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Changing your golf swing? Consider this before you do

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Golfers I have taught over the years have an almost uncanny ability to put the golf club on the ball (to varying degrees, of course). I have seen well-hit shots from an incredibly wide variety of positions. I’ve seen closed faces, open faces, steep swings, flat swings, outside-in paths, inside-out paths, slow and fast swings, strong grips and weak grips ALL hit the golf ball solidly at times. How? Well, thinking about this may very well help your swing, especially before you decide to change something in it. Let’s take a look at a few examples to explain.

Strong Grips/Closed Clubfaces

We’ll start with the example of a strong grip that tends to get the clubface quite closed to the arc in the swing and at the top of the swing. If that is left alone in the downswing, the shots are very predictable: low and left (for a right-hander), sometimes barely getting off the ground. But many golfers hit the ball in the air and straight with a strong grip; in fact, many hit high blocks to the right. How? Well, they open the face on the way down and usually “hold on” through impact. They adapt to the closed clubface to make it work, and that’s the point here.

Now, if they reach good impact consistently like a Dustin Johnson, Graham McDowell and several others do with a closed clubface, we have no problem. But often club golfers do not; in fact, many slice and top the ball from a shut face at the top.  They do so because opening a closed face is a very shallowing move and prevents one from releasing the club properly (it’s a power outage as well).  Functionally, however, opening a shut is far better than releasing it from there, for obvious reasons. If the trail hand pronates, the face goes from closed to really closed. So golfers simply learn to open it.

So along comes some well-meaning friend who says your clubface is really closed at the top. You look at many great players, and sure enough, your face is clearly shut. So you correct it. What happens next is also very predictable: high and very right, and very thin with many topped shots. Why? Because you only corrected part of the problem. You fixed the shut face, but now you’ve taken a square clubface and massively opened it as a force of habit. You have ingrained that move into your swing because you had to open your old, shut clubface in the downswing. Correcting only ONE thing made your swing worse. Your swing is now dysfunctional.

That’s why if you commit to one change for the sake of improvement or consistency, you have to commit to both changes. If you don’t, you’ll get worse… not better.

Steep Swings

Here’s another: many amateur players start the downswing with the golf club far too steep. Maybe it’s over the top, maybe not (you can be just as steep from inside the ball). But when the golf club is too vertical in transition, it can result in any one of a number of impact mistakes: namely fat, slices and toe hits. So the idea of “flattening the transition” (good idea) becomes your priority, but there’s always a catch. Most experienced golfers correct steep through one of a few different ways listed below:

  • Raising the hands (standing the club up) to avoid fat shots
  • Tilting the torso back or away from the target to avoid opening the face
  • Sending the hands away from the body to avoid toes hits
  • Raising the swing center

You get the picture here. You learn to get the club on a better plane (flatter with the butt of the grip pointed more at the golf ball), but you’ll likely still have one of the “fit-in” moves left into impact. So a flatter club, which is by far a better way to square the face, might result in a shank if you’re used to sending your hands away from your body to avoid a toe hit. Raising the hands might top. Tilting the torso back away might hit shallow fats or tops. So you fixed the steep transition, but your impact is worse! Again, you’re dysfunctional.

Remember, if you commit to one change, you MUST commit to both.

Weak Grips/Over-The-Top

One more: Golfers who start out with a weak grip (as most do) slice. So as a reaction, they come over the top and swing outside-in. So they fix the grip, and of course, the result is predictable. They pull the ball, generally low and left (for right-handers). You get the pattern here. They need to learn a new swing direction, and on and on.

The lesson is clear; a single correction of a swing issue can be sufficient, but in my experience, two corrections must be tackled for long-term improvement. What to correct first? Well, you’d have to consult with your teacher or coach. As a rule, I try to get better impact first if I can get someone there from where their swing is now. Some other teachers may prefer a different sequence, but I think they’d all agree that a two-part correction is ultimately in the works.

I’ve always believed that teachers can disagree widely on the prescription, but they should be pretty much in unison regarding the diagnosis. Learn the swing flaw AND your reaction to it before you decide to make a swing change.

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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

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Olle Eriksson

    Oct 21, 2019 at 5:07 am

    Great article. Most of it makes sense to me. But what I’m left wondering is what the correct 2nd change to flattening the shaft, if the list of things you mention are the incorrect adaptions?

  2. Commoner

    Jul 16, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Based on previous exposure to Clark’s teaching, it’s my opinion he has the ability to phrase points or express himself in a way that the ‘average’ golfer can understand concept and method. What really impresses is his acceptance of the pupil as a real live being with assorted quirks, habits, limitations, and traits. This is so much better than trying to pound that square peg into the round hole.

  3. Lm

    Jul 15, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    is that you, Clampett? Lmao

  4. E

    Jul 15, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I get the broader point that things work in systems but my god why does this have so many technical and confusing specifics

    • ogo

      Jul 15, 2018 at 4:14 pm

      …. so you will seek help from an instructor… rather than attempting to do it subjectively not knowing what you are really doing right or wrong…!!

