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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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