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What it really takes to square the clubface at impact

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No matter how good your car looks, it only drives as good as the engine in it. Golf is very much the same. No matter how good a swing looks, it’s only as good as the parts that make it up. And the most important part, the engine of the golf swing if you will, is the positioning of the clubface at impact.

“Golf is what the ball does” John Jacobs famously said; and what the ball does is a function of the club face at impact. To get the clubface to impact properly, we need to look at the club face prior to impact. These checkpoints are a way to monitor the position of clubface throughout the swing, and give us an indication of what golfers need to work on to achieve the best possible clubface position at impact for them.

What most golfer don’t realize is how fast their downswing unfolds. It takes less than a second — about 0.80 seconds for an average professional — or three times faster than the backswing. Considering how brief the interval is from the top of the swing down to the ball, there is very little if any time to correct a club face that is not square. Yet that is exactly what millions of golfers are doing. That’s why it’s so important for golfers to put the club in a good position at the top of the backswing, and for top ball strikers, that means having what we call a “square face.”

There are of course some great professionals who do not square the face at the top, but these few exceptions do not negate this principle for the average golfer. So what is “square”?

photo 4
Above: “Square” is the word we use to describe the clubface at the top of the swing that is laying on the plane of the swing.

photo 5
Above: “Closed” is the word we use to describe a clubface at the top that is looking at the sky.

photo 6
Above: “Open” is the word we use to describe the clubface at the top that is looking more down at the ground.

In actuality, here what those terms mean. The clubface we call “square” is actually 90-degrees open to the target. The club face we call closed is actually square to the target, and the one we call open is even more open, about 180-degrees open to the target.  

The reason for this seeming conundrum is this: As golfers take the club back, they actually twist the club face by a simple rotation of the arms as the shoulders turn. They twist it “away” from the square position it was in at address. So if you go to the top of the swing and bring the “square” club face down to the impact position, you will see that it is completely open. In other words, golfers need the same amount of rotation of the arms in the downswing as they had going back. Most golfers do not correct the face coming down, and that lack of proper rotation of the arms in the downswing is one of the most common faults in golf.

One of the ways to correct this might be keeping the club actually square, or closed at the top of the swing. So just what happens if you don’t rotate the arms at all going back? It’s perfectly fine to do this, taking the club back with NO twisting or rolling of the arms. In fact, I strongly suggest it for most people who fight a slice.

Remember, at address the club face is looking at the ball. If you’re having trouble squaring the club face at impact, simply try keep it looking at the ball all the way to the top. This is guaranteed to help those of who leave the face open.

photo 3
Above: A clubface that is “square” while starting back.

photo 2
Above: A clubface that is “open” while starting back. Note: This club is only slightly open.

photo 1
Above: A clubface that is “closed” while starting back.

Now what if you do rotate the arms and roll the face to what we call the “square” position at the top of the swing. Well, again, as the downswing takes such a short time, it is essential to start the squaring the clubface early in the downswing. Like right away.

For those of you who slice. As soon as you begin the swing down, start turning your right palm down to the ground. DO NOT wait until you are entering the impact zone to try to square the face, because it will be TOO LATE. Left alone the club face will remain OPEN. That’s why it’s vital to twist it to a square position.

Here’s a good drill to help you feel release. Put your left hand on the club in a regular grip position, but put your right hand all the way down on the shaft. Now make a few practice swings and feel what your hands are doing. They’re rotating, aren’t they?

You also have to consider the plane of the downswing. Golfers who swing flatter, or more horizontally into impact will find it much easier to twist the club face back to square. Those of you who are swinging too steeply, or vertically on the downswing will find it much more difficult to twist. That’s because when the center of mass of the golf club gets even with or under your hands, the “release” (or what’s called the torque or twist) will happen much more passively. If you hit balls on a side hill lie above your feet, your shots will draw/hook most of the time due to this principle as well as the lie angle of the club. This aspect is what really separates the wheat from the chaff in golf.

Watch the swings of the very best players; they are not struggling to square the face. It simply happens as the result of a good grip and the more horizontal plane of their downswing.

Last, but certainly not least, is the grip. I and many others have written on this subject ad infinitum. But this part of the swing can never be exhausted. Every golfer who is trying to improve needs to find a way to hold the golf club in such a manner that it squares the face for that golfer. I cannot universally prescribe a grip for you, but I will offer this rule of thumb: If you tend to come into the ball steeply, you need a stronger-than-normal grip. If your downswing is flatter, you can hold the club in a more neutral position.

Further reading: Click here to read Dennis’ story, “Make your grip match your swing.”

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Jon Blazewicz

    Jun 24, 2017 at 1:19 am

    i’m toying with the idea of taking my swing to the top and adjusting it square up there in the air so to speak. When i bring it back it is very slightly open and feels weird, but the downswing feels good and strong and the release feels good

  2. Jeff Chuh

    Apr 27, 2017 at 8:34 am

    As the article suggest, when I try to put right palm face to ground, the club face indeed square at impact yet it may cause me to casting…

  3. Jeff*

    Jan 12, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Love your articles. Especially in the winter, I feel more prepared for next season, thanks.

