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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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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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