If there’s one thing amateur golfers struggle with more than anything in their swing, it’s clearing their hips correctly.
If only I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve been to golf instructors for lessons, only to hear the same thing over and over again…
‘You’re not clearing your hips properly’.
‘Your hips are stalling and sliding, rather than rotating’.
‘Your hips aren’t open enough at impact’.
Frustratingly, no matter how hard I work at it, getting my hips to clear correctly has always been something I’ve battled in my own swing.
But the importance of doing it properly cannot be overstated, no matter how much I wish it wasn’t true from time to time.
Clearing your hips correctly has many positive effects on your golf swing. It creates space for your arms to move through the impact zone; it helps remove excessive hand action, improving clubface control; it helps you stay in posture and compress the ball better; and it gives you a more stable, consistent base to work with.
Thankfully, while clearing my hips has always been a difficult movement for me to master (I tend to slide them towards the target too much, rather than rotate them open), there are some tips I’ve been taught along my journey to improve it.
In this article, I’ll answer some common questions about clearing the hips in the golf swing, and share some advice that has worked for me (and will hopefully work for you, too).
Table of contents
What does clearing the hips do in the golf swing?
Clearing your hips in the golf swing – provided it is done in sync with your upper body – can help you generate greater distance, improve your accuracy and make you a more consistent ball striker. Getting your hips open at the right time can also provide better balance.
The key point to focus on is that your hips should open in conjunction with your chest and shoulders opening, not separate or disconnected from them.
For a long time, I made the mistake of thinking in order to clear my hips, I had to rotate them as hard as possible in order to start my downswing and get that ‘separation’ and ‘lag’ between my upper and lower body that many instructors and golf commentators so often talk about.
However, I soon learned that this was flawed thinking – and actually prevented my hips opening correctly – as I’ll explain more below (PS: if you do want better lag, try using the Lag Shot swing trainer).
Should you fire your hips in the golf swing?
In the golf swing, your hips should ‘fire’ – in other words, rotate open – at the same time your chest and shoulders begin to in the downswing. If your hips fire too early and aggressively, it can actually cause them to stall and not open fully, leading to hooked or blocked shots.
So, if you’re like me and think that firing your hips hard and early is the best way to start your downswing, then you’re likely doing your swing more harm than good.
Well-known golf instructor Clay Ballard, from Top Speed Golf, sums it up perfectly in a video, which I’ve transcribed below:
The sensation I see a lot of players having is, they go to the top of the swing and say ‘OK, I have to open my hips’, and the first move down is trying to get (the hips) going as quick and as hard as possible.
So, really feeling a lot of stretch early in that downswing, and big-time separation (with your upper and lower body).
What happens with your body, any time you stretch a muscle fully, it immediately wants to fire.
So, this separation you’re feeling, this big-time stretch you’re feeling with your hips, your shoulders immediately want to fire to catch up to the hips.
(What happens then is) your hips don’t rotate anymore, and they stall out.
The result of this is a swing that relies far more on the arms, rather than the bigger muscles and body parts, to generate power and distance – which is a far less efficient, and more inconsistent, way to swing the club.
So, when, then, should you start clearing your hips to ensure they keep rotating open through impact, and not stall out? Let’s dive deeper (watch Clay Ballard explain more about hip movement in the golf swing below).
When should you clear your hips in the golf swing?
In the golf swing, your hips should begin to clear as you start the downswing, but not fire too quickly. You want your hips moving in sync with your chest and shoulders, as this will stop you opening them too early and causing the club to get ‘stuck’ behind you – leading to blocks or hooks.
As I mentioned earlier, for a long time I thought ‘clearing my hips’ meant ripping them open as fast as humanly possibly as this would generate speed and consistency.
I’ve since learned that having such a mindset when swinging the club only leads to disconnection between your upper and lower body, leaving it up to your hands to try and square the clubface at impact.
Trying to time this kind of contact using only your hands may work 6 times out of 10 – but I can guarantee the remaining four swings will either be hooks, slices, fats or thins.
Instead, the ideal way to clear your hips is to do so in conjunction with rotating your chest open right throughout the entire downswing and into impact (if you want the perfect impact position, I recommend practicing with an impact bag).
You see, many amateurs believe your chest should be facing the ball (otherwise known as covering it) at the moment of contact, but that’s not entirely accurate.
In fact, the average PGA Tour player’s chest is actually 20 degrees open at the point of impact as it rotates open with their hips in the downswing (your hips should be between 40-45 degrees open at impact).
So, next time you’re at the range working on your hip turn, instead of trying to speed things up and clear them as fast as possible, you should do the opposite – and slow them down.
