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In my last article I discussed “sidearm” golf, and I made a reference to Ben Hogan’s image in his book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Some readers interpreted the article as some kind of homage to Hogan. It was not. I used the reference he made, and I displayed his image as one of several ways to illustrate my point, which was that the golf swing has a horizontal component. Only that and nothing more.

Any sport played where the object to be struck is placed to the side of the player cannot be facilitated an by an up-and-down motion exclusively. Once again, if the golf ball was played between our feet, there would be no side motion to the swing at all. Up and down would be all that is required. Croquet comes to mind. So I’ll use some space and time here to highlight the main point of the last article.

Of the 35,000+ people I have worked with over the years, probably 95 percent of them suffer from too vertical of a motion, or one that is too steep. Put a different way, the golf club becomes several degrees more upright in the downswing than it was at address. I’ll take this observation a step further: I have almost NEVER (that’s right, never) seen a player come into the golf ball flatter, or more horizontal than they were at address. The better one is at the game, as the video illustrates, the more likely they are to LOWER the golf club into a position from which they can strike the ball.

Sasho Mackenzie is one of my favorite golf scientist researchers, and one of the best minds studying our game. He makes the point quite clearly, and I’m paraphrasing him here: “When a player can get the center of mass of the golf club UNDER the hand path, they are able to achieve a more “passive” squaring of the face of the club.”

Stated another way, Sasho is saying that the more vertical the golf club gets, the more active the hands have to be to square the face. There is one simple reason for this dynamic in my opinion: one’s ability to pronate and supinate is enhanced when the motion is horizontal and diminished when the motion is vertical. That’s why hooks are hit from flat and slices are hit from steep, path be damned.

One has to realize this about my teaching and writing: I do not theorize, hypothesize or idolize. I am a pragmatic, realistic golf instructor. Just because Hogan or Nicklaus or anybody believes something means nothing to me until I have seen it work up close and personal time after time. Lowering the shaft onto a plane from which one can strike the golf ball more consistently works or else I would never suggest it. If you’re too steep, Find a side-hill lie, and you’ll probably improve your swing.

I have an online swing analysis program that many GolfWRXers have tried and enjoyed. If you’d like a diagnosis an explanation of exactly what you’re doing, click here for more info, or contact me on Facebook.

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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



  1. Manuel Martinez

    Aug 28, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    There are other instructors who feel that when a better player gets too steep going back, they will always attempt to flatten it on the way down. And once the club is in motion, it will continue to stay in motion and at some point become too flat or under the plane. At this point, the player is stuck and has no choice but to back up away from the ball in order to make room for the club to get back out in front. This backing up motion also steepens the shaft above the original shaft plane. I have experienced this in my own swing and better players I know. This would be the opposite of coming down too steep and then backing up to shallow the club back out towards the ball, but the impact looks similar on video since the shaft is still above its original plane. I feel as though the key here might be that pros shallow the club immediately from the top. I noticed that in my swing, the club tracks down the parallel plane for a few frames and then starts to shallow. This late flattening of the club brings the club under the plane and results in my backing up to make room for the club. Had I shallowed the club immediately from the top I may get it on plane sooner and get the hand path moving in the right manner. Please advise.

  2. Dennis Clark

    Aug 28, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Don’t take an golf pro’s word for it: take it from one of the leading golf researchers in the world. How could anyone see it otherwise?

  3. Bruce

    Aug 28, 2016 at 9:30 am

    I interpret Sasho’s comment different from Mr Clark. The club center of mass is the balance point which is along the shaft near the club head. A more vertical swing places this center of mass below the hands. Passive squaring of the club face means no hand action. Hence vertical swings automatically square the face and more horizontal swings require hand action.

    • Manuel Martinez

      Aug 28, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      From the down the line view of the player, the center mass of the club would be above the plane of the hand path in a steep swing, not below it. You need to view the swing from dtl, put a line on the original shaft plane. Now as the club tracks downward, you need to connect the dots on the movement of the hand path. For a right handed player, the plane the clubhead or center mass of club is tracking on needs to be to the left of the plane the hands are on very early in the down swing. Like during the transition phase. The reason this squares the face is because the shallowing of the shaft initially sends the handpath out towards the target line. Once this happens, there is a torque applied to the shaft at the center of mass that wants to realign itself with the handle of the club. This torque sends the clubhead out towards the ball. This is the passive squaring Sasho is referring to. When the club transitions too steep, the handpath is too down the line. From here, the center mass of club will also need to realign with the grip end. This same torque now sends the clubhead away from the target, not out towards the target line. Now the player is in recovery mode to get the club to the ball with little to no time to make consistent contact. DC is 100% correct with his interpretation.

