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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

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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