Keys to Understanding Force and Pressure in the Short Game

When we talk about using the ground in golf, most people probably think of Rory McIlroy squatting on the downswing to generate speed or Justin Thomas raising his lead hip so he can hit up on the ball. Not to be overlooked, however, is the importance of using the ground in the short-game. While the lower body is one of the key power generators in the full swing, it’s required for stability and balance in the short game. Though the lower body is dynamic in one full shots and stable in short shots, the ground interaction is equally important.

One of the most important characteristics of great short game players is their ability to maintain a stable lower body. Whether it’s keeping the weight forward when hitting a chip or weight back when hitting a flop out of a fluffy lie, maintaining a stable center of mass is paramount to consistency. If the contact point on the face were to change by a cm, it can drastically affect spin, launch angle and outcome of a shot.

In chipping you have a 60° wedge where the leading edge is coming into the ball first. Everything we do in chipping is designed to keep the leading edge down. Your weight has to be forward. If your weight is on your back foot, the leading edge will be pointed up.
– Phil Mickelson

Here’s BodiTrak advisor Mark Blackburn sharing how interaction with the ground can influence club delivery and contact in the short game.

The best pitchers and chippers don’t tend to have a lot of down target slide. They stabilize into their lead leg.
– Mark Blackburn

A misconception many golfers might have is that when they are trying to keep their weight forward they shouldn’t feel pressure under their trail foot. Your center of mass may remain stable when chipping, but your center of pressure will respond to how the club is moving. Remember: We feel a shift in pressure, we see a shift in weight.

Watch the pressure trace of short game specialist James Ridyard (captured by Jason Sutton).

Notice how his lower body (and apparent center of mass) remains stable, but his center of pressure briefly shifts to his trail side? His CoP is reacting to the movement of the club. It’s an example of one of the most important principles of ground mechanics as it relates to golf. As Dr. Sasho Mackenzie says:

Every move the golfer makes with their body or the club is reflected in their interaction with the ground.

While golfers are unlikely to recall pressure data on the course, knowing tendencies related to ground interaction can optimize how we practice and understand desired technique.  Sometimes the most important benefits in communicating technical aspects of the swing is that it dispels misconceptions.