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Faults and Fixes: Getting Too Steep

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The idea of correcting your golf swing is one that all of us entertain, and we probably all should work to fix our swing at one time or another… at least those of us who want to play better. So golfers go in search of faults and fixes every chance they get. If a golf website, video or magazine offers a quick tip that might help, it makes too much sense to try it.

But there has always been something missing from this school of golf. In my many years of teaching, I have found that a singular swing correction almost never works. The reason is simple; when you get the golf club or your body out of position in your swing, you will inevitably attempt to correct that move to get the club face back to the ball.

Here’s an example. Golfers who get the club too “steep,” either during the backswing and especially during the downswing, are almost always “shallow” at impact. The reason is simple; NOBODY wants to hit the ground the behind the golf ball, so golfers make every compensation possible to avoid it (they stand up, they back up, they chicken wing, they raise the handle, etc.). So the result is a swing that is too steep, but an attack angle that is too shallow.

“I have found that a singular swing correction almost never works.”

What I’d like to offer to GolfWRX Readers is a series of articles that deals with two-part adjustments called “Faults and Fixes.” Each article will offer a correction of the initial problem, and just as importantly a correction to the reaction to that fault.

I will also discuss the order in which faults may be fixed. Make no bones about it; this is a series for serious golfers who wants to take their game to the next level. Let’s get started.

Fault: Too Steep

Faults_Fixes_Too_Steep

Most amateurs get the golf club too steep, particularly in the transition. If the butt end of the club is not pointed at the golf ball or the line of flight, it can be too vertical.

This incline can cause fat shots, toe hits, weak slices and occasionally toe hooks. The cause can be one of several things: a cupped lead wrist, crossing the line at the top, coming over the top, trying to “lag” the club down (instead of moving it down the plane) or a “flying” rear elbow.

This steepness in the swing is common and very correctable. But here’s the catch; does the steepness of the golf club need to be corrected, or does a golfer’s REACTION to the steepness have be fixed? And how do you know? How can you be sure if it’s the position of the club causing poor impact, or if it’s a reaction to the poor position? The only way to be certain is to know the answer to this question, “What’s happening at impact?

Too steep, by definition, should cause deep divots, slices and toe hits… but you may be very shallow with tops, hooks or even shanks. In the later case, you can be sure that the reaction to the golf club is your issue.

In the video at the top of the article, you saw a golfer who hits “thin hooks.” But if you only watched the video of his swing you would think he’s hitting fat slices. You see him raising the handle and flipping the hands through impact in the video. If he was actually sticking the golf club in the ground behind the golf ball and slicing, we would FIRST have to put his club in a better position. But remember if we do and he has the old reaction, he may actually miss the golf ball altogether! Tricky business, because the last thing a teacher wants to do is have the first few shots be worse.

What I usually do, and what I’m suggesting you do, is correct impact. In working with this golfer, I helped him learn to release the club and hit down through the golf ball. In other words, I made the club act as it should from where it was. I took away his reactions to the steep position instead of correcting the club first. Why? Because he’s shallow more than anything and hits hooks, even from that open club face position and steep shaft.

Let impact be your guide, NOT the positions the video suggests could be a potential problem. If and when you start actually getting steep, THEN try correcting the golf club.

Here’s a few tips for the golfers out there who are struggling with an impact position that is too shallow:

  • Hitting balls from downhill lie.
  • Turning through the ball at impact and getting more onto lead foot.
  • Releasing the club down (not dragging the handle).
  • Lowering the handle into impact.

With these corrections a golf swing will become steep, and then we can lay the shaft down a little.

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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

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Rogerinnewzealand

    Feb 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Dennis, as always, a thoroughly researched article with great insight! And courteous answers to the disbelievers.

  2. Mike

    Feb 23, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    you have to fix the turn first . he doesnt turn his shoulders and has no depth at the top . all he can do is throw is hands forward. fix the turn first

    • GOLFman

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      A+. Mr Clark mentioned a arms and hands connection. I agree but I’m sure Dustin Johnson wouldn’t hit anywhere without the ground and proper footwork. Needs depth big time.

