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Practice the Nail Drill to improve your swing without thinking about it



Golfers often forget that they hold a massive amount of instinctive intelligence. They usually interrupt this with their own adult and analytical ways of learning things, breaking down their swings into a million pieces and trying to build them back up again.

What I have found as a golf instructor is that there is a massive amount of free technique in an intention. What do I mean by this? If I were to ask you to change your intention of how you hit the ball, I can often make 10 changes in your technique… without you even thinking about it.

During my years of teaching, I was lucky enough to come across this drill very early on. I have become better at adapting it to different players for a whole host of varying faults. I have also used it to set more golfers on a better path than I can count, and I want to share it with you today.

The Drill

Hold the club up at chest high and flip it so it looks like an axe. Then, imagine there is a big nail in front of you. Without thinking about how to do it, swing back and strike the imaginary nail. Repeat this move a few times being as instinctive as possible.

234Part 2

Place a club on a bucket as shown below. Repeat the same process, imagining the club as your nail. Swing back and keep your intention on the nail. Don’t hit the club of course, but swing the club back and toward the nail as if you were going to hit it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 12.33.46 PMnail-0181


Last part

Now, drop it down to ground level. Imagine the nail is through the ball (I actually own a ball with a nail driven through it so people don’t have to visualize it). Flip the club the correct way (with the face facing where you want the ball to start) and repeat the feeling. Your mind will want you to go back to all the analytical thoughts about your swing, but don’t let it. Keep that instinctive focus on the nail.

straight nail dowsized

If driving a nail through the ball was your goal, what would your swing look like?

What this drill can fix and improve

I have seen incredible swing changes with students in the space of one swing, simply by working with this intention. And the best part is they are not thinking about swing changes; the movement is responding to the intention, just like movement is supposed to work in nature.

With this drill, I have seen improvements in:

  • Swing plane
  • Club face control
  • Strike quality
  • The grip
  • Wrist movement
  • Pivot
  • Weight shift
  • Head movement
  • Sequencing

I could make the list longer, but you get the point. Sure, the drill may not be a perfect representation of what goes on in the swings of elite golfers, but it gets pretty close. And it can make years of hard work on your swing fall into place instantly.

The Science

There is a lot of science that supports this drill, too, from the areas of your brain you are using when doing the drill to the actual performance you get on the range and the golf course. There is a lot of motor learning research supporting the benefits of what we call external foci, a focus on something external to your body, like a nail as opposed to internal foci such as arm movement, shoulder movement, etc.

It is also great to get overly analytical people to simplify their mindset. Being overly analytical myself, it has certainly benefited me as well.


The No. 1 goal of golfers is to achieve consistency on the course, and this drill will help you get on that path. Not only does it influence mechanical consistency (I have never seen someone take the axe back wildly off-plane, but it allows a player to play and learn with one singular thought that can stay the same from day to day).

This is opposed to how most golfers think, varying thoughts from swing to swing, and it removes the uncertainty about how much of a swing though or feeling golfers need to apply on a particular swing or day.

I know a lot of advanced readers on GolfWRX may balk at the simplicity of this idea, but I urge you to try this drill before you dismiss it. I’ve found that golfers who know a lot about the golf swing may actually benefit more from this drill than anyone.

Editor’s Note: Adam discusses these principles and much more in his book, “The Practice Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Golfers,” which is available on Amazon.

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Adam is a golf coach and author of the bestselling book, "The Practice Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Golfers." He currently teaches at Twin Lakes in Santa Barbara, California. Adam has spent many years researching motor learning theory, technique, psychology and skill acquisition. He aims to combine this knowledge he has acquired in order to improve the way golf is learned and potential is achieved. Adam's website is Visit his website for more information on how to take your game to the next level with the latest research.



  1. jim

    Jul 8, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    This is great golf drill that i’ve used for years, i also built a nice dog house with this drill.

  2. Zak

    Jun 15, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Without reading all the comments, Shawn Clement uses this analogy a lot. It helps and in some cases, greatly simplifies a swing into one thought. It’s a very useful way to use and understand the weight of the clubhead.

  3. John Grossi

    Jun 14, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Adam, thanks for this article. After reading it, I realized I focus on internal foci. Some major swing changes this winter and spring left my swing out of sequence. I hit a lot of range balls, concentrating on things like “get the hands over the right shoulder on my backswing”, or a balancing thought, all internal foci. I took this external drill to the range this morning and played 9 holes this afternoon with it. I firmly believe it is the real deal. A friend of mine uses Hogan’s thought of the basketball bounce pass on his shots, and he is an excellent player. I believe this would be external foci also. thanks again.

  4. The lowdown

    Jun 14, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Strong grip, keep the club face facing the ball till the shaft is parallel to the ground, take the club up, butt of grip points just inside the ball, drop the arms, hit the inside of the golf ball, try to have impact position look like the hands at address (limit face rotation), 1 o’clock divot for right hand

    • Dan Nichele

      Jul 1, 2015 at 4:26 am

      Have Your hands going towards the ball on the through swing not straight down. This gives you more room through impact. You’re welcome.

