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5 reasons you don’t take divots

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Should you take a divot? It’s a fair question I’m asked a lot, and my short answer is “yes.”

For most shots hit from the turf, most great strikers of the ball take a divot a few inches in front of the golf ball. Not all, mind you, as it is an individual thing, but most do. The club descent at the bottom of the swing, known as the attack angle, is about 4 degrees down for a 6 iron for tour pros. If that’s the case, what creates it, what do you have to do to facilitate this? Many golfers struggle in this area. They either take a divot behind the ball or take no divot at all. Why?

Here are a few reasons you can’t take a divot, or “find the bottom” as we say:

A Flat Swing

If a player tends to swing the club around his body, he will struggle with taking turf. Flat swings can produce shallow attack angles, and create wide swing bottoms than don’t come into impact steeply enough. I say CAN, because remember, I’m referring to the downswing.

Some flat backswings come over the top from there and create enough steepness to find turf, even too much turf, such as the the “in-and-over” move so common in many players. But when the downswing is really wide and around, it’s very difficult to get a divot. If this is your problem, try simply standing a bit closer and swinging more UP.  “Reach for the sky,” I often tell my players. Hitting balls from a side-hill, below-your-feet lie is good for this problem. It may force you to reach up a bit and hit down more

“Hang Back”

Bad-Golfer

When a player’s center of mass tends to stay on the back foot, with considerable rear side bend (I call it hang back), the bottom of the swing arc can be too far behind the ball and the club is ascending when it reaches impact. This shallow attack angle will not take much, if any, turf. Again, I say CAN because some players who have a lot of rear side bend counter it with a very late release — “lag” if you will. They come in sufficiently steep.

But most golfers do not.

If you’re guilty of hanging back, try putting more weight on your front foot, and keeping it there, much like the “stack-and-tilt” method promotes. In any case, you’ll have to feel like you are hitting from a downhill lie to keep your rear side from diving too far under the ball. Hang back NEVER occurs in a vacuum; it is always the result of another move —  sometimes a “reverse pivot,” sometimes an over-the-top move, sometimes trying to add loft… but rarely does one do it in and of itself.

Shortening the Swing Radius

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 3.30.48 PM

The goal of impact is to create a position very similar to the one at address. Not identical, of course, because of swing dynamics, but similar. This includes a similar arm length into impact.

At address, the lead arm is extended and the rear arm is slightly bent. This position is the one which we need to achieve coming into the golf ball, but if the rear arm (right for righties) gets extended, you can be sure that the left arm will be contracted.

The all too common “chicken wing” is usually the result of casting the club very early and shortening the radius of the left arm as a necessary deterrent to hitting behind the ball.  Again, like everything else in the golf swing, nothing happens in and of itself. A poor swing position is the result of another poor move that preceded it. Try simulating your address position with the lead arm EXTENDED and the trail arm slightly flexed in by your rig cage.

Raising the Swing Center

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 3.37.21 PM

I call this “bailing out,” meaning as the player comes into impact, he raises up, or stands taller, coming out of his original address bend. Here we go again: it’s usually the result of a swing plane that is far too steep in transition (starting the downswing). If the club is headed for a crash, as a very steep shaft will be, the only recourse is to bail out to avoid the dreaded fat shot.

The correction here is learning to transition a bit flatter, with the shaft of the club more similar to its original incline, in order to “stay in the shot.” You cannot simply “stop standing up.” It is usually the result of too steep a downswing starting down. Sound familiar? See above!

Try hitting some balls from a tee with the golf club not grounded, that is, off the ground about as high as the golf ball. Feel more “baseball-like” with your approach into the ball and this will help you “stay in the shot.”

The Release

RoryMcIlroyWRX

Lastly, there is always release point to consider. Any player’s hands should be a little ahead of the club head (called forward shaft lean) to hit down sufficiently to take a divot. That does NOT mean those who tend to release early cannot take a divot. If your center of mass is sufficiently forward, and the ball is positioned correctly for YOUR release, you can hit it early enough in your arc to take a divot.

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]

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Joe D

    Jul 13, 2016 at 2:15 am

    Since I went to a more upright swing my distance and accuracy improved significantly. It may be worthy to note that while most will take a divot with short irons, generally long irons will tend to be picked clean or swept. Even the pros that rip a long divot with short irons will take a very shallow divot, if any, with the long irons.

  2. Shankadoodle

    Sep 17, 2015 at 2:51 am

    Dennis , maybe you could help with my struggles (difficult with no video I know) i have always been a picker but recently it’s beyond a joke like I’ll hit the bottom grooves more than I’d like to then hit a top then miss completely and when I try to divot the ground during a practice swing I actually can’t get down to the floor I miss the ground completely, do i need more forward bend? When I try that I seem to bail out and miss anyway . I never thought I casted much I get decent distances off my irons 155 7 iron not sure you would get that far with a flip? Even though I fatted my driver yesterday!