    • Manuel Martinez

      Aug 28, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      You obviously didn’t watch the first 12 minutes of Sasho’s video. You may disagree with Dr. McKenzie’s research but DC’s interpretation is spot on.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 28, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      you interpret that differently?

  4. CLF

    Aug 27, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    Mr. Clark,

    Thanks for the series of articles on the this subject. Being self-taught, I recently thought about this idea (horizontal) as a way to get more square at impact instead of hitting a high slice most of the time LOL. I was messing around with a bowed right wrist (I’m LH) and noticed the club wanted to “go flatter,” all of which made it easier to be square at impact for me.

    Seeing you emphasize this point is extremely helpful for me… it gives me the confidence to try this idea out in practice. One problem I noticed I’m having when I try to flatten out my swing is getting the correct feeling in my left arm during the backswing/transition/downswing. Would love to hear you expand on this “side-arm” idea…. I’m trying to use this idea to find the correct feeling for my left hand.


  5. Ramrod

    Aug 26, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    At 1:38 you highlight the plane lowering to a point where Garcia can just rotate and hit the ball. With this being the case, why not just have a shortened swing whereby the backswing only goes to that point? That’s what I would call a true single plane swing.

    What is the benefit in lifting the arms? To me it just creates a problem on the way back down, that as this article suggests, is very hard to fix.

    • Ben

      Aug 26, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      it’s not just lifting the arms, he continues making a shoulder turn. the bigger the turn the more energy you can release into the ball. if he stopped his backswing there, he would probably hit it just as solid but not as far.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 26, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      I agree, those who are too steep would benefit from shorter and more “laid off”. Some would argue that the wrist leverage will add power…

  6. David Ciccoritti

    Aug 26, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    You can not flatten a club. It flattens due to “weight shift” before the swing starts. The swing does not start at the top. It starts late after the weight shift. Biggest instructional mistakes are not understanding the true fundamental moves that cause positions to be more naturally ideal. The club flattening or falling is due to the combination of weight shift before the actual “arm swing” happens. That’s why good golfers and pros don’t “cast”. It’s because they don’t start the swing from the top. It’s a late start, therefore a late cast. Truth be told, everyone casts. This video is very good because it shows a natural good position due to a fundamental move. However the fundamental move is not mentioned. Many seem to point out fundamental positions, but rarely do people point out fundamental moves and how it creates fundamental positions naturally and effortlessly. Thanks Dennis – Enjoyed the video 🙂

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 26, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      This is another fundamental misunderstanding that the biomechanists and “scientists” preach that misleads golfers. There is no amount of ground up sequence that will, IN AND OF ITSELF, change the inclined angle of the golf club. Yes it may lower the arms as the swing starts from below as great players prove, but it will NOT flatten the shaft onto a hitting pane simply by starting from the ground. I have a lot of students who have very good bodi trak traces, and yet start down too steeply
      with the GOLF CLUB. Getting the club on a good re-entry angle involves the right elbow moving forward, right wrist dorsiflex (cup) and left wrist flattening to join the sequence. My lower body cannot change the golf club simply because it isn’t holding the golf club. Thx.

      • David Ciccoritti

        Aug 26, 2016 at 8:30 pm

        I wouldn’t call it starting from the ground up at all. What I found accidentally is because I’ve been working with my son’s pitching and batting for the last 3 years. Batting is a lot more similar to the golf swing than most will have you believe. The key is, if the body begins the weight shift/rotation but the arms “do not start to release”, the elbow and wrist naturally fall into the positions you mentioned. Because the swing (release) is delayed, the weight shift and body rotation cause the front shoulder to go up and the back shoulder to go down. When that happens, the plane of the club will drop because it has to. I believe the secret to this whole move is what I call the “delayed swing/release”. You take it back, start the weight shift/forward rotation, the arms are delayed and hanging back. Then the release happens when arms knows it’s now or never. When I began to do this, I had great lag without even thinking about it and my ball flight rose to the clouds without even thinking about it. A batter drives forward and begins body rotation while leaving the bat behind him/her. Front shoulder goes up, back elbow comes down and the bat naturally finds itself close to level (flattened). At this point in time, I believe this is the true key to having a very good swing. There is also one more key that has to do with the wrists in the back swing but that’s another discussion. Again, your video demonstrates a result that should happen but I would suggest that it happens naturally due to a “delayed swing/release”.

