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Clark: How to stop hitting the toe

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Last time we had fun analyzing Dustin Johnson’s toe hook and the reaction of the broadcast team at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. But I have a feeling DJ is not the only guy out there hitting the toe once in a while. So let’s take a look at WHY he might have done that.

Off center hits occur for a number of reasons, and I’m going to list a few of them. But first there’s one thing to note — we all have a pattern to our swing; those of us guilty of toe hits rarely hit the heel of the club, and vice versa. So our own particular misses are in our “personal family” of golf shots.

If you look at the best players at address and then at impact, you’ll see a number of differences in their positions. Some have lower hands at impact and some have higher hands, but it is rare to see a great player with their hand line much further out from their body than it was at address. There’s a good reason for this: They lower the club on plane in transition, have a vertical handpath and tumble the club outside their hands into impact. They also have powerful pelvic rotation, which pulls the hands in —  many amateurs do not.

Most amateurs start down with a shaft plane that is much too steep (Click here to read about that in a previous article). When golfers start down steep, they have to use a bail out move to avoid a number of errors that can result at impact. One of those bail out moves is for golfers to start their hands out, or away from their body during the transition, instead of starting the hands down, which lays the shaft down.

This movement out, which is also known horizontal hand path, is a real death move for all but some one-plane swingers (Click here to read more about one-plane and two-plane swings). Moving the hands out can flatten the shaft plane, but it also puts a golfer’s hands WAY too far in front of them. It forces them to “stand the club up” as they approach impact in order to avoid a shank. So while it might seem like having the hands too far in front would cause a heel hit, it often is just the opposite because of the late reaction to raise the hands. If golfers with a horizontal hand path didn’t stand it the club up or raise the hands, they would contact the hosel and hit a shank. A lot going on in a little time, huh? And most of the people I teach wonder why they’re not more consistent 🙂

Another reaction to starting down too steep is to “back up” the upper body in an effort to shallow out the steepness-right shoulder down. This puts the left shoulder up, raises the hands high and makes the shaft more vertical — a recipe for a toe hit. So toe hits can occur two different ways — they can result from golfers who go out with their hands during the transition and then stand the club up, as well as from golfers who tilt the upper body back and right to combat steepness. In both cases, the golf club will be quite vertical (from the excessive Ulnar deviation) and will likely make contact with the ball on the toe. This is common for people who cross the line at the top of their backswings, and don’t get the hands very deep (behind them) in the backswing.

Yet another way of hitting the toe is because of a very closed face at the top of the swing, followed by a late attempt to open the face coming down. This pulls the toe in (a reverse rotation of the arms caused by a left hand pronation instead of suppination), which can reduce the width of the arc, thus bringing to toe more into play. Essentially any move that does not have the club head centrifically rotating out can cause a toe hit.

Lastly, toe hits can occur from our old friend, “over the top.” An out-to-in path has the club swinging IN TOWARD YOU. Although it goes out first, the very leftness of the swing path (for right-handed golfers) brings it in.  The opposite move, an in-to-out path, tends to produces heel hits because the hand line is going away from the body.

What can you do if you’re combatting toe hits? Well, you can see how much of the problem lies in the transition and the steepness we discussed. Most toe hits are vertical swings, too up and down, not enough around. If the hands don’t get sufficiently behind you going back they CAN come down too vertically. If this is your problem here are some drills that can help:

  • Weaken the grip a bit. This might help you flatten your left wrist and start the club (and sweet spot) more horizontally. Note: A lot of toe hooks are hit with a really strong grip, which causes the left wrist to cup, the club to get too vertical, or the face to close very early, which makes the toe dominant coming through — a hook.
  • Hit balls on a side hill with the ball well above your feet to help flatten your arc.
  • Hit balls on a high tee without grounding the club for the same reason.
  • Excessively roll (or fan) your arms open going back, and roll them back the other way coming down (the roll, roll drill). This will give you a better sense of the horizontal component your swing lacks.
  • Put a tee OUTSIDE the ball you’re hitting and try to hit that tee. This will give you a sense of extending your arms AWAY from you into impact.
  • Stand a bit further from the ball (NOT closer), bend a little more at the waist and feel the arms swing across the chest in the backswing.

Finally remember this: In anotomical terms, when we go from radial deviation (thumbs bent back toward forearm) to ulnar deviation (pinky toward forearm) we are reducing the angle of the hands and golf club we had at address. This will make the golf club more vertical, raising the heel of the club and lowering the toe.

If the hand line does not move OUT to compensate for this new arrangement, here comes the toe. A simple general rule —  flat swings equal shanks, upright ones hit the toe. The golfers that don’t have these problems are playing golf for a living.

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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

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Eric Solander

    Sep 10, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Dennis – Agree
    Golfers – Use Impact Tape to see where the ball is impacting the clubface.

