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Coming over the top doesn’t have to spell doom for your swing

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One of the most common phrases in golf instruction is “coming over the the top.” It’s a phrase even the most novice golfers use, but it is also very little understood.

First, let’s describe what is meant by “coming over the top” or “coming over it.” It’s a motion that sends the arms and club outside the target line and over the inclined plane that was set at address. It’s not in any way optimal, and can cause any number of issues. But in and of itself, it does not have to spell doom for golfers.

The real problem golfers run into is when they start their swings “out and over” the plane and then try to get the club back “in and under” the plane. I call this two moves from the top, and it’s generally far more destructive than a simple over-the-top move. In fact, given my druthers, I would much prefer that golfers simply keep their over-the-top motion; it is far better than trying to get the club back in and underneath the plane.

Look at it this way: if a player swings from outside the ball, the path is out-to-in, the attack angle a little steep and the face is open to the path. This is one way to play golf. Craig Stadler, Craig Parry and many other champion golfers swing this way. Bruce Lietzke made a wonderful career on the PGA Tour with an “in-and-over” move.

Their secret was simple: They made one move from the top of the swing. They didn’t attempt to re-route the club by backing up or reversing directions; just one move into the ball a little from the outside. Their rear sides fired down and through, which is the right side for right-handed players, and voila… a solid fade time after time.

By contrast, golfers who try to reverse direction in the downswing, actually pausing (imperceptibly) at some point and trying to get the club back to the inside, usually have very inconsistent results. They hit fat shots, thin shots, pushes and hooks, with solid shots being the exception, not the rule.

In fact, one of the most common causes of a reverse weight shift, or what I call “hanging back” through the ball, is starting down over the top and then trying to re-route the club. The “spin out” and “fall back” is the classic fault of mid- and high-handicap players.

I’m often asked by golfers how they can get “through the ball” better, or “get to their lead foot.” I explain to them that hanging back is often the result starting outside from the top and then trying to get back inside. No player has to “back up” simply because they started outside. The great players we watch exploding through the ball are hitting from the inside.

Having explained this from my years of watching it on the lesson tee, I will qualify it a bit; I am in NO WAY advocating coming over the top. I’m simply saying that if you do come over the top, you’ll have to accept a few things about your outcome:

  1. You’ll fade the ball.
  2. You can be prone to a pull.
  3. Your attack angle may be steep.
  4. You may not hit is as far as one who draws the ball.

Most golfers will hit better shots if they accept the move and don’t try to interrupt their natural motion by trying to get the club back insider.

For a deeper dive, see my video below.

If I can be of help to your game visit my Facebook page.

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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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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Bill T

    Feb 23, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Great article, I have an out to in. It pulls left and draws left but the distance is great. When I try to correct it I lose between 15-30 yards. I wish I could straighten that 30 yard pull and I would be happy. Any Ideas

  2. Mad-Mex

    Feb 25, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! GRACIAS!!!!!!!!!!

    My brother in law knows my swing better than anybody and has been trying to get me to come down inside-out for months since I have a “baby” out to in. I have no issues with distance loss now I can go back to enjoying the game and stop worrying so much about mechanics.

  3. Jim

    Feb 24, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    This is one of the best golf articles I’ve ever read explaining how many golfers get the club behind them coming down. The one thing is does not say is how damaging this two-move downswing motion is on the lower back. I 100% agree it is better to come over the top consistently than to try and re-route the club inside after you have moved it out above the plane.

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 24, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it. Outside in and shallow is a bad combo period. ????

  4. Someone

    Feb 24, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Isn’t this the concept of ledbetters A swing? Outside going up inside coming down?

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 24, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      I’m not familiar with the A swing enough to comment

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      It is. But Lead’s point is not a particularly controversial one. He thinks it’s mechanically more sound to be a little steeper from about waist-high to the top, then at the right plane angle on the downswing. The only thing that’s changed much in the A-swing is that he’s more or less saying it hardly matters what the backswing plane is, as long as it’s not inside-then-over. (He advocates what seems like an overly steep plane on the backswing, seemingly as an exercise to show how little it actually matters, as long as the downswing plane is good, similar to how baseball players drop the bat into plane with a similarly extreme move.) When you go back too far inside, you run out of room and the almost universally natural thing to do at that point is to get the club moving out and over to get to what feels like a complete backswing.

      Leadbetter has always advocated “steepen, then flatten,” though.

      If you’re interested, there’s an obscure book out there by a guy named Xichao Mo called _Decoding the Golf Swing Plane_. The book is, for my money anyway, the best and most up-to-date examination of the realities of the swing plane (and the best busting of swing-plane myths with empirical evidence) that you’re going to find. It confirms the notion that beyond the point where the right wrist and elbow joint make it necessary for the club to rise above its plane through impact (from about waist-high to waist-high), it doesn’t matter that much what “plane” the club is on, because there is no one single plane throughout the swing, nor really even — as Mo demonstrates — two planes (one above the waist and one below), both on the same swing angle, as Haney and Leadbetter et al. describe. At least the two-planes-one-angle thing is more accurate than the Hogan “sheet of glass,” or even “one-plane” theory, and thinking about plane at all, even on a technically erroneous model, will help people who are way off to start with. But as a matter of precise observation, Mo’s work is unsurpassed and unequalled, as far as I’m concerned (although I suppose its instructional value might be limited, or at least unexplored as yet).

