Flexibility is a critical element in the golf swing and should play a significant role in determining what type of setup you adopt. In particular, the position of the left foot is strongly impacted by flexibility level. This is key, because left-foot positioning can affect several swing characteristics, including backswing length, hip turn and subsequent torso rotation through the ball. Knowing your body and choosing the correct left foot position can have a noticeable effect on your swing speed and shotmaking ability, so give it some careful thought and get ready to experiment.
If you're less flexible, try positioning your left foot at a 45-degree angle to your stance line (three to five inches open to the left, for right-handed golfers) at address. This will tighten up your hip action and provide more torso rotation and speed through the ball. Although it might feel a bit strange at first, utilizing the 45-degree left foot position will allow you to produce greater clubhead speed without additional effort. If you're more flexible, on the other hand, place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. This will add a touch more lateral hip motion to your downswing, which will slow down the rotational speed of your hips, providing more stability and fewer overaccelerated, out-of-control swings. Finally, if you're a senior or someone who's lost a significant amount of flexibility, you should try positioning your left foot at a 20-degree angle to the target line. This will reduce the amount of torso turn to the top of the swing and will maximize rotation through the ball. To help you determine what position best suits your physical ability and swing type, take a closer look at what each position does and what type of golfer it can benefit.
90_¡ To The Target Line If you position your left foot at 90 degrees to your target line (or at a right angle to your stance line), it will allow several things to happen. First, it will allow you to make a better and longer backswing turn by freeing up your hips on the way to the top. But you also can suffer a loss of distance because you'll lose the torque and tension you create in your backswing by overturning your hips in the backswing.
The second thing this foot position does is allow for a full pelvic slide through impact. In other words, it makes it easier for you to slide your hips targetward faster during the downswing. Thus, it keeps those short irons on-line better by helping your body get out of the way on the downswing so the club can work down the line longer.
The only negative aspect of the 90-degree foot position is that it inhibits the torso's rotation through impact. Remember, a square left foot promotes a pelvic slide, not a pelvic turn. This foot position, therefore, should be used mostly for maximizing distance in the shorter irons where a steeper downswing path–and a path that stays down the target line longer–is required.
45_¡ To The Target Line If you turn your left foot out about three or four inches (or 45 degrees) from perpendicular, you'll discover the foot position most professionals use. It's the most common left-foot position by far since it allows a full turn of the torso and balances the amount of pelvic sliding and turning. I recommend you play 70 percent of your full-swing shots from this position.
The 45-degree position is used mostly for swings with the mid-irons. Swings with these clubs require a certain amount of pelvic sliding to clear the body and give the club freedom to work down the line through the impact zone.
20_¡ To The Target Line This foot position is about the maximum amount you can comfortably turn out your left foot (about six to eight inches from 90 degrees) and still hit a golf ball. This is one of my favorite foot positions because it does many different things, including greatly inhibiting your hip rotation and minimizing upper-body turn to the top. The result is a shorter, more controlled backswing. This is good for golfers who can't seem to control their hip or shoulder rotation to the top and who typically overswing.
Another benefit of the 20-degree foot position is it guarantees virtually no pelvic sliding on the downswing and a ton of rotation through the ball. This will maximize your rotation and centrifugal force production through impact, allowing for greater distance with less effort. Try it, and you'll be amazed how easy it is to turn through the ball, and how much faster you'll be able to swing. Tour pros use the 20-degree left foot all the time, particularly on long-iron, driver, and fairway wood shots.
Tom Stickney is the director of instruction at the Club at Cordillera in Vail, Colo. For more of Tom's instruction, visit www.tomstickneygolf.com. Check out his entry in our Top 10 Best Swing Tips Ever.