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 27, 2016 at 2:43 pm

          Teach golf for 35 years, you’ll find out nothing happens naturally. Theory and reality clash in the 1.5 seconds of swinging. Or hitting. Yes when the hit is “delayed” by the movement of the lower body and the upper body remains on its axis, you will lower the arms. But the flattening I’m describing must be programmed and the arms and hands need to feel the proper torque in sequence. You can hold the arms back but it does not flatten the club in and of itself The bat is flat largely because baseball is a one-plane game with bat and ball BOTH in the air. Thx for your interest.

      • Jim

        Aug 26, 2016 at 11:50 pm

        I’ve been at a few very fine private venues. Few members were truly scratch but even the pretty decent 9-12 hcp folks were fighting the top (especially the top right side) coming into the downswing before the weight shift gave the hips the chance to lead the body derotation before the ‘hitting muscles” jump in and overpower what the hips should produce: centrifugal force, by leading the downswing. I’ve taught lessons
        indoors in a couple of high tech venues as well.

        It wasn’t until I arrived at my current facility in 2006 that I saw the WIDEST possible variety of golfers doing those same swing flaws – at the same time. While there was an unbelievable variety of atrocities occuring, two or three variations all ended up causing the same bad impacts and finishes – the finish being a ‘side effect’ of what happened on the way there.

        My current venue has over 100 hitting bays. We’re 20 minutes north of NYC and the only 300 yard covered/heated facility in the area. Saturdays look like a UN outing.There’s at least 6 or 7 Taxi’s from the city – waiting for their clients as well as a half dozen Diplomatic license plates on cars in the lot.
        While I’ve seen and ‘corrected’ these most common flaws for years, and figuring most
        Americans usually swung a bat before a golf club, I assumed the cupped wrist – other than people with smaller or ‘weaker’ wrists and forearms or with women was due to how we were taught to hold the bat or waggle it at the plate..

        It wasn’t until I saw all these ‘humans’ – from all over the world doing it wrong at the same time that I realized it was ‘universal’ – a HUMAN thing. Since the dawn of time people have hit things with sticks – usually in anger, fear or defense. There’s an inate ‘human hitting instinct’ – millions of years ago when critters were trting to eat us, the smart ones learned to pick up sticks and whack them in the head; the dumb ones got ate. We’re decedents of the smart ones…

        seriously. The body doesn’t know what ‘golf’ is. All your body knows is tou have a stick, and you’re trying to whack someting – HARD! In other sports, the balls travelling at you – try returning a serve from Venus Williams without holding on tight and creating a solid, leveraged stance that stays behind the racket and it’ll get ripped out of your hand.

        Most students arrive as “hitters” none are ever ‘flat’….you don’t instinctively ‘hit’ something hard or even in anger – as the case may be from ‘flat’. Understanding WHY the body does what it ‘thinks’ is ‘helping you answers why so many people are defeating the lower body by ‘hitting’ instead of swinging first – and THEN hitting the pellet

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 27, 2016 at 2:51 pm

          The uniqueness of our game is we’re trying to hit an object aside us AND on the ground, AND get it airborne. It is counter-intuitive to hit the golf ball the way it should be hit. And that illogic defines the majority of mistakes I’ve seen over many many years. Ice hockey comes close to golf BUT…instinctively they know the puck will be hit along the ice., not 90-100 feet in the air. Teaching the design of the golf club itself helps juniors immensely. All the juniors Ive worked with who have gone to collegiate golf and beyond, got on to this idea early. Thx for your feedback.

      • Tony Payne

        Aug 27, 2016 at 7:12 am

        Dennis, very good video. Would you advocate starting the downswing as described in the last paragraph of your reply to David’s post. I sense the conscious move is to push the trail arm elbow in front of the body and the rest follows. Easy to do on a practice swing but more difficult when hitting the ball.

  7. David

    Aug 25, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Great information!! One question: Why not just flatten the backswing to begin with and swing down on the same path?

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 25, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      you can for sure…the single plane motion does NOT need flattening as it it a good position to hit the ball already

      • David

        Aug 25, 2016 at 4:23 pm

        Thanks. I have found that keeping my right tricep pinned to my rib cage/side has improved my ball striking. I’m now realizing that this is likely b/c it has forced a flatter swing.

  8. Fok

    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Jim Furyk? Please?

    • Chris

      Aug 25, 2016 at 8:31 am

      Furyk has a very steep backswing but actually comes into the ball flatter than most players.

      • cgasucks

        Aug 25, 2016 at 9:33 am

        True dat…

      • Dennis Clark

        Aug 25, 2016 at 10:47 am

        Correct epitomizing what Im describing see the Ryan Moore video in the comments section. That swing has won him 70 million playing golf and shot 58 and 59…zeros out Trackman more than anyone!

