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Here’s why your “perfect” practice swing doesn’t work when there’s a golf ball in the way



Have you ever wondered why your absolutely perfect practice swing doesn’t produce better shots? 

Your practice swing is perfect; you feel powerful like Tiger Woods, stay in balance like Rory Mcllroy, it looks effortless like Ernie Els, and your technique is flawless like Ben Hogan. It should produce the longest, straightest shots that you are physically capable of executing. But when you actually step up and place the golf ball in the way, your perfect practice swing disappears, and it’s the same old swing flaws that produce terrible golf shots.

Frequently, the answer lies within your practice swing. You’re not correcting the root cause of the problem! Take a look below at an example of what I frequently see up on my practice tee.

This golfer struggles with hitting shots too high, therefore not maximizing distance. His club head frequently reaches the golf ball before the handle does, with his hands behind the ball at impact, so he constantly works on getting more shaft lean into the ball. He wants to see his hands closer to his target leg at impact, which will help him de-loft the golf club and encourage a more solid, lower, penetrating ball flight with more distance.   

When he films his practice swing, he sees his perfect technique! There is more shaft lean, his hands are closer to his target leg, and the overall motion is great. So why can’t he execute this swing for real? 

A closer look at the impact position of his practice swing notes that his face is WIDE open. If this golfer executed his practice swing with the golf ball in the way, he would hit the ball dangerously right, probably out of bounds if he even found the club face. So while his practice swing movement is what he’s striving for, he hasn’t fixed the root cause of his swing issues: the club is wide open at impact! In order for this golfer to execute his practice swing during his real swing, and get the results he wants, he must fix his grip to achieve a more closed club face at impact. Once the grip is fixed — the root issue of his golf game — he will then be freed up to use that practice swing when it actually counts. 

So how can we ensure that our perfect practice swing works? Look at what your club face is doing at impact. Study where the bottom of your swing arc is. Is the bottom of your arc where you want it to be when you’re taking practice swings? Are you taking practice swings starting where your ball position would be for the given shot? Look how you deliver your golf club. Is it on your desired swing path? Is it with your desired angle of attack? Study these components to ensure that your practice swing has an opportunity to perform more efficiently, and ultimately replicate your real swing. 

The moral of this story: there are always reasons why your perfect practice swing doesn’t show up when you’re trying to execute your real swing, including the pressure to actually perform! But, if you fix the root cause of your swing and actually use a practice swing that works for the shot you want to hit, then you can replicate your practice swing and hit better shots, even under pressure.

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Certified Teaching Professional at the Pelican Hill Golf Club, Newport Coast, CA. Ranked as one of the best teachers in California & Hawaii by Golf Digest Titleist Performance Institute Certified



  1. blue

    Aug 25, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    FYI… incompetent golfers have a psychological fear of a golf club… believe it or not… it’s true…

  2. geohogan

    Aug 25, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    Crude in presentation, but to the point.
    In one hour a right handed golfer takes a lesson to swing left handed and succeeds, not be practice swings but by not looking at the ball.

  3. jason z

    Aug 24, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Let’s say your practice swing happens to be excellent with the club bottoming out in the right spot, the face angle square to target and swing path in-out (all verified by high frame rate video) but your real swing is dramatically different. Any advice on how to get them to match up?

  4. Jack

    Aug 24, 2018 at 5:24 am

    LOL yes totally agreed. I’ve actually replicated practice swings when I’m hitting, and it doesn’t end pretty. Problem is practice swings are done without a ball in mind and as much as we would like to just let the ball get in the way of the swing, most swings are not good enough for that. Also we just do practice swings without regard to path/clubface. If we did it would be just as unnatural (for amateurs that is) as the real swing.

  5. geohogan

    Aug 23, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    IMO, when we play.. dont practice.
    We dont need to give golfers reasons to take more and more time to take a shot. Can you imagine waiting on a golfers as they check impact, path etc etc, with every practice swing. Some will keep at it until they think they get it right….more golfers will quit the game.

  6. Jerry

    Aug 23, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    I thought you were going to say something about the mental game.

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WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided



Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake



In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.


Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.


The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.


The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.


The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.


In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.


There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.


A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.


The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.


Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it



This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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19th Hole