Editor’s Note: At the 2017 Haggin Oaks Golf Expo in Sacramento, California, Al Geiberger — 1966 PGA Championship winner and the PGA Tour’s “Original Mr. 59” — was on hand to discuss his career as both a player and teacher. He also gave clinics on the short game, including plenty of discussion about the modern swing based on what was commonly known as “stack and tilt” — the concept of keeping one’s head and torso centered over the ball through impact, with weight staying much more on the forward side throughout the swing. Though he came up through the Tour ranks alongside the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, whose swings were in the old school mold of a much more active lower body and swaying off the ball in the backswing, today Geiberger is a big believer in the stack-and-tilt model. He could be the one asking the question: Is your swing out of date? The following instruction piece, which was originally published in Golf Tips’ 2007 Instruction Annual, brings the elements of the modern swing into clear and comprehensive focus.
The trophy cases of the likes of Nicklaus, Irwin, Miller, Stewart and Trevino are full of championship hardware, but all had swings that would now be considered old-fashioned. Yesterday’s players used a significant amount of lateral lower-body movement, which placed a lot of undue stress on the neck, hips and back. The great young players of today strive for a more stacked position at impact, which is both more efficient and much healthier for the body.
In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the technique used by the world’s best players, and it’s pretty easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for. In Jack Nicklaus’ heyday, great players like Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and even the Golden Bear himself had swings that featured a tremendous amount of leg drive through the hitting zone and a lot of upper-body hang-back. The signature look of this “old” swing was a big reverse-C finish, which had the player’s spine bent backward and the hips thrust forward.
Probably the biggest single element that contributed to the development of this swing style was the general theory that you had to keep your head down and behind the ball through impact, a technique that basically forced the player to hang back with his or her upper body. Another major contributor to the old swing was the lack of video technology. Obviously, video cameras existed, but the use of video analysis in swing theory was basically nonexistent. In addition, most teachers weren’t well schooled in bio-mechanics, and didn’t really understand how the human body is supposed to work.
In contrast, the modern swing, which evolved in large part through the use of video analysis and a solid understanding of bio-mechanics, features a more stacked position through impact, with the upper body aligned with the lower body. Today’s players employ much less leg drive and lateral slide, instead using a more rotational move that powers the club and arms by pivoting the hips and turning the body. The result is a more consistent swing that’s significantly easier on the body. If you’re interested in learning this motion, take a look at my student Ben Fox as he demonstrates it to near perfection.
The modern setup features a neutral eye line and level head position, meaning the head isn’t tilted away from the target at address. This position is critical to eventually creating a stacked position at impact, meaning the upper body is directly over the lower without much lateral shifting of the hips or lean-back of the spine. Along with a neutral head position is minimal spine tilt, with the right shoulder (for a right-handed golfer) only slightly lower than the left, and hands that grip the club more toward the middle of the torso rather than too far forward. Square or slightly flared feet (as opposed to Hogan’s square back foot and flared front) encourage a free turn of the body on both the backswing and forwardswing, instead of just on the downswing. In addition, slightly rounded shoulders and a head position that’s more directly over the ball removes the need to drop the head over the ball and round the shoulders during impact, which further simplifies the modern motion. Finally, modern players tend to favor a neutral or weak grip, which helps to keep the shoulders more level.
A straight, flat back that’s tilted at the hips places the head more directly over the impact zone, adding more leverage and power. Notice how the right knee is comfortably flexed at address—this must be maintained all the way through to the top.
Placing the majority of weight toward the toes at address is a must for an athletic move away from the ball. Keeping the head in a neutral position, and not allowing it to tilt toward the right shoulder, encourages a more rotational forwardswing.
Although your body weight will eventually move into your back heel at the top of the backswing, it should start more toward the toes. This way, your weight will be forced to shift properly, preventing a move toward the ball during the backswing. This common mistake prevents extension and saps power.
