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Find the bottom of your swing arc for better golf

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One of the fun things about watching great ball strikers is observing their divot patterns.  The bottom of their swing (and their divot) is in the same place time after time. Fat and thin shots are rare for top-tier players, but for amateurs they are usually the most common mishits. Let’s take a look at why.

First, we have to consider that in golf, not only is the ball beside us, it is also on the ground. That’s different than say, tennis, where the ball is also to the side of the player, but it is up in the air. So the golf swing not only has to go up and down, but it also has to go around.

If you picture a ferris wheel tilted half way down, or a merry-go-round tilted halfway up, you get an idea of a golf swing arc. The swing goes around because the golf ball is beside us, and it goes up and down because the ball is on the ground. If golfers hit off 4 foot tees, there would be no need to swing up and down. And if we played golf with the ball between our feet, there would be no need to swing around. But we don’t.

When the golf swing has the proper amount of around and up and down, it has the best chance to bottom out where it should: slightly in front of shots off the turf. If there’s too much around in the swing, the player has difficulty getting to the bottom of the ball. And if there’s too much up and down, the player can crash into ground. Knowing what side of this conundrum you’re on and what to do about it can be a great help when you’re practicing and playing.

The terms shallow and steep are used to describe the angle of attack. One way to look at shallow is that the golf club swings parallel to the ground for too long, or has a wide bottom. Steep means the club is “in and out” of the ground too quickly, or has a very narrow bottom. Shallow is too ascending into impact, and steep is too descending. Obviously, the desired outcome is between steep and shallow. So how do you get there?

First, you need to know what your attack angle is. In other words, knowing that you hit shots fat or thin is not enough information. You can hit shallow fat shots, steep fat shots, and shallow thins and steep thins. And without knowing what you’re hitting or where the bottom of the arc actually is, you cannot get on to the right correction. And although your swing path can contribute, it is by no means the determinate of your angle of attack. Instructors see in-to-out paths with a shallow attack angles, as well as steep angle of attack from the same inside-out path.

Here are a few things that might help: Draw a line on the ground perpendicular to the target line. You can use some spray paint, or just run a tee along an aim stick several times so the line is visible. Sole your club right on the line. Now, start making some practice swing with a 7 iron. Where are your divots: behind the line, on the line or in front of it? Are your divots deep or not deep? Are you hitting the ground at all? These are all things to know in order to get on to your corrections. I’ll offer a general guideline of corrections I teach for the variety of conditions above.

Shallow Fat shots (aka “drop kicks”)

  • De-loft your club slightly at address
  • Place more weight on your front foot.
  • Swing your hands higher in the backswing
  • Focus on getting through the shot and onto your left side (for a righty).

Steep Fats

  • Tilt your spine angle slightly away from the target.
  • Place slightly more weight on your rear foot.
  • Feel that you swing more around (slightly flatter) going back.
  • Focus on a much better shoulder turn in the back swing.

Shallow thin shots (usually low skulls to the right)

  • Move the ball slightly forward in your stance.
  • Open your stance slightly.
  • Focus on swinging more DOWN TO THE LEFT through impact (a feeling of coming over the top).
  • Getting a feeling that the right side is higher than the left side (for a righty) into impact is helpful.

Steep thin shots

This sounds like a contradiction in terms but if your attack angle is very steep, the bottom of the swing arc CAN get too far in front of the golf ball, and the swing will simply “tick” the top of the ball coming through. That’s what instructors call a “late top.”

  • Widen your stance a little.
  • Tilt the spine angle to the right a little.
  • Turn the shoulders in the back swing and swing a little flatter going back.
  • RELEASE THE CLUB as early as you can from the top, staying behind the ball as much as possible.

To clarify: These are all “fixes” for the poor shots you may be hitting. The long-term correction for these attack angle problems will come with working with your instructor on your swing.  By having the knowledge I’ve shared above, you may have at least a “tourniquet” to stop the bleeding!

