The pivot is a crucial element of the golf swing, but is often misunderstood.
A correct pivot will lead to consistent, pure golf shots; an incorrect pivot will lead to a myriad of swing flaws and compensations that will prevent you from becoming a low-handicap player.
The best way to think of the pivot in the golf swing is to imagine your body swinging around an axis – which, for the purpose of this, is the centre of your hip bone.
As you start the takeaway, your hip will rotate open while remaining on that axis, but at no point will it move closer to the golf ball.
When you start your downswing, your hips will rotate open in the other direction – again around your axis – while also slightly bumping towards your target.
Your hips should maintain the same distance from the golf ball throughout the entire swing.
If you can do these steps, it means you are pivoting correctly.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the pivot in the golf swing – what it is, how to practice it, and what can go wrong if you do it incorrectly.
Table of contents
What is the pivot in the golf swing?
The ‘pivot’ describes the movement of the lower body – specifically the hips – throughout the golf swing. If done correctly, your hips should stay mostly centred in the takeaway before pivoting and bumping slightly forward in the downswing without moving closer to the ball.
Mastering the pivot is one of the biggest mechanical differences you will see in the golf swings of professional and amateur players.
The average golfer – anywhere from high handicappers to even a high single digit players – will tend to move their hips back and away from the ball in the takeaway than the pros.
This is often referred to as a ‘sway’ away from the ball, and is usually the result of a misinterpretation from amateur golfers that they are supposed to load into their trail leg in the backswing (while this is true, it should be done while keeping your hips centred).
In the downswing, data from some of the best players in the world shows that your hips should begin to bump forwards towards the target slightly, while pivoting around their axis and opening at the same time.
However, they should not move closer or ‘thrust’ towards the ball at any time – a common fault seen in beginner or intermediate players.
Many golfers will, wrongly, fire their legs before giving their hips time to open; the result is what’s called ‘early extension’, which can lead to a myriad of swing flaws (such as flipping of the hands at impact, steepening of the shaft, or getting the club stuck behind you in the downswing).
The guys from Athletic Motion Golf have created a brilliant, data-driven video that shows exactly how your hips should pivot in the golf swing below:
Why is a correct pivot important to your golf swing?
A correct pivot is critically important to your golf swing as it affects how your hands and the grip of the golf club move as your start your downswing. A poor pivot can create both an excessive shallowing or steeping of the shaft, causing inconsistent strikes, while a good pivot allows you to open your hips and chest and deliver the clubhead better through impact.
There is a huge difference between how elite golfers move their hands and grip versus how high handicappers do it, and much of it can be traced back to the pivot.
Many amateur golfers who have been told to shift weight into their lead leg will tend to slide their hips towards the target, keeping their body too closed or shut to the target.
If the player has decent hand-eye coordination, their arms will often move straight down rather than out, keeping their club stuck excessively from the inside and leading to a path that is too shallow and out to the right (for right handers).
High handicappers, however, will often steepen the shaft from this position.
By contrast, a good pivot – one that gets the hips and chest opening earlier, without an excessive slide forward – will send the hands and the grip on a slightly more outward path, which is much more desirable.
This allows you to shallow the club earlier, help the right elbow get more in front of the hip (for better compression and shaft lean), and move the hands and handle in and up through impact.
Doing so uses natural centrifugal forces to square the club, rather than manipulating it with excessive wrist or forearm movement, which is far more inconsistent.
What are some common pivot mistakes in the golf swing?
The three biggest mistakes golfers make when it comes to the pivot are sliding their hips excessively towards the target, thrusting towards the ball, or leaving too much of their weight on their back foot. Both movements will negatively impact club path and make it harder to consistently deliver the club onto the ball.
As mentioned earlier, a good pivot will get your hips and chest opening nice and early in your swing, while a poor pivot will either cause the club to get stuck behind you, steepen too much, or push your hands and grip out too far away from your body.
Below, I’ll elaborate on the common mistakes you can make in the pivot, and the affect they have on your golf swing.
Common mistake #1: Excessive sliding of the hips
While your hips should bump slightly towards your target to begin your downswing, and excessive slide will prevent you from pivoting correctly.