  4. Bob

    Nov 19, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Isn’t the main problem with slicing not turning your core early enough and losing balance backwards towards the end of the swing?

  5. Richard Grime

    Nov 6, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Yup, this makes perfect sense. The better players flatten the downswing and have less issues with slicing.

  6. Tiger Tiger Woods y'all

    May 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

    V

    • Tiger Tiger Woods y'all

      May 12, 2014 at 10:37 am

      I spent years trying to make a strong left hand grip work ,because that what everyone said would stop slicing and weak fades and help square me at impact. I finally recently went to a very weak left hand and it’s like heaven. With good tempo the face just naturally squares at impact. You must work hard and find a grip that just naturally hits square. Making adjustments to the face during the swing is killer, causes flipping.

  7. DaveMac

    May 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Just to say the total swing time is about 1 second and downswing is about 0.33 seconds (0.75 and 0.25 for quicker tempo player professional and amateur).

  8. Dennis Clark

    May 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    An added note from the author: The closed club face CAN have a steepening effect on the swing, that is make it more up and down> So it can be doubly effective for those open and a bit flat.

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Man, I am SO IMPRESSED with the progress and polish Charlie Woods has made with his golf swing in the last year; and boy it’s nice to see Tiger swinging and playing golf! Charlie still has the strong grip but a bit more tempered which allows him to stay more connected to the ground and streamline the efficiency in his golf swing and never taking away his ability to find his targets! Check it out!!

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I feel blessed to have spent my life in South Texas, where we have the luxury of playing golf year-round. Sure, we have some bad winter weather, but it usually only lasts a few days, then it’s back to the course, maybe with a light sweater or windbreaker . . . but oftentimes in shorts, even in December-February. One of the first things I had to learn when I got into the golf industry 40 years ago, was that so many of you have genuine seasonality to your golf – and actually “hang ‘em up” for months on end.

If you are one of those, or just any golfer who wants to get better in 2022, the great thing about this game is you can work on many improvements without even getting the golf ball involved. So, here are some ideas how you can improve your golf game indoors.

I have made it a life’s work to observe golfers of all skill levels to see what they do that either helps them hit quality golf shots with reliability . . . or what they do that practically makes it near impossible to do so. To me, what separates the better players from those that struggle are several core fundamentals – some have them down pretty darn tight, while others just do not seem to grasp them.

I’ve long believed that you can learn and ingrain these core fundamentals in the comfort of your own home, without even swinging a club. So, with that in mind, let me offer you some thoughts that might help you shrink that handicap, regardless of what it might be.

Learn a proper grip. I see so many recreational golfers who just do not hold the club in such a way that allows proper rotation and release of the hands through impact. The great golfers before us pretty much nailed that part of the process very early in their own learning curves and have shared that with us for decades. While you might prefer an overlap, interlock or ten-finger (not baseball) grip on the club, the fundamentals do not change much from one to the other. The club has to be held in the fingers, not the palms, in order for it to move properly through the swing. It really is that simple. Learn a proper grip and make it instinctive and you are taking a giant step to better golf. There are lots of good guides to a proper grip that can be found online, and even some great training grips that guide you to the correct hold on the club.

Build a proper setup. Again, anyone can learn how to put themselves in an athletic position that gives the body a solid starting point for the golf swing. There is no reason at all for anyone to ignore this solid fundamental. Watch the tour players – PGA and LPGA alike, and you will see very little “personalization” of this preparation for the golf swing. They all look almost identical – save for differences in height and weight – at the start of the golf swing. Again, refer to the internet and photos in magazines to see how the body should be positioned to set up a sound, fundamentally solid swing.
Understand the roles of the body and arms. From my observation, the vast majority of recreational golfers control the entire golf swing with the hands and arms, rather than the body core. That’s only “natural”, because you have a ball sitting there in front of you, and a club in your hands with which to hit it . . . makes sense to fully engage your master hand . . . but that isn’t what golf is about. Golf is about learning a powerful repeating swing, then learning how to set yourself up in such a way that the ball will be precisely in the way of the clubhead as you execute that swing.

I strongly suggest you watch and study slow-motion swing videos of accomplished tour professionals. These will show you what is fundamentally correct. From the start of the downswing, the sequence of body core rotation releases power from the legs to the hips to the core and shoulders, and the arms, hands and golf club are the “followers”, getting to the ball last.
The easiest way to learn the proper rotation of the body core in the golf swing is to cross your arms in front of you, holding a club against your chest. Feet shoulder width apart for balance. Now, rotate your body into the “backswing” until your shoulders are rotated as far as is comfortable, and you feel your weight moving to the inside of your back foot. Then rotate back to your left (for right hand players), starting with the knees/legs, then hips, then shoulders until you feel your weight move to the outside of your lead (left) foot. Do this rotation drill over and over and over until you really “nail it” without thinking about it. As you do, then tilt your upper body so that the club points downward with the shoulder tilt.

As you learn this feel of the body core being the driver and the arms/hands/club being the follower, you will make giant strides toward building a much better and more powerful golf swing.

There’s just no way I can give “lessons” in this blog, but I hope this made lots of sense to all of you. The more “perfect” you can make your grip, posture, and body core rotation, the more power and precision you will build into your golf swing.

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