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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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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

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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