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Have you ever seen your swing on video and realized that your hands were really far from your body at impact? There are drills and training aids teaching professionals use to correct this swing flaw, but by and large they are ineffective because they usually do not address the root cause of the fault.

The most common reason golfers get their hands away from their body is to flatten out a golf club that is too steep coming down. Here are few things golfers do to put the club in a better position to hit the ball when they are too steep in transition:

  • Raise the handle at impact
  • Raise the swing center
  • Shorten the radius of the lead arm (chicken wing)
  • “Reverse Pivot” (back up)

What they also do, which is by no means last in importance, is swing the hands OUT and AWAY from their body. This horizontal motion with the hands will flatten the club, but it leaves a golfer in a poor position to hit the golf ball; that is, not connected to the body. In my experience, this is the move I see golfers use most often to correct a golf club that is too steep in transition. You can see it in action in the video at the top of this story.

There are drills we could offer to correct the hand path, but trying to keep your hands in closer to your body does not correct the transition and will likely leave you hitting fat shots every time.

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Let’s start with the most frequent result of sending the hands out: heel hits and shanks. Spray the face of your golf club or put some face tape on it. If you notice all your impact marks near the heel, you need to keep your hands closer to the body.

The one drill I use most often to start the fix is to place an empty water bottle in your right pocket (if you’re right handed). Make a few practice swings trying to crunch the bottle. You’ll hear it make the plastic noise as your right arm hits the bottle. The BenderStik is another good tool for feeling the motion. You could also place a tee INSIDE the ball you’re trying to hit and attempt to hit IT. This may give you a feeling of your hand path staying in… but that’s IF and ONLY IF you’re hitting the heel.

Here’s the big IF in this series; IF you see the hand path WAY OUT on video and you’re hitting the TOE, then you have to learn a flatter downswing. The golf club has to lower in transition so that it can swing on a more horizontal plane into the golf ball. The root cause of the problem has to be corrected at some point.

So we come back to my original reason for writing this series: Knowing what to correct and when, and the answer is always impact. I see toe hits with hands way out from the body and I see heel hits with hands in close to the body every day. It all depends on the inclined plane the golf club is on as it swings into impact.

Read back through my articles for GolfWRX. You’ll see a common thread that runs through most of them. The golf club gets too steep in transition and the golfer reacts to that club being out of position. In other words, the BODY reacts to the CLUB, not the other way around. There is no greater proof of that than this: MOST steep swings have a shallow attack angle. Sending the hand path OUT is just another example of that dynamic in action.

Finally, for anyone who is too steep in transition, I HIGHLY recommend hitting a LOT of golf balls with the ball above your feet on a side hill lie. This cannot be overdone if the handle of your golf club is pointing at the ground in transition. It provides a horizontal orientation to playing golf. We can never forget golf is a SIDE-ON game, and that part of it has to addressed as much as the up and down part.

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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

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Jason

    Jun 23, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Dennis: Enjoy reading your posts. I have watched this post and also went back to viewed your previous articles. I am a golfer suffering with early extension and high hands (fats, shanks, blocks) and all methods I have tried (bumping shaft behind rear, alignment rod across hips, golf bag behind rear, pushing rear back, squatting in D/S) have not worked. I am wondering if this is due to your thoughts on steepness. When you refer to the hand path – is it simply the path of hands from top to impact? Should the clubhead be under this path at all times in the swing not just in transition? On video, I am across the line with clubhead above this path at the top then clubhead basically traces the hand path all the way down and maybe slightly above at impact. Again, no matter what I try I can’t achieve impact position of body in same posture and shaft on same plane as address..no matter what I try!

    • dennis clark

      Jun 25, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      Id have to see a video but generally it is much easier to “lay it off” at the top than to “lay it down” in transition…but yes the steep transition is likely the reason for early extension

  2. ButchT

    Jun 19, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Dennis: is the same good effect that is produced by dropping the club under the plane line in transition duplicated by simply being flatter in the takeaway and maintaining that flatness in the downswing? Or, do you still have to come under the plane line (hands) in the downswing?