TOE IT UP
The key to developing a modern setup position is to focus on athleticism. Forget all you’ve learned about tucking in the right elbow, locking the right knee in position, tilting the right side down, forward pressing and the like. Many old-school setup positions were full of obvious adjustments that created tension and attempted to immobilize certain parts of the body. In contrast, the modern setup attempts to free up the body to allow the player to pivot aggressively on the backswing and forwardswing. A major difference in the modern setup and old setup is the distribution of weight in the feet. While many old-style players placed more weight toward their heels, the modern player places more weight toward the toes. This is critical to facilitating the proper pivot of the body on the backswing where the weight should work into the right heel. When the weight is incorrectly placed toward the heels, the tendency is to have the weight move toward the toes during the backswing. This mistake generally moves the body closer to the ball during the swing, minimizing extension and power through impact.
Another important aspect of the modern setup is the angle of the upper body and head. Basically, you want to feel that your chest is over the ball, not straight up and down. To set this position, forget about keeping your chin up, and set your eyes and chest directly at the ball. In addition, be sure to avoid bending your head and neck toward your right shoulder. Although this feels like a natural move, allowing your right ear to get close to your right shoulder will promote a hang-back in the downswing. Instead, concentrate on a neutral head position, or one that slightly favors your left shoulder.
In the past, many of the world’s best players, like Lee Trevino, utilized a setup position featuring a head that pointed well behind the ball (notice where the brim of Trevino’s cap is pointing) and a significant degree of spine tilt, with the right shoulder well below the left. In addition, the old setup tended to place more weight in the heels. All of these elements combined to promote a less-balanced position that often led to a reverse weight shift. Although Trevino is hitting a driver in the photo above, his right shoulder is still significantly lower than that of the modern swinger.
Many old-style swingers, like the late Payne Stewart, locked their right knee at the top of the swing and took the club well past parallel. Although this often gave the swing a long, flowing look, it required extraneous movement that made it difficult to manage for those who lacked world-class talent. Many amateurs take this a step further and allow their right hip to move laterally during the backswing while locking the rear leg, creating a nasty reverse pivot as illustrated in the picture at the bottom of the page (in red). In contrast, notice how Ben’s right knee remains flexed, his right hip and shoulder are rotated away from the ball with no lateral movement, which maintains the space between his knees. Unlike the old-style top that requires compensations in the transition, the modern position is ready to go.
To learn the sensation of a proper pivot on the backswing, flex your knees and place the palms of each hand on each knee. Keep your back straight and your head in a relatively neutral position. Then simply rotate your right hip pocket in a clockwise direction while maintaining your hand-knee connection. Turn, don’t sway.
Ben’s extremely compact and dynamic position at the top illustrates how athletic the golf swing can be. Many players in the past lifted the front heel, locked the back leg and swung the club past parallel. Conversely, the modern position at the top is strong, simple and without any slack.
During the takeaway and move to the top of the swing, the body should feel connected and synchronized. Keep your hands on your knees and turn back instead of swaying to help ingrain this feel.
To help instill the feeling of a proper transition and delivery position, try the following drill. Place your golf bag behind your rear end and assume your setup position. The bag should be just behind you, but not touching your body. At the top of the swing, the right portion of your butt should come into contact with the bag, and as you turn into delivery and impact, the left portion should immediately make contact, and maintain that contact through impact. Be sure to move your head along with your body, and rotate your hips instead of sliding them. The key here is to maintain the same distance from the ball all the way through the swing. If you do get closer to the ball, your arms won’t have room to extend.
Notice how Ben’s left shoulder is closer to the target than is his left hip while his head is straight up and down over the ball. There’s no hang-back here, but rather a free-flowing rotation into the hitting zone. Remember, there’s a lot of power in the right side of your body—don’t leave it stuck behind the ball.
The old delivery style, as demonstrated by a young Hale Irwin to the right, featured a sliding of the knees and hips in a lateral direction, with the upper body and head stuck behind the ball. As a result, a lot of players like Irwin tended to hit high shots that hung in the air and didn’t have much penetration. A significant reason for this relatively weak position approaching impact was the old theory of keeping the head behind the ball. In contrast, note Ben’s stacked position approaching impact, with his upper body directly above his legs. Also, notice the position of his head—it’s not bent back behind the ball, but is clearly moving with his body.
