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How wide should your golf swing be?

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There is a lot of information about the importance of swing width, and I don’t think any good instructor would argue the value of sufficient width in the golf swing. But many golfers struggle with the concept, because they don’t fully understand what swing width means.

Let’s define swing width in simple terms — it’s the distance the golf club travels away from the golf ball. Here’s an image that may help: Let’s say the player faces 12 o’clock. The club travels a certain width from 3 to 9 o’clock, and another width from 12 to 6 o’clock. The video below explains the concept in more detail.

Swing width greatly varies from player to player, and has two functions: It can create speed, but most importantly, it determines the bottom of the swing arc. 

Swings that are too wide (think of a U shape) stay along the ground too long and can bottom out behind the ball. Swings that are too narrow (think of a V shape) get in and out of the ground more quickly and can bottom out too late, or too far in front of the golf ball. With that somewhat vague definition, let me discuss what can create swing width or the lack of it.

Factors that contribute to more swing width:

  • Flat swing plane.
  • Lateral body motion off the ball (swaying).
  • Arm extension (late wrist set).
  • An early release on the downswing.

Factors that contribute to less swing width:

  • Upright swing plane.
  • Centered, and/or “stacked” pivot.
  • Early wrist set or retracted lead arm.
  • Late release (lag).

How much width is good or needed? If you are a regular reader of my instructional articles, you know the answer: enough width to create sufficient speed AND bottom the club out where it should bottom out, slightly in front of the ball on shots hit off the ground and slightly behind the ball on shots hit with the driver.

So how do you do that?

Let’s discuss the 3-to-9 width first. I like to think of it like this: A golfer’s backswing is a preference, but their backswing and downswing must complement each other.

A golfer with an early release: You have to accept a swing arc bottom that will occur early. To complement it, you need a takeaway that helps move your swing bottom forward a bit. For you, an upright swing, a more centered or “stacked” weight shift, and a narrow arm swing going back are going to help that.

In other words, wide and early is a dangerous combination.

A golfer with a “late hit,” or a lot of lag: You can expect a swing bottom that is much farther forward than an earlier release player. To complement it, you’ll want to move off the ball, and/or swing flatter and get your arms extended away from your body. It’s just the opposite of the early-release swing.

When I was younger, I remember being taught to “ring the bell” or “pull the handle down.” “Don’t throw the head,” was another popular tip. They were all good thoughts, I suppose, but remember we were in an era where where the top players used a “reverse-c” swing and all had a lot of rear side bend. They were well behind the ball.

In other words, narrow and late is a dangerous combination.

Now let’s discuss the 6-to-12 width of the swing. Here we are thinking in terms of distance from the golf ball and how around or up the swing is. The key to effective center face contact is distance from the ball. If you have a vertical action to your swing, you’ll need to stand in a bit closer to the ball. “What goes up must come down” applies.

If you have a more horizontal motion (flatter), you’ll need a little more distance because “what goes around, comes around.”

Posture and distance from the golf ball are the factors that largely determine swing plane, and you need to — here’s that word again — complement your swing width with the distance you stand from the ball. It’s the chicken-or-the-egg theory; how far you stand from the ball determines plane, and plane determines how far you stand from the ball.

This article is yet another example of how I see and teach the golf swing. I came upon this view over years of watching all the great swings. In the Hall of Fame there are literally dozens of swing types; their commonality is IMPACT. The way those golfers chose to get there was largely preference, but the parts they chose always complemented each other.

I hope this helps, and as always, send me an email or message me on my Facebook page with any questions!

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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

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Johann van der Walt

    Oct 22, 2015 at 2:01 am

    I have read Dennis’s article very carefully and find it to be the best advice I have ever had for my particular swing. I tend to have an early release, and what he says makes perfect sense and has enabled me to improve my ball striking tremendously.

  2. Dennis Clark

    Oct 16, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    you’re welcome; glad it helped!

