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Instruction

How to fix the dreaded chicken wing

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A lot of golfers, when describing the “problem” with their swing, say something like, “I know I have a chicken wing, I just cant stop doing it!”

In golf, a “chicken wing” is the shortening of the left arm (for a right-handed golfer) in the downswing and into impact. I call these types of moves in the golf swing “fit-ins” or “savers” — golfers fit them into their swing to complement another error, and they use the move(s) to try and “save” the swing from calamity.

When a golfer is conscious of a habit, but cannot refrain from doing it, there must be a good reason for it. No one woke up one day and decided to “chicken wing” their left arm. They are doing so because they MUST; for the simple reason that if they didn’t do it, something worse than what usually happens would occur.

What could be worse than a weak slice? Slamming the golf club into the ground on the the downswing might be worse — much worse, because the weak slice goes somewhere, the fat shot does not.

Hitting the ground behind the ball is a golfer’s worst nightmare. It is an embarrasing shot that only goes a few yards, gets your clothes dirty and makes you look like a duffer more than any shot in golf (shank possibly excepted). Golfers will do anything to avoid it, so when their body or your brain senses a crash, it is going to get off the road, one way or another.

An involuntary habit, by definition, is one over which you have no control. So you typically do one of a few things:  stand up, fall back, or chicken wing. All three of these disastrous motions are typically caused by the golf club starting down too STEEP in the transition from a golfer’s backswing to downswing.

If the shaft plane is steep when a golfer starts their downswing, with the butt end of the club pointed at a golfer’s feet or the ground between the feet and the ball, a golfer senses that he or she is headed for a crash, and reacts accordingly.

 

A too steep down swing (left), versus a downswing that is flatter (right).

I’m often asked, what can I do to fix my lifting or my chicken wing? There is no drill that I know of, or a teaching aid that will help you if you are consitently on too steep of an angle in the downswing. You have to fix the root cause of the problem — you have to learn to “lay the shaft down,” or flatten your transition.

Much like slicing; if you want to develop a more inside path you have to get rid of the slice.  The same thing goes along with saving the downswing. Think of it this way: if the shaft was way too flat, as some are, a golfer would consistenly top the ball and actually dive DOWN to hit it. These swings are rarely guity of chicken winging, because the gound simply isn’t in play as much for them. So we’re back to my theory of golf as a reaction game (click to read the original story).

PGA Tour players don’t chicken wing or stand up, believe me. But you, dear reader, Mr. bogey golfer, what can you do about this move? These are a few of the things I recommend:

  • Hit balls on a side hill lie with ball above your feet. Think baseball.
  • Hit balls off an high tee with the club in the air as high as the tee at address. Think baseball.
  • Go to the top of your swing and pause: Feel your right wrist cup (dorsiflexion) and your left wrist bow (palmar flexion)
  • At the top of swing, your right forearm is angled similarly to your upper body. Immediately make it more vertical, moving the right elbow OUT in front of you.

Notice how the wrist action I descibed and the right forearm action happen together — as the left wrist bows, the right wrist cups and the right forearm moves out. Now notice the position of the shaft: The butt end is now pointing OUTSIDE the golf ball, and you are in a better position from which to start down.

The sidehill drill cannnot be overdone for many of you —  the more you think “lay the shaft down” in transition the better off you will be.  If you have seen your swing on video with your pro, he has probably pointed out this steepness. If you’re one of the many in this position, these drills are worth a try. When, and only when you get into this position to start down will you feel the freedom to extend your arms, particularly your left arm, into impact. You will not fear fat, in fact, you will start to top the ball, UNTIL you learn to stay down, keep rotating and extend the arms. 

If you want a great winter project, think about this and do it thousands of times in your indoor center, garage or wherever.  You don’t even have to swing — just learn to start down more horizontally so you can STAY DOWN into impact.

One last thing: note earlier I said the player typically does one or a few things to avoid fat shots: chicken winging, standing up OR falling back. If you find yourself “backing up” into impact with the upper body adding extra tilt back into the classic “reverse C” look, it is often because of the very same steepness I decribed starting down. You are all trying to shallow out the golf club to avoid hitting the big ball instead of the little one.

