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Going to extremes to make a swing change

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I had a student come to see me recently with a severe case of the shanks. It was what I call an “up and over” shank — very little backswing turn, lifting the club straight up, then coming over the top. It’s not the most common shank, but it’s certainly the most severe.

I had him stand farther from the ball at address, turn better in the takeaway and feel his arms drop from inside a little more on the downswing. He adjusted to everything but the inside move and was still hitting the ball off the hosel.

I put a tee an inch inside the golf ball and asked him to hit it, not the ball (see the photo below). Shank — not extreme enough.

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I moved the tee 3 inches inside the ball and asked him to hit it. He hit another shank.  I then moved the tee about 5 inches inside the ball and asked him to hit it. Bam! Sweet spot contact, time after time.

We moved the tee back to 3 inches and he was hitting the sweet spot again. Soon he was feeling the turn and learning to drop his arms BEFORE turning into the shot — he even hit a few off the toe. Not only did he stop shanking, but he was beginning to hit the first draws of his life! Going to an extreme really helped this player feel what I wanted him to feel on his downswing.

I watched him practice the next morning and… wait for it, he did not use the tee-inside-the-ball drill. The result wasn’t shocking — he shanked the first five shots I saw. I strolled over, as if just happening by, and asked him how he was hitting it.

“Oh,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here; do you have time for a lesson right now?”

I told him I had a few minutes to watch him hit some balls. “Great,” he answered. “Because when you were there I was hitting it great; as soon as you left, I started shanking again.”

“Just out of curiosity, what are you doing differently than when we had you hitting it solidly in the middle of the face?” I asked. He truly did not know. I put the tee in the ground and, well, you guessed it. SOLID CONTACT.

I’m not picking on this student or citing this as an isolated incident. It happens with all kinds of golfers all the time. I’m merely making a few very pertinent points about improving at golf. When you’re working on something new in your swing, remember:

  • You cannot change a long-standing habit overnight.
  • You need to stick with drills that helped you improve until they become second-nature.
  • Regardless what level you are forced to go to, it is not too extreme if it’s helping you improve.

I had another student who was coming over the top so badly that I had him hit balls with his back to the target for a nearly an hour before I let him square up even a little bit. I have had players in my school hit balls from a side hill lie for an entire session just to get them to feel a better shape to their swing, or use a split grip all day just to feel some release. The extreme measures I’ve taken to affect changes in my student’s swings are endless. And I will not allow them to try it “the regular way” until they begin to show real signs of a different motion.

Talking the talk of improvement and walking the walk of it are VERY different things. If you believe that after an hour lesson you can go tee it up with your buddies in a $10 Nassau, you’re sadly mistaken.

Sometimes, however, a small adjustment is all it takes. I’ve had students achieve a better impact position just by tweaking their setup or grip. But if building a whole new move is your goal, you’d better be in it for the long haul or I suggest you don’t go at it at all.

Students say, “Well, I can’t go play putting a tee inside the ball every time.” True. But if you don’t do it every time now, you’re swing won’t be in any condition to play. Habits are deeply ingrained and despite the results you’ve been getting, they will not change until you create new habits.

I had another student who released the club early and under the plane, resulting in quick duck hooks. We hit balls on a downhill lie, and then we practiced an OVER-THE-TOP swing drill for several sessions. It looked strange, felt even stranger, but he broke par soon after getting the feeling. I saw him at the range diligently doing his drill before every swing and I knew he would get it soon because he was committed.

The next time your swing gets in a funk, go to any lengths to fix it. No matter how extreme the practice drills may be, if they are the right ones for you then stay with them regardless of results. And remember this: If you were shanking and you’re starting to hit the toe, or if you were slicing and you’re starting to hit hooks, that’s GREAT! Changing your habits is the only way to eventually get back to square and solid.

Good luck, and those of you interested in my swing analysis program, go to www.dennisclarkgolf.com or check in to my Facebook Page for information on how it works.

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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

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. DevonC

    Jan 3, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Stack and Tilt; I hate to coin a swing with a name like this, but this style of swing has some pretty simple good drills that are amazing and helped me a ton in achieving great contact time after time!

