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Posture: The key to good swing dynamics

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If I had to choose, I would say that the grip is the most important fundamental in golf. I say that because the grip controls the club face, which controls the direction of the shot. And the direction of the shot is what golfers react to during the swing. So the swings golfers end up with are often the result of their ball flight. That being said, a good grip will not by itself result solid golf shots.

A solid strike on the center of the face with a good angle of attack is crucial to hitting good golf shots, and striking the ball in this fashion is often the result of good posture. Posture is sometimes a forgotten fundamental, even with good players, so let’s take the time and make sure you’re setting up to the ball properly.

Posture is critical because the golf ball rests on the ground, so to reach it we need to bend forward. This might sound simple, but it’s where many golfers go astray. They bend forward from their waist or their knees. Neither of these positions allow the freedom of motion or stability to make a good swing.

The correct way to bend is from the hips. The hips are not far from the waist, but the difference is huge in providing a platform to swing. You’ll notice that the buttocks jut out when you bend from the hips, but not if you simply bend from the waist. This is a key position to maintain balance and retain your axis tilt (or forward bend) in the golf swing. It’s a core-related movement, much like many other physical motions. When the core is engaged and the bend is from the hips, we end up with the “straight back” look you see on the professional tours. Waist bend creates the rounded back look I see too often at driving ranges.

Too much knee bend
This golfer has too much knee bend and very little bending at the waist.

On the other hand, players with excessive knee bend have little or no angle at the hips. This posture can be very effective in a greenside bunker, but it’s rarely effective on full shots.

We all start at address a certain measured distance from the golf ball: We are X feet above the ball and X feet beside the ball.  The only way this distance can be maintained is by keeping the posture we started with, assuming that posture is correct at address. I think of posture as a balance between the upper and lower body.  If we bend from the hips, we need to offset that bend by extending the rear end or we would simply be too top heavy. There’s a balance there. That’s why bending from the waist is dangerous, because we don’t always have the counterbalancing move of extending the rear end. Great players start with the weight on the balls of the feet.  The correct balance between the upper and lower body maintains that distribution of weight.

Proprioception is a fancy word for keeping your balance. It is the body’s awareness of its relationship to space and other body parts (think of when you were learning how to ride a bike). Everything we do, from walking down the street to swinging a golf club, is based on one simple principle: keep your balance, don’t fall over! Golf is particularly unique in that it is a game played with the golf ball on the ground. So we have to bend over to reach it, and for the 2 seconds or so of the swing we have to stay in balance. Let’s look at how a poor swinging motion is often the result of poor posture.

When the bend is excessively from the knees, the weight is often too much on the heels. This allows the club to work to IN and flat on the backswing (try making an upright swing with the weight back on the heels, you can’t even see the ball). Then, as a recovery motion, the player is forced out and over in the downswing. MOST “in and over” moves I see start with too much weight sitting too far back on the heels.

Too much waist bend
This golfer has too much bend from the waist.

Conversely, with the too much bend at the waist, the arm hang can be in too close to the body forcing the club up and outside with the weight too much on the toes. This leads to an attempt to drop the club back under, and an early extension of the lower body toward the ball. “Humping” is what I call it.

It is clear that posture at address can START an incorrect motion from where the golfer is constantly trying to recover throughout the swing. Remember, everything the lower body does must be counterbalanced by the upper body and vice versa. That is why getting the weight over the balls of the feet at address is so critical. I personally think big feet are good for golf!

Here’s a drill that can help you maintain your posture throughout the swing. Click on the images to enlarge them.

IMG_3163

  • Set your rear up against an aim stick placed in the ground behind you.  
  • Try making some easy swing with the right cheek brushing it in the backswing and the left cheek bruising it in the downswing and follow through.  
  • If you can do this, there’s a good chance you kept your spine angle throughout the motion.

See the lower body MUST stay under the torso to keep balance and create a consistent attack angle. You will see very few great players “humping the ball,” and almost none of them backing up from the ball. Of course there are exceptions, but every one of them can be explained.

