Beware The New Modern Golf “Vertical Lift” Bunk

Another de-bunking here, as I heard a couple of times on the PGA Championship broadcast that players like Justin Thomas get “vertical lift” by having a high trailing heel and having the front foot leave the ground at impact.

Of course, I’ve made my view clear that I think the analysts on TV have no clue why a player does the “flying foot,” so you hear a lot of bunk concerning this.

Not to pick on Justin Thomas, who has won a handful of events and a major at his young age – the kid can flat-out play, and he can send that ball, but it has nothing to do with his “flying foot” (except for where he can’t hit a fairway or green at times).

This is about the stuff you hear on TV about swinging and swings from the “experts.”

In fact, the week before the PGA, at Bridgestone (which JT won), I think I dislocated my jaw when the phrase “perfect driving” and “perfect contact” came up during an analysis of JT’s driverswing – at the time, I checked his stats – he was 50% fairways for the day, and this was on the back 9!

Justin Thomas’ Final Round & Week Fairways @ Bridgestone

So, let’s look at this “vertical lift” of Justin’s that is supposed to enable him to get positive AA into the ball:

And let’s look at a Launch Monitor drive of his from Mexico City, with the Attack Angle:

There’s nothing wrong with +5.3 degrees Attack Angle, although the optimal is around 4 degrees, but let’s say it’s fine, and it is.

Now, let’s take a look at my feet during a swing when I was at the TXG Golf facility, producing pretty good Attack Angle myself:


Pretty low trailing heel and a completely flat and stable leading foot, and yet, I averaged +4.5 degrees Attack Angle on the 5 swings I compiled for my shot data, you’ll recall.

In fact, with the old Ben Hogan CS3 that I have, I hit a drive with it that day with +6.6 degrees Attack Angle:

… Believe it or not, I lowered my Attack Angle when I hit the Rogue Sub-Zero I used for the actual data, because the technician told me that around +4 degrees was the optimal (I was atcually in the 6-7 range with the CS3) – but look at my swing above again, and the footwork…

There is nothing in the “flying foot” syndrome that enables one to increase leverage, Attack Angle or anything else – it is, once again, a compensation for the swinger failing to release his trailing foot, and since the hips have to turn, the leading foot will jump and twist so that the knee doesn’t:

Not to mention, there is no vertical movement in Justin’s impact, if you watch his belt-line or his head – nothing is going up except the feet, because if there were any vertical lift, he’d miss the ball and swing over it!

It doesn’t make Justin Thomas as long as he is, other than allowing him to swing at the speed he does and not destroy his leading hip, knee and ankle with that anchored right foot.

I’ll tell you what it does, however – just like a lot of the long drivers who anchor their trailing foot and have the leading foot jumping and twisting at impact – you will pay for it in accuracy and consistency – witness Justin’s very low fairways hit percentage at the best of times, and his yanking many approach shots left of the green on a regular basis.

If he released the trailing foot and kept that leading foot firmly planted through the finish, he’d hit the ball as long or even longer, because a compensation is a swing-saver, not a swing-improver.

So, another TV analysis myth laid to rest here at WAX Golf, I hope.

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15 thoughts on “Beware The New Modern Golf “Vertical Lift” Bunk

  1. Mr. McJohn

    What do you think of the old phrase, “hit through the ball, not at it”? I find in martial arts, when breaking boards (the boards are normally built specifically for breaking, but still require great technique in order to snap them) we hit THROUGH the board in order to get the power into the wood to break it. If you hit AT the board, you’re going to hurt your knuckles, but also will not break the board, even crack it. Punching through the board causes so much more power than punching at it.

    I also believe this applies to golf as well. Plenty of people hit at the ball really hard, but don’t follow through. The follow through is crucial to making sure you hit through the ball, rather than at it.

    Darrell Klassen calls this the “power point”, or a spot in front of the ball where you hit to rather than the ball. He talks about physics, and how to have the most effective transfer of energy into an object the opposing object has to be accelerating as it hits the other object. This makes sense as if you were stopping AT the object, you’d be decelerating.

    What do you think of this?

