Ground forces

What average golfers can learn from Patrick Cantlay’s dramatic foot slip at Riviera

February 17, 2023

For tour players starting their rounds on Riviera’s drivable par-4 10th hole, it might be the most awkward opener they’ll play all year, with the narrow, pitched green presenting an early test of strategy and finesse. But for Patrick Cantlay on Thursday at the Genesis Invitational, it wasn’t the hole that made his opening tee shot awkward.

As he started his downswing, Cantlay’s trail foot slipped significantly, requiring an impressive feat of athleticism just to put the 3-wood on the ball. Take a look:

Bailed out by hand-eye coordination, the eight-time PGA Tour winner knocked the tee shot just over the back of the green and made an opening par. Though it might be easy to dismiss the slip as the result of early morning dew or a possible faulty spike, it revealed a key component to his swing that Cantlay shares with many tour pros—and that you should consider adding to your swing.

Notice how, immediately from the top of the backswing, the right foot slipped backward, away from the ball. The foot moving in this direction shows how Cantlay is using the ground in the transition. Dr. Scott Lynn—a biomechanics professor and Swing Catalyst’s Research Director—sees this pattern in many tour players, as well as World Long Drive champion Kyle Berkshire.

Lynn described these ground forces in a video analysis of Berkshire’s swing posted to Be Better Golf’s YouTube page, which you can check out here.

“He’s pushing into the ground down and backward with his trail foot,” Lynn says of Berkshire's transition. “He’s doing the opposite with his lead foot. He’s pushing down and toward the ball with his lead foot. It’s pushing in those opposite directions that creates the rotation [of the lower body]. What that does is create something called a force couple.”

Lynn likens this “force couple” to taking the lid off a water bottle. You push in opposite directions with your thumb and finger to create the force needed to remove the lid. In the downswing, pressuring your trail foot away from the ball and your lead foot toward the ball creates this force couple that swings your hips open—at the right time.

This move is not unique to Cantlay and Berkshire. Scottie Scheffler’s back-foot slide is the most prominent on tour, but Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy share more subtle variations.

Oftentimes, amateurs are told to feel like they’re firing their hips in the transition in order to get them significantly open at impact. In reality, the best players in the world are using these ground forces to open up their hips, Lynn says, rather than a conscious thought of spinning them open.

“You have to create that force from the ground before you see his hips start to open up,” Lynn says. “That’s something you’ll see in really good players. The timing of these things is really important, and it happens way earlier than you think.”

Cantlay’s right foot slips immediately as he starts his downswing because that’s his first move from the top of the swing. As he brings the club down and pressures his right foot backwards, the ground applies a force in the opposite direction, firing his hips open later in his downswing. This is a move—if amateur golfers make at all—they do too late in their downswings, according to Lynn.

“I’ve found that there’s kind of an epidemic in amateur golfers of late forces,” Lynn says. “Speeding these things up and getting them to happen earlier in amateur golfers could probably help us quite a bit.”

Therein lies the lesson for us amateurs: Like Cantlay, dig into the ground, and do it early in transition.