A proper pivot is critical to executing a proper delivery. To learn the sensation of a proper pivot, try the bag drill and concentrate on keeping your body away from the ball all the way.
Obviously, impact is the most important moment in the golf swing, as it determines the quality of both ballstriking and shot direction. Below, you’ll notice Johnny Miller’s classic old-style impact position, with his knees and left hip slid well past the golf ball and his head stuck behind it (not to mention the pants). If you drew a line from Miller’s left shoulder straight down to the ground, it would pass well inside his left leg. In stark contrast, notice how Ben’s upper body and legs are in line, with almost no lateral sliding of any kind. His left hip has rotated (compare the position of Ben’s belt buckle to Miller’s) and he has slung the club into impact by pivoting his body, not hitting with his arms. You’ll also notice that his head is moving with the rotation of his body, not holding it back. This movement of the head with the body and club (demonstrated by many of today’s modern players, including, most notably, Annika Sorenstam), not only frees up the release of the arms and club, but also allows the right side to turn into the golf ball without being impeded by the rest of the body. Unlocking the right side is a great source of power that you need to tap.
This position is the essence of the modern athletic swing. The reason Ben’s back is so nice and straight, and his body is so stacked at the moment of impact, is because he’s powering the club with his core, not his hands and arms. This type of motion is much more rotational than that used by players in Johnny Miller’s era and, as a result, features much less lateral movement. You can imagine how much easier this position is on your back.
Johnny Miller’s U.S. Open victory at Oakmont was legendary, but his impact position is definitely “old school.” His legs have outraced his body by sliding toward the target excessively, and his head has hung back. Miller was still able to make great contact because he got his hands and arms in a fantastic position through the hitting zone.
To improve the quality of your ballstriking, you need to ingrain the proper position at impact. To do so, assume your normal address position, then move the ball slightly forward and a little closer to your body than usual. Once you’ve set up in this manner, simply concentrate on striking the ball with your body and head leading the club into the shot. The forward and slightly inside ball position will force you to get your upper body motivated to move forward and in a counterclockwise direction, which, in turn, will make hanging back impossible. Again, notice how Ben’s body is stacked at impact, not bent back, with his right side firing into the ball. There’s no lateral slide here, just a lack of tension and strong, rotational power.
The modern release features no hang-back or tension whatsoever. Instead, it’s free-flowing and relaxed, yet extremely powerful. Because the release is a product of a solid pivot motion in which the body—not the arms and hands—power the club through impact, you should see a natural and full extension of the arms almost as if they have been thrown out uncontrollably by the power of the pivot.
In Ben’s photo, you’ll see that the right side of his body, including his right shoulder and lat, is on top of his lower body in a high, stretched position. His right shoulder is now closer to the target than is his left, which is made possible by his hips and core, which are rotated in a counterclockwise direction with no indication of lateral sliding. Basically, he has slung his arms and the club with his core strength instead of with the muscles in his arms and hands. His head is clearly moving with the swing, as indicated by the way his body is working over and into the finish instead of backward away from the target, as you can see in the picture of Jack Nicklaus below. The major key here is that there’s no backward bend of the spine and, as a result, there will be no reverse-C finish. The modern swing is more upright and less stressful on the body—a bonus for golfers both young and old.
The Golden Bear is arguably the greatest competitive golfer of all time, but now he has an artificial hip. Looking at his release position, it’s not hard to see why Nicklaus has back and hip problems—his head is stuck behind the ball, and his hips have slid laterally, placing a tremendous amount of stress on his body.
To develop the proper release, take two irons and grip them together to form a weighted club. Assume your address position and place the clubheads on the ground, well behind your right foot. Using the pivot of your hips and the strength in your body’s core, drag the clubheads along the ground as you would a broom. When you approach the impact zone, use your core to heave your arms and clubs through impact and into the release and finish. Remember to keep turning your body in a counterclockwise direction all the way through.
PGA professional Brady Riggs teaches a number of top junior and aspiring professional players at Woodley Lakes GC in Van Nuys, Calif. Ben Fox was the 2006 Southwestern Amateur champion. Photos shot at Tierra Rejada GC (www.tierrarejada.com) in Moorpark, Calif.
