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Going to extremes to make a swing change

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I had a student come to see me recently with a severe case of the shanks. It was what I call an “up and over” shank — very little backswing turn, lifting the club straight up, then coming over the top. It’s not the most common shank, but it’s certainly the most severe.

I had him stand farther from the ball at address, turn better in the takeaway and feel his arms drop from inside a little more on the downswing. He adjusted to everything but the inside move and was still hitting the ball off the hosel.

I put a tee an inch inside the golf ball and asked him to hit it, not the ball (see the photo below). Shank — not extreme enough.

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I moved the tee 3 inches inside the ball and asked him to hit it. He hit another shank.  I then moved the tee about 5 inches inside the ball and asked him to hit it. Bam! Sweet spot contact, time after time.

We moved the tee back to 3 inches and he was hitting the sweet spot again. Soon he was feeling the turn and learning to drop his arms BEFORE turning into the shot — he even hit a few off the toe. Not only did he stop shanking, but he was beginning to hit the first draws of his life! Going to an extreme really helped this player feel what I wanted him to feel on his downswing.

I watched him practice the next morning and… wait for it, he did not use the tee-inside-the-ball drill. The result wasn’t shocking — he shanked the first five shots I saw. I strolled over, as if just happening by, and asked him how he was hitting it.

“Oh,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here; do you have time for a lesson right now?”

I told him I had a few minutes to watch him hit some balls. “Great,” he answered. “Because when you were there I was hitting it great; as soon as you left, I started shanking again.”

“Just out of curiosity, what are you doing differently than when we had you hitting it solidly in the middle of the face?” I asked. He truly did not know. I put the tee in the ground and, well, you guessed it. SOLID CONTACT.

I’m not picking on this student or citing this as an isolated incident. It happens with all kinds of golfers all the time. I’m merely making a few very pertinent points about improving at golf. When you’re working on something new in your swing, remember:

  • You cannot change a long-standing habit overnight.
  • You need to stick with drills that helped you improve until they become second-nature.
  • Regardless what level you are forced to go to, it is not too extreme if it’s helping you improve.

I had another student who was coming over the top so badly that I had him hit balls with his back to the target for a nearly an hour before I let him square up even a little bit. I have had players in my school hit balls from a side hill lie for an entire session just to get them to feel a better shape to their swing, or use a split grip all day just to feel some release. The extreme measures I’ve taken to affect changes in my student’s swings are endless. And I will not allow them to try it “the regular way” until they begin to show real signs of a different motion.

Talking the talk of improvement and walking the walk of it are VERY different things. If you believe that after an hour lesson you can go tee it up with your buddies in a $10 Nassau, you’re sadly mistaken.

Sometimes, however, a small adjustment is all it takes. I’ve had students achieve a better impact position just by tweaking their setup or grip. But if building a whole new move is your goal, you’d better be in it for the long haul or I suggest you don’t go at it at all.

Students say, “Well, I can’t go play putting a tee inside the ball every time.” True. But if you don’t do it every time now, you’re swing won’t be in any condition to play. Habits are deeply ingrained and despite the results you’ve been getting, they will not change until you create new habits.

I had another student who released the club early and under the plane, resulting in quick duck hooks. We hit balls on a downhill lie, and then we practiced an OVER-THE-TOP swing drill for several sessions. It looked strange, felt even stranger, but he broke par soon after getting the feeling. I saw him at the range diligently doing his drill before every swing and I knew he would get it soon because he was committed.

The next time your swing gets in a funk, go to any lengths to fix it. No matter how extreme the practice drills may be, if they are the right ones for you then stay with them regardless of results. And remember this: If you were shanking and you’re starting to hit the toe, or if you were slicing and you’re starting to hit hooks, that’s GREAT! Changing your habits is the only way to eventually get back to square and solid.

Good luck, and those of you interested in my swing analysis program, go to www.dennisclarkgolf.com or check in to my Facebook Page for information on how it works.

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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]

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. DevonC

    Jan 3, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Stack and Tilt; I hate to coin a swing with a name like this, but this style of swing has some pretty simple good drills that are amazing and helped me a ton in achieving great contact time after time!