As always, feel free to send a swing to my Facebook page. I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Dennis Clark

    May 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    The bottom of your swing is where the “rubber meets the road”. The one problem I see more than any is hitting behind or on top of the golf ball. The drills I suggested in this piece are meant as both corrections and “tests” for the player to find where the bottom actually is and what to do about it. Thx for all the comments.

  2. Frank Johnson

    May 27, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Good article, looks like the information was taken from Jim Hardy’s book, “Solid Contact”. Are you a fan of Hardy’s theories and teachings Dennis?

    • Dennis Clark

      May 28, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Sure; same influence. John jacobs. I didn’t read Solid Contact, but I would imagine its in the same vein. Its really pretty simple; there is no other way. The bottom of the arc is either too far forward or too far back.

      • Frank Johnson

        May 28, 2014 at 1:47 pm

        Thanks Dennis, again great advice. Not many instructors address this area of the golf swing, or how to fix the problems associated with it. It begins with a better understanding…..

  3. TheLegend

    May 24, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    A drop kick is caused by your head falling downward away from your target and down toward the ground. When your head goes down toward the ground so does your shoulders/arms. When this occurs you hit the ground (because you got closer to it) your club then bounces off the ground and hits the top of the ball. DROP=head falling down toward right foot. KICK = bounce off ground to top of ball> Ball KICKING OUT LOW. So how do you stop drop kicking? Well you need to make sure your head is in front of the ball at the moment of impact and that it is not dropping down.

  4. Pingback: Consistent, Powerful Irons by Finding The Bottom of Your Golf Swing Arc | Solutions for Golfers Over 50

  5. Alex K.

    May 23, 2014 at 1:41 am

    This is the greatest area of inconsistency for most if not all beginner/average golfs and despite the writer’s best intentions, it does not address these golfers’ main issue.

    My point is, before you can apply ANY of the fixes listed above, you first have to make sure that you have a swing that is centred around a consistent pivot point.

    To borrow the above analogy, a golfer first has to either anchor his ‘ferris wheel’ to one point in space or ensure it tracks (forwards ideally), the same distance; and at the same relative speed and time as the club head (to ensure release at the correct time), each time he/she swings.

    If you can do this, then you can… “move the ball slightly forward, tilt the spine… etc, etc).

  6. Dmitri

    May 22, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Steep thin…I am not the only one!

  7. Bob Gomavitz

    May 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Dennis, nice article. I would have like to have seen you add Divot Direction to the fat shots.

    My guess is that a to shallow divot, aka the drop kick divot might be pointing right of target, or is this just from a to early release? My divot points right when I hit it fat more often then not. Thought?

    • Dennis Clark

      May 22, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      You have to be careful when observing divots, they are misleading. They do not indicate initial direction OR PATH! But to answer your question, drop kicks are often from an in-to-out path, but not always. A player cash be shallow out-to-in as well. “Left field from the right foot” I call it. send me a video!

  8. Jim Benjamin

    May 22, 2014 at 9:50 am

    My biggest problem is I don’t take a divot. Every time I try I mess up. I have used a swingbyte analyzer and have forward shaft lean (6.4 degrees forward) and hit down on the ball (attack angle 6.7 degrees down) but don’t take a divot. I’ll try to make a video.

  9. John H

    May 22, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Now, if we only had one style of miss, then we might get somewhere! Personally, I have all of the above shots in my bag.

    • Dennis Clark

      May 22, 2014 at 8:52 am

      probably not, most swings are either steep OR shallow. Send a video is you like. Thx

  10. Alexander Bernhardt

    May 22, 2014 at 12:57 am

    This is very detailed. Thanks!

  11. Chris Reed

    May 21, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    I believe I am guilty of the drop kicks, but thought it was more because I was loading up. Could that be it too? Would the fixes suggested above work for that too? It seems like I makes sense, but just making sure. This seems to be my miss hit on all clubs. Thanks!

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Instruction

The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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