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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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Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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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

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“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 edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

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

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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 ShotByShot.com, 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 ShotByShot.com, 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 ShotByShot.com 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 ShotbyShot.com

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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