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Two reasons golfers get “over the top”

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Most golfers know they should avoid coming “over the top” on their downswings. But for golfers who do, the road to fixing it can be a difficult one. That’s because fixing an over-the-top move, which means getting the club more “inside” on the downswing, has two different causes, each with its own fix. 

When the golf club comes from too far outside, it is the result of one of two things:

  1. The upper body “spins out,” opening the shoulders early and forcing the hands out away from the body. This is by far the most common way I see my students getting over the top.
  2. The shoulders stay closed, the hands come down from the inside, but the CLUB HEAD is swung well outside the hands. This is less common, but every bit as destructive in its effect.

1. The Spin Out

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfipj0lmN24&feature=youtu.be

In the first example, the correction is actually somewhat easier. I see this spin out move in varying degrees, and it is often the result of yanking the club inside too quickly on the backswing. When the club gets too far inside, or “stuck,” golfers cannot swing down. So what they do is spin their upper body out, which gets them over the top. 

I also see a lot of players stand the club up too vertically as they approach impact to avoid shanking the ball. Picture the hands swinging out, away from the golfer, and the shaft on the original angle. Heel hitting and shanking are inevitable.

For this swing flaw — spinning out — I might have my students:

  1. Learn to keep their back to the target a little longer in the downswing.
  2. Feel as though the lower body is leading the downswing, a lateral bump of the lead hip, with the torso and staying behind a little in transition. 
  3. Keep the rear elbow in close to the body. I might even have them hit some balls from a closed position to see and feel the inside path. 

If, from there, they can begin drawing or hooking the ball a bit, the inside path becomes more natural, and the spin out will diminish over time. 

There are a number of good drills for this: Hitting balls with back to target and hitting balls with feet together are two great ones. The one I use more than any is to place an aim stick in the ground behind the golfer (on the same angle as the club they’re hitting). I have golfers swing outside the stick on the backswing, and then inside it on the downswing.

2. Club Head Cast Outside the Hands

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1SGz3DAo74&feature=youtu.be

The other, less obvious way golfers get over the top happens when the hand path is actually down, but the club head is thrown outside the hands. A video of this mistake might be misleading, because often the body will be square or even slightly closed to the target — but the club is still too far out. This is why shanking cannot always be corrected simply by geting the hand path to swing in. 

This swing is often the result of casting, but not simply casting down — it’s more out. An early release or a cast down will hit fat shots, but it will not necessarily be outside. We see this in players who have wide swings and are often pointed left (short of parallel) at the top, which is called “laid off.” Laid off at the top and wide is a dangerous combination, as the center of the club is really elusive.

The correction is a bit different, too. Here a player might have to feel like the club head is actually stuck, that is, coming from behind the hands in the downswing. 

There is a training device I like called the Benderstik, which is a foam ball on a pole that can placed in a variety of places to redirect certain poor swing habits. In this case, the ball would be placed just inside the line of flight and the feeling would be one whereby missing the ball keeps the club head behind the hands longer. 

You can also try another drill I use to feel a more inside club head path. Draw a line in the dirt and try making divots in front of the line. The divots must be straight or even point a little right of the target. This can reduce some casting, and again, give a feeling of the club head being more behind the hands.

Tricky business, but if you know what type of over-the-top move you have, you’re closer to making the correction. 

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me ([email protected]) about my online swing analysis program.

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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]

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Dennis Clark

    Mar 20, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Rob, thats a tough one, Id like to see it. But if thats the case, try an aim stick or possibly two, in the ground behind you, up against your butt. Try hitting some balls feeling like you stay against the sticks.

    • Rob a

      Mar 20, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks Dennis, will try that one. I have a couple of other drills too, hopefully between them we can fix it. Thanks again and best wishes, rob

  2. Rob A

    Mar 20, 2015 at 8:00 am

    That should have been the first post!!

  3. Rob A

    Mar 20, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Hi Dennis,

    Not dissimilar to the last post, I am relatively short – 5ft 6, and my problem is a slight early extension which means I cannot easily hit from the inside, leading to occasional very strange block push/slices. Have you any drills that you could suggest for working on eliminating the dreaded early extension?

    Love your articles, always learn something!

    Best wishes,

    Rob, Scotland, UK

  4. Robert

    Mar 19, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Very interesting. I never realized that the 2nd option was coming over the top. I’ve been making that move for years. Not realizing what that was, what I’ve been working on all winter is actually getting rid of that move. Good article. Thanks!

  5. Dennis Clark

    Mar 19, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I will post a short video golf doc. Stay tuned.

