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Why you’re hitting shots off the toe and heel of the club

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With golf shots, the center of the club face is where all the good stuff happens, but it is elusive to say the least. And when you consider the fact that the heel and toe are less than than 1 inch from the center of the club face, it gives you an idea of how hard our game can be.

No feeling in the game is better than a flushed shot, however. The reason? It happens so infrequently. Even the best golfers in the world only contact the true center of the club face occasionally.

So let’s take a look at some of the reasons why golfers miss the center of club face, and I’ll offer a few ideas on how you can flush your shots more often. Start with the video below, and then read the written portion of the story for more information.

https://youtu.be/w_M5UXJMj7w

Before we start, I might recommend that you purchase a can of Dr. Scholl’s Foot Spray powder. Spray it on your club face before you hit a shot, and you’ll be able to see where your impact actually is. Face tape works as well, but it can skew the spin on the golf ball as well as your launch monitor numbers if you’re practicing with one.

Distance from the golf ball

Assuming your lie angle is fitted properly and your clubs are the right length, it is essential that you address the golf ball at a distance that is compatible with the shape and width of your swing.

By shape and width, I mean this:

  • Does your club head swing OUT from hands? You have a more rounded, or horizontal swing.
  • Does you club head swing UNDER your hands? You have a more upright, or vertical swing.

A person with a more rounded swing should stand farther from the ball than a person with a more upright, or vertical upright swing.

Toe hits

Toe_Hit

Most toe hitting is the result of a the golf club coming into impact more upright or vertical than it was at address. I see this a lot in my students who start down from the top of their swing far too steeply, and have to raise the handle of the club into impact — one of the most common reactions to a steep transition. Typically, a video of their swing shows an early extension of the lower body and the raising of their swing center.

If this is your problem, try hitting some balls on a sidehill lie with the ball above your feet. I’d hit a lot of balls to get a feeling of a more rounded swing into the ball. Also, on your tee shots, try not grounding the club at address. Start with the club head off the ground, maybe as high as the ball. This will help you feel more of a baseball-type swing into the ball.

Toe hits can also be the result of having a grip that is way too strong. This typically shuts the face at the top, and forces golfers to “reverse rotate” their arms into the ball. Again, that raises the handle and stands the club up. A strong grip can also make the toe too dominant with a club face that is closing, which causes golfers to hit low toe hooks.

Many “double crosses” are also the result of toe hits. A golfer sets up for a fade, which requires an out-to-in path, but then contacts the shot on the toe, which creates hook spin. If that’s your ball flight pattern, try a little more neutral grip, which will help you to release the club correctly. This will allow the club head to swing out to the ball and expose the center of the club face more often.

Heel Hits/Shanks

Heel_Hits

Golfers who suffer from heel hits and shanks are doing pretty much the opposite of what toe-hitters are doing, with a few important differences. Hitting the heel of the club occurs most often because of one of two things:

  1. A hand path that moves outward from the body.
  2. A “wide” cast of the club.

Notice that I said wide cast, because a vertical cast will not expose the heel; it will pretty much just stick the club in the ground. In order to have a better chance at hitting the middle of the club face, the hands need to be down plane, not out and away from the body. This is why an inside-out swing path is one of the more common causes of shanking the ball. And an in-to-out path paired with a “late hit” is hosel city.

The flatter you swing the club, the more likely you are to hit the heel. What goes around comes around, they say, and the ensuing heel hits slice and kill distance. If this is your problem. you need to feel a swing that is more up and down with the hand path staying in under the shoulders, closer to the body. Try putting a tee inside the ball you’re hitting and hit IT. This may help you feel more down and in coming into the ball.

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]

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. other paul

    Jun 5, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Hey Dennis. Great article. I did an experiment the other day with rate of closure and ball curve with my driver. I hit several shots off the toe where I slam the face closed through impact. Ball had massive hook spin. Then I hit a bunch where I held the face as square as possible through impact and hit the same toe shots. And I had no hook at all. Ball just started like it would off an iron. Doing a little experiment like this really makes me wonder if its worth it to try and keep the face more square longer or just try and roll the face through like a lot of people teach. What do you think?

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 5, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      If the face is slamming shut when you release I’d bet your grip might be too strong.

  2. Dennis Clark

    Jun 5, 2015 at 7:54 am

    agree for the most part based on what I see in elite level players

    • Meiko

      Apr 30, 2017 at 10:54 pm

      Hi, I’ve been working on this and it’s tremendously helpful. The video in your article is “not available”. Can you send to me or tell me where it is located now?
      Thank you.

  3. Steve

    Jun 4, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Dennis,

    Would you or not agree a good swing thought is to have your right hand at impact, where your left hand was address. It takes the over the top away and delivers the club from inside.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Jun 4, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    My golf school is in Naples at the Rookery Golf Course. i also have an on line analysis program

  5. Lee H.

    Jun 4, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Nice article! I’ve been known to cast and am working on changing my swing. I’ve also strengthened my grip. I’ve had issues with shanks on and off for the last 5yrs. It’s been happening mostly with my wedges though as I’ve been getting more aggressive with them lately (and overall, better wedge play last couple of years.). I’ve been told I might be standing too close or putting too much weight on toes. I live in Ft Myers and would love to speak to you (Dennis) more about this. Thanks

  6. Mike Gomez

    Jun 4, 2015 at 5:56 am

    THIS IS ME!

  7. Dennis Clark

    Jun 3, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    I should add that most top players hands move ahead of course, but not out away.

  8. CCausey

    Jun 3, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    So Dennis, if the hands get too far away from the body and the club stands up – what should the proper distance of the hands be from the body. I do this and am struggling with finding the proper “slot” for the hands on the downswing

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 3, 2015 at 10:57 pm

      Look at some top tour pros…most of them are similar to address. Not all- Phil a noticeable exception. It also depends on your path. Out to in closer, in to out further. Spray your club. Might just be distance from the ball.

      • CCausey

        Jun 4, 2015 at 9:27 am

        Thanks Dennis, i believe that it is a distance/setup issue. Keep up these great articles they are very helpful!

  9. Dennis Clark

    Jun 3, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    a lot of golfers believe its the distance of the hands from the body, but really golfers adjust to the hands by changing the lie of the club. Those who go well out with their hands invariably stand the club up to compensate…

  10. nosklz

    Jun 3, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    where can i find a range with a sidehill lie??

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 3, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      i might have a better chance to help you if i knew where you lived. usually the sides of a range if they let you use it. if no hills are available get some really tall tees, they achieve the same effect

  11. Dennis Clark

    Jun 3, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I think that very well might be true but the problem is I have never taught anyone without elbows.????

  12. Joe

    Jun 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

    #1 reason in my experience: because humans have elbows; slop in the linkage. When the wings detach from the body the sequencing get’s off and we can potentially flip or any number of bad things. Stay connected, stay in posture. Golf would be an easier game to play if we didn’t have elbows.

    • MHendon

      Jun 3, 2015 at 11:34 am

      I assume you mean only on the lead arm, left arm for right handed golfers, right arm for left handed.

    • Ben

      Jun 3, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Boxing would suffer, though.

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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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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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