The Secret of the New X-Factor

February 22, 2007


The new X-factor is achieved when you rotate your hips toward the target as fast and as fully as possible, while keeping your shoulders turned back. I see this downswing move in every slow-motion swing we replay on CBS telecasts.

Yet the move is so basic that anyone can gain distance with it, even those of you who aren’t as athletic and, let’s face it, as young as guys like Tiger and Ernie (in other words, just about all of us).


You will hit the ball longer by stretching your downswing “X.” If you’re currently slicing the ball or hitting weak pop-ups, changing the way you start your downswing will help you swing the clubhead to the ball from the inside for a more explosive hit. Longer drives will allow you to hit more greens and score better.


You will max out your clubhead speed and your power when your club impacts the ball like a spring that has just been released from its tension.

Imagine snapping a towel or casting a fly in fishing: You want that burst of speed to start when the object changes direction. It’s the same concept in your golf swing.

But if this is the New XFactor, what was the old one? It was the cover story (see below) of our December 1992 issue (man that’s old) by renowned teacher Jim McLean. Longtime readers will be glad to know that the old X, the differential between your hips and shoulders at the top of your swing (the greater it is, the more power you create), still holds water. But isn’t it time you got yourself a New X?

What do these Tour pros have in common?

They all stretch the “X” in their swings. Notice how far their belt buckles are ahead of their shoulders.

3 elements of the new x

1) HIPS The key to the new X-factor is the first move down from the top—the change in direction—and you should start it by rotating your hips (illustartion at left) toward the target just as your shoulders are completing the backswing turn.

Contrast this with the common fault of starting down with the upper body, which actually narrows the “X” between your shoulders and hips. Learn to separate your hips from your shoulders and you’ll hit longer drives right away.

2) RIGHT HEEL You generate power in your downswing from the ground up, and you can’t stretch your “X” if you’re out of balance. So before you do anything else, work on your footwork.

Your right foot should roll onto its instep as you swing down (large photo). Do this and your hips can rotate forward as they should. Avoid lifting your heel straight up off the ground (inset photo), which thrusts your hips toward the ball and throws you off balance.

3) RIGHT KNEE Your legs support you during the swing, and they must do their part to allow your hips to shift forward. Imagine a second ball teed up between your knees at address (below left).

You want your right knee to knock that ball off the tee just as your clubhead contacts the ball you’re hitting (below right). Kick your right knee toward your left knee, and your hips will have the solid base they need to rotate forward properly.

1) FEEL YOUR NEW HIP TURN To feel how much more hip rotation you’ll need during your swing to stretch your “X,” drape a long towel across your upper back and grab both ends. Turn back and through, keeping the towel pulled tight (see photo). This action turns your entire upper body and moves your hips with it.

Take note of how much hip rotation you need to rotate your shoulders 90 degrees both ways. Keep the tension in the towel all the way through to know that your hips are rotating enough. If you fall behind and rotate your hips too little, the towel will slacken.

2) USE A CART TO SWING UNDER This drill will give you the sensation of what it feels like to stretch your “X.” Grab hold of a golf cart with your left hand, get into your golf posture and mimic a backswing with your right hand (below left).

Now fire your right arm through underneath your left arm, which is still holding the cart (below right). See how my hips turned through while my shoulders held back? That’s stretching the “X.”

The Data

350 golfers of various skill levels, including 26 Tour pros, underwent biomechanical analysis while swinging their drivers. The following elements were measured: shoulder-turn rotation and velocity, hip-turn rotation and velocity, and X-factor and X-factor velocity (speed at which you uncoil during the downswing) at the top of the swing, halfway down, 40 milliseconds prior to impact and at impact.

The Findings

The more separation you can achieve between your shoulders and hips at the start of your downswing–stretching the “X”–the faster you can uncoil at impact. By turning their hips toward the target while still rotating their shoulders to the top, our test subjects had significant increases in ball speed and driving distance. Also, those golfers who had a bigger shoulder turn than hip turn in the backswing had greater rotational speeds and hit the ball farther than those with minimal separation between the two.

The Workout to Stretch Your X

Use this programfour days a week for eight weeks. It helped 15 golfers (average age of 48; average handicap of 13.1) increase their driving distance by 19 yards, from 226 yards to 245 yards. It’s important to do these exercises in the sequence shown here. With the exception of the Wood Chop, start with one repetition (holding the stretch for 30 seconds) and increase that number by one each week. Do not exceed four reps.

The Bridge

How to do it

  • Kneel with your hands directly below your shoulders and both arms extended. Your toes should point down.
  • Straighten both knees to raise your rear up toward the ceiling, forming a
  • Rock your heels backward to the floor. (Note: It may take several reps or weeks before you can get your feet flat).
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, keeping your heels as close to the floor as possible.

Why it works: Stretches your hamstrings, calf muscles and Achilles tendon. Having these muscles loose gives your hips a better chance to resist your shoulder turn, so that you can create more torque in your backswing.

Hip Flexor Stretch

How to do it

  • Kneel on your right knee and extend your left leg out in front of you at a 90-degree angle.
  • Keeping your back straight, push your hips forward until you feel a good stretch in the front of your right leg.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, squeezing your right glute muscle for a deeper stretch in the hip. Repeat on the other side.

Why it works: Stretches your hip flexor muscles, which need to be lengthened because they sit in a shortened, or flexed, state most of the time.

Seated Rotational Stretch

How to do it

  • From a seated position on the floor, cross your right leg over your left.
  • Rotate your torso to the right and place your left elbow over the outside of your right knee.
  • Using your left elbow as a lever, push against your right leg to stretch your torso as far as your range of motion will allow.
  • Hold the end position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

Why it works: Increases your shoulder turn and torso flexibility while providing resistance from your hips, thus mirroring the X-factor stretch in the backswing.

Seated Club Stretch

How to do it

  • Sit on the edge of a chair or an exercise ball, securing a club behind your back with both arms.
  • Slowly rotate to your right side until your left arm is directly in front of you, and hold the position for 30 seconds.
  • Place your left hand on either thigh–depending on your flexibility–to assist in rotating your shoulders farther behind you.
  • Rotate back to center and repeat with your left side.

What it does: Maximizes your X-factor and coil in the backswing, which will increase the rotational speed of your shoulders and your hips in the downswing.

Wood Chop

How to do it

  • Secure some resistance tubing or a stretchable band by looping one end around a sturdy object or sticking it in a doorjamb.
  • Stand as if you were at the top of your swing and grasp the end of the tubing with both hands.
  • Pull the tube down diagonally toward the floor as you rotate your torso to your golf impact position. Pose there for two to three seconds then slowly return the tube to the top. Do 10 reps and then switch sides.
  • When you start to feel less resistance, move farther away from the door to add tension to the tube.

What it does: Encourages the correct sequence of motion in the downswing to give you the greatest X-factor stretch: the hips rotate first, then the shoulders and finally the arms.

Scott M. Lephart, Ph.D., is director of the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. Joseph B. Myers, Ph.D., is the associate director of the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory.