrases mentioned above actually makes the problem worse.
Next time you are practicing or playing, allow your chin to rotate with your shoulders. As the center of your torso moves, let your chin move with it. For those who really need to break a habit caused by these nasty common phrases, try allowing the turn of the chin and eye gaze to start the rotation of the body to start the downswing.
It has become an important mission of mine as a golf instructor to kill the common phrases that have such a negative impact on golfer’s games and their bodies. I believe giving you this freedom of movement will help you enjoy this great game.
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.