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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.

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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. 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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This video will clear up some of the questions you may have about how you should be starting down and then continuing through impact and to the finish.

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19th Hole