  5. Andy

    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:28 am

    Good stuff Adam, thanks for sharing this.

  6. Gary Gutful

    Jun 13, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    So many rude comments from absolute muppets.

    Here’s a drill for you – take your bladed 5 iron and stick it up your backside you smug gits.

    • Scott

      Jun 13, 2015 at 5:36 pm

      Now, now lil’ Gary, don’t get all upset and start crying like a baby because you think somebody said something rude. Go tell your mommy that you need a hug and some soft, kind words whispered in your tender ear. That’ll make you feel a lot better. A diaper change will probably help too. Okay lil’ fellow?

      • Gary Gutful

        Jun 13, 2015 at 9:39 pm

        I’d love to but unfortunately I can’t. My mother died after someone who tried this drill hit a stray nail between her eyes. Unfortunately when the ambulance arrived everyone spent more time arguing about who invented the drill instead of sending her to hospital. Tragic really but being the upstanding gentleman that you are I am sure you wouldn’t have meant any harm by bringing it up. Have a lovely day, tough guy.

  7. Christosterone

    Jun 13, 2015 at 10:12 am

    I have a solution…swing with a reverse c…Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Vijay and Colin Montgomerie come to mind as swingers whose head stayed down and back and this causes the body to do a very similar, repeatable series of athletic moves….their reverse c swings allowed them to rise to elite levels of greatness…
    I am 41 and my back has never suffered even though I copy as best I can every single move of Monty. I have spent years emulating him…
    As a side note, it’s nice to see another Monty acolyte, Robert Streb on tour…the reverse c is making a comeback.

  8. Steve Wozeniak

    Jun 13, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Good drill, but you should have the face square on ALL of the scenarios……any good hitter in any sport will do this……

    Steve Wozeniak PGA

  9. Rich

    Jun 13, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Thank you for your article. If you are working with a student who badly comes over the top,other than the drill described above, what have you found to be the most effective, concept, focus, drill, or thought to produce an inside-out path? Also, what conceptual errors seem to be the root cause of this problem? My own view is that it stems from the “hit impulse.” It just seems more natural to hit an object (or person) coming to the object by rotating the shoulders first and then coming in at 180 degrees rather than approaching the object on a diagonal line.
    By the way, you’re book is terrific. Please ignore the trolls.


    • Adam Young

      Jun 13, 2015 at 8:43 am

      Thank you Rich,
      I will say this, I have never seen someone do the nail drill and come over the top. The normal cause for someone reverting to an over the top move is what we call an ‘attractor state’ in motor learning – basically our subconscious has an ingrained idea of how it wants to hit the ball.

      My value as a coach stems from my ability to bridge the gap between the motion someone makes without a ball and the motion with the ball. This is usually 100% mental.

      My usual port of call with someone who makes the right action without a ball then reverts with a ball is to take the ball away and gradually add it back when the move is successful. We then go through stages progressing all the way from chip shots to full swing, moving up a stage when they maintain the move.

      The easy part is the technique – the hard part is the mental side to creating a new technique

      • Rich

        Jun 13, 2015 at 11:23 am

        Thank you for your reply. I completely agree with your emphasis on the subconscious mind. That ball is the devil, LOL! I swing perfectly on plane with my practice swing away from the ball. The sequence is fine as well. But with the ball…
        Just to clarify,when working with someone who reverts, when you take away the ball do you keep it away for a few swings and then return it for a few swings, or do you actually randomly place the ball down at times or remove it at times *during* the swing?
        By the way, I’m currently taking a series of lessons with a gentleman who knows you and thinks highly of you. Can you be reached via PM on this site, as I’m not comfortable with putting names out here on a public forum?

  10. MHendon

    Jun 12, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Any drill that encourages your naturally athleticism is ok by me. To many people try and turn the golf swing into a science and seem to forget, golf is actually a sport.

    • Steve

      Jun 12, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      The sweet science of boxing doesnt apply to you.

  11. Kris

    Jun 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Great stuff Adam – keep it coming!

  12. Clay

    Jun 12, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Great drill Adam. I had not seen this before so thank you for this article!

  13. Winmac

    Jun 12, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Thanks for the drill. I used to break my swing into millions. In fact I had 2 stage swings as my buddies called it because I was trying to mimic the perfect swing. After I change my mentality to creating an in out clubhead path, then the swing improves dramatically and eveything else i.e. Weight shifts, postures, swing plane falls in place. So I agree on the external foci method. I’ll try to hit a nail on the ball and see how it goes.

  14. lars

    Jun 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    What’s with all the haters on this site?! 59 Shanks??? Seriously??? This is a great drill and I don’t think Adam claimed to be the progenitor of it. Give the dude a break.

    Great drill Adam! I couldn’t agree with you more about shutting down the analytical aspect of the golf swing. We didn’t get analytical when we learned to sign our names, yet our signatures are almost identical every single time. In fact, if you try to copy your signature (i.e. analytical) it is MUCH more difficult. Same goes for any learned motor behavior (E.g. riding a bike, tying shoelaces, brushing teeth, etc). Think about it and it becomes insanely difficult.

