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5 reasons you don’t take divots

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Should you take a divot? It’s a fair question I’m asked a lot, and my short answer is “yes.”

For most shots hit from the turf, most great strikers of the ball take a divot a few inches in front of the golf ball. Not all, mind you, as it is an individual thing, but most do. The club descent at the bottom of the swing, known as the attack angle, is about 4 degrees down for a 6 iron for tour pros. If that’s the case, what creates it, what do you have to do to facilitate this? Many golfers struggle in this area. They either take a divot behind the ball or take no divot at all. Why?

Here are a few reasons you can’t take a divot, or “find the bottom” as we say:

A Flat Swing

If a player tends to swing the club around his body, he will struggle with taking turf. Flat swings can produce shallow attack angles, and create wide swing bottoms than don’t come into impact steeply enough. I say CAN, because remember, I’m referring to the downswing.

Some flat backswings come over the top from there and create enough steepness to find turf, even too much turf, such as the the “in-and-over” move so common in many players. But when the downswing is really wide and around, it’s very difficult to get a divot. If this is your problem, try simply standing a bit closer and swinging more UP.  “Reach for the sky,” I often tell my players. Hitting balls from a side-hill, below-your-feet lie is good for this problem. It may force you to reach up a bit and hit down more

“Hang Back”

Bad-Golfer

When a player’s center of mass tends to stay on the back foot, with considerable rear side bend (I call it hang back), the bottom of the swing arc can be too far behind the ball and the club is ascending when it reaches impact. This shallow attack angle will not take much, if any, turf. Again, I say CAN because some players who have a lot of rear side bend counter it with a very late release — “lag” if you will. They come in sufficiently steep.

But most golfers do not.

If you’re guilty of hanging back, try putting more weight on your front foot, and keeping it there, much like the “stack-and-tilt” method promotes. In any case, you’ll have to feel like you are hitting from a downhill lie to keep your rear side from diving too far under the ball. Hang back NEVER occurs in a vacuum; it is always the result of another move —  sometimes a “reverse pivot,” sometimes an over-the-top move, sometimes trying to add loft… but rarely does one do it in and of itself.

Shortening the Swing Radius

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 3.30.48 PM

The goal of impact is to create a position very similar to the one at address. Not identical, of course, because of swing dynamics, but similar. This includes a similar arm length into impact.

At address, the lead arm is extended and the rear arm is slightly bent. This position is the one which we need to achieve coming into the golf ball, but if the rear arm (right for righties) gets extended, you can be sure that the left arm will be contracted.

The all too common “chicken wing” is usually the result of casting the club very early and shortening the radius of the left arm as a necessary deterrent to hitting behind the ball.  Again, like everything else in the golf swing, nothing happens in and of itself. A poor swing position is the result of another poor move that preceded it. Try simulating your address position with the lead arm EXTENDED and the trail arm slightly flexed in by your rig cage.

Raising the Swing Center

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 3.37.21 PM

I call this “bailing out,” meaning as the player comes into impact, he raises up, or stands taller, coming out of his original address bend. Here we go again: it’s usually the result of a swing plane that is far too steep in transition (starting the downswing). If the club is headed for a crash, as a very steep shaft will be, the only recourse is to bail out to avoid the dreaded fat shot.

The correction here is learning to transition a bit flatter, with the shaft of the club more similar to its original incline, in order to “stay in the shot.” You cannot simply “stop standing up.” It is usually the result of too steep a downswing starting down. Sound familiar? See above!

Try hitting some balls from a tee with the golf club not grounded, that is, off the ground about as high as the golf ball. Feel more “baseball-like” with your approach into the ball and this will help you “stay in the shot.”

The Release

RoryMcIlroyWRX

Lastly, there is always release point to consider. Any player’s hands should be a little ahead of the club head (called forward shaft lean) to hit down sufficiently to take a divot. That does NOT mean those who tend to release early cannot take a divot. If your center of mass is sufficiently forward, and the ball is positioned correctly for YOUR release, you can hit it early enough in your arc to take a divot.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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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

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Joe D

    Jul 13, 2016 at 2:15 am

    Since I went to a more upright swing my distance and accuracy improved significantly. It may be worthy to note that while most will take a divot with short irons, generally long irons will tend to be picked clean or swept. Even the pros that rip a long divot with short irons will take a very shallow divot, if any, with the long irons.

  2. Shankadoodle

    Sep 17, 2015 at 2:51 am

    Dennis , maybe you could help with my struggles (difficult with no video I know) i have always been a picker but recently it’s beyond a joke like I’ll hit the bottom grooves more than I’d like to then hit a top then miss completely and when I try to divot the ground during a practice swing I actually can’t get down to the floor I miss the ground completely, do i need more forward bend? When I try that I seem to bail out and miss anyway . I never thought I casted much I get decent distances off my irons 155 7 iron not sure you would get that far with a flip? Even though I fatted my driver yesterday!

