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Understanding “over the top” and “casting”



“I know I cast the club, I just cannot stop doing it.”

That’s one of the most common things I hear on the lesson tee. So let’s talk about why golfers think this is so prevalent, and see if casting it is what they think it is. Two definitions are in order if we are to understand the dynamic here. “Over the top” and “casting.”

Over the top: During the downswing, a movement of the upper body (particularly the shoulders and arms), in which there is a distict movement OUT, not down.

Casting: The premature uncocking of the wrists or straightening of the angle formed by the left arm and the club from the top of the swing. It is an action of the hands and arms, not the body.

These are two VERY dissimilar motions and you will need to understand them to change them — if that is your goal.  I’ll explain this in a minute.

A high percentage of golfers slice. They do so because the clubface is open relative to the true path of their swing. And every time they do, they are very likely to try and start the next shot off to the left in order to play the slice. It is as instinctive as a blink — slice and you will aim or swing left, no questions asked (for a right handed player). When this happens, the player is starting out and above the dynamic plane, or “over the top.” Now here’s where it gets interesting… This is also quite often the CAUSE of “casting.”

Every inch or millisecond spent going OUT is time or space NOT going down. So an over-the-top motion MUST be associated with a casting motion, OR the bottom of the swing arc will be so far in front of the golf ball that the player will not make  solid contact. They’ll likely hit a half-topped skull at best and shank at worst.

Try to “lag” an over the top motion, and I guarantee that if the golf ball is not 6 inches in front of your left foot you won’t even hit it (I’ve seen this with good and bad players). Ideally, the bottom of the swing arc is under the left arm pit. So if the left arm pit is moving out and forward, the bottom of the swing has been moved too far up, and you BETTER let it go! Every bit a golfer goes out, the club must start getting in line with the left arm that much earlier.  This is why I said in another article MOST golfers cannot release it too soon, becasue MOST golfers come over the top. Is this ideal? Maybe not, but it IS compatible.

When a player gets to the top of his or her backswing, there has to be a lowering of the arms and club unit. In The Plane Truth about Swings and Things we discussed that some golfers come down (the two planers) more than others (the one planers). This is because the arms and club are more over them and less behind them. But all golfers have to come down sometime, that’s obvious.

I teach a lot of golfers to learn to release and get their arms and club down FIRST. When and if they start sticking it in the gound or hitting big hooks, then I start working on the rotation of the body on the downswing. TURN-SWING-TURN is a great sequence for “over the top.”

I said earlier you can correct this if it be your goal. By that, I mean there is nothing wrong with a little ouside swing path if the face is slightly open and the release is timed for that move. Most of my tournament players love a baby fade; they aim or swing a bit left to produce an open face. It is my considered opinion that MOST golfers are too concerned with “getting through it” or “getting to their left side” at the expense of not bringing the club with them. If many newer players could learn to hit the ball with their back still at the target and started drawing/hooking the ball, the fade would go away and so would “over the top”.

This is an area many golfers struggle with mightily. If you are an over the topper, and playing even a reasonable level of golf, you are also a slightly early releaser. So your correction is twofold: getting more to the inside AND getting a little later with your release. It’s a tall order, but can be done.

I am NOT a method teacher but I have seen FAR more students NOT swing the arms and club than I have seen not “get through it.” I’m going to wager that if I could measure a practice swing against a real swing, I would see 10 MPH more speed in the practice swing! Why? Well, if I know I better start the ball to the left, the body opens first, the arms come way too late and voila, a golfer swings slower.

So just as my other articles suggest, learn to release the club and swing the arms freely. We can turn you through later.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at

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  1. Dennis Clark

    Jan 28, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Yes Dennis Clark Golf Academy, Naples FL At the Marriott Marco Island Resort

  2. Jim Irvin, PGA

    Jan 3, 2013 at 10:31 am


    Thank you! As a PGA full time teaching professional, it is refreshing to hear somebody focus on swinging the club vs. trying to sequence body parts to mid to high handicap problems.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Jim Dennis

      Jan 25, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      Do you teach in the winter? If so,where?

  3. yo!

    Jan 2, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Good stuff … maybe it’s because I understand everything you’re saying, makes perfect sense to me, and has been my experience as well.

  4. Dave S

    Dec 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    So are you saying I should be more concerned with making sure I release the club in the hitting zone than hip turn?

    My plroblem with this is that I end up concentrating too much on my arms and hands and lose a ton of power.


    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      I’m saying that if were your teacher, I’d have you continue to work on arm and hand speed. The body stabilizes and balances, but the arms create the speed! Thx for comment, DC

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A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness



I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick



One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Is There An Ideal Backswing?



In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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19th Hole