As a result, you won’t be able to create enough space to deliver the club efficiently and it can lead to it ‘getting stuck’ behind you as to move into impact.
To combat this, your body will subconsciously do a few things: mainly, drop the club way under plane before trying to reroute it towards the ball, and keep your shoulders closed to your target line.
This can lead to hooks or blocks, difficulty controlling the low-point of your swing (causing fat and thin shots), and difficulty squaring the clubface consistently.
Common mistake #2: Thrusting towards the ball
Thrusting towards the golf ball, otherwise known as ‘early extension’, happens when you fire your legs before giving your hips time to pivot open first.
Your legs generate significant power in your golf swing and in their eagerness to bomb the ball down the fairway, many amateurs will launch upwards through the impact area – much like a basketballer making a jump shot.
If you do this before giving your hips a chance to open, it will keep them facing – or often thrusting towards – the golf ball and shrinking the amount of room your hands have to move through the hitting zone.
This cramping of space can cause similar problems as what were mentioned above, with hooks or blocks being the most common.
Common mistake #3: Hanging back on your trail foot
Golfers who have been told they slide their hips forward too much can, from time to time, overcompensate and do the opposite – leaving too much of their weight on their trail foot during the downswing.
If there’s anything that will stop you pivoting correctly in your golf swing, it’s this.
If you open your hips while keeping your weight on your back foot, what will happen is the clubhead will be thrown excessively out and away from your body, ending up ‘over the swing plane’.
This is otherwise known as an ‘over the top’ movement – where the club will cut back across the ball to try and make contact – leading to big slices or massive duck hooks.
Golfers who are fearful of sliding forward will tend to hang back on their trail foot thinking it will solve things, but it actually just makes it a lot worse.
How do you make a pivot in the golf swing?
The key to a good pivot in golf is about rotating your hips and pelvis around a fairly stable tailbone, without sliding off the ball or dipping your head down and towards your target. To do this, you should focus on your left leg staying fairly stable as you pivot, without swaying back off the ball or leaning towards your target in the backswing.
A mistake a lot of golfers make is allowing the left leg and hip to become too active in the swing.
They will often move it to the right and away from target in the rotation of the backswing, then rapidly shift it back towards target and way ahead of the starting point in the downswing, usually in an effort to hit down on the ball and promote compression.
Rather than doing this, you want to feel as if you are rotating in a far more centred way, pivoting around the tailbone with minimal sway in the hips.
A good little drill to get this feeling is to place a club or alignment stick beneath your buttocks and practice rotating the body back and around so that the hips point 180 degrees away from target, then pivot back to point directly towards target.
Replicating this sort of feeling or movement in the golf swing will help you to rotate around a centre point without dipping, sliding or swaying, maintaining better stability in the swing.
How to practice the pivot in the golf swing
The best way to master the pivot in your golf swing is by practicing it correctly – and there are a few drills that can help you do this.
I’ve found the best pivot drills involve placing physical obstacles in the way and then trying to either keep contact with them, or avoid contact with them.
This will give you the best feedback that you’re moving your body in the correct manner.
Below are four drills that can help greatly in teaching you how to pivot correctly.
Drill #1: Butt against a chair
This is one of the easiest ways to practice pivoting around your axis correctly while maintaining your spine angle and preventing early extension.
Simply place a chair behind your backside when you’re hitting into your practice net at home (you can use an alignment stick if you’re at the range) and address the ball with your butt cheeks keeping in contact with it.
Take some swings and focus on keeping your backside touching the chair until your strike the golf ball – only after it’s gone can you allow your cheeks to come away from the chair.
Working on this drill will stop you from thrusting towards the ball by teaching your body to pivot properly and maintain enough space to let your hands move through the impact zone.
Drill # 2: Stop the sway
As mentioned earlier, an excessive sway away from the golf ball during the takeaway can make it difficult to pivot correctly in the downswing.
One of the simplest ways to stop you doing it is by placing an alignment stick in the ground about an inch outside your trail leg, at a height that’s even with the top of your hip.
The aim of the drill is simple: when you start your backswing, make sure your hip doesn’t touch the alignment stick.
If it does, it means you have swayed too far off the ball, rather than rotated your trail hip inwards as you began your takeaway.