  3. dennis clark

    Feb 23, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    John Jacobs once remarked that the he had heard so much about footwork in golf that he thought the objective of the game was to kick the ball around the course. Footwork is critical to balance and creating force but does not direct the golf club. After observing this dynamic for some 35 years I have reached the conclusion that the body reacts to the position of the club. Not the other way around. No amount of footwork or leg work or great balance automatically puts the golf club in the correct position. It is held by the hands and arms. When it gets too steep, too flat, too outside, too open, too closed etc. the body will do whatever it can to right the ship. That’s why the grip is soooo critical. IT controls the face, therefore commands the rest of the motion. If i move the weight of my body perfectly but cup my lead wrist or orient the club too steeply I will hit a well
    Balanced slice. And when my golf ball spins off to the right I will swing well left to combat it.

    • SoCal

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      Well, we agree to disagree. Try making a golf swing without touching the ground, you’ll get my point… Motion that takes place in the body in rotation from the ground, involves position, velocity, acceleration, plus angular position, angular velocity and angular acceleration. Each of which a vector is needed. Thus ground… It’s the initial start point, plus proper balance and footwork is very important…

      • Dennis Clark

        Feb 24, 2017 at 6:56 am

        But we are NOT disagreeing on proper use of ground reaction forces. No teacher who studies this craft seriously would disagree with that. Its simple physics and bio mechanics. However, where the misunderstanding lies may be this: I’m trying to explain WHY golfers misuse the ground and execute poor motions. It is because the golf club is well out of position and no proper ground force can put it in the correct place because the hands and arms hold the club. This is where some of the science today is divorced from the reality of what golfers actually do. He could have 100% correct turn and weight displacement with a poor grip, a flying elbow, a cupped lead wrist etc…and then when the golf club gets in the position we see here (or any number of poor positions) he will IMPROPERLY use the ground forces you correctly describe. Or even if he did push off the earth properly starting down it will not, could not, hit a good shot because the club is open and steep. In this case he would be very late into impact with an open face. So what does he do? He reverses his weight, hangs back and raises the swing center to try and right the ship. If someone can prove to me that proper ground reaction forces will correct the plane and face of the golf club, I will take another look at this. Believe me I have changed and adapted to many things the golf science community has taught us as I’ve grown as a teacher over 35 years. But I cannot see the connection here. BTW So Cal I am not disagreeing with you personally, I also raised this point at the teaching and coaching summit recently and raised a few eyebrows there too. I did not receive one logical good answer to the disconnect I see here. Thx for the discussion, these are always healthy for the game and our part in it. DC

    • HoleIn2

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:27 pm

      There is a video on how pressure helps hit a draw on golfwrx by meandmygolf. Give it a view Mr Clark. I think SoCal brings up a valid opinion. Plus your reference to the Great Mr Jacobs is ok, but technology now is what it is. The instructor I have in Arizona was mostly based on how my feet and body work. JAT

      • Dennis Clark

        Feb 24, 2017 at 7:02 am

        HoleIn2…I am aware of the video and own a boditrak unit myself, but let me ask you this as I did them: If I use the proper “force” and execute an inside path, WITH an open face from a steep shaft or a poor grip, will I hit a draw. And how will those forces correct that plane or grip? I’ll get on any force plate you want and execute all the correct motions and top, slice, hook etc all day, IF that golf club is not fixed. Thx DC

    • Pinhigh

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:49 pm

      Completely disagree about your position on proper lower body mechanics in relation to the path on the backswing. Went to a GEARS assessment and that’s what they stressed the most. Body lineage.

  4. SoCal

    Feb 23, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    IMO. You’re not discussing his poor footwork. Place him on a pressure plate to get him to feel dynamic motion.

    • Looper

      Feb 23, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      I agree with SoCal I think you’re working in reverse. SoCal might like from the ground up.