      Anyway, Mo’s work actually supports most of what Leadbetter is after with the “A-swing,” regardless of how much anybody might be inclined to think the “A-swing” is mostly just another iteration of the same stuff, in an effort to sell some more books and DVDs. Hey, can’t blame a guy for making a living.

      An alternative view advanced by Luther Blacklock is the idea that the plane isn’t defined by the angle of the shaft at address (or relative to it), but rather by a line that goes from the sweet spot of the club through approximately the top of the sternum. His explanation of it and demonstrations of it are at least internally consistent and pretty convincing in some ways. I’d like to see an effort to resolve Mo’s work and Blacklock’s theory.

  5. John kuczeski

    Feb 24, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    The first move you demonstrated looked like Corey Pavin’s practice swing….thanks for the input!

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 24, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      Tiger too for a while under Haney. It’s a great feel drill for under…

  6. snowman

    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Nice article.; Your 4 point summary describes my tendencies exactly and I am a single digit handicap. I would love to draw the ball and hit it further and Im still trying to improve my path, but I’m self taught and apparently my Swing DNA is an OTT move…

  7. Easy tiger

    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Take some Ritalin buddy

  8. Andrew

    Feb 23, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Dennis, Great video – thx for sharing. Can one also be successful with an arms swing (swing your own swing) or do you still advocate swing from the ground up (lower body starts first)? Thanks, Andrew

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 23, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      Biomechanists tells us that all good golf swings use the ground as a source of power and force. I wrote a piece on this site about it a while ago.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      True, of course. But even the “arm-swing” advocates like Toski, Flick, et al. don’t say the arms ought to be all there is. Go back to their older stuff and you’ll see them making it absolutely clear that the body must support the arms-and-club swinging elements, and to do that the legs and hips move, you have to use the ground, etc.

      The question has always been how much rotational force can be applied, and when, and precisely how, in a way that doesn’t destroy the swinging elements. I think it’s evident that over the years, various changes in swing technique and equipment have increased the level of ground-up force that can be applied without destroying the swing.

      But then, it’s not so new. This all started not long after the steel-shaft era began. Snead always said “turn and burn,” for one thing. Even Toski and Jacobs advocated not getting loose with the lower body on the windup. Toski always said the farther from the ball any specific body part was, the more it should be responding rather than creating on the backswing — and then, whatever moved last on the backswing (feet and legs) was in position to move first on the downswing, as it should.

      I just think a lot of the “body-versus-arms” argument comes down to a difference in emphasis and a difference in what any specific player or class of players tends to need. If you’re a very good player, a tour-level player for instance, you already know how to create a lot of speed at the clubhead with a strong, free release. So maybe you need to look at how your body is supporting that motion, and what you focus on will sound a lot like “body swing.” For an amateur who has never felt what it’s like to produce that kind of speed, though, and who is already throwing his body (particularly his upper body) at the ball, he’s going to destroy his swing if “body release” is his dominant thought. Even going with something as undeniably solid as “ground-up” isn’t going to improve a release he never learned to make in the first place.

      It all reminds me of what Nicklaus said one time about the swing being a massing of many coordinated elements, and that you couldn’t say it was “all this” or “all that.” That kind of balanced approach was absolutely critical in making him so consistently excellent over such a long period of time. You could say exactly the same of Snead, who could talk about “turn and burn” and “hands snap” in the same two minutes.

  9. Jimmy

    Feb 23, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Plenty of great players have come over the top, George Knudson (the most accurate fairway wood player ever, could hit his carry distance within a yard and could stop his 3 wood with 1 hop) Craig Perry, Brendan De Jonge and many others play great, its about hitting it solid and being able to repeat it.

    • dennis clark

      Feb 23, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    • Steve

      Feb 24, 2016 at 12:26 am

      But both these guys Perry and De Jonge are not any where as consistent with their swings and have to many rounds near par to be regular winners…for sure De Jonge trys to move the ball with that swing…only Bruce Lietzke just let the ball fade 99% of the time which I think was do to the fact he had a finish that was almost the same every time.

      • Dennis Clark

        Feb 24, 2016 at 8:28 am

        Right. The move is not what I teach or would call OPTIMAL, point is it can be FUNCTIONAL. 99.99% of the golfers in the world would give their first born to play like Craig PArry or any of those guys.

  10. LC4

    Feb 23, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Thank you for the video and thank you for making me feel better about accepting something I’ve tried in vain to change!

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      I prefer inside but outside doesn’t have to spell doom, does it?

  11. Tom

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:32 am

    video helped.

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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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Instruction

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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Instruction

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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