    I also think of pivot as being necessary for power, especially the hips. In martial arts, our hips are our main power source. Mind you, the hips don’t have muscles in them to move the hips by themselves, it’s either the legs using the muscles in our legs or our upper body that moves our hips. If you look at anatomy, the hips cannot move by themselves. They are moved by the leg muscles, and by the upper body. So what do you suggest when it comes to allowing the hips to turn? Do we ALLOW the hips to turn on the backswing using our upper body, then using our legs on the downswing, or do we use our legs for everything and allow the legs to cause our upper body pivot? In martial arts we use out upper bodies and legs in unison to create hip rotation, so really, it’s not the hips that are our power source (even though that’s what they tell us), it’s our leg muscles and upper body strength pivoting the hips. So I guess the legs are useful for the golf swing pivot, but since the club is held with the hands, which connect to the arms, the upper body would be the power source. In my craft we use our entire bodies for a whole body move, so everything is important, but in the golf swing we hold an object in our hands and upper body, so most of the power would need to come from that, rather than the lower body. Plus, using the hands and arms (while still allowing for a pivot) would give us better control over the club, since we are very versatile in our hands, which is our main source of “feel”. I’m not sure what to think. I believe the upper body is the power source in golf, but without sacrificing body pivot. Pivot is important, but pivot will happen as a result of the upper body (hands and arms) moving.

    To give an example, think of throwing a ball with power and accuracy. We focus mostly on our hands and arms, but the body FOLLOWS that motion, the body is not the INITIATOR of that motion. If we were to throw with our body, we’d have almost no power.

    I’m really not sure. That’s just what I’ve observed from athletic motion and studying martial arts and kinesiology, as well as basic anatomy. The hands are used to swing the club, and the body follows. This not only creates the power, but feel, which we need to control the club with accuracy.

    Sorry for the long post, just some thoughts.

    What do you think?

    1. D Watts Post author

      You’ve given it a lot of thought, Mr. McJ!

      I think you’re on the mark with the swing ending past the ball. I’ve always said that the swing ends at the ball, because nothing you do after impact will affect the ball, however the motion you make it a swing through to the finish. As you state, if you swing to terminate your effort at the ball, it leads to deceleration. My own theory with MCS is that you swing to the “9 O’Clock” point of the “3 to 9” sequence, and the momentum of your swing will bring you around to the finish.

      A long time ago, I wrote a blog (probably back in 2009 or 2010) that since the equation for force is “F = M x A,” then you want the club head to be accelerating at impact, which would transfer more energy to the ball than a club impacting at the same velocity but moving at a constant speed or even decelerating.

      To make it very short on the second point, you have the answer in your own question:

      I also think of pivot as being necessary for power, especially the hips.

      The hips are moved by the leg muscles, which is why I always say “Hip and legs” when talking about the pivot. The arms have something to do with it, because you hold the club in your hands. You get of course the movement of the club with the flexing and extending of the trailing elbow and the flexing and extension of the wrists. However if you stand without turning the hips and simply use the arm and hand action to swing the club, you will not produce much speed or power.

      The legs turn the hips, and that is the main engine for the pivot and the swing itself. The modern golf swing tries to take that out by restricting the hip turn, and this is why we are seeing so many lower back and torso/upper body injuries today. Once you take the role of the legs and hips out of the shoulder turn, you are in trouble.

      I’ve actually demonstrated this with my Kettle Bell “One Exercise” from the EMCS2 – The Follow Up” video, and I proved that the MCS Golf Swing is properly leveraged when I swung a Momentus Heavy Driver to produce a ball speed of over 160 mph with the same technique that I swing a regular driver:


      When I was in Texas a couple of years ago, in fact, I was driving the ball around 275 yards with the Heavy Driver, without turning a hair:


      I can guarantee you that any person with a Modern Golf Swing technique who tried to play golf using the Heavy Driver would not make it very far before injuring something.

      I on the other hand (as with anyone else swinging with a mechanically-sound swing model) could play a round of golf swinging the Heavy Driver and driving the ball well over 250 yards with it, and the only danger would be fatigue at one point or another!

      1. Mr. McJohn

        Makes sense. But what I meant by using the hands and arms was, the body still moves, including the hips, but in RESPONSE to the arm movement.

        That’s what I personally do, and it gives me better feel so I can control the club better. I still have a full hip turn, and a full shoulder turn, but in response to my using my hands. Like when we throw a ball, the hands lead and the body follows.

        I normally hit the ball very easy, say around 40% effort, and get around 240 yards. Do you think I should swing harder, like 90-95 percent? How much clubhead speed would I gain doing that?

        I have proper technique, so I’m not afraid of hurting myself swinging hard. But I’ve never swung that hard and I feel like im decelerating almost as I come into the ball. Should I swing harder, and what percentage is best?

        1. D Watts Post author

          You can go either way, MMJ – I like to use the analogy that the arm action pulls the hips around in the back pivot and that that the hips do the pulling and leveraging on the down swing, but that’s just a visual analogy. In truth, the body works together.