After practicing enough times, you should be able to complete your backswing without contacting the alignment stick.
Doing these two drills will set you up to be able to correctly pivot throughout the entire swing.
Drill #3: Matching up clubs
Take your set up with a club or alignment stick on the ground just inside your trail foot and pointing away from your body at a 90 degree angle.
Take another club or alignment stick and place it across your shoulders, holding it with your arms.
In your golf posture (bending forward over the ball) turn as if you were making a swing, trying to match up the club across your shoulders so it is parallel and in line with the one on the ground.
By practicing this movement you’ll get a greater feel for how the lower body should turn to create the correct position at the top of the backswing.
Drill #4: The total golf trainer
The total golf trainer is a simple training tool the clips to your belt with an adjustable rod that sticks out from your body.
It can be set up in a way that is more challenging or less challenging, but usually it’s best to have it pointing parallel away from your target and in line with your hips.
When you make a few swings, you have to turn the hip away from your target to get the rod out of the way as you complete your backswing.
Fail to do so and you’ll make connection, showing that you need to increase your turn and pivot when taking the club away.
What is a reverse pivot in the golf swing?
A reverse pivot in the golf swing is when your upper body begins tilting excessively towards the target as you begin your takeaway. As a result, your lead leg will tend to collapse, creating a ‘reverse K’ posture. To compensate in the downswing, golfers will usually shift their weight immediately into their back foot.
Leaving your weight on your trail foot as you move into impact, as explained earlier, is a recipe for disaster and will lead to poor strikes (fat and thin shots) and an erratic club path (either under the plane, or over the plane).
A reverse pivot often comes about when players try to stay completely centred over the ball throughout the entire swing, and are scared of sliding their hips towards their target in the downswing.
Remember: the golf swing is dynamic and there should be a little bump of the hips towards the target as you begin to open your hips in the downswing.
A good way to avoid reverse pivoting is to try and keep your head behind the ball at all times – think of an imaginary line from your left eye, straight down towards the ball.
At no point of the swing should you let your head get in front of that line.
If you can do this, then more often than not you’ll stop yourself from reverse pivoting.
What happens when you reverse pivot in golf?
A reverse pivot occurs when the hips turn and sway away from your target excessively, leading to the upper body dipping towards your target, rather than away. This upper body movement is the opposite of what you should be working towards, hence the name ‘reverse’ pivot, with the goal being to keep your upper body back off the ball in the downswing and moving forward through impact.
A reverse pivot can come about for a few reasons including set up and rushing the backswing.
If you rapidly lift the club up to the top of your backswing without allowing the body to rotate smoothly along with it, you reach the top position too quickly for your weight to successfully shift into your right leg and foot.
With too much weight still in the lead side, you have no option but to tilt forward as the club lifts up to its top position.
At address, you should have weight distributed evenly, 50-50 between the legs, and a slight tilt of the spine away from your target.
This will allow your hips to better rotate, allowing your upper body to turn into the right side and stay back off the ball, rather than dipping forward to the left.
Does a reverse pivot cause a slice?
A reverse pivot can often cause a slice, due to its tendency to promote an over-the-top downswing as a result of poor positioning at the top. With the trail shoulder raised at the top of the swing, it makes it difficult to return the club to the ball in a shallower position, meaning that an over-the-top cast with an out-to-in swing path is the most likely way to complete the downswing.
By lowering your right shoulder but keeping the hands high, you give them room to shallow, rather than having to throw them out and away from the body.
It is a crucial thing to fix as a reverse pivot can be extremely damaging for your golf game.
If you allow your upper body to tilt forward, it is incredibly difficult to return it back to a position that will assist you to make a good strike of the ball.
The only real way to do this is by lifting the body upwards in the downswing, something that will make it far more difficult to make a downward strike and maintain a consistent angle of attack on the ball.
Often, amateur golfers will focus on their grip, takeaway or downswing during practice – and while they’re very important, some thought should also be given to the pivot.
Pivoting correctly sets you up for success and has some positive flow-on effects to your swing, including getting it on plane and helping you deliver the clubface square at impact easier.
Work on the two drills I’ve mentioned in this article and you’ll get your hips and body pivoting the right way in no time.