  3. McCleod

    Oct 16, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I appreciate the article. I believe that I now understand why I tend to hit the ball fat.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Oct 15, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Yes, correct; you’re way too shallow. Gary Player is a classic example; that why he walked through every shot because he was so wide! Thx

  5. Alex

    Oct 15, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    I finally understand why I can’t swing like Jason Dufner lol. I too learned the swing during the reverse C days and as a kid we tried to swing like Norman or Tom Watson. If I try to go too flat and to wide, I can’t even get near the ground in the downsing.

    Good article.

  6. JeffL

    Oct 15, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I couldn’t really follow the article. But the video was visual, and made a lot of sense. This sort of article NEEDS examples to be understood. If you disagree with or didn’t understand the article, try watching the video.

  7. Tanner

    Oct 15, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Good article, Dennis. I am not sure why most golfers like to take pot shots at the pros who are trying to help us. Thanks, for continuing to write for us WRX’ers despite these folks. In my case, I sway, narrow at the top, a sway and an early release. Would I benefit from staying more stacked? Anything else? Cheers Tanner

  8. Pingback: How wide should your golf swing be? | GolfJay

  9. Dennis Clark

    Oct 14, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    . Read through my articles. Theres a theme: IF this THEN that. Grip, posture, back swing etc are preferences not fundamentals. The only fundamental is squaring the club face on a good path at a good angle into impact. Everything else is window dressing.

  10. devilsadvocate

    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Very nice article Dennis… Ignore the clowns with the armchair commentary… If they can’t wrap their heads around what you are saying then tough, this article wasn’t meant for them… However I will fold this info into my own way of teaching the game, just like all of your other articles… Thx and keep up the good work

  11. marcel

    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    whit all the respect on online video coaching tips. if i cant see the instructor playing – hitting – and see the result the video is pointless. I don’t have track-man eye sight to see if it was hook or what.

    there are few specialist like this Golf coach of the century Brain Manzella – who even takes pics of his sequence where he dips his forehead below the line of chin (starting position)… then trying to compensate… hmm and that suppose to teach? I have AAA+ coach that laughs at this stuff.

  12. Dennis clark

    Oct 14, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    If you spin around and fall down but square the face consistently, you have a good swing. Simple enough?

  13. Tahoedirt

    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Thin I’ll continue trying to copy Steve Stricker’s swing- Not a huge turn or width and very simple- Back and thru ??

  14. Tahoedirt

    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    Is it me or is there just an incredible ammount of conflicting information regarding the proper way to swing a golf club- It’s not helping me ??

    • Dennis clark

      Oct 14, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      This isn’t conflicting it’s just observations I’ve made over many years. The key is to find the best way for YOU. Get your parts to match and you’re good. Thx

  15. gvogel

    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Here is a more succinct answer: as wide as possible. At the end of your backswing, you want your hands to be as far away from your right ear as possible. But, here is the more important part: at the finish of your swing, you want your hands to be as far away from your left ear as possible.

    The more I play golf, and watch golfers, the more I realize that the width in the follow-through is the most important aspect of a real quality swing.

    • Dennis clark

      Oct 14, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      Is that something you teach your students?

      • Greg V

        Oct 15, 2015 at 9:06 am

        I teach them to finish in balance; the more width – hands away from their left ear – the better.

        A solid grip and a solid finish are two key components to getting students to swing through the ball, not at it. That helps to get the swing bottom in a better place, and the club squaring through impact.

        Everything after that is refinement.

  16. Greg V

    Oct 14, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Here is what Percy Boomer had to say about width:

    “1. It is essential to turn the body round to the right and then back and round to the left, without moving either way. In other words, this turning movement must be from a fixed pivot.
    2. It is essential to keep the arms at full stretch throughout the swing-through the backswing, the downswing, and the follow-through.
    3. It is essential to allow the wrists to break fully back at the top of the swing.
    4. It is essential to delay the actual hitting of the ball until as late in the swing as possible.
    5. It is essential not to tighten any muscle concerned in the reactive part of the swing (movement above the waist).
    6. It is essential to feel and control the swing as a whole and not to concentrate upon any part of it.

