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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

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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