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Get a grip on your club face at impact

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“The golf ball doesn’t lie.” As an instructor, that’s something I commonly say to my students — or at least what I’m thinking.

The way the ball flies tells us nearly everything we need to know about impact. The problem is, players often look to tear apart their swing entirely to fix a ball flight issue, when in reality it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Fixing your ball flight can be as simple as straightening out your grip to achieve the flight you desire.

Recently, one of my players who’s preparing to turn professional came to me with a problem — all of his driver shots were flaring to the right. At 6 foot 4 inches tall with a solid frame, this player generates a ton of power. His driver speed has been clocked at upwards of 130 mph.

Now, when you’re working with an elite talent with a great swing, the first thing you do is look for the obvious. It’s the Occam’s Razor effect of golf instruction. Occam’s Razor is basically a principle that states “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”

How does that apply to instruction? Let’s put it this way: If you’re driving down the highway and your car suddenly sputters and stops, do you immediately decide that you need to rip out the engine and put in a new one? Do you call roadside assistance and tell them “bring me a new engine!” Or do you first look for the obvious and check your gas gauge? Of course, you look for the simplest explanation; I’m out of gas. It’s the same concept when working with an elite golfer.

So when he came for a session hitting this odd shot I looked for simple first. Here were his numbers from our radar testing:

RobStranoArticle-4[Leland]

The FlightScope data above shows the before (swings 1-5) and after (6-10).

You can see how wide open the club face was at impact, with a face-to-target pointing between 3.6 and 6.5 degrees right. Also, he was hitting it a mile in the air with too much spin, and lots of horizontal launch to the right. His path numbers were solid, so I began to mentally peel away at the logical variables that might be affecting his driver outcome.

We began to analyze his swing on video, focusing on how his hands moved from setup and through impact, changing the angle of the face.

It was apparent that his hands had slipped into a weak position at setup, putting the face in an open position at the top of his backswing. So we looked at the data and video, and using Occam’s Razor concept, deduced that his hands needed to slide toward the stronger side of the grip. That small grip change produced drastically different numbers, as seen by swings 6-10. His speed jumped, his face squared and ball flight and spin dropped to much more playable numbers. The dramatic change in carry and distance was astounding. Also, his horizontal launch straightened out significantly — it looks like we may have solved the riddle.

Growing up, I played at a country club full of tour players, including a past Masters champion, and if I heard this once, I heard it a million times: “The back of the left hand controls the club face.” What I did with my player above was put his hand in a position that required zero change in how he released the club. The back of the left hand just oriented the face in a different direction at impact and straightened out the ball flight.

So if you feel like you are swinging well, but the ball is flying offline in a certain direction, look to make the following adjustments before revamping your swing:

  • If you are missing right, turn your left hand to the right more (Clockwise for a RH player) and the face will point more to the left at impact.
  • If you are missing it left, give your left hand a little turn to the left (Counterclockwise for RH player) and the face will point a little more rightward at impact.

Start with small changes in hand position because a little goes a long way here — a tenth of a degree can make a drastic difference at impact. So don’t overdo it, more is not better in this instance.

With a simple grip change and a good swing path, you will see the ball on line more often, and have the confidence to swing faster through impact.

Moral of the story? Don’t immediately try to overhaul your entire swing, when something as simple as moving your grip a touch can make all the difference!

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If you are an avid Golf Channel viewer you are familiar with Rob Strano the Director of Instruction for the Strano Golf Academy at Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, FL. He has appeared in popular segments on Morning Drive and School of Golf and is known in studio as the “Pop Culture” coach for his fun and entertaining Golf Channel segments using things like movie scenes*, song lyrics* and familiar catch phrases to teach players. His Golf Channel Academy series "Where in the World is Rob?" showed him giving great tips from such historic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, on a Gondola in Venice, Tuscany Winery, the Roman Colissum and several other European locations. Rob played professionally for 15 years, competing on the PGA, Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide and NGA/Hooters Tours. Shortly after embarking on a teaching career, he became a Lead Instructor with the golf schools at Pine Needles Resort in Pinehurst, NC, opening the Strano Golf Academy in 2003. A native of St. Louis, MO, Rob is a four time honorable mention U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Youth Golf Instructor and has enjoyed great success with junior golfers, as more than 40 of his students have gone on to compete on the collegiate level at such established programs as Florida State, Florida and Southern Mississippi. During the 2017 season Coach Strano had a player win the DII National Championship and the prestigious Nicklaus Award. He has also taught a Super Bowl and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a two-time NCAA men’s basketball national championship coach, and several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players. His PGA Tour players have led such statistical categories as Driving Accuracy, Total Driving and 3-Putt Avoidance, just to name a few. In 2003 Rob developed a nationwide outreach program for Deaf children teaching them how to play golf in sign language. As the Director of the United States Deaf Golf Camps, Rob travels the country conducting instruction clinics for the Deaf at various PGA and LPGA Tour events. Rob is also a Level 2 certified AimPoint Express Level 2 green reading instructor and a member of the FlightScope Advisory Board, and is the developer of the Fuzion Dyn-A-line putting training aid. * Golf Channel segments have included: Caddyshack Top Gun Final Countdown Gangnam Style The Carlton Playing Quarters Pump You Up

