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Squaring the Face of the Golf Club

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The release, perhaps the most discussed term in the golf instruction lexicon, is also one of the least understood. Let’s take a few minutes to define it, clarify it and look at how it might apply to your swing.

Two distinct motions are involved in releasing the golf club: Unhinging the wrists (which have hinged in the backswing) and torquing the shaft to square the face of the club. In this piece I’d like to discuss the twisting or torquing of the shaft, which is distinctly different than releasing the club itself.

Not surprisingly, great players have different ways of doing it, and it is also NOT done at the same time or to the same degree for every player. The video below explains this part of the release, but I wish to elaborate on the concept in the written portion of this article below.

Dennis Clark Quick Tip 1 Squaring the Club Face from Tracy Danbert Tirrell on Vimeo.

Most GolfWRX readers understand the face-to-path relationship in the act of squaring the club face. They also know that ball flight begins mostly in the direction of the club face at impact, and curves away from the path of the club head. But HOW does the club face get to open or closed? That’s less understood.

To put it simply: The more horizontally the club swings, the LESS the shaft has to be twisted. The more vertically the club swings, the MORE it has to be twisted.

In other words if your swing approaches the golf ball FLATTER, it needs less “pronation and supination” of your arms and hands. On this plane, a LOT of twisting hits low, snap hooks that barely get off the ground. Contrast that with a club that comes into impact with with higher hands and the shaft “standing up.” The same amount of twist might very well square the face nicely.

Golfers tend to believe that if the golf club arrives from inside, it will hook. And if it arrives from the outside (of the face of course) it will slice. True, all things being equal. Those things are created by the plane of the club and of course, your grip, and golfers who struggle with squaring the face may very well be ignoring the plane.

A VERY high percentage of golfers are coming into impact too steeply (they have too high of a vertical swing plane), and their swings require a lot of twisting to square the club face. That’s why they use a stronger grip, and it’s good they do. But take the same strong grip and alter the swing to create a swing much lower on the vertical swing plane, and look out left!

Take, for example, hitting on side hills: why does the golf ball fly left from a side-hill, above-the-feet lie and go right from a side-hill, below-the-feet lie? Two reasons: yes, the lie angle of the golf ball is altered with the toe well up on the above-the-feet lie, and the heel way up on the below-the-feet lie. But we also see perfect evidence of the dynamic I am  discussing here. Flatter arc=close(ing) face and upright arc=open(ing) face.

You can try this out in your own swing. If the feeling of a rollover release is causing you to hit low sniping hooks, you will need “quieter” hands through impact. If high, right slices are your problem, it may be the result of a steep plane which requires very “active” hands to keep from blocks or slices.

If you’d like to look into my online swing analysis program, email me or message me on 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 JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. John Everson

    Dec 14, 2016 at 11:59 am

    This has already been explained before. If you haven’t seen it, read The Release, by Jim Hardy. It was put out earlier this year and goes into detail on exactly these two types of releases. Excellent stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Solo

    Dec 14, 2016 at 2:43 am

    Get a handle on hitting a flipping-shut at the right point of impact. Got it.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 14, 2016 at 8:33 am

      if you come in lower, no flip needed, if you come in steep flip away…

      • Solo

        Dec 14, 2016 at 11:41 am

        Oh, but I think you do, even if you come in lower. What if your left arm is broken and can only do the chicken wing that pulls it away because it’s already in that shape, and normally the handle get way ahead of the head. You’d have to really force that flip with the right side even if you were really flat and was very flat in the swing compared to standard clubs, the clubhead could use some toe-up set up too

        • Dennis Clark

          Dec 14, 2016 at 2:35 pm

          you’re describing flexion and extension, a form of release. (slapping) ala Calvin Peete to cite your example. Pronation and supination (rollover) are not needed, or need to a much less degree, when the plane is flatter. Thx

  3. Dill Pickleson

    Dec 12, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    Nice, succinct and very useful article and video. Thanks for that. I have the steep/strong approach with an occasional miss left which is a result of a long history of coming in too flat and resorting to that under pressure. Good to remember….