The effect this will likely have on your swing is allowing your chest to catch up with your hips as they clear out of the way in the downswing, enabling you to keep your upper and lower body connected.
This will stop the club getting left behind and give it plenty of space to move around your body as you complete your swing and follow through – straightening out your trajectory and minimising those hooks and slices.
What happens if you don’t clear your hips in the golf swing?
Failure to clear your hips in the golf swing can lead to a number of flaws including hooks and slices; early extension; difficulty controlling low point; ‘flipping’ of the hands at impact; and a loss of distance and power. Basically, everything you want to avoid if hoping to play good golf.
It cannot be overstated how important your hip movement is in golf; as mentioned earlier, firing them too early can cause the club to get stuck behind you – leading to blocks and hooks – while not opening them enough can also produce similar results.
It’s a fine line, I know, but it’s one we all have to delicately tread if we wish to play consistent, high-quality golf.
Typically, however, amateurs will tend to not open their hips enough in their swing, rather than opening them too early.
If you stall your hips – leaving them pointed at the ball at the moment of impact, rather than open – it leaves very little room for your club to swing around your body on an arcing plane.
Often, to try and make space and deliver the clubhead onto the ball, you’ll stand up out of your posture, otherwise called early extension, and throw your hands at the ball (if you record your swing and freeze the frame at impact, you’ll likely see your trail arm extended and locked straight, rather than slightly bent at the elbow).
This ‘flipping’ action with your hands is your body’s subconscious way of trying to make solid contact with the ball and direct it towards your target.
Unfortunately, this is an inefficient way to swing a golf club and relying on timing – especially with something as dynamic as a golf swing – leads to inconsistent ball striking but also a loss of speed and, therefore, distance.
The end result is the occasional fat or thin shot, or even worse, big pulls and slices.
This is why it’s so important to get your hips around 45 degrees open at impact (I’ve explained the reasons behind this number in another article here).
So, then, how do you clear your hips correctly? Keep reading to find out.
How to clear your hips in the golf swing
Clearing your hips in the golf swing is actually not as hard as you may think – the difficult part, however, is getting the other parts of your body to sync-up as you do it.
One of the bi-products of getting your hips open – especially for amateurs – is the creation of an over-the-top move.
As you rotate, many players will find their hands move out and away from their body and outside the proper swing plane, causing them to cut back across the ball in order to make contact and causing big slices.
So, what you need to focus on as you turn is ensuring the club stays in the slot and shallows correctly in the downswing, before releasing through the ball at impact.
We’ve written another in-depth, complete article on how to shallow the club (read here), but if you want some simple ‘feels’ to focus on in conjunction with clearing your hips, then you’ll find some quick and effective solutions below.
I’d recommend trying each feel, but deciding on only one to focus on – as trying to do all of them at once while swinging the club will just confuse your brain and make it virtually impossible to make decent contact.
Feel #1: Flatten your lead elbow and hand
In the downswing, try and feel like your lead elbow is pointed towards the golf ball, with the back of your lead hand facing the sky.
When coming over-the-top, your elbow will tend to point down towards the ground, so feeling like it’s pointed away from your body – and facing the golf ball – will help keep the club shallowed as you clear your hips, leading to powerful, straight shots.
Feel #2: Keep your trail elbow tucked
The next ‘feel’ focuses on the trail elbow, rather than the lead elbow.
As you begin your downswing, feel as though your trail elbows begins to tuck itself towards your ribcage.
If you let your elbow flare out and become disconnected, it will stand the shaft upwards and promote an over-the-top move.
Keeping that trail elbow tucked has the opposite effect and shallows the club, allowing you to make a full, fast hip turn without worrying about the club getting outside the plane and slicing across the ball.
A great way to practice this is by using the Golf Swing Trainer Aid, which is an affordable device designed to keep your trail elbow tucked in while you practice hitting balls on the range, or on the course.
Feel #3: Turn the doorknob open
The last feel involves imagining you are turning a doorknob open (clockwise) with your trail hand as you start your downswing.
This movement with your trail hand and wrist will allow the clubhead to ‘lay down’ and shallow-out as your start to rotate your hips open, rather than steepening it.
Getting that club flattening out enables you to clear your hips as hard and as fast as you like, as the club has room to move around your body on an arc without getting stuck behind you.
The most important thing to remember when clearing your hips in the golf swing is to ensure your upper and lower body remain in sync as they rotate open.
If your hips open too quickly or stay square at impact – losing connection with your chest and shoulders – it will lead to unwanted inconsistencies that will, more often than not, produce undesirable results.
Focus on keeping your club shallow as you begin the downswing and start clearing your hips, and the rest should take care of itself.