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. other paul

    Aug 20, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    I have a pull hook that is so bad right now. Face is totally shut to path. I hit a 9i with a 50 yard hook. Totally driving me crazy. I was just glad the hole played the same way and I was still in the fairway. If I hit the fw on my first shot I made par or birdie. If I missed it was a double bogey because the ball is gone forever.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 21, 2015 at 9:12 am

      Paul-
      Thanks for your note and I have seen this issue many times.
      I want you to try this simple thing.
      Almost everyone that does what you describe end up aiming huge to the right to cover the total curve of the shot and keep it in play. I want you to do the OPPOSITE…Aim up the left edge of the fairway and do this determined to keep the ball to the right. Over time your internal sense of target and aim will recalibrate and you will start to push the ball back to the right. One more thing, do this with less power in the swing. Shut it down to 75% to start with so you can feel the club face and control it to make the path go more to the right.
      I have seen this simple thought work on the practice area all the time where I have someone aim at a flag straight ahead but try to hit the ball to an alternate target 50 yards to the right. I tell them do not let the ball go left at any price.
      Hope this helps!

  2. agolfman

    Aug 19, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Rob, agree wholeheartedly with identifying the simplest answer to what can seem like a complex problem…many things in life would benefit from that approach.

    I had a similar observation via my Flightscope earlier in the summer, with almost exactly the same path and face issues, granted at 100mph club head speed. My fix was along these same lines of simplicity (I’m old school weaker grip though). I was able to switch my club head to a draw setting while at the same time closing my stance slightly. Straightened my driver out instantly. Keep up the good work!

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 19, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for the note and I loved one specific line you typed…
      “I was able to switch my club head to a draw setting”…Think about that comment for a second! As of about 5 years ago you would have never been able to say that. Aren’t adjustable clubheads just awesome…!!!

  3. Steve

    Aug 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Do you think that teaching pros are cutting their own throats, Using trackman, flightscope etc. One would think it is only a matter of time that one could go to a golf lab, for lack of better words. Where they could put you on a swing analyzer and the computer could generate what problems there are and ways to fix it. Wouldnt need a teacher, just some kid to put the data in. It happened years ago in the music industry with Pro Sounds, which made working musicians obsolete.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 19, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      Steve
      Thanks for the note and thoughts.
      I disagree with your future prognostication.
      Golf instruction is an art form and it takes a good keen eye, lot of experience and a person who knows what the influences of the changes are on the person. Also, a great instructor works to build a swing that the player can perform and recognizes all the limiting factors on a non-tour player who loves to play the game. The tech is there to verify only. I do not think the tech is cutting our throats as you say. I have one tour player I coach and we never use the tech…NEVER…I can see what he is doing and dial him in from what I know and see of his tendencies. That is why a cookie cutter coach struggles with some players not being able to make the swing they are coaching. They simply cannot perform the motion! So using a computer and golf tech to cookie cutter a solution simply will never work in golf.
      Also… Not all past players make great coaches but I can tell you that my experience as a player is a huge asset in coaching others to improve. Cannot get that from input plugged into a computer. The best of us will always us the tech but we understand how to use it and when to use it! Thanks again and play great the rest of the year!

      • Steve

        Aug 19, 2015 at 1:31 pm

        Your in the buisness and no more then me. But for the average joe looking to find out swing flaws. I think it would appeal to them. For aspiring elite and elite golfers another set of eyes will help. Maybe i am a tainted golfer, i took lessons and hear lessons being given and it is all cookie cutter. I have watch teachers, teaching a group on a chipping tell ” ok i will be back in awhile”. Really thanks for taking my money and driving away

        • Rob Strano

          Aug 19, 2015 at 3:48 pm

          That’s just brutal Steve…
          Not what happens at my academy with me and my students.
          When I am awake staring at the ceiling thinking about my players games my wife will tell me the next day….”You care more about their games than they do!”

  4. Alex

    Aug 18, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Is it possible for the instructor to just diagnose and make the change without going through the flightscope and video sessions first? I mean, old school.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 18, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Alex
      Thanks for the comment.
      And the answer is yes and that is what we did in this case. I only ran the Flightscope to show him the evidence that what we were doing was correcting his issue. Kind of like if a tire on your car won’t hold air and you take it in to have then replace it and when they take it off the car they show you the nail in the tread. You know it’s leaking you just cannot see why. This helps the player see the leak and know there are not multiple problems.

  5. vince guest

    Aug 18, 2015 at 5:08 am

    Lee Trevino built his own unique swing around his grip and controlling the relationship between the club face and the back of his left hand.Turned out he knew what he was doing.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 18, 2015 at 10:05 am

      One time I heard Lee say – “When I want to hit the ball to the right I push it over there and when I want to hit it to the left I pull it over there”
      Same thing we are saying Vince….Clubface and back of LH control
      Thanks for the note and play well

  6. Mat

    Aug 17, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    It’s difficult to make small adjustments to single concepts because it takes a longer time. After you’ve beat a couple hundred balls, you wonder if it’s the adjustment or if you’re tired. Discipline like this is what separates players, and I try to have it… it is a very tough challenge.

  7. OKMrazor

    Aug 17, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    I can’t fault this logic.

  8. TR1PTIK

    Aug 17, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    I was having issues similar to that of your student – though exponentially worse – and while I was on the range yesterday I discovered that a small change in my setup and gripping the club a little stronger with my right hand (only) resulted in significantly better driving. I still don’t have the swing that I would like to have, but at least I can go out and shoot a reasonable score. Sometimes, that’s enough.

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Instruction

WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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Instruction

WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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