    Thank you for your contribution to golfwrx! Butch.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 20, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      either way is fine as long as the club gets onto a hitting incline early in th downswing. The butt pointed at the ground leads to the variety of errors I’ve listed. Thx

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 20, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Butch…and thank you for your respectful comment. Those of us who spend our every day with struggling golfers and have seen every imaginable swing flaw, try to share those experiences with the readers of WRX. It’s nice to know that some of you appreciate it.

  3. Bobalu

    Jun 19, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Just google GGSwingtips and watch GG’s YouTube videos to find out how to correct this problem without using instructional bandaids (like the old classic empty water bottle in the trail pocket- decent feel drill but simply does not address the root problem). Make the effort to rebuild your pivot and learn how to stop your hip sliding, stalling, and poor rotation that causes your pelvis and hands to move out and causes you to stand up with in an early release of the club. If not, you will continue to get crappy impact and loss of distance. If you are sufficiently motivated, you can learn how to stop goat humping. It starts with changing the pivot motion (to stop the hip slide) and learning how to rotate and square the clubface with rotation. Use the ground forces correctly. Take the stress off your body. Some body types may not be able to pull it off, but most golfers can do it if they are motivated. Are you willing to put in some effort to get better or do you just want more bandaid drills from frustrated coaches?

  4. Loz

    Jun 18, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    Flattening the shaft seems to have been covered by every popular YouTube channel in recent weeks. My problem is that I’m 6′ 4″ and have very poor flexibility. Even when I was young I could never touch my toes. Some channels specifically mention this as a cause of early extension and suggest stretching exercises. Your comment about hitting off a side hill lie was interesting. I always hit the ball well off that lie, but strangely also generally don’t struggle with the ball below my feet. I have a very large wrist to floor measurement, I come out 5 degrees upright on on pings scale. I’ve tried and tried and tried (till my thumb bled) but cannot flatten the club in transition. I’m a 4 hcp and generally a good ball striker, but video analysis didn’t exist when I started playing in the mid 80’s, neither did good instruction in my area, so I never knew I had this bad flaw in my swing. Any tips for the taller player would be much appreciated. Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 20, 2017 at 8:27 pm

      Well look at Kuchar…just because one is tall does not mean he/she has to have an upright golf swing. If your video or Tman numbers suggest that an up-and-down dominant motion is hurting you, I would certainly try flattening the downswing arc. Regardless of height. But I’d have the see the swing before I’d say for sure. Thx

  5. Dennis clark

    Jun 18, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Physical limitations and variations certainly play a role in the swing pattern that is adopted by some golfers. It is not however a panacea for more biomechanically “correct” motions. This does however open a much larger discussion on the relationship of the body and arms/hands/club. Historically the approach in swing corrections has tended to favor how the body is ACTING at various points in the swing. It has been my experience that the body often REACTS to the position of the golf club. A classic example might be a very extended lead wrist (cupped) at the top of the swing and a vertical pull down of the handle-From where the body is compelled to try and get the golf club back into position. I have found little to no evidence that the torso or pelvic movement can correct this resultant steepness of the golf club, which again is held by the hands/arms. I have had much better success when changing the golf club/hands/arms position ALLOWING for a more efficient force being applied to the golf club. Certainly I agree with your analysis of the variety of body types and the requisite allowances for them, but regardless of the type, the golf club must get into a position to which the body can react in a better, more effective way. Again just my experience. Thx

    • Nathan

      Jun 18, 2017 at 11:57 pm

      This is the near future of golf instruction.

      Getting away from this nonsense of changing body positions to change the club head position/motion

      …it should be the exact opposite in my opinion.

      Change the club head position/motion in order to naturally correct the body positions.

  6. Dennis clark

    Jun 17, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    It would not hurt. But really I don’t think there is any one body much be that, in and of itself, changes the golf club. Hands and arms change club incline. Flatter lead wrist, sending rear elbow out in front of the ribs,extending right wrist etc…experiment and find what works for you.

  7. BCKnoll

    Jun 17, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Do you feel the little sit down move ala Sam Snead enough to drop a volleyball from between the knees helps shallow out the club/ plane…..

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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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