11 thoughts on “Is Your Swing Out Of Date?”
This is the first time that I have read that the body weight should start toward the toes.
It has taken me years to finally realize this.
Terrific article.I’m fortunate enough (yay!)to have found a new coach who is a part time tour player in his early 30’s.His philosophy is definitely ‘less is more’ and includes NOT turning the back to the target in the backswing along with having little to no emphasis on swing plane.Less moving parts equals less can go wrong basically. The shorter compact swing is now commonplace amongst tour players and as accurately descibed in this article involves little to no lateral movement.Great article guys and definitely where the modern swing is at. Shame so many coaches still teach the older moving off the ball method(take away wide and narrow the downswing with pronounced weight shift).It’s not that the swing doesn’t work but it’s complicated and very difficult for amateurs to come to grips with.
This is incorrect weight on toe lead to an over the top swing and huge slice are you nuts?
Weight on toes doesn’t lead to over the top move if it starts on toes and stays there, it enables a golfer to stay more on top of the ball with their chest.
The over the top move would occur if the golfers weight started out nearer their heels and moved to their toes.
Body weight is balanced between heels and toes on the balls of ones feet like any athlete about to perform …This allows proper athletic pivoting…and allows you to beat it out there whatever your method…and Erm dont believe in so called “”modern methods”” ..Body shape hasn’t changed for eons…Just take a look at the web and those old timers playing with so called inferior equipment…They played better golf than you or I or the modern method pundits …Its a stick and ball game..Hit it find it hit it again…Have fun…..Analysis leads to paralysis…Sam Snead…He was pretty good at it by the way…
This article is so full of garbage, I don’t know where to start…
Horrendous advice! Weight on toes = shank.
the article is spot on. on the backswing you need to shift weight into the trailing foots heel. when you start backswing, you tend to move weight in opposite of where it starts, therfore article recommends having slightly more weight in toe. this will then make it easier to shift weight into heel in backswing.
calling this article garbage as you hack it around the course is what holds back those willing to seek proper instruction.
After years of frustrating, inconsistent golf, never scoring better that high 40ish golf, I just completed my first round ever at 84. Weight on toes, into heel as backswing initiates, then through to left heel, compact and efficient and amazingly consistent.
BTW, as I watched the Masters, every swing I saw looked the same: compact, stacked and efficient.
Very interesting post you have shared that’s a great effort.
There is so much debate over the correct swing using classical vs modern, yet what gets left in the dark is the obvious reasons why the swing changed from one to the other in the first place.
Guys that used hickory shaft clubs used a different swing and forearm action before steel shafts started to be the norm. They gripped the club different and had to ensure that they rolled their forearms to get the head to come around square with the path or they’de hit the ball wide right.
With steel shafts, rolling forearms promote a snap hook because steel recovers almost immediately during the transition. Steel shafts were heavy and the heads were heavy. It wasn’t uncommon for players to have heavy counter-balanced clubs. The clubs were shorter and club fitting was not as advanced. Guys had to be fit one club at a time. There was a lot of experimenting to get the feel correct and consistency the player wanted. Today an entire set can be made using a six iron and driver fitting.
Tour courses were less conditioned and favored taking a divot. Today’s Tour coursed favor picking with the ability to do both. The Ball has changed so much that it doesn’t work optimally with the old equipment. Today’s clubs will not work optimally with the old ball.
If today’s top players used the old equipment they would have to change their swing. The equipment was less forgiving even player’s clubs today are more forgiving than players clubs Nicklaus used.
Since today’s Drivers are Space aged vs 50 years ago and are factory designed to use graphite shafts, play lighter total weight and allow more from less effort, top players can get away with less lower body lateral action. The old driver weight was too heavy to derive power from the core. Today’s golf swing favor’s centered rotation to produce maximize centripetal force and clubhead speed. That would not have worked with heavy gear. The classical swing was necessary to propel the heavy weighted club to the speeds that that era of players achieved which is incredible considering the driver weighed a minimum of 25 percent more!