  2. Golfnut

    Jan 2, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Any good golf swing is supported by the four fundamentals (grip, alignment, ball position and posture). Unlike amateurs every good tour pro takes care of these critical aspects on every shot and dedicate them as the basis of a grooved in pre-shot routine. Most problems with release after the fundamentals are more or less mastered, is when, or the timing of the trigger for release occurs early at transition. Most hackers fire the trigger for release at transition causing over the top moves or or for better players dropping the cub too much and to low from the inside causing a shank or getting stuck. The release trigger should be fired when the butt of the club is pointing at the target line and not before – transition should be passive. Release trigger can be left knee pulling left or right hip pushing at ball or as with Ernie Els – left leg straitens out. Laura Davies sucks in and lifts her stomach. Club head speed and consistency of path and club face will improve dramatically applying this principle. Let’s make golf easy – cause of bad things in a golf swing is usually an error which occurred much earlier. Don’t try make something happen – CAUSE it to happen

  3. Lilo

    Jan 2, 2015 at 5:05 am

    I have developed a problem whereby I get “stuck” at address and battle to get the club away. I’ve been a scratch golfer for many years but this is really making me consider giving up the game. I’m fine on the practice tee. Similar issue to what Robert Karlsson had.

    Any suggestions?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 2, 2015 at 6:02 am

      I had a student sing to himself once. On a certain word or beat he would go. It worked well.

  4. Butch Harmon

    Jan 1, 2015 at 6:17 am

    You’ve given the world my ‘secret’, The secret that Ben Hogan taught us. This is how I interpretated his famous quote, and now the world knows.

  5. Dr bones

    Jan 1, 2015 at 3:22 am

    excellent point about sticking to drills.

    • Butch Harmon

      Jan 1, 2015 at 6:18 am

      You still can’t spell, Seanny boy.

  6. BigBoy

    Jan 1, 2015 at 2:07 am

    “You need to stick with drills that helped you improve until they become second-nature.”

    That is what most adult golfers don’t understand, todays instant society is to blame.
    My first lesson was when i was 13, 3 years later i was scratch….practiced everyday for those 3 years.
    Then i read the internet forums and laugh how everyone wants a 2 minute fix.
    Ain’t going to happen.

  7. other paul

    Dec 31, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    The way I learned:
    Step 1-massive slice
    Step 2-massive hook
    Step 3-draw
    Step 4-straight and fade
    Step 5-anyone know how to use a putter? Can’t break 100.

    Seriously could draw and fade before I could putt. Hit 15 GIR and 3 putted almost the whole way for a 88.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 1, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      Wow. 15 GIR 88 might be a record! Has anyone looked at your putting? Sounds like you need help

  8. Sean Foley

    Dec 31, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    This will change my teaching outlook forever . Thank you sir

  9. Mnmlist Golfr

    Dec 31, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Wait, I don’t get it. You asked him to address the ball, but try to hit the tee 3 inches inside the ball and he missed hitting the tee and instead shanked the ball? I don’t even…

  10. Dangeruss

    Dec 31, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Dennis, What are a few good drills to help drop the arms before turning into the shot? Thanks!

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 31, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Well the one I’ve pictured here helps. Have you seen the Bender Stick?

    • Dangeruss

      Dec 31, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      No, haven’t tried the BenderStick but will look into it. I think my issue is standing to close to the ball and not allowing the golf club center of gravity drop down with my arms causing a slight over the top swing. For some reason I cannot get my arms to drop quick enough “consistently” to allow an inside out swing. I’m probably too quick with firing my hips. Thanks!

  11. JT Pope

    Dec 31, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I remember when I was at the same point in my game.. It made me feel more confident to stand close to the ball, and it felt easier to go ‘back and through’ or as you said ‘up and down’.. It also felt very foreign to rotate the clubhead, our to try to stand away from the ball and allow natural extension.

    That said, its been several years since I took that step to improve mechanics, and very glad for it. My swing is much more consistent and reliable, not to mention powerful.

    Good luck to your student!

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