The Right Pivot for You!
By Mark Blackburn
Pivot is now a widely used term in golf instruction, so much so that it has become somewhat of a buzzword. Through golf media we’re exposed to terms like single pivot, double pivot, fast pivot, stalling pivot, slow pivot, less pivot or more pivot. But in reality most golfers don’t know what the pivot actually is much less how it is supposed to work in the swing.
By definition pivot means “about which something rotates or oscillates”. In the golf swing your pivot is the collective term for the simultaneous motion of your feet, knees, hips, torso, and shoulders, essentially your body, around which the arms, hands and club rotate. It is the engine of your swing and generally the most efficient means for generating power. Players of small stature who generate high club head speeds are fantastic examples of efficient and powerful pivots. World Long Drive Champion Jamie Sadlowski at a modest 5”11, 175 pounds utilizes his pivot to generate 150 mph of club head speed, sending the ball over 400 yards!
Your physical fitness as it pertains to stability and mobility through the body will determine your pivot’s power potential. Once you have developed a repetitive motion you can improve the pivot’s efficiency and power through proper sequencing. 3D motion capture technology now makes it possible to measure and quantify the sequence of the pivot. Through training and practice golfers of all levels can learn to develop an efficient and powerful pivot.
An effective pivot for each golfer is generally predetermined by their physical limitations. Hence, physical screening is essential for prescribing an appropriate motion. Measuring the golfer’s ability to balance, rotate the hips and torso is of great importance when prescribing the most applicable pivot motion. If a golfer has little rotation then the instructor must develop an interim swing pattern or compensations that utilize linear motion or pushing with the arms verses rotating the body. This will allow the student to play golf effectively while still training to improve their range of motion so they can adopt rotational pivot power later.
Ideally each golfer would have symmetry between the left and right side of the body in both balance and rotation. However, the reality is that each of us has some degree of asymmetry and range of motion limitation. Adopting a pivot motion and swing style that doesn’t conflict with those asymmetries is crucial. For developing an efficient pivot motion I have defined some pivot variations and the required physical characteristics in terms of balance and rotation. While each of us knows our own body well it is hard to be objective when looking at oneself. To this end I strongly encourage golfers to find a fitness professional who can perform a physical /functional movement screen to determine what your body is capable of doing and, should you chose to, how you can improve its movement.
Every pivot motion has advantages and disadvantages. While renowned instructors will continue to debate the superiority of a specific pivot the reality is that the best players in the world implement a variety of pivot motions depending on the conditions and shot at hand. Though, that is not to say a golfer can’t utilize one motion for all shots if that’s all their body will allow them to do. Understanding the ball flight tendencies for each pivot variation is also very useful for course management, shot preference and shot selection.
Essentially the pivot can be divided into two categories, namely a single or double pivot. The double pivot golf swing or “classic swing” for a right handed golfer is where the weight shifts to the trail (right) leg during the backswing and onto the lead (left) leg during the downswing. This pivot motion has the greatest potential for power but requires adequate hip rotation and balance in both side of the body, to be effective. It is best suited to the longer clubs to produce higher trajectory shots and working the ball right to left. This pivot requires symmetry from left to right in hip rotation, leg strength and balance. It also necessitates the ability to disassociate the upper body from lower body to effectively transfer energy back to the lead leg during the transition and downswing. While conventional golf instruction embraces this technique it is very difficult for the average golfer to perform consistently. When the ball is on a tee this motion is much easier but as the ball gets closer to the turf any physical limitations make consistent ball contact difficult. Ideally this motion is best suited to drivers, fairway woods and long iron shots, which favor a shallow angle of attack into the ball. Controlling mid to short irons and wedges can become difficult with this pivot.
The single pivot golf swing originally developed by Mac O’Grady and the MORAD research project and more recently plagiarized as “Stack and Tilt”. It favors pivoting around the lead leg during the back swing, while sliding through and around it during the downswing to shallow out the club. This differs to the double pivot which shifts weight onto the trail leg during the backswing. This motion is very effective for striking down on the wedges to mid irons, producing lower trajectory shots and left to right shots. This pivot would be best for those who cannot balance well on their right leg (for right handed golfer) and have limited rotation in the right hip assuming they have the necessary strength, balance and rotation in their lead (left) leg. From the fairway and rough this techniques steeper angle of attack is very effective for crisp iron contact. However, this steeper attack angle means as the club gets longer there is little loft to get the ball airborne. To effectively launch the longer clubs with this pivot requires a very dynamic and athletic motion through impact.
While prescribing a pivot without knowing the students physical limitations is difficult, I think a combination of these two techniques can be implemented as a very effective pivot motion. For the wedges and short to mid irons I recommend a pivot that favors little to no weight shift to the trail leg during the backswing. Try to keep you head centered between your feet while turning your shoulders perpendicular to your spine. This centered pivot will allow you to consistently strike down on the ball producing spin and control. Remember, play the ball NO further back than center in your stance with a wedge and gradually move it forward as the club gets longer. This will insure that the swing won’t become too steep. For the longer irons down through the driver I recommend a pivot that moves more into the trail leg or right side (for right hander) while still turning the shoulders perpendicular to the spine. This will naturally produce a shallow angle of attack into the ball, launching shots higher with less spin for distance. I encourage students to tee the ball higher and again play the ball progressively further up in their stance to optimize launch conditions. The back of the ball with a driver should be off the lead shoulder. As a side note it may be useful for the advanced player to know that this combination pivot should produce a path of the arms in the downswing that will work more to the left with the shorter clubs and gradually work more to the right as you reach the longer clubs.
Knowing which pivot is best for you will involve some self discovery. Never be reluctant to change any combination of pivot components to produce a specific shot pattern or ball response. These ideas are merely a guideline and are aimed at laying the foundation for you to develop a powerful and efficient pivot. Good Luck!