  4. Arik

    Dec 12, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    If you are thinking of these kinds of things while swinging you are doomed. Golf is an athletic game pure and simple. It takes great hand eye coordination to be consistent. People who start out listening to others get so many ideas in their head they cant make a tension free swing.

    Impact is like trying to grab an apple off a mail box from the back of a pickup truck doing 80mph. Now is that a smart thing to do?

    • knoofah

      Dec 12, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      Your analogy is ridiculous. Take up chess.

  5. Ron

    Dec 12, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Interesting article. My understanding of the terms might be a bit off. The demo in the video, when you showed the more ‘upright’ swing plane, seems to show the swing plane to be dramatically from the inside, which, if you don’t roll your forearms, will of course cause a block to the right. As a player with a more naturally upright swing plane, I know if my swing flattens by the duck-hook that results on my driver. I’ve played with my swing plane without any other changes to my grip or swing to fight that hook and it does work. I’m now playing the tiniest of fades.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 12, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      The inclined plane of the golf club is quite another matter from the direction. Steep is steep regardless of outside or inside. It is still likely to be more open if its more upright. Inside steep is right to right blocks and outside steep is left to right slices. Same principle. Flatter arc into impact= easier to close face and vice versa. Thx

  6. JustTrying2BAwesome

    Dec 12, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Really interesting, thanks. Sounds like this can be a relatively quick adjustment if things start to go sideways on the course.

    How does this explain the phenomena of the predominate miss with wedges being a draw, and predominate miss with driver an open face high push slice? Flatter driver swing would suggest the driver should more naturally square at impact.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 12, 2016 at 11:10 pm

      IIt’s not a phenomena at all really but if it’s YOUR MISS consider loft and lie…10 degrees vs 50 degrees and 45 degrees and 62 degrees lie. And I can show you no end to people swinging ther driver 10-15 degrees more vertical at impact than address.

  7. Andrew S

    Dec 12, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Dennis, You are the first instructor who suggests the correct way. In this case, have a flatter plane. But, also offers a suggestions for the average AM – if you make a mistake there is a way of living with it (roll the hands/arms). Your articles are appreciates. Not every golfer cares to or is able to physically make the correct moves and just wants to have fun. You cover both!

  8. Bryan

    Dec 12, 2016 at 2:23 am

    Great info, thanks for sharing. I’m surprised this article didn’t turn into a golf instructor bashing session with the typical WRX responses: “All golf instructors are worthless, especially PGA members. I’ve met 2 PGA members in my life, but all 27,000 are bad instructors. I’m a 17 handicap and post in the equipment boards all the time and I know way more than every instructor.”

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 12, 2016 at 7:07 am

      LOL…there are some, but for the most part i think readers appreciate our attempts to help. We do this with no compensation and for the good of the game. I’m glad you appreciate it. Thx

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 12, 2016 at 11:11 pm

      LOL

  9. Andrew Tursky

    Dec 11, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    We apologize if you could not see the video in the article as it was originally posted. The issue has been addressed, and we hope it helps.

  10. Dennis Clark

    Dec 11, 2016 at 9:54 am

    Sorry, it seems the video did not come out for everyone. I’ll ask my editor to correct it. Sorry.

  11. C

    Dec 10, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    This article is worthless without pics and diagrammes!

  12. Eric Schafhauser

    Dec 10, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    This is a fantastic article! Enjoyed the perspective on FTP relationship relative to steep and flat swings.

    • Tom

      Dec 11, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      I agree. While reading it, I kept picturing myself doing (committing) the offenses in the article.

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Instruction

Champ or choker? 5 ways to keep from being the latter

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Golf can be a lonely game. Rarely in sports are you more on an island while battling fears, doubts, and inner demons in the effort not to choke — especially on the biggest stages. But even if we’ve never been a champ, or played in a major championship, we’ve all been there, battling those same demons, and that’s why most of us can relate so well with some of golf’s most infamous chokes.