  3. BigBoy

    Apr 14, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Divots are not necessary.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Apr 11, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Dave, the AA is only part of it. All divots are produced with a negative attack angle, but it has to with where the ball is struck on the arc, and how much forward shaft lean one has. IOW, Ive seen shallow AA with hands in front, and I’ve also seen steep AA with same amount of forward shaft lean…also dont discount 4 degrees, its more than it seems. Thx for reading

  5. dave boyd

    Apr 11, 2015 at 9:14 am

    the attack angle is about 4 degrees down for a 6 iron would it then be even less than that for longer irons. Would not think that 4 degrees would produce much of a divot.
    Thanks for the good article

  6. Rock

    Apr 10, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for the great thread

    Any tips or drills for a strong player that stands up on his toes at impact kinda like Matt Every? I have tried everything but still tend to do it all to often

    Thanks!

  7. Dennis Clark

    Apr 10, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Adam, a baseball swing is a flat swing, that’s why I’m confused. You could send a video. I have an on line service, Id be happy to look

  8. Mat

    Apr 10, 2015 at 12:42 am

    Reason #6 :

    You play in the desert Southwest, and know that a “divot” in some cases would result in a broken wrist.

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 10, 2015 at 8:54 am

      LOL! Agreed, that’s why Harvey Penick taught such a flat move…”picking” is way to play for sure

  9. Dennis Clark

    Apr 9, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Author’s note: Remember the title is “5 reasons you cant take a divot”
    …should have added “IF YOU WANT to take one”…nobody is saying you HAVE to. But when you hear about “pickers and sweepers” go watch them up close; you’ll see some turf fly, maybe not much but some on the mid to short irons

  10. marcel

    Apr 9, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    divots are overrated – i dont play divots and it had little difference on the distance or direction. reading golf instructions is like becoming a surgeon on online Uni… please give yourself a xmas pressie and get a golf coach… everyone is different and proper coach will fix you in no time.

  11. RG

    Apr 9, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    Hey Dennis,
    When I was a kid I watched Nancy Lopez at the Citrus Open and I remember thinking that you could re-sod your yard with the divots she took in a round. Then years later I saw Watson and that guy leaves no visible trace that he was even on the course. Sweeper supreme.
    So my question: Isn’t divot size /length/depth somewhat of a personal thing and can’t you have success with very little turf interaction ( especially hitting hybrids/FWs) ?

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 9, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Domingo Lopez, her dad, taught her to “deeg, Nancy deeg”…Watson took a divot albeit a slighter one. Trevino dug ditches. Its all individual.

    • TMTC

      Apr 10, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Jack Nicklaus never took divots either.
      When and if he did they weren’t worth mentioning they were so shallow.
      TMTC

      • Dennis clark

        Apr 10, 2015 at 10:53 pm

        Another reverse C era player…the most shallow divots ever during that era. A lot of bad backs but not many divots.

  12. Dennis Clark

    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    why do you want to flatten your swing?

    • Adam

      Apr 9, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      Dennis,
      I have a baseball swing that causes me to have a very upright swing, I normally do not take a divot, I usually hit it straight and low or get enough of good contact with hit it straight with a mid flight. my upright swing causes me to come though impact like the pic in #4, any suggestions to flatten the swing to I can stay in posture and compress the ball/make a divot?

    • Shankadoodle

      Sep 17, 2015 at 2:41 am

      I think he’s got the idea of flat swing/upright swing topsy turvy, not realising the baseball swing is the flattest golf swing to have, albeit upright thought of in a conventional manner. Maybe this thought may help him understand ‘The more the butt of the club points to the sky during the swing the steeper the swing is’.

  13. Adam

    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Dennis, I am a #4… What do you suggest I do to flatten my swing?
    Thank you

  14. Dennis Clark

    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Phil you are correct about set up, no question. But it is not a panacea. Ive seen quite good set ups make poor swings, but make no mistake: a poor set up, especially grip or posture, will very often misdirect a swing. Thx

    • Philip

      Apr 9, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      Okay, thanks. Maybe all those swing drills just helped me get my swing good enough and consistent enough to where it finally clicked with my setup. Like everything in life – little bit of this, little bit of that.

  15. Philip

    Apr 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I mean Dennis … sorry ’bout that

  16. Philip

    Apr 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Denis, I have a question regards the issues above and ways to correct them. If you could (i.e. the golfer is willing and patient enough) would you tend to focus more on a person’s set-up and finding their optimal swing triggers versus trying to adjust the swing through drills? I have been able to trace all my swing flaws back to my setup and triggers and can now tell by feel whether I am about to make a solid swing. If not, I can back off and know the adjustment I need to make to get my optimal feel before swinging. I’ve had no permanent success with swing drills in the past compared to working on my setup. Do most people just do better with drills and I happened to be one that didn’t?

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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