          Just like asking a baseball pitcher if his arms pull the leg up in the wind-up, or is it a coordinated action? You can use the first as a visual, but the latter would be the truth.

          The good news to your other question: With a proper golf swing using leverage and weight shift, you can’t swing too hard.

          I have swung out of my shoes with a long-drive club, and I’ve never come close to hurting myself, because I’m using my body and leverage rather than brute muscle force:

          Therefore, you can swing as hard as you please with a mechanically-sound golf swing, as long as you’re not sacrificing control or consistency to do so! 🙂

        2. Jason

          The old wisdom is that you should learn to hit as hard as you can and then tone it back. But if hitting it with 40% effort and getting around 240 yards satisfies you, then that’s what you should do. My hypothesis is that since you’ve asked the question, it doesn’t satisfy you.

          One of the great joys in golf, to me, is experimenting and trying to be your best. Aren’t you naturally curious to see how hard you can hit it?

          Best of luck. 🙂

  2. Jason

    Enjoy this discussion – great post DJ.

    To me, it looks like the ‘vertical lift’ is the result of non-optimal set up position with his feet too square at address in conjunction with the modern flat-footed swing which makes it hard for JT to plant his leading foot properly on the downswing leading to the vertical lift motion.

    Bubba Watson might be an interesting case to consider. Though Bubba lifts his heel (which makes his motion incomparable to JT’s except in this one aspect), his too square feet address position doesn’t allow him to optimally plant his front foot causing his heel to fly up and turn after impact.

    1. D Watts Post author

      If you look carefully, it’s the same situation as JT’s, Jason – the trailing foot is not releasing, and the hips have to keep turning, so the leading foot must come up. In Bubba’s case, he gets onto the toes and spins the foot.

      Yes, it’s an issue of the leading foot being too square as well, but even if it was flared, that anchored trailing foot would force him to jump that leading foot to preserve his body parts.

      And Kostis’ claim that this move gets Bubba’s leading shoulder up is absurd. If the trailing shoulder drops, the leading shoulder rises, and vice versa, it’s the Primary Lever in the swing. And you don’t need a flying foot to do that, so it has nothing to do with Bubba’s footwork.

      You can see I get lots of leading shoulder lift and on even a long drive swing, my leading foot remains perfectly stable:

      1. Jason

        Yeah Kostis is simply unpredictable – having read those exchanges between you guys….it’s just really bizarre.

        1. D Watts Post author

          Hey, don’t look at me. I call it as I see it. I’d likely have a whole group of players ticked off at me for pointing out their swing flaws if I had Kostis’ job. Apparently one isn’t supposed to say anything negative about someone’s swing, except of course when trying to explain a really bad shot.

          Ever notice that you don’t hear anything critical about a swing until the ball goes into the water or O.B.? Suddenly a great-yesterday swing has flaws.

          But I’m not here to massage egos, just to analyze and point out proper motion vs flawed.

          No more, no less.

          1. Jason

            That’s precisely why it’s so absurd. It’s not like Peter Kostis never criticizes other people’s swings, but if you’re going to do it, base it on something so you have something to criticize it against – in your case, the mcs golf model.

            What was most absurd about your exchanges was him saying something to the effect that even if he knows the ‘right’ way to swing, he wouldn’t be allowed to say it out loud or something. Can a man who is a recognized ‘expert’, who breaks down people’s swings and gives HIS opinion on those swings for lots of money, be more feckless?

            It’s dispiriting.

            1. D Watts Post author

              I have the Tweet and what the word he used was “neutral,” of which there is no such thing when doing analysis, unless it means telling the unvarnished truth:

              You don’t change your analysis to suit the audience if it is correct to begin with.

              Apparently however, saying that “1 + 1 = 2” with consistency means one has an “agenda,” particularly if doing it from one’s home. His arrogant dismissal was amusing, to be sure.

              So, he and I disagree on that point, obviously.

            2. Jason

              His tweet offends me on so many levels, but mostly on principle. I despise his duplicity – it’s an incredibly broad display of self-serving cowardice. It also doesn’t make sense at all – the whole point of talking, nay communication, is to say something that you think has value. If he can’t say what he teaches and believes in, Is there any value to what he’s saying on air at all? Having no agenda is an agenda in itself and, in this case, it’s just meaningless. It reflects poorly on him – shame on Peter Kostis.

              And it’s not like he’s talking politics or religion or something truly divisive – he’s talking about the golf swing. Yes, there are different schools of thought, but frankly, what is he worried about?

  3. Jason

    Good point – it’s very clear the Bubba doesn’t fully release that trailing foot (especially noticeable with his unorthodox finish)

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