The pinnacle of these ignoble events was likely on the final hole at Carnoustie, in the ‘99 British Open, when Jean Van de Velde gave up a three-shot lead in a tragic comedy of bad shots (and even worse judgment), a scene that saw him take off his shoes and socks and wade deep into the Barry Burn before finally coming to his senses. Van de Velde ultimately lost in a playoff to Paul Lawrie, earning his place in golfing infamy, but when it comes to choking away victory on the biggest stage, he certainly wasn’t alone.

In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper on the final nine holes. Ed Sneed blew a five-shot lead on the final day of the ’79 Masters that was a three-shot lead with three to play by missing very short putts on each of the last three holes. Greg Norman’s infamous collapse at the 1996 Masters should be counted as well, when he threw away a six-shot lead with an atrocious 78 on the final day, allowing Nick Faldo to win.

And the champions of this generation haven’t proven immune either. Rory McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta in the 2011 Masters, ultimately carding an 80. And Dustin Johnson has a hat trick of tight-collar escapades in majors, losing the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by shooting a final-round 78 after starting with a three-shot lead, and the 2010 PGA by committing a rules violation when he had the lead on the final hole, and the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth when he three-putted the final hole from just 15 feet. And speaking of Spieth, his final round collapse at Amen Corner on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, when he gave up a five-shot lead by going bogey-bogey-quadruple-bogey after putting two balls in the water at the dreaded 12th, is how that year’s event will forever be remembered.

Now golfers aren’t alone when it comes to choking. Athletes in nearly every sport fear it, suffer from it, and work their entire careers to avoid being associated with it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that a large percentage of athletes would rather be known as a cheat, a thief, and a liar before being known as a choker. Our sports culture reveres the clutch athlete, the player who can handle the biggest moments on the biggest stage and rise to the occasion time and again. And possibly because most of us can’t, we look up to those who can handle those pressure-packed situations like almost no other. And we cast aspersions upon those who can’t, labeling some who’ve done it even once as chokers, and those who have a habit of self-sabotage as choke artists. We are fascinated by those who can succeed in the spotlight, and, as sports fans, frustrated by those who wither when the lights are brightest. And the awareness of this is so pervasive that avoiding having to wear the choker label can arguably be in and of itself the greatest pressure.

As a result of this preoccupation with choking, scientists have studied it quite a bit. And some are finally beginning to identify its causes and how to avoid it. And while it sounds like a gross oversimplification, much of this study seems to conclude that choking ultimately comes down to simply this… Thinking too much. When athletes get nervous about their performance they stop doing whatever it is they do instinctively and essentially fall into the trap of trying not to make mistakes. They begin to desperately try and control whatever the necessary motions they need to make to a higher degree than normal and, in the process, the fluidity of those motions is lost along with their grace and talent.

Now that’s a layman’s description of what happens, but let’s use putting to explain what’s going on a little more scientifically. When people first learn to putt, they have numerous things to consider. They need to assess the break of the green, what line they will use, and at what speed they will need to roll the ball in order for it follow their intended path. They must also ensure their stroke is not only straight enough to send the ball upon the intended line, but the right size so that it rolls it at the intended speed. For a new golfer, this is more than challenging enough to require the majority of their focus and attention, and at first this necessary. By focusing on their stroke mechanics, as well as the other necessary elements they are trying accomplish, they can avoid mistakes and make better putts.

Once they’ve played for a while, though, and possess the requisite skill to putt, everything changes. Analyzing the stroke at this point is wasted mental energy as the brain almost automatically computes the necessary break and speed needed for a successful putt. Complex learned motor skills like putting are controlled by the cerebellum, and trying to consciously control these skills shifts control to the slower, more deliberate prefrontal cortex, causing a performance drop. If you look at the brain waves of athletes during performance, those of beginners tend to have erratic dips and spikes as well as wildly inconsistent rhythm, the neural signature of a mind engaging in conscious thought. By contrast, expert athletes’ minds look almost eerily serene, showcasing a mental tranquility that ignores disruption or interruption from the outside world, highlighting the fact that in optimal performance those who succeed essentially don’t think, they just do.