  2. Golfnut

    Jan 2, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Any good golf swing is supported by the four fundamentals (grip, alignment, ball position and posture). Unlike amateurs every good tour pro takes care of these critical aspects on every shot and dedicate them as the basis of a grooved in pre-shot routine. Most problems with release after the fundamentals are more or less mastered, is when, or the timing of the trigger for release occurs early at transition. Most hackers fire the trigger for release at transition causing over the top moves or or for better players dropping the cub too much and to low from the inside causing a shank or getting stuck. The release trigger should be fired when the butt of the club is pointing at the target line and not before – transition should be passive. Release trigger can be left knee pulling left or right hip pushing at ball or as with Ernie Els – left leg straitens out. Laura Davies sucks in and lifts her stomach. Club head speed and consistency of path and club face will improve dramatically applying this principle. Let’s make golf easy – cause of bad things in a golf swing is usually an error which occurred much earlier. Don’t try make something happen – CAUSE it to happen

  3. Lilo

    Jan 2, 2015 at 5:05 am

    I have developed a problem whereby I get “stuck” at address and battle to get the club away. I’ve been a scratch golfer for many years but this is really making me consider giving up the game. I’m fine on the practice tee. Similar issue to what Robert Karlsson had.

    Any suggestions?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 2, 2015 at 6:02 am

      I had a student sing to himself once. On a certain word or beat he would go. It worked well.

  4. Butch Harmon

    Jan 1, 2015 at 6:17 am

    You’ve given the world my ‘secret’, The secret that Ben Hogan taught us. This is how I interpretated his famous quote, and now the world knows.

  5. Dr bones

    Jan 1, 2015 at 3:22 am

    excellent point about sticking to drills.

    • Butch Harmon

      Jan 1, 2015 at 6:18 am

      You still can’t spell, Seanny boy.

  6. BigBoy

    Jan 1, 2015 at 2:07 am

    “You need to stick with drills that helped you improve until they become second-nature.”

    That is what most adult golfers don’t understand, todays instant society is to blame.
    My first lesson was when i was 13, 3 years later i was scratch….practiced everyday for those 3 years.
    Then i read the internet forums and laugh how everyone wants a 2 minute fix.
    Ain’t going to happen.

  7. other paul

    Dec 31, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    The way I learned:
    Step 1-massive slice
    Step 2-massive hook
    Step 3-draw
    Step 4-straight and fade
    Step 5-anyone know how to use a putter? Can’t break 100.

    Seriously could draw and fade before I could putt. Hit 15 GIR and 3 putted almost the whole way for a 88.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 1, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      Wow. 15 GIR 88 might be a record! Has anyone looked at your putting? Sounds like you need help

  8. Sean Foley

    Dec 31, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    This will change my teaching outlook forever . Thank you sir

  9. Mnmlist Golfr

    Dec 31, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Wait, I don’t get it. You asked him to address the ball, but try to hit the tee 3 inches inside the ball and he missed hitting the tee and instead shanked the ball? I don’t even…

  10. Dangeruss

    Dec 31, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Dennis, What are a few good drills to help drop the arms before turning into the shot? Thanks!

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 31, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Well the one I’ve pictured here helps. Have you seen the Bender Stick?

    • Dangeruss

      Dec 31, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      No, haven’t tried the BenderStick but will look into it. I think my issue is standing to close to the ball and not allowing the golf club center of gravity drop down with my arms causing a slight over the top swing. For some reason I cannot get my arms to drop quick enough “consistently” to allow an inside out swing. I’m probably too quick with firing my hips. Thanks!

  11. JT Pope

    Dec 31, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I remember when I was at the same point in my game.. It made me feel more confident to stand close to the ball, and it felt easier to go ‘back and through’ or as you said ‘up and down’.. It also felt very foreign to rotate the clubhead, our to try to stand away from the ball and allow natural extension.

    That said, its been several years since I took that step to improve mechanics, and very glad for it. My swing is much more consistent and reliable, not to mention powerful.

    Good luck to your student!

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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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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