For example, Phil Mickelson pulls his upper body WAY back from the ball and thrusts his left leg and hand path well forward into the ball. News item: None of us are Phil. I teach many of my professionals to actually feel like the hips and rear end push farther back against the aim stick in the downswing to keep the torso stacked over the lower body.  If you’re toe-hitting, hooking or drop-kicking shots, there’s a good chance your upper body has backed away from the ball coming down.

There is much more to be said, but the best way to observe your posture throughout the swing is through seeing it on video.  It takes discipline, because the correct posture is not comfortable at first, but once you get into it and maintain it throughout the shot the center face contact is well worth the effort.

As always, send a video to my Facebook page and I’ll take a look.

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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 [email protected]

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Pingback: Good Golf Swing Posture | Golf Swing Tips

  2. Eric

    Aug 6, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    Dennis, great article! Posture is definitely one of the most important factors in playing consistent golf. It is crazy how a little tilt here or a little bend there can change so many different flaws.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 7, 2014 at 10:49 am

      You got my idea perfectly. A little goes a LONG way when it comes to posture. Ot grip or ball position of course, but when hitting solid shots is the goal, posture rules.

  3. leftright

    Aug 6, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    Grip? Tell that to Furyk, Tiger, Johnson, Fowler, Johnny Miller in his prime, Palmer, Trevino, Hogan, Fiori just to name a few with grips that would make a teacher cry. To weak, too strong, double overlap, interlock or overlap, overlap or interlock, baseball grip, reverse crosshanded (the senior guy from the 80’s). The only thing that is important is the 12 inches from right before impact and after impact, the rest makes no difference. I think the takeaway is more important than the grip in most cases and the transition is by far the most important. No one that could ever play well had a bad transition, it was always fluid.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 6, 2014 at 11:25 pm

      Every one of those great players you mentioned had a GREAT GRIP. For them. Cross handed. Triple overlap it matters not even a little. The purpose of the grip is to square the face and they all squared it at a world class level. They learned to match their grip to THEIR swing. If I haven’t heard of a player there’s a good chance they have NOT matched the grip to the swing. But grip remains the connection to the golf club that ultimately squares the face. Take a great transition, takeaway, pre impact position with a grip that doesn’t match it and you have a handicap. I have 4 students playing for a living who all have slightly different grips and they can shoot 68 in a heartbeat. Conversely take Ernie Els beautiful tempo with a bad grip, and we would never have heard of him. Every time I make a change in someone’s motion I have to be sure the grip is compatible with it. That’s the glue that holds it all together. There is no such as THE grip. Just a compatible one. Thx for reading.

  4. Andrew

    Aug 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Dennis, Thanks, for the posting. How do you find your waist not your hips when bending? I suspect they are very close to each other. Do you push back the hip bones?

    Andrew

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 5, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      Andrew

      That’s a great question. It is a subtle distinction but an important one. Stand up tall with straight legs. Now stick your butt out and you’ll feel the core engage a bit, and some pressure in the L3/L4 spine area. Then simply “unlock” your legs. Usually a straight back is the difference.

      • Andrew

        Aug 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm

        Thanks, Dennis. I’ve been doing it wrong for 30 yrs…bend the knees and then bend from the hips. Can’t wait to try it out. Andrew

  5. Dennis Clark

    Aug 5, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I often see the down swing a reaction to a poor backswing, but the backswing error often stems from poor posture. More common than is known.

  6. Golfraven

    Aug 5, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Not sure why you guys stand in deep grass with drivers but guess this is to get the contrast in the picture.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      Zak and Andrew were kind enough to “demonstrate” postures for my articles. The point is posture is so underrated in golf. We know bad posture when we see it, but don’t fully comprehend the effects on the swing. Thx for reading

  7. Lefty Light Hitter

    Aug 5, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    I use a chair and get great results when I put it behind me. Keep one in the car and hit balls with it there everyday. It is amazing how much it has helped my day to day contact.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 5, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Yea, chair, bag stand, even the golf bag itself, anything that let’s you swing your arms. Thx

  8. Dan

    Aug 5, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Always One of my worst faults, can be hard to notice as it creeps in. Especially for taller golfers. I keep telling my kids “Stick that hiney out”………They are 6 so they just laugh!!!!!!!

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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