    Keep up the good work, and I apologize for all the haters out there.

  15. acemandrake

    Jun 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Sounds good. I’m for anything that “de-clutters” my mind.

  16. James

    Jun 12, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Nick Bradley? You mean the guy who almost put Justin Rose in a wheelchair teaching an S-Posture?

    Adam keep up the good work. This particular drill may not be your drill but your teaching and insight is light years beyond others in terms of depth.


    • Adam young

      Jun 12, 2015 at 4:23 pm

      Thank you james.
      Yes, I apologise if it came across that I invented this drill (I was under the assumption that almost all drills are recycled), but I hope this article maybe gives a fresh take / reminds people / introduces people to this way of thinking.

      My main premise behind this article is the idea that technique can self organize around a clear concept, and that external foci fit in with the science.

      Glad you enjoyed

      • John

        Jun 13, 2015 at 7:25 am

        “External foci”

        BINGO!! I read somewhere that they tested 3000 chronic over the top slicers and divided them into 3 groups. First group was taught to focus on swinging the clubhead out to the right approx at “1:00” through impact….External Foci

        Second group was told to focus on keeping their right shoulder/upper body back and more behind them along with footwork…Internal Foci.

        And the third group was where the students tried both methods as they so wished…Control Group.

        The results were astonishing…the external foci group had a HUGE improvement in their club path and plane…the external group…barely measurable. After a few months times, they measured the student’s swings again and the external foci group actually were able to maintain their improved path though the ball…the other two groups basically showed no improvement.

        External thoughts are IMO 300% more effective than internal thoughts…of foci.

        Great article…I use something similar for teaching my students. The good ole Melhorn Grasswhip….and a SNAG snapper.

  17. David

    Jun 12, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Mr. Young – Would you please stop copying other golf teacher/instructor/coach’s training material without giving them credit, and claiming it to be your original ideas? That’s a question…

    • Adam Young

      Jun 12, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      Hi David,

      Yes, I know I am not the first to do this idea – as I stated in the article, I picked it up early on in my teaching at the academy I worked at. And I am sure the guys I learned it from picked it up from others.

      So, I will credit the guys at Cranfield Golf Academy – not sure who passed it down to them.

      We all stand on the shoulders of giants in this industry.

    • Adam Young

      Jun 12, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Sorry, David, I just rechecked the article and I do say “During my years of teaching, I was lucky enough to come across this drill very early on. ”

      I don’t think I ever mentioned inventing it or it being my original idea. However, the presentation and pictures are my own

      • Steve

        Jun 12, 2015 at 5:57 pm

        FYI saying “During my years of teaching, I was lucky enough to come across this drill very early on. ” is not giving credit to anyone. You are coming across like a bulls***er. Especially when I read your bio. Author of best selling book? By who’s standard? Didnt see it on the new york times best seller list.

        • QB

          Jun 12, 2015 at 6:39 pm

          Here we go with “Steve” again, your about as obnoxious as they get.

    • Terry Alverson

      Jun 12, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      David: I had to go back and read the introduction and at no time does Adam claim this is his drill. He specifically says he “come across this drill very early on.” Reality is if you can think it someone else has most likely already thought it.

    • Winmac

      Jun 12, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      Steve, what’s with the rage man?. Never in his article had he mentioned the drill was his. And his intention is just to declutter the swing thoughts and hopefully it works on you. He’s not selling books here. You, on another hand had not contributed anything. So, why don’t you err go hit a few hundreds more?

      • QB

        Jun 12, 2015 at 6:47 pm

        Lol rage….right? And that’s what he was accusing me of last week for no apparent reason. I guess what goes around comes around! Funny stuff.

        • Steve

          Jun 12, 2015 at 7:18 pm

          Didnt know, your the roids guy. Thanks fo following.

          • QB

            Jun 14, 2015 at 10:00 pm

            And your the idiot that nobody cares for.

            • QB

              Jun 14, 2015 at 10:10 pm

              Its too bad your jealous of my knowledge and good luck with the bad attitude I’m sure everybody avoids you because of it.

              • Steve

                Jun 15, 2015 at 9:33 am

                The roids have to be rotting your brain. Or i am so in your head, that you comment and 10 minutes later have to comment again. Either way thanks for folowing me around the site like my little pet.
                RAGE ON

                • QB

                  Jun 16, 2015 at 3:10 pm

                  Follow you around the site lol, yeah I read articles and check out the comments and you think I’m following you around the site. You really are full of yourself. A bad attitude about everything and full of yourself, man you got a lot going for you lol good luck with that buddy.

        • Steve

          Jun 16, 2015 at 4:03 pm

          This coming from a guy that posted 5 times here and not once about the topic. Just reponses to my post. So yeah you do follow me around when all you do is repond to me, my pet. Jealous of your knowledge? You havent shown any, since you dont post about the topic. RAGE ON, my little stalker pet

  18. Steve

    Jun 12, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    “In one of his books”

  19. Steve

    Jun 12, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Didnt Nick Bradley have something like this in ne f his books?

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