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5 death moves for golfers



From time to time, every golfer falls into bad habits and plays poorly for a short stretch of time. To get out of the brief predicament, sometimes all it takes is a small swing tweak or another set of eyes to point out the obvious… you know, just to get their game back on the rails and the golf ball out of the trees.

This list does NOT cover any those small fixes. It examines swing flaws that are absolute death moves for golfers, and require immediate attention from a professional swing instructor.

Below is my list of the top 5 swing flaws that a golfer needs to fix immediately before their swings are destroyed and their confidence is shattered beyond repair.

1. An excessive “over-the-top” driver swing

As with any longer club, an “over-the-top” motion creates an unmanageable ball flight with the driver. But with the big stick especially, two radical misses occur. One is the banana slice, with no “pop” off the face and a severe loss of distance. The other is a low pull-hook that carries about half the normal distance; it starts left and goes farther left, and if there are firm conditions with out-of-bounds stakes, then golfers are certainly teeing up another ball.


Click to enlarge

If you read my articles, you know by now that the ball begins mostly in the direction of the clubface and curves away from the path (with centered contact). With that in mind, take a look at the Trackman numbers above.

This player wants to hit a draw, but it’s an impossible shot for him to manage from this position. Why? The path is moving -8.5 degrees left of the target. To compensate, golfers will automatically hold the face open to the path, causing a slice. After they do this a time or two, they will begin to rotate the face closer to the path, which will cause a smaller, but more playable fade… until they begin to rotate the clubface left of the path. That creates a radical pull-hook.

If you have a severe over-the-top swing, RUN, don’t walk, to a respected teaching professional in your area.

2. A strong grip with a shut face at the top


Through the generations, golfers have become stronger and so have their grips at address. Nowadays, the common position at address is to have a grip that puts a cup in the lead wrist (seen in the photo above).

I have no problem with stronger grips or a slightly shut position at the top, as long as the player knows he is doing it. I do, however, have a big issue when the cup of the lead wrist “flattens” all the way at the top of the swing, causing the blade to shut excessively for a strong-grip player (pictured below).


Most of the time players don’t know they’re doing it, and it causes pulls as you can see in the Trackman data below. The data is from a better player who has a very slight in-to-out swing path (0.2 degrees), but a clubface that is consistently left of the target (in the -2 to -4 range).


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When this player came to see me, he could not understand why he kept pulling his shots. Once he became aware of the problem, he was able to fix the position at the top of his swing and the pulls disappeared. Had he never sought help, he could have ruined what was otherwise a very solid swing.

3. Adding excessive dynamic loft at impact with irons

Most players have a quest for more distance, but sometimes they go about it the wrong way. Anytime the lead wrist moves into extension too early and the shaft backs up in the downswing, golfers will add dynamic loft to the club at impact. Everyone is different in regards to how much lag they need, but the fact remains that if you tend to “flip” the club at the bottom, you will continue to have spin lofts and spin rates that are too high. Translation: you won’t hit iron shots as far as you could.

Some of these moves can return the club shaft to “vertical” at impact, which is not a bad thing, but too much flip and not enough lag will cause a loss of compression and distance. That’s not what any golfer wants. The fix is to make sure your pivot is driving the arms, hands, and club through impact. Whenever the pivot is faulty, you will also see poor impact alignments (as shown above).


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The position above is not one that you can play your way out of; it will get worse and worse without teacher supervision.

4. Low spin loft (relative to swing speed) with the driver


Click to enlarge

Sometimes players are so focused on adding lag to their swings, or keeping their hands ahead of the ball, they forget loft is necessary for distance! When spin lofts are too low, the ball will launch too flat and golfers will have to rely on roll for distance. While this is OK under some conditions, it’s not ideal for most course conditions golfers see on a weekly basis.

The fix is to make sure your driver loft is correct so you can deliver the correct amount of loft into impact. For the player above, simply changing the loft from 9 degrees to 11 degrees was all that was needed to create longer drives. If your drives launch too low and get a lot of distance through roll, try adding more loft to your driver. If adding loft doesn’t fix the problem, then make sure your teacher audits your pivot, swing direction, angle of attack and dynamic loft.

5. Poor Smash Factor


If you’re experiencing a low smash factor, it could be a sign that you’re hitting the ball all over the face (as pictured above). Remember, if you can’t hit the center of the clubface consistently, there’s a bigger problem than just a low smash factor. A majority of the time, when your impact pattern looks like this, your pivot is faulty and the club cannot be delivered consistently.

Use foot spray (my favorite can be purchased here) to audit your impacts and see if you contact the same part of the face each time. If you cannot, then you’ll want to find out an instructor who can explain why.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico ( He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email:



  1. Billy

    Mar 3, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Is “smash factor” a swing move? But yeah, I get it!