  6. Golfdoctor111

    Mar 19, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Dennis, Can you please explain more details re the benderstick drill? I’m not sure what you are describing ie.When you say the ball is inside the target line…. where is the benderstick ball– in front, behind or above golf ball? How far away? When you say miss the benderstick ball, are you saying with the club head(I assume) or did you mean to miss it with the struck golf ball? Thank you for clarity. Video would be great. Thanks

  7. dcorun

    Mar 19, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Found a book by Manual de la Torre and have been practicing his method. Starting the club with a traditional one piece takeaway straight back about a foot and then continue my turn and feel like my right elbow is relaxed. Then finish the backswing and start the downswing with a little hip shift toward the target and then let the arms swing the club freely towards the target and everything else follows to a full finish. Still hit a fade once in awhile but, mostly straight or a slight draw now. No more slice.

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 19, 2015 at 9:29 pm

      Good man Manual. Kniw him and like him. gentleman.

  8. Dennis Clark

    Mar 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Great comments all…Over many years, I have seen students develop an innate sense of how to deliver the club to the ball. When you see someone with out hand path, the club shaft is almost always too vertical. Very few, if any come in with hands low and shaft under (flatter) address plane. Point is the more vertical the shaft, the more out the hands-by necessity. Thx

  9. Dennis Clark

    Mar 19, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Yea shaft parallel to toe line is a good idea…the lower hand keeps the club outside. Picture your hands on the ground the club head is maximum distance from them. But…you can have high hands and NO forearm rotation, or low hands and a lot of forearm rotation. either way you’re looking to get it in line with hands, as you’re doing on the toe line.

  10. other paul

    Mar 18, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    My friends that slice set up with shoulders misaligned to their feet. When I noticed, I aligned my shoulders to my feet and have hit straight ever since. When I want a fade I just bring my rear shoulder forward a bit, and voila, a fade. Want some more draw, pull my rearward shoulder back a tiny bit. And voila, a draw. Simple. Works with all clubs. Breaking 80 when the snow melts this year if I can sort out my putter.

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 19, 2015 at 7:51 am

      thats the spirit paul…Ball position directs shoulder alignment Paul. Keep that in mind too.

  11. Rick Altham

    Mar 18, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Great article. The swing gyde training aid might also help golfers who cast their club heads outside of their hands.

  12. nabil

    Mar 18, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Just asking. Is that Rickart Strongert in the pic above with the ball trajectory ?

  13. Gorden

    Mar 18, 2015 at 12:32 am

    Worked on a grass range today with your thoughts on squaring up the divots, that helped me keep the left shoulder under better control as I use the single plane swing taught by Todd Graves, which works great if I keep the left shoulder from opening or turning to soon…with focus on the divots instead of what that left shoulder wants to do was a great help.

  14. Dennis Clark

    Mar 17, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    actually lowering the hands at address puts the club head more outside the hands, not inside…but every swing is different; if you find that it works for you, I’d stay with it. Bottom line is the club arriving at impact from inside and not having to raise the handle to get it there.

  15. Speedy

    Mar 17, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    Good stuff, Dennis. The rear elbow reminder is paramount, aiding accuracy and power.

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 17, 2015 at 7:33 pm

      yes it is…but remember the elbow in will not ensure inside- in and of itself.

  16. Dennis Clark

    Mar 17, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    You have to be very aware of club length, it’s easy to get over the top due to too little room to swing from the inside. I think lie angle and length play a greater role under a certain height. Just a thought…Thx

  17. Dennis Clark

    Mar 17, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    the aim stick is placed on the same angle as the club you’re hitting, and about 3 feet behind you on the same line as your hands. get it?

  18. antonio

    Mar 17, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Great article, thanks. Can you elaborate a bit more where and how to place the aim stick in the ground for your most used drill to correct the Spin Out?

  19. Bryan P

    Mar 17, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Hey Dennis,

    nice article! I’ve always been a fade player, and have a really hard time hitting a true draw. I think it may be because my clubs are too long and too upright. I think this because it feels like I have to really get on top of the club to make solid contact, which seems to pull my path way left.

    have you seen anything like that? Or is that not something you would expect to see from too upright of lies.

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 17, 2015 at 4:09 pm

      lie angle too upright ball goes left; too flat ball goes right. how tall are you?

      • Bryan P

        Mar 17, 2015 at 4:54 pm

        5’4. But I make solid contact with clubs that should be 4ish degrees too upright stock taylormade R7s. PING’s online fitter suggests I would fit into something -1/2 and 1.5 flat of their standard which is much flatter than what I have (not that PING is necessarily perfect).

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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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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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