  5. Philip

    Feb 22, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    So would you know why the golfer is steep? Or it really isn’t relevant in that everything is so interconnected and reliant on each other that it is easier to get impact correct first, and then over time the body will correct itself all the way back to one’s setup and how they hold the club? It’s just that one has to allow their body to teach them how to swing the club instead of thinking the swing? Just curious because I was stalled with my OTT (backswing too flat or totally upright ITO) for 3 years before I changed my approach 2 years ago to focus on impact. Since then little things have continually clicked and now my swing is falling into place over this winter. One of the bigger things for me was to just stop and take a minute to reflex on what it was I wanted my body to do – I never actually visually thought about what a golf swing looked and felt like from the person doing it – I was always looking from the 3rd person via videos and photos.

    • dennis clark

      Feb 23, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      right. What’s know as whole part whole style learning. You have to have the big picture in mind before working on details. I agree.

  6. Randel

    Feb 22, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Nothing wrong with an up right golf swing, agree getting to Impact with it takes a little practice, as Inbee Park, Jack Nicklaus, D.J. Trahan etc. have proven it can be done to a high level…..

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 22, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Yea worked pretty well for Jack huh? Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, nowadays Geoff Ogilvy…. Big diff here though. They were upright for sure and even more vertical into impact than say Trevino or Hogan, but…rarely will you see an elite ball striker get the center of mass of the golf club ABOVE their hand path in transition. Craig Parry, maybe Craig Stadler possible rare excetions. Mid, high cap club golfers do, so the face gets seriously open, as the video demonstrate. The first little move from the top flattens on even the most upright swings of the professionals. Take say Furyk, that almost gets too flat into impact, you’d never think it at the top. They MATCH components amateurs don’t bye and bye… Thanks for reading

  7. dennis clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    The last paragraph states: IF you are struggling from shallow IMPACT position, try these drills. DOWNHILL LIES and sidehill ball-below-the-feet lies are a drill for steeping attack angles; Uphill lies and ball above feet are used to SHALLOW attack angles. The golfer has a VERY shallow attack angle, hence the point of the article. The point is NOT to change transition but to change the REACTION to the transition. If/When he gets too steep at IMPACT, then and only then we will address shallowing the AA.

  8. MAC

    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE A GOLFER WITH A STEEP TRANSITION HIT BALLS FROM A DOWN HILL LIE AS A DRILL! WTF!?!?!?

    YOU ARE OUT OF THE PROGRAM!

  9. Bigly Yuge

    Feb 22, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Just do the A-Swing. You can go from the photo on the left to the photo on the right if you just did the A-swing. Simples!

  10. dennis clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    I agree Marnix. That would a good title.

  11. dan

    Feb 22, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Why are there so many shank comments on this article? What I took from it is that it’s important to understand that just trying to fix the “look” of someones swing is a bad idea if you don’t understand that the glaring “look” can influence a players reaction at impact. Makes sense to me. You have to have the student understand the basic impact conditions you’re trying to get them to achieve before you start talking about the swing.

    I liked the article. About putting the horse before the cart.

    If people are going to click shank, they should at least give a basic explanation of why.

  12. Marnix

    Feb 22, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Well done, although the title of the article is a bit confusing – it should really be something like “Impact is Everything”, or “Make Students Better, not Worse”. I have had quite a few lessons where my ball striking afterwards was worse then before, probably because they started with fixing the wrong fundamental flaw first. And yes, in the theme of ‘let’s start from scratch and get you a new swing’, that approach is defensible. But it really takes the fun out of your game for a (long) while until you have mastered the new fundamentals. It’s not about fixing what’s wrong, it’s about fixing what matters. Actually, that would be a good title too :).

  13. dennis clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 11:59 am

    When golfers get the club back to shaft plane at address or close to it they often shank the ball. That’s why they stand the club UP!

  14. Dennis Clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 10:10 am

    If you notice the grip end of the club is pointed up at his chest into impact; it started at his belt buckle. That’s what I mean by striving to get the handle lower into impact. He raises the handle because he is too steep to release the club properly.

  15. Steve

    Feb 22, 2017 at 7:51 am

    What exactly do these things mean?

    Releasing the club down (not dragging the handle)
    Lowering the handle into impact.

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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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