  2. Peter

    Feb 27, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    I disagree, whether your cup the wrist and have a “square” face or flatten it and looks “closed” the relationship between the hands and the face is the same. Dan C has a great article about Cupped, Flat and Bowed wrist “looks”

  3. Mike W

    Feb 26, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    The last line for problem #1 (and #3 for that matter) should read RUN don’t walk to your nearest golf FITNESS professional. These are physical limitation issues that need addressing in a gym setting not band aid training aids on the range.

    • Cliff

      Feb 26, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      These usually have nothing to do with fitness!

  4. dhauser00

    Feb 26, 2016 at 6:13 am

    I also have problem #2.

    If I adopt a strong grip at set up, how should the wrist look like at the top?

    And if I use a neutral grip at set up, how would this look like at the top?


  5. kyle

    Feb 25, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    How is number two different than how DJ, Trevino, Azinger, Duval, etc… have made a living?
    I have a strong grip and shut face and play quite well. Probably isn’t great for many players, but it works well for others. Not sure why it’s considered a “death move”

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 11:59 am

      “…as long as the player knows he is doing it.”

      Pretty sure those guys — and you — know you’re doing it, and have the necessary adjustments or compensations. Dustin Johnson is another example, of course. But the more shut you are, the more you have to do something to keep the face from closing at or before impact, which usually translates to a more emphatic move with the rotational elements. Some people see that as unnecessary error-plus-compensation. Other people say it’s just a matter of an individual player working out what he can live with, what his orientation is (he prefers going at the ball hard with rotation, for instance), etc. I wouldn’t do it, but there’s no denying that there are players who have been successful with it.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      With regard to listing it as a “death move,” though, I think the author is right in saying that it’ll kill your chances of anything like accuracy or consistent contact, if it’s an isolated fact of your swing — that is, if you don’t have compensations or adjustments to make it work.

      Still, it’s interesting: Is it a “death move” in the same sense over-the-top is? I don’t know. Probably not. You see the occasional really good player playing from a shut position. You see pretty much zero players getting severely over the top, because when you get OTT relative to your body lines, it really negatively affects your ability to apply energy forward through the ball instead of steeply downward, dissipating it into the ground. And it makes your body work differently in ways that can kill your speed. Moving the body harder to compensate for a shut position at the top doesn’t necessarily do any of those things, although it _is_ true that if the move becomes a total drag through the ball, if the arms and club aren’t trying to catch up and pass the center of the body at some point (in the case of a shut player, it’ll be further past the ball than with the conventional player), that can kill speed. But I think you could argue that OTT is more fatal, fundamentally, in how it affects the mechanics of the body and the dynamics of energy transfer.

  6. Other Paul

    Feb 25, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    I love a strong grip and a shut facebat the top. If i lead with my hips and have open shoulders at impact the face is square or a hair closed. Played with some friends last night and hit one 330 (122MPH CH speed). Fast hips and shoulders are the way to go. I am not a big guy.

    • farmer

      Feb 26, 2016 at 11:55 am

      For Kyle and Paul, look at Judy Rankin when she was playing. I will bet that 90% of every pro’s students are looking to get rid of a slice. If you get into a toe down, clubface open position, you are going to have to make some compensation to get back to square.

      • stephenf

        Mar 10, 2016 at 11:42 am

        False dichotomy. There’s a middle ground between shut and toe-down, and that’s what you see in the preponderance of swings by great players.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Another way to put it, in your case: If you want to move your body, hips, etc., really fast, maybe you have to have a strong grip and be shut at the top (a la Dustin Johnson — just don’t go steal anybody’s sh$%, sleep with their wives, or do coke). But it’s not the only way to play, or even the best way for everybody. Still, it points to the need for the elements to be in a balance that any particular player can live with.

  7. TR1PTIK

    Feb 25, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Tom, perhaps everyone is just tripped up by the term “smash factor”. Maybe a more appropriate way to say it would be impact location – which directly correlates to smash factor – and is a prime reason for errant shots and low ball speeds among amateurs.
    Almost any golfer should be able to find relative center with some repeatability if they work on it regardless of what their swing looks like. It doesn’t mean they will have a great smash factor or the best ball speeds, but it will be the best they can produce relative to the swing they currently have.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Much easier to do if they can produce an appropriately shallow angle of approach with the club moving from the inside of the target line through the ball, though. When you get the kind of player whose path is always changing depending on how hard he’s throwing the body at it — which a lot of modern instruction actually makes worse — he’s going to find it pretty much impossible to find the center of the clubface (or the sweet spot, which is usually a little off-center with the irons) consistently.

  8. Big Slice

    Feb 25, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    I need help with all of these. I suck

  9. BRL

    Feb 25, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    I need help with #3. I didn’t see any articles about it, do you have a drill?