  3. BigBoy

    Apr 14, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Divots are not necessary.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Apr 11, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Dave, the AA is only part of it. All divots are produced with a negative attack angle, but it has to with where the ball is struck on the arc, and how much forward shaft lean one has. IOW, Ive seen shallow AA with hands in front, and I’ve also seen steep AA with same amount of forward shaft lean…also dont discount 4 degrees, its more than it seems. Thx for reading

  5. dave boyd

    Apr 11, 2015 at 9:14 am

    the attack angle is about 4 degrees down for a 6 iron would it then be even less than that for longer irons. Would not think that 4 degrees would produce much of a divot.
    Thanks for the good article

  6. Rock

    Apr 10, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for the great thread

    Any tips or drills for a strong player that stands up on his toes at impact kinda like Matt Every? I have tried everything but still tend to do it all to often

    Thanks!

  7. Dennis Clark

    Apr 10, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Adam, a baseball swing is a flat swing, that’s why I’m confused. You could send a video. I have an on line service, Id be happy to look

  8. Mat

    Apr 10, 2015 at 12:42 am

    Reason #6 :

    You play in the desert Southwest, and know that a “divot” in some cases would result in a broken wrist.

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 10, 2015 at 8:54 am

      LOL! Agreed, that’s why Harvey Penick taught such a flat move…”picking” is way to play for sure

  9. Dennis Clark

    Apr 9, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Author’s note: Remember the title is “5 reasons you cant take a divot”
    …should have added “IF YOU WANT to take one”…nobody is saying you HAVE to. But when you hear about “pickers and sweepers” go watch them up close; you’ll see some turf fly, maybe not much but some on the mid to short irons

  10. marcel

    Apr 9, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    divots are overrated – i dont play divots and it had little difference on the distance or direction. reading golf instructions is like becoming a surgeon on online Uni… please give yourself a xmas pressie and get a golf coach… everyone is different and proper coach will fix you in no time.

  11. RG

    Apr 9, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    Hey Dennis,
    When I was a kid I watched Nancy Lopez at the Citrus Open and I remember thinking that you could re-sod your yard with the divots she took in a round. Then years later I saw Watson and that guy leaves no visible trace that he was even on the course. Sweeper supreme.
    So my question: Isn’t divot size /length/depth somewhat of a personal thing and can’t you have success with very little turf interaction ( especially hitting hybrids/FWs) ?

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 9, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Domingo Lopez, her dad, taught her to “deeg, Nancy deeg”…Watson took a divot albeit a slighter one. Trevino dug ditches. Its all individual.

    • TMTC

      Apr 10, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Jack Nicklaus never took divots either.
      When and if he did they weren’t worth mentioning they were so shallow.
      TMTC

      • Dennis clark

        Apr 10, 2015 at 10:53 pm

        Another reverse C era player…the most shallow divots ever during that era. A lot of bad backs but not many divots.

  12. Dennis Clark

    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    why do you want to flatten your swing?

    • Adam

      Apr 9, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      Dennis,
      I have a baseball swing that causes me to have a very upright swing, I normally do not take a divot, I usually hit it straight and low or get enough of good contact with hit it straight with a mid flight. my upright swing causes me to come though impact like the pic in #4, any suggestions to flatten the swing to I can stay in posture and compress the ball/make a divot?

    • Shankadoodle

      Sep 17, 2015 at 2:41 am

      I think he’s got the idea of flat swing/upright swing topsy turvy, not realising the baseball swing is the flattest golf swing to have, albeit upright thought of in a conventional manner. Maybe this thought may help him understand ‘The more the butt of the club points to the sky during the swing the steeper the swing is’.

  13. Adam

    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Dennis, I am a #4… What do you suggest I do to flatten my swing?
    Thank you

  14. Dennis Clark

    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Phil you are correct about set up, no question. But it is not a panacea. Ive seen quite good set ups make poor swings, but make no mistake: a poor set up, especially grip or posture, will very often misdirect a swing. Thx

    • Philip

      Apr 9, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      Okay, thanks. Maybe all those swing drills just helped me get my swing good enough and consistent enough to where it finally clicked with my setup. Like everything in life – little bit of this, little bit of that.

  15. Philip

    Apr 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I mean Dennis … sorry ’bout that

  16. Philip

    Apr 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Denis, I have a question regards the issues above and ways to correct them. If you could (i.e. the golfer is willing and patient enough) would you tend to focus more on a person’s set-up and finding their optimal swing triggers versus trying to adjust the swing through drills? I have been able to trace all my swing flaws back to my setup and triggers and can now tell by feel whether I am about to make a solid swing. If not, I can back off and know the adjustment I need to make to get my optimal feel before swinging. I’ve had no permanent success with swing drills in the past compared to working on my setup. Do most people just do better with drills and I happened to be one that didn’t?

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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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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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