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How to fix the dreaded chicken wing



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



  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.

  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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Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing



In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice



“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf



Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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19th Hole