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Clark: How to stop hitting the toe
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.