  2. Foreleft

    May 22, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Hi Dennis
    This article and several others of yours are lightbulb moments for me thank you so much you seem to be able to communicate ideas brilliantly ( to me anyway)
    Can’t thank you enough

  3. Sky

    Mar 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Excellent article! Interesting how he said at the end to actually stand further from the ball. Most would think to stand closer.

  4. Dave

    Mar 13, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Great article. I think it nailed it by explaining the different causes for a toe. Its really frustrating when you only hear about the over the top move causing problems. Many fixes tend to focus only on the very beginners. There are many who don’t go over the top but struggle with toe hits, shanks, etc. Again, thanks for the article!

  5. Terminology challenged

    Feb 13, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Without an accompanying vodeo, a golfer with a basic swing problem like consistent toe strikes hasn’t the experience to understand the descriptive terms being used to help him/her. Most golfers needing this type of help have no way to visualize “flatten wrists” and even more complex visualizations used here. Some will say they do but my experience proves that give 10 golfers this explanation, they couldn’t reconstruct the totality of what is intended. In this age of easy YouTube demos, there is a better way to reduce confusing and frustrating those you mean to help. FYI, I am an 8 and can’t follow some points. I find it unhelpful to be honest. Think and speak on the level of the intended audience and not in “instructor lockeroom” levels.

  6. Painter33

    Jul 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I present with complications that have the same result – toe pull hooks. My natural ball flight is/was a draw and an in-to-out swing; however, since the third of my three lumbar spine fusions, all solid contact and my game have gone out the proverbial window. While I have only a little less turn than I did, I can’t do two things – get my hands higher at the top or take any divot whatsoever. I’ve never been a “digger” and usually barely brush the grass, even on solid hits. I’m now hitting off the toe and low on the club face, resulting in consistent low pull hooks. Ugly. I’ve gone from an 8 hdcp to >15 (or at least play like it). I tried a shortened backswing with less wrist cock (Steve Stricker?) to no avail. I “feel”as if I’m straightening my legs coming to impact (bi-lateral TKR), which might be me pulling out of the swing and pulling the club back, but that’s my analysis that I can’t seem to act on to fix the swing. The “feet together” drill is fine but doesn’t translate to a regular setup and swing. Your and other teachers’ swing help fail me because of my orthopedic history, as very few other golfers have had 22 orthopedic surgeries (wear and tear – no injuries). Any thoughts/suggestions (understandably limited by my text description w/out visuals) would be helpful. Your highly descriptive and clear swing analyses are remarkably different from nearly every other golf teacher because you explain “why” with kinesiological interpretations. As a teacher of human anatomy, I appreciate those details.

  7. Rod Trump

    Jan 22, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Dennis…you rule! Thanks for your time today…great working with you! What an awesome teacher!

  8. Darrin Cook

    Jan 22, 2013 at 11:21 am

    This explains a lot of what is going on with my swing. I was hitting the heal a lot, when I saw my swing on camera, I noticed I was pretty flat, so I decided to consciously get more upright. I watched DJ as a model for this ironicly. This has resulted in downright awful shots and most off the toe. The funny part is when I set up with the intent to kill the ball, I just swing and seem to hit it right, something to be said for getting in an athletic position and allowing the swing to happen. Thank you for explaining why I am struggling with this. I believe my best be is to admit I will never be a pro and just work within my comfortable swing.

  9. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 18, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Very well explained Dennis,

    The toe shot is my bad shot and happens occasionally when I get too steep coming down.

    I’ve been able to fix the issue mostly by improving my set up to a more ‘reverse k’ style which has helped get my downswing a little flatter.

  10. Martin

    Jan 17, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    I agree, I would love taking lessong from you Dennis. As long as that is not possible, keep on writing!!!
    Question: If I would simplify: The toe hit is the two planers mishit, and the heel hit is the one planers mishit? So what about a hybrid: one plane backswing with two plane follow through? Is there any logic to this question, or am I completely wrong? Dont worry, I can handle the truth! 🙂

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      be careful with the distinction here; it’s get blurry as you apparently know. MOst swing are hybrid but the principles behind them are separate. But in a very general sense, yes! The body oriented flatter move is more likely to deal with heel and vice versa. Up is narrow and around is wide. In a very GENERAL sense, thx

  11. WVUfore

    Jan 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    ITs amazing all your stuff makes such perfect sense. Wish I lived closer for a lesson.

  12. Turn & Release

    Jan 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Dennis, I love your articles. You have a way of explaining this stuff perfectly. I feel like I can actually learn the swing through your work! Golf WRX is lucky to have you.

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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“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 edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

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

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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 ShotByShot.com, 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 ShotByShot.com, 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 ShotByShot.com 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 ShotbyShot.com

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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PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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