      • Dennis clark

        Aug 26, 2016 at 12:33 pm

        Yep. And if you look how open his body is at impact, its to avoid getting too under and flat. You’d never guess that where he is at the top. But we don’t hit the ball with the backswing do we.

  9. Willow

    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:06 am

    I only watched to levy swing because I thought wow is anyone buying this. The best players don’t flatten out when they get to the top they start to use there body to create force through rotation. They don’t just throw it over the top! Wow

    • Jim

      Aug 26, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      OR – ‘ROLL’ THE RIGHT CHEST / SHOULDER Arms or Hands ‘forward’ toward that ball to shoulder ‘boundry’ line.

  10. Travis

    Aug 24, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    To get flatter…I tend to think more fluid motion in my swing. When I get to rigid or mechanical I yank the handle, get steep and god only knows what comes next! Stay loose!

  11. Chris

    Aug 24, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Hello Dennis, I have actually been working this for awhile now, used to struggle with OTT. I am a huge Ben Hogan fan even though he died when I was 7, I also like to look at dufner’s swing, but my all time favorite swing to look at is Peter thomson. I feel Thomson’s swing is very similar to Hogan’s but is simpler because no one is athletic enough to copy Hogan’s swing exactly. When I feel like I swing correctly (or somewhat lol) I hit a nice baby draw. I will be playing well and all the sudden a push fade will come into play and turn my +2 round to an 80. I feel like I am coming from the inside because the ball starts left and lightly falls even more left (I’m left handed), when I hit my draw it starts basically on the same line as the push but falls to the middle instead of left. My question is when working in this would you see ur students having issues like me? Or would you normally see hooks? It’s frustrating because most of the time I hit the draw.. I worked on getting rid of my Hogan type wrist at the top and make it flatter and my alignment to no avail.

    This is a link to my swing , I know you can’t be looking at strangers swings all day on the internet but thought I’d throw it up anyway just in case. I am playing to a 5 handicap

    • Denni clark

      Aug 24, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      You can fade/slice from inside for the very reason I’m discussing in the article. I have an online video service. If interested I’ll explain how to use. Thx

      • Sometimes a Smizzle

        Aug 26, 2016 at 11:51 pm

        During my last round of golf i swung from what felt like the inside amd with a square face. But kept pushing it. Got on a flightscope a few hours later and it said i swing 3-4 degrees from the inside. With a face 3-4 degrees open to target. Oops. Good thing my short game was fine and i 2 putt the whole way.

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 27, 2016 at 2:32 pm

          exactly; that’s a slice technically from inside the golf ball but with face open to path…happens a lot for better players. Higher caps come over it.

  12. Dennis Clark

    Aug 24, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Flipping is the result of too steep, therefore too open, trying to square it.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 24, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Under plane is hook is almost always…and those who hook tend to hold on…slicers coming in steeply over it tend to more to flip to square the face. In fact, the ONLY way you can keep turning through is by laying the club down because you don’t have to back up and flip…When you see tour pros so able to “get through it” its because they’re on plane or even a little under coming down.

    • Jim

      Aug 26, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      ….it’s due to incorrect use of the hands – I don’t know if there’s a Webster’s Video Dictionary, but I show folks ‘flipping’ is like trying to lift a hockey puck – a wrist shotn and what the lead hand needs to do is assist with supination – or risk getting ‘flipped’ and pushed out of the way by the strong hand…The lead hand should ‘Flick’ INTO rotation – kinda like the the back of the hand is flat perpendicular to the ground and tossing a frisbee 20 feet – level to the ground…
      Flipping is also caused when a fine swing – all the ‘moves’ are there – BUT the person’s wrist break was too cupped and they either let the
      hands and arms follow the body (properly) and
      ‘drop the club’ But unless they flatten the wrist in the first tenth of a second after the drop, THE
      LEAD HAND ends up anatomically superior (on
      TOP) of the right hand – now just above the belt line z where it should now be starting to initiate ‘the hitting rotation….A ‘Sergio’ style wicked pulling down & in with the strong side elbow also contibutes to this ANATOMICALLY COMPROMISED POSITION….If your body/arms & hands are moving at speed, it’s impossible to
      CONSISTANTLY release the club head (and with the driver ‘continue to make speed 4 feet after the ball) if the back of the lead hand is facing up in the air at this point without some strong hand flip….

      This is NOT a ‘skill level’ issue. It’s a functional anatomy issue….

  13. Nolanski

    Aug 24, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    I like to think like I’m hitting a midget with a right hook during the swing.
    Really helps me shallow out.

  14. Marnix

    Aug 24, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Nice demonstration of this essential swing characteristic. Now that we know the ‘what’ (flattening the plane at transition), can you comment on the ‘how’, as in: how does one actually accomplish this? Is it forearm rotation, rotating the hips or upper body, flattening the left wrist, etc.