    • 8thehardway

      Feb 27, 2016 at 12:04 am

      Google early wrist extension in golf. Also, I think a Shawn (sp?) Clement video made the point that, at impact, some golfers think the hands should be back at the address position when they really should be past where they were at address.

  10. cgasucks

    Feb 25, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Foot powder is a good idea to see ball impact on the clubface. I personally use duct tape since its way cheaper than those specialized impact labels you see in golf stores, widely available, and less messier than foot powder.

  11. larrybud

    Feb 25, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    OK, but these are results of things which happen earlier in the swing, or with a bad setup. Smash factor is the ultimate “result” which a hundred things can affect why the player didn’t hit the center of the clubface and/or has a lousy path/face angle causing an oblique hit. Nobody goes in saying “I’m going to work on my smash factor today”.

    I mean, might as well add “Swing and Miss” this this “death move” list, but none of it mentions common *causes* and fixes.

    • TR1PTIK

      Feb 25, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      I don’t think this list is really about trying to identify specific causes or fixes because there are far too many variations between golfers. I think the main point of the article is to help people identify things that are probably out of their control to fix without help from a certified PGA professional.
      As for smash factor, I work on that all the time – exactly how Tom described. Even at home without a ball, I will place a tee in the ground or my practice mat and try to mark the clubface (driver) where I think the tee should hit (about 1/3 of the way up the face in the center). Assuming my path is good (which it usually is according to SkyPro) and the face angle is correct (what I struggle with more often), I should be able to take what I practice to the course with at least some success.

    • Birdy

      Feb 25, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      agree..having a bad smash factor is hardly a ‘death move’ as the title suggests.

      • cgasucks

        Feb 25, 2016 at 2:33 pm

        Agreed, a low smash factor is a by-product of a “death move”.

  12. WB

    Feb 25, 2016 at 12:19 pm


    What is the best fix for #2? Weaker grip?


    • goobers80

      Feb 25, 2016 at 11:28 pm

      You can have a weak grip with a cupped lead wrist. In fact quite a lot or maybe all of the great players had it to some degree. A cupped lead wrist has been happening for quite some time in golf. I have seen pictures of Bobby Jones with a cupped wrist. That does nots determine the strength of the grip.

      • WB

        Feb 26, 2016 at 12:26 pm

        My point was that I have a strong grip but a flat left wrist at the top causing a closed club face. I do indeed struggle hitting pulls. Tom said he worked with a better player to fix his position at the top. I just wondered if it was making the grip weaker and living with the flat wrist or keeping the grip the same and working on cupping at the top.

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How the direction of turn influences your swing



Understanding the direction you turn in the backswing will help identify your swing pattern. To start, turn is simply a word for something going around or moving circularly. When teaching, the term turn is very broad. The spine, shoulders and pelvis can all move in different directions.

So what direction should you turn? After an efficient setup (How Posture Influences Your Swing) I want players to coil around their original spine angle. This gives players an efficient “shape” to the body at the top of the backswing. Shape is the relationship between the upper and lower half of the body. Shape retains body angles from the setup, which also mirror impact. The relationship between the upper and lower body are highlighted in the pictures below.

When in this shape, the downswing can become a reaction towards the target. The club and body can return to impact with efficiency and minimal timing required. The body doesn’t need to find the impact position. This impact position is a common look to all great ball-strikers.

An important concept to understand is the direction of turn is more important than the amount of turn. Think of throwing a ball towards a target. You don’t turn more to throw the ball further or for more accuracy. Your body coils the correct direction to go forward and around towards the target. The golf swing and direction of turn is similar to a throwing position.

A great drill to get the feeling of this coil is what I call off the wall on the wall. Start by setting up with your lead side against a wall. Make sure your trail shoulder is below the lead shoulder with a tucked trail arm. From this position, swing your arms to the top of your swing. Note the backswing position.

When doing this drill, note how your upper body moves off the wall, and the lower body stays on the wall. An important note to make is the hips and glutes don’t stay stagnant against the wall. They go around, sliding against the wall as the upper moves off.

The beauty of the golf swing is there is more than one way to do it. Many great players turn with lead side bend in the backswing. This is where the upper body tilts towards the target (lateral trunk flexion). However, these players will have to change their spine angle to find impact. This pattern isn’t incorrect, just needs more recovery in the downswing to find the impact position.

I do not prefer players having to recover in their downswing. I define recovery as having to re-position the body in the downswing to find impact. Think of a baseball player having to throw a ball to first base when his body starts in a contorted position. I the golf swing, this requires more talent and timing and can lead to inconsistency unless precisely practiced and trained.

Educating yourself on how your body coils in the backswing is critical when working on your swing. Remember, there is no one perfect swing and people have different physiologies. However, coil in a direction that will give you the most efficient swing and prevent injuries.