    In a sense this last point is the most vital. The swing must be considered and felt as a single unity, not as a succession of positions or even a succession of movements. The swing is one and indivisible.”

    I guess No’s 1 and 2 bear upon the subject; but remember No 6.

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Instruction

How to fix the root cause of hitting your golf shots fat

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Of all the shots golfers fear, hitting the ball FAT has to be right up at the top of the list. At least it heads the list of commonly hit poor shots (let’s leave the shank and the whiff out for now). After fat, I’d list topping, followed by slicing and then hooking. They are all round-killers, although the order of the list is an individual thing based on ability. Professionals despise a hook, but club golfers by and large fear FAT. Why?

First of all, it’s embarrassing. Secondly, it goes nowhere — at least compared to thin — and it can be physically painful! So to avoid this dreaded miss, golfers do any number of things (consciously or subconsciously) to avoid it. The pattern develops very early in one’s golf life. It does not take very many fat shots for golfers to realize that they need to do something differently. But rather than correct the problem with the correct move(s), golfers often correct a fault with a fault.

Shortening the radius (chicken-winging), raising the swing center, early lower-body extension, holding on through impact (saving it), running the upper body ahead of the golf ball and even coming over the top are all ways of avoiding fat shots. No matter how many drills I may offer for correcting any of those mistakes, none will work if the root cause of fat is not addressed.

So what causes fat? We have to start with posture. Some players simply do not have enough room to deliver the golf club on a good plane from inside to inside. Next on the list of causes is a wide, early cast of the club head. This move is invariably followed by a break down in the lead arm, holding on for dear life into impact, or any of the others…

“Swaying” (getting the swing center too far off the golf ball) is another cause of fat, as well as falling to the rear foot or “reversing the weight.” Both of these moves can cause one to bottom out well behind the ball. Finally, an excessive inside-out swing path (usually the fault of those who hook the ball) also causes an early bottom or fat shot, particularly if the release is even remotely early. 

Here are 4 things to try if you’re hitting fat shots

  1. Better Posture: Bend forward from the hips so that arms hang from the shoulders and directly over the tips of the toes, knees slightly flexed over the shoelaces, seat out for balance and chin off the chest!
  2. Maintaining the Angles: Casting, the natural urge to throw the clubhead at the golf ball, is a very difficult habit to break if one is not trained from the start. The real correction is maintaining the angle of the trail wrist (lag) a little longer so that the downswing is considerably more narrow than the backswing. But as I said, if you have been playing for some time, this is risky business. Talk to your instructor before working on this!
  3. Maintaining the Swing Center Over the Golf Ball: In your backswing, focus on keeping your sternum more directly over the golf ball (turning in a barrel, as Ernest Jones recommended). For many, this may feel like a “reverse pivot,” but if you are actually swaying off the ball it’s not likely you will suddenly get stuck with too much weight on your lead foot.
  4. Setting Up a Little More Open: If your swing direction is too much in-to-out, you may need to align your body more open (or feel that way). You could also work with a teaching aid that helps you feel the golf club is being swung more out in front of you and more left (for right-handers) coming through — something as simple as a head cover inside the golf ball. You’ll hit the headcover if you are stuck too far inside coming down.

The point is that most players do what they have to do to avoid their disastrous result. Slicers swing way left, players who fight a hook swing inside out and anybody who has ever laid sod over the golf ball will find a way to avoid doing it again. This, in my opinion, is the evolution of most swing faults, and trying to correct a fault with a fault almost never ends up well.

Get with an instructor, get some good videos (and perhaps even some radar numbers) to see what you are actually doing. Then work on the real corrections, not ones that will cause more trouble.

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Right Knee Bend: The Difference Between PGA Tour Players and Amateurs

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The knees play an especially important role in the golf swing, helping to transfer the forces golfers generate through our connection with the ground. When we look closer at the right knee bend in the golf swing, we’re able to get a better sense of how PGA Tour players generate power compared to most amateur golfers.

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How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location

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One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:

Observations

  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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