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Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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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

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Dennis clark

    Feb 20, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    JD it is a vicious cycle and that’s why I caution all my students and readers with IF this THEN that. Grip, aim, posture all preferences. Backswing preference. But what is NOT one day this, one day that is matching your downswing to any or all of the above.

  2. DS

    Feb 20, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Flat takeaway, not downswing. My personal curse. Add to it a pretty flexible back, and I turn too much, stand up, and my right shoulder (I’m a righty) actually moves back towards the target at the top. I get across the line every time and ‘compensate’ by coming over the top on the downswing. Net – I felt like 1 Year I didn’t hit a fairway. Actually, I hit many – just none my own. Big pulls and huge fades. Unsure of any early/late release but I hit it pretty far. Just not straight.

    I’m working on both a better takeaway and a downswing that is ‘under’ the plane. Such a hard thing to master but making progress, little by little. This is a long way to say “I love the idea of a flatter downswing”, and appreciate the cautionary note about “comes in pairs”, Dennis.

  3. Steve

    Feb 20, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    Interesting article, thanks, Dennis. I think the challenge for us mere mortals, is “how” to shallow the club’s angle of attack into impact. I struggle with this owing to a backswing that does not conventionally “set” the club at the top, so I tend to come down steeply. Spent last year, somewhat in vain, trying to shallow my attack and compress the ball better. “Modern” teachers such as G Gankas and Brad Hughes (among others) preach about getting hands and arms out in front, but differ on how to get there. Keeping back to target and leading with lower body are newer teachings that are hard to incorporate, especially for my generation that grew up with watching Nicklaus and learning swing concepts from 30+ years ago. Again, thanks.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Feb 20, 2019 at 8:29 am

    The main reason I wrote this is that MANY players who flatten the transition start SHANKING. For all the reasons listed in the article. Be careful.

    • Benny

      Feb 21, 2019 at 7:17 am

      You guys want a fix to all of this.. go watch “square to square” on you tube. Thats Stricker, Zach Johnson a bit and even Speith a little. No wrist, just cock, lock amd swing. Take the guessing out of it.
      Time and time again people put WAY to much into the issue instead of just playing. Pros, sure this is their life, but hand – eye contact is what humans are good at. Just stay still, stable and swing but make sure you watch the ball off the face..

  5. Russell Ziskey

    Feb 19, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Ha! I have historically had a steeper path into the ball, and played around with laying the club down (with Sergio as the mental model). Great results at first, but then I turned into my alter ego – El Hosel…interestingly have also noticed that sidehill lies (ball above feet) don’t force as much of a pulled left shot for me in stock shots…compensation comes in pairs is the key phrase that is sticking with me…great article

  6. geohogan

    Feb 19, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Ben Hogan dropped into the Slot
    Jack Nicklaus kept the club equally between the arms in DS, as he used a gravity drop

    Both players knew how to use the leverage of both arms equally, letting their torso rotation square the clubface, with release after impact, Level Left.

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 19, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      Hogan late Jack earlier Watson earliest. Lag watson swing and stick it in the ground. Release Hogan’s move and drop kick hook it. The release point is a function of the shaft plane and hand height into impact.

      • geohogan

        Feb 19, 2019 at 9:13 pm

        Hogan and Nicklaus, among others (two, Moe Norman and Knudson), showed us that if we drop into the Slot ie (3 levers in a common plane) then torso will square clubface at impact without release of the hands until after impact if at all.

        Of course using torso rotation to square clubface is one way to swing. Right arm straightening and hitting with the hands are the other ways, where shaft plane and hand height may well be key. After all the latter two methods are so very timing dependent.

      • geohogan

        Feb 19, 2019 at 9:27 pm

        So no surprise in order to rid himself of going left, Hogan learned to drop into the Slot, and let torso rotation square the clubface. No reliance on squaring the clubface within thousandths of a second, with the hands.

        • Dennis Clark

          Feb 20, 2019 at 8:26 am

          Agreed. His whole thing was “how not to hook the ball”, which in the 30s, into early 40s he did plenty of. He became Ben Hogan the legend when he stopped hooking. But some of the things he advocates can cause amateurs to slice. Nothing is for everybody! Tnx

          • geohogan

            Feb 20, 2019 at 11:06 am

            Hogans go to shot was still a draw, but he could fade at will.

            Many things that Hogan stated and wrote have been misconstrued. Any and all details need to be vetted. Opinions dont matter.

            The subconscious does not, not do anything. ie there is no negative intention.
            Dont drink and drive…translates in SC, “drink and drive’

            Dont hit it left into the hazard…translates to ‘hit it left into the hazard’

  7. MG

    Feb 19, 2019 at 11:37 am

    I am self taught and for the last 5 years (until this last year) always shot between 71 and 79 at my home course. I have always been steep in the downswing. To combat this, I would naturally early extend starting on the backswing and then early extend even more on the downswing. The contrast between my head always raising and a tour player like Tiger’s head always lowering in crazy. “Knowing” I should be flattening my downswing, I was able to get rid of my early extension on the backswing and reduce my early extension on the downswing (to me it feels like is gone but when I watch video I still do it). I was hoping that getting rid of early extension would then eliminate my steep transition. Unfortunately the opposite is true. I believe I have been early extending because I have a steep transition. The final result is a nicer looking take away but now with less early extension and still having a steep transition, I hit a ton of shanks. It has ben really hard to play the game for the last year. And I don’t know how I can go back to my old swing. It just doesn’t feel right to do so much early extension now.

    • Dennis clack

      Feb 19, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      Send me a video I’ll ftske a look. V1 app if you have it

    • geohogan

      Feb 20, 2019 at 3:12 pm

      Everyone’s Slot will be unique to their body size, shape, length of arms etc.
      ie neither steep or flat.. just right for you.

  8. JD

    Feb 19, 2019 at 10:02 am

    one day do this, next day do that. Back and forth we go. It’s a viscous cycle.

  9. juststeve

    Feb 19, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Whatever works. What a great concept!

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