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The 3 best ways to train your golf swing



Understanding how to effectively train and practice is critical to transferring skills to the golf course.

In golf, I view training as a thoughtful, deliberate rehearsal of a motion to develop technique. This is better rehearsed away from the golf course. Practicing golf consists of developing your skill to take to the golf course—an example being learning to hit shots in certain winds and shot shaping.

“A lawyer will train to be a lawyer, then he or she will practice law” – The Lost Art of Golf

I find the below examples the best ways to train effectively. These techniques will also help facilitate a swing change and make your training and practice more efficient.

Mirror Work

I like my student to implement what I call “mirror work”. This is done by looking into a mirror from the face-on position.

This is a great way to get external feedback (information delivered from an outside source). Learning by external feedback will help facilitate the required body movement to produce a particular shot. It’s also a cheap and effective way to train. Research suggests observation in a mirror is considered external, so the use of mirrors will elicit external feedback, enhancing the learning process.

I prefer students to only check positions from the face-on view. If a player starts checking positions in a mirror from down-the-line, moving your head to look in the mirror can cause your body to change positions, losing the proper direction of turn.

Train Slow

Learning a new motion is best trained slow. At a slower speed, it is easier to monitor and analyze a new motion. You will have increased awareness of the body and where the shaft is in space. At a faster speed, this awareness is more difficult to obtain.

I often use the analogy of learning how to drive a car. First, you took time to learn how to position your hands on the wheel and position your foot next to the break. When comfortable, you put the car in motion and began to drive slowly. Once you developed the technique, you added speed and took the car on the freeway.

In martial arts, there are three speeds taught to students: Slow-speed for learning, medium speed for practice and fast speed for fighting. Again, the movement was trained slow to start. Once comfortable, the motion was put into combat. This should be similar to golf.

Finding Impact

Use an impact bag to get the feeling of impact and an efficient set-up. If you don’t have an impact bag, a spare car tire, bean bag or something light and soft that can be pushed along the ground can be used.

I like to refer to the impact bag as a “Push bag”. Start by setting up into the bag, lightly pressing the shaft into the bag. You will notice how your trail arm slightly tucks in and as your right shoulder drops below the left with your body leaning forward, an efficient set-up.

To get the feeling of impact swing the club back and down into the bag while maintaining your body shape. Don’t move the bag by hitting it, rather pushing it. Note how you maintain your wrist angles while pushing the bag (not flipping) and the right side of your body moves through impact.

Train your swing with these three training techniques to play better golf.


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How posture influences your swing



S0 what exactly is posture and how can it alter your swing? Posture is often the origin to a player’s swing pattern. I like to look at posture as the form of the body from the front view and down the line position at address.

“Shape” in posture is the angles our body creates at address. This includes the relationship between the upper and lower half of our bodies. This article will examine the importance of this shape from the face on view.

For an efficient posture that creates a simple, powerful, and repeatable swing, I like a player’s shape to be set into what I call their “hitting angles.” Hitting angles are similar to the impact position. In the picture below, note the body angles at address highlighted in green.

Once we are set into these hitting angles, the goal of the backswing is to maintain these angles, coiling around the spine. When these angles are maintained in the backswing, the club can return to impact in a more dynamic form of our set-up position. This creates minimal effort that produces speed and repeatability—essentially doing more with less.

The further we set up away from these hitting angles, our bodies will have to find impact by recovering. This is often where a player’s swing faults can occur. We want our body to react to the target in the golf swing, not recover to strike the ball.

Think of a baseball player or football player throwing a ball. When the athlete is in their throwing position, they can simply make the movement required to throw the ball at their intended target. If their body is contorted or out of position to make the throw, they must re-position their body (more movement) to get back into their throwing position, thus making them less accurate and powerful.

The good news about working on your posture is that it is the easiest part to control in the swing. Posture is a static motion, so our body will respond to 100 percent of what our mind tells it to do. It’s talentless.

Here is a simple routine to get you into these hitting angles.

To start, tuck in your trail arm making it shorter and below the lead arm, which makes your trail shoulder lower than the lead shoulder. This will give you the proper shape of the arms and wrist angles. Pictured right is Ben Hogan.

With these arm angles, bend from the hips to the ball and bump your body slightly forward towards the target getting ‘into yourself’. You may feel pressure on your lead foot, but your upper half will still remain behind the ball. Note the picture below with the blue lines.

Practice this drill using a mirror in front of you, head up looking into the mirror. Research has shown mirror work enhances motor skills and performance. Anytime you have external-focus based feedback, the learning process will escalate.

There are a lot of different postures on the PGA Tour and many ways to get the job done. There are no cookie-cutter swings, and players have different physiology. However, research and history have shown that an efficient posture gives us the best chance for solid contact and our desired ball flight. Work hard on the areas that are easiest to control: the set-up.

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