    • JK

      Jul 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      If you want a K.I.S.S. solution stop golfing for two weeks… and then sell your clubs on ebay. That should solve your swing problems!

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Instruction

Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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Instruction

Golf 101: How to hit a bunker shot

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I’ve heard from numerous people over the years that theoretically, the bunker shot should be the easiest shot in golf—you don’t even hit the ball.

Sounds romantic, but common sense would suggest the polar opposite. Any new golfer or one walking into the game knows that hitting it into the bunker can be a disaster if you don’t know what to do. Figuring out how to hit a bunker shot can be daunting. So in the spirit of the 101 series, I want to give the beginner a three-step strategy to playing out of a bunker with one goal in mind: get it out of the bunker.

Keep in mind, this is simply to get the ball outta the sand, not spin it, not get it close, just get it back on the grass.

How to hit a bunker shot

Use a 56-degree wedge. Non-negotiable. You need the loft, the bounce, and the forgiveness.

Dig in: Gives your feet and body not only a feel for the sand but also a firm base. The bunker shot isn’t a full swing but you need stability. So when you address the ball, wiggle your feet a bit to get in there. It also makes it look like you know what you are doing—that helps for social reasons.

Face open: Imagine if you had to hold an egg on the face, that’s the visual. If the face isn’t open enough to do that its not open. Remember also that when you open the face, you are not cranking your hands over to do so. Turn the club open, grip it normally, and there you go.

Thump

This is what I have taught beginners a few times, and I’m not a teacher, but I’m a pretty gnarly bunker player. It works. Now that you are dug in, the face is open and you are ready to hit it, pick a spot an inch behind the ball, and with some speed, control, and a firm grip (hold the face open) THUMP down on that spot. Even more, THUMP the heel down on that spot. When I saw THUMP I mean CHOP, BEAT down on it with some purpose. Two things will happen, the ball will pop up by simple momentum and the face will stay open because the lever (and meatiest part) that holds it open (the heel) is doing all the work. Your tempo is key, and yes, I’m telling you to beat down on it, but also be mindful of staying in your body.

Could you potentially stick the club in the ground? Yup. Maybe. But the odds of you skulling, whiffing, chunking are reduced to almost nothing.

The best way to get outta the sound is to use the sand to help you. That’s how to hit a bunker shot. Pounding down on it with an open face uses a ton of sand, a ton of energy, the bounce of the wedge, and requires you to do very little.

Give it a shot.

 

 

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How the direction of turn influences your swing

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Understanding the direction you turn in the backswing will help identify your swing pattern. To start, turn is simply a word for something going around or moving circularly. When teaching, the term turn is very broad. The spine, shoulders and pelvis can all move in different directions.

So what direction should you turn? After an efficient setup (How Posture Influences Your Swing) I want players to coil around their original spine angle. This gives players an efficient “shape” to the body at the top of the backswing. Shape is the relationship between the upper and lower half of the body. Shape retains body angles from the setup, which also mirror impact. The relationship between the upper and lower body are highlighted in the pictures below.

When in this shape, the downswing can become a reaction towards the target. The club and body can return to impact with efficiency and minimal timing required. The body doesn’t need to find the impact position. This impact position is a common look to all great ball-strikers.

An important concept to understand is the direction of turn is more important than the amount of turn. Think of throwing a ball towards a target. You don’t turn more to throw the ball further or for more accuracy. Your body coils the correct direction to go forward and around towards the target. The golf swing and direction of turn is similar to a throwing position.

A great drill to get the feeling of this coil is what I call off the wall on the wall. Start by setting up with your lead side against a wall. Make sure your trail shoulder is below the lead shoulder with a tucked trail arm. From this position, swing your arms to the top of your swing. Note the backswing position.

When doing this drill, note how your upper body moves off the wall, and the lower body stays on the wall. An important note to make is the hips and glutes don’t stay stagnant against the wall. They go around, sliding against the wall as the upper moves off.

The beauty of the golf swing is there is more than one way to do it. Many great players turn with lead side bend in the backswing. This is where the upper body tilts towards the target (lateral trunk flexion). However, these players will have to change their spine angle to find impact. This pattern isn’t incorrect, just needs more recovery in the downswing to find the impact position.

I do not prefer players having to recover in their downswing. I define recovery as having to re-position the body in the downswing to find impact. Think of a baseball player having to throw a ball to first base when his body starts in a contorted position. I the golf swing, this requires more talent and timing and can lead to inconsistency unless precisely practiced and trained.

Educating yourself on how your body coils in the backswing is critical when working on your swing. Remember, there is no one perfect swing and people have different physiologies. However, coil in a direction that will give you the most efficient swing and prevent injuries.

www.kelleygolf.com

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