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 to see what people are saying 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 JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Mike

    May 20, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I read with great enthusiasm your comments. I have a somewhat different situation. I have experienced severe trauma to my left shoulder which I believe causes me to retract just past impact to avoid any pain. Surgery is not an option so I grasping for straws. Your feedback is appreciated.
    Cheers

  2. Martin

    Jan 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Good tip Mark. I am always thinking I am gonna practise halv swings, then when I stand on the range I fall into the same pattern and hit the balls full swing in stead. This coming season I will practice more half swings and more punch shots. Thats a promise! 🙂

    And a comment to my comment… What I didnt say was that I have been working the whole winter (mostly in my living room since its very cold here and snow during the winter) to get the club more in front of me, mainly focusing on my backswing cause I have been to much inside going back before, leading to major inconsistency. Now I wonder what the reaction to this action will be? I believe I will hit the ball with a more open face if I dont let the club come flatter in to the ball and if i dont turn properly. Any comment on that?

    Thank you!

  3. mark

    Jan 9, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    A bent left arm can also cause a “chicken wing”.
    To fix this do half swings at half speed concentrate on extending your left arm thru out this drill. Your left arm should be as straight as possible but relaxed. Hit a 100 balls a day and soon you will hitting it great.

  4. Martin

    Jan 9, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Thanks for another great article!

    In a two plane swing your supposed to be steep in the backswing, the club pointing at the ball or at least inside the ball when your left arm is horisontal, am I right? If I start my downswing with turning my hip a little, the club should flatten automatically, at least thats what I read? I think Penick calls that the magic move? IfI then continue to turn (seperating the lower and upper body of course) I cant go wrong can I?

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Instruction

How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location

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One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:

Observations

  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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Instruction

Master your takeaway with force and torques

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Most golf swings last less than 2 seconds, so it’s difficult to recover from any errors in the takeaway. Time is obviously limited. What most golfers fail to realize is that the force and torque they apply to the club in the initial stages of the swing can have major effects on how they are able to leverage the club with their arms and wrists.

Our research has shown that it is best to see the golfer as a series of connected links with the most consistent golfers transferring motion smoothly from one link to another and finally to the club. Approximately 19-25 percent of all the energy created in a golf swing actually makes its way into the motion of the club. That means the remaining 75-80 percent is used up in moving the body segments. This emphasizes the fact that a smooth takeaway is your best chance sequence the body links and become more efficient with your energy transfers.

In the video above, I give a very important lesson on how the forces and torques applied by the golfer in the takeaway shape the rest of the swing. There will be more to come on the subject in future articles.

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Instruction

Learn from the Legends: Introduction

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There is a better way to swing the golf club. I’d prefer to write that there is a correct way to swing the club, but I know that really freaks people out. People love to talk about how everyone’s swing is different. “There are lots of ways to get it done,” they say. “Look at Jim Furyk’s swing – it’s not what you’d teach, but it works for him.”

To some extent, they’re right. Elite swings do have different looks. Some take it back inside (Ray Floyd). Some cross the line (Tom Watson). Some swings are long (Bubba Watson). Some are short (young Tiger). But these differences are superficial and largely irrelevant. When it comes to the engine – the core of the swing – the greatest players throughout the history of the game are all very similar.

Don’t believe me? Well, let me prove it to you. In this series of articles, I will do my best to show you – with pictures and videos and data – that the legends all move a specific way. Focusing on these elements (while ignoring others) and practicing a certain way is the surest path to improving your golf swing and lowering your scores.

So, let’s get into it. There are a number of important elements that all the legends have, but the biggest and most important of these elements is rotation. Every great player throughout the history of the game has had elite rotation. It’s the most important thing they do, and it’s easy to see. When you’re looking down the line at all the great players at impact, you’ll see hips and torso open.

This is what the legends look like at impact:

1Hips open
2Torso open
3Both butt cheeks visible
4Left leg extended and visible

And here’s what some very good players with less good rotation look like at impact:

These are very successful players (one of them is a major champion!), but they don’t move like the legends of the game.
1Hips and shoulders not open
2Left leg not totally visible
3Can’t see both butt cheeks

Now, there are plenty of nuances to how great players rotate. They do it while keeping spine flexion, for example, and they do it with very little (or no) lateral movement toward the target (lateral movement impedes rotation). I will discuss these things in detail. My hope is that at the end of this series you will have a much better understanding of what separates the legends from the very good… and from the rest of us.

You will understand their “engine,” and hopefully this understanding will help you begin to create your own legendary swing!

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