Classical players were strong industrial men with thicker hands and strong arms. The classical swing is a full body action using the lower spine like a pendulum to swing freely under the upper spine on an angle not side to side! It should be noted that the longest drive ever recorded during a sanctioned PGA event occurred using triple x-stiff and a much heavier driver with a balata golf ball. The man was a senior at the age of 64.
If Today’s top players can hit the ball as far as the 64-year-old Mike Austin did when they are his age using the modern swing action and modern equipment I would like to see it because his record has stood the test of time for 43 years and counting using the old gear and his classical swing.
There is a biological truth which all golfers must acknowledge. We are a human race. All of our bodies are designed with the same physiological actions for a normal life and in this case golf. There is one optimal way to move the joints and make a weight transfer for golf which we are all subjects of. We cannot use a less than an optimal way for the body to perform and get optimal results. We can sell are self-short not knowing there is a better way while competing against others that do just the same, however, when someone starts to move the body in an optimal way it becomes very apparent that either we improve or start competing for second place.
Today’s players compete with the modern swing yet some are starting to use classical swing actions since a quite lower body is like moving the roof absent of the foundation. The golf swing is a walking motion and the last time I looked my hips don’t walk and so the ankles and knees must coordinate the weight transfer for knee, hip, back longevity.
The golf swing tends to be a lot of opposite motions to produce the desired motion. Lower the lead shoulder requires lowering the head. If you don’t lower the head your head moves to the right. Interestingly by lowering the lead shoulder and allowing the head to lower shifts the weight from the lead foot to the trail foot. The lower spine swings below the upper naturally. The hips and pelvis should swing with a natural shift of weight. A pendulum is a free swinging arm on a pivot if one tries to keep the shoulders level the shoulders will turn on the horizontal axis. The arm will need to be lifted instead of leveraged up. The lead shoulder is a counter weight that is moved “down” in an arc towards the ball on the backswing to load and is pulled up then back by leg extension on the downswing. The club should come from behind to in front not side to side. There is limitless space to swing the arms out to the ball rather than parallel to it.
There is a point of no return during the swing action that means one is totally committed to the outcome and cannot stop the momentum of their own body. That is known as a freewheeling the release. It is easier to become efficient at timing a swing that must overcome fat or thin shots yet go acceptably straight than to overcome a swing prone to fat/thin hits that curve! The modern swing action is more prone to fat/thin curved hits. The classical swing is more prone to fat/thin hits. The problems occur when one tries to use a hybrid of both. The classical swing was pre-video swing camera era, the classical and modern swing mixed and so it can confuse anyone trying to understand what is an optimal swing and what isn’t. Seeing as no one can eliminate a miss from their swing it becomes more important to choose the action that deals primarily with fat/thin vs fat/thin/and curved. It is possible to hit fat or thin hits and be a top player or champion. The question comes down to how fat or thin are your hits compared to your competition’s. Having to deal with an action prone to curvature and fat/thin hits only adds to complicate a game that never gives you an ideal lie consistently.
It is provable that muscle strength is less important to a controlled, accurate, and long ball striking than most people are aware. The body requires balance, mobility, flexibility, agility, stability, coordination, and eye-hand coordination during the whole swing to play optimally. Anytime one moves their body to produce a swing the body must have sufficient balance to support the whole action. Balance runs the show. Swing length is the result of mobility and flexibility. Agility and coordination work hand in hand to move all the parts smoothly and efficiently, but all is for nothing if one lacks eye-hand coordination that is superior to the moving body such that it does not inhibit the actions involved while swinging a golf club. It can be said that superior eye-hand coordination can make up for a lot of mistakes yet even that skill must work with the balance of the body in motion.
Keep in mind one can always tailor their equipment to help produce the preferred hits they desire or help reduce the hits they don’t within the limitations and rules. Too many people just accept their clubs even from a fitting as optimal for their game. Change any part of your set makeup influences psychological impression and physiological swing habits. Drive a car you like and make mods to it and it changes your attitude about the car and it’s drivability. Same is true with your clubs affect on your attitude and playability.