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 and an advanced certified instructor. He 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 7-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 dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com


  1. 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.

  2. 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. 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. 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?