This is why studies show that experienced golfers who are forced to think about technique hit significantly worse shots. Once our technique is embedded we instead want to rely on the automatic brain. Conscious thought essentially erases years of practice, and this is what often happens when athletes start to choke. They begin to second-guess their skill, and the part of the brain that monitors their behavior begins to interfere with the types of actions that are normally made without thinking. Before long, performance spirals, as failures mount and increasing doubt about the ability to perform begin to rise.

So why are golfers so much more apt to choke than other athletes? Well, unlike most reactionary sports, we’ve unfortunately got a lot of available time to engage in all that unnecessary thinking. This means we have a proverbial minefield of potential mind-traps out there waiting for us to step on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take cues from the available research, we can devise habits, routines, and strategies to help short-circuit the choking phenomenon, and potentially avoid becoming another Van de Velde the next time the chips are down.

  1. Practice Desired Outcome Focus – It’s essentially impossible (and a bad habit) to try and not do something. Telling yourself not to hit it left in the hazard, or to stay away from the bunker right is a really bad idea, and there are studies backing that up. Shift your focus instead to what your desired outcome is.
  2. Practice Positive Visualization – Positive visualization is a great tactic to use to avoid choking. Get in the habit of mentally rehearsing a positive image of the skill you want to perform, or better yet, a successful image of the shot you want to make like a high fade towards the tallest pine at the corner of the dogleg.
  3. Practice Implicit Learning – This is learning through observation, rather than the step-by-step instruction manual approach, and its practitioners have been observed in studies to be much less susceptible to choking than their overly analytical counterparts.
  4. Practice a Pre-Shot Routine – Players who have a disciplined performance routine that allows them to become engrossed in the process, shifting their mind away from too much outcome thinking, have also proven to be much less susceptible to choking.
  5. Embrace Distraction – Athletes asked to listen to sounds or words unrelated to the actions they are performing rarely show the type of drop-off in performance in high pressure situations than those who are actually focused on what they are doing. So, next time listen close to all those birds chirping, partners yakking, or clubs jangling with a welcoming ear, instead of an instinctive complaint.

While these practices can really help you start understanding what to do if you want to become an actual champ, learning a few lessons from the foibles of some of those would-be champs can be helpful as well. When Palmer melted down in ’66, it was because he got over-confident and began firing at pins in an attempt to break Ben Hogan’s Open scoring record. As things started to unravel, though, he got tight, surly, and uncharacteristically dour in the effort to get things under control.

When Norman’s bid for his first green jacket began to fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit, he too got tight, making one uncharacteristically poor decision (and swing) after another in attempt to get things under control. When Rory McIlroy collapsed, he approached the entire day of the final round differently then he did typically, thinking he needed to be more serious and stoic in his quest to nail down his first ever major and it backfired.

And for Van de Velde, the succession of agonizingly poor decisions, beginning essentially on the 18th tee of the final hole, was actually his attempt to not do anything different when common sense dictated he should have. When asked about it in an interview fifteen years later he said,

“What do you want me to say? I should have played it differently? I believe that…with what I do and the way that I do it, day in, day out… that I played it correctly. I hope that people learned that it’s a game and there’s bigger things in life. Winning with grace is pretty easy. Losing with it is a lot harder.”

Quite a profound statement form someone nearly unequally qualified in the game to make it. Bravo Jean. You may not have ended up a champ, but you certainly won’t find me calling you a choker.

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WATCH: How slow-motion training can lead to more power and consistency

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Eddie Fernandes has made big changes to his swing (and his power and consistency have gone up) by mastering the key moves in slow motion before he speeds them up. Everyone should use this kind of slow motion training to make real changes to their swing!

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WATCH: What you really need to know to control the direction of your shots

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In this video, Top-100 Teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to better control the direction of your shots by understanding how both the club face and swing path determine where your ball goes.

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