    • Denni clark

      Aug 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      That’s the eternal question I get more often than maybe any…it deserves a longer answer but here’s the short version. To change this in your golf swing requires a new orientation to swinging the club. I generally put students on a side hill lie with the ball above their feet but it’s not something you can change quickly. Personally I hit hit balls on this lie for a full year every time I practiced. Hope this helps

      • Marnix

        Aug 24, 2016 at 6:51 pm

        Well, yes, to some extent. Still, the mechanics should be easy to explain – and probably hard to execute …

        • Denni clark

          Aug 24, 2016 at 9:35 pm

          On the contrary I would say it’s the hardest thing to do n golf but still the one that separates the wheat from the chaffe…mechanically the rear elbow move out, the lead wrist flattens, the trail wrist dorsiflexes, and the arms lower. That’s actually what happens but again it requires a new mindset, a whole different paradigm in ones conception of a swing. I.E. Horizontal. Thx. .

          • Double Mocha Man

            Aug 24, 2016 at 10:33 pm

            Smizzle… ya gotta knock it off with faking who you are. We catch on. You were even me once before.

    • christian

      Aug 24, 2016 at 11:46 pm

      Push your right elbow into the side of your body in the beginning of the downswing. Done.

    • christian

      Aug 24, 2016 at 11:51 pm

      It’s also what happens in the video, from having the right elbow clearly free from the body, he is pushing the elbow into the side of his body and thus flatten the plane. It’s the one thing most players should do, push the elbow into your right side at the beginning of the downswing

  15. Nolanski

    Aug 24, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Great stuff. Doing it is another story but I’ll keep working on it. And I love the Hogan material.

  16. Dennis Clark

    Aug 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Here’s an EXTREME example of what I mean…

  17. B Hock

    Aug 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    What’s an easy and good drill to help counteract the over-the-top move and to promote laying it flat to start the downswing? Thanks and Great Article!

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 24, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Well what I have seen most effective is a side hill lie with the ball well above your feet. Set the club up on the back swing and try hitting balls. You’ll soon be able to tell if your laying it down coming down.

  18. Dennis Clark

    Aug 24, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Adam, when you say “under plane” what do you mean? Have you had Trackman or FS eval with very low vertical plane? Inside maybe but I’m guessing club is still more vertical?

    • Adam Cahill

      Aug 24, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      I fight having an open club face at the top so I back up and flip the club under plane.

  19. cgasucks

    Aug 24, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    “The flatter I get the fatter my wallet gets.”

    Claude Harmon Sr. (Butch’s Dad)

  20. Justin

    Aug 24, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    EVERYONE needs to watch this video! The number one problem I see with the average amateur golfer is the “over the top” move, which is the result of not flattening the downswing. Do you know how many more people would play golf more often (or even at all) if they knew they could hit something other than a pull slice off the tee? This isn’t new info, but a great reminder and great video. The only comment I have is that you should have chosen other players besides the ones who are the “extreme” example (Sergio, Rahm).

    • Leavy

      Aug 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      Yep! It took me a while to quiet down my overactive right shoulder in the downswing. This video shows how good the pros do it.

      What’s also interesting is how close the right arm is to your thigh at impact instead of flying out from your body. Zach Allen has a good drill for that on YouTube “The Magic of the Right Arm”. Good stuff!

  21. Adam Cahill

    Aug 24, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    My main swing fault is coming in very under plane on the downswing, which I assume would be steep?Would you suggest working on a flatter backswing and maintain more of that horizontal plane on the down swing?

    • Justin

      Aug 24, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      Look at the second swing that Dennis analyzes here (Rahm). Notice that the club seems to be “falling” (movign vertically) at one point while the rest of his body is moving horizontally. You need to achieve that feeling of the club “falling” out of your set position at the top. Far too many players increase their grip pressure from the top of the swing down and this often results in a weak move that is not on plane. A good drill you can do is to take the club back to the set position at the top and drop the club to the ground right before you start the downswing (complete the rest of the swing without the club in your hand). This will give you the feeling of a “lighter” overall downswing (which will help with grip pressure) and in turn help you to let the club naturally fall from the top like the pros do.

      The best instructional video (quick tip) that I’ve seen is from PGA teacher Zach Allen. You can find it on youtube or on his website.

      • Leavy

        Aug 24, 2016 at 1:59 pm

        Hah! I see you’re a Zach Allen fan too Justin! Zach’s just one of those teachers that gives concise instruction.

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Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing



In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

The Winning Scores

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

The Winning Stats

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

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

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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