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Nail your swing path with this drill

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In my article Practice the Nail Drill to improve your swing without thinking about it, I explained a drill that I’ve found to help resolve swing issues in an instinctive and external way. In this article, I want explore this concept more in depth as it pertains to hitting golf shots so you can expand your skill set even more.

Swing path

All swing paths are not created equal. It’s not uncommon for me to see a player with a swing path of 10 or more degrees from either outside or inside (as measured by Trackman).

While most people are busy focusing on the symptoms of a poor swing path by focusing on things such as elbow movements, shoulder movements, club plane, etc., I find a lot of these things can clear themselves up with a proper understanding of impact. Wild changes in technique are not necessarily better, of course, but I can quite readily make vast improvements in people’s swing paths. I have seen 15-degree shifts in one swing just by having students focus on what I am about to tell you. I’ve also found that most of the body pattern symptoms immediately dissipate as a result.

Just yesterday, I took a golfer who had been struggling with a chronic slice for 15 years and allowed him to hit his first draws using this idea by shifting his swing path from 10 degrees left to 4 degrees right of the target. As a result, he:

  • Tucked in his right elbow better on the downswing.
  • Showed more external rotation of the right arm on the downswing.
  • Shallowed his club plane dramatically.
  • Improved the sequencing of his entire body.
  • Improved his weight shift.
  • Improved his release.

He had spent years trying to work on these swing issues directly to no avail, and in one lesson we were able to improve them with only a single thought!

Intention

Movement responds to our intention. This is one of the reasons golfers can make the movements they desire in practice swings, as the swing is the intention, but put a ball in the way and they go back to their old habits — because their intention has changed. So what better way to improve movement than to change our intention with our strike directly. Using the visual of a nail through the ball, we could angle the nail more to the right or more to the left depending upon which swing path we desire.

For example, if you want to feel like you swing more in-to-out, why not angle the nail as shown below?

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 3.12.34 PM

If you suffer with a slice, this idea can certainly help you get to a more neutral swing path.

If you suffer with hooking the ball, or if you want to work on fading the ball more, you could visualize the nail as shown below:

GolfNailDrill

Try not to overdo these ideas too much, as wildly offline swing paths can cause issues. Most pros will be within about 6 degrees of their target (swing path) when hitting different shape shots. I recommend, however, that golfers explore extremes in practice to improve their creativity and procedural understanding.

An important note: To hit a fade or a draw, the club face needs to be pointed between the nail direction and your target at impact. For example, if you swing 6 degrees in-to-out, your club face needs to be about 3 degrees to right of the target hit a draw, and vice versa for a fade.

Ball position and swing direction

Swing direction changes will also have an affect on where our club first contacts the ground. As a result, when you change the angle of the nail in your mind, you may need to change the ball position correspondingly.

As a general rule:

  • If you are trying to hit the nail more to the right, place the ball more right (back) in your stance.
  • If you are trying to hit the nail more to the left, place the ball more left (forward) in your stance.

With some practice, you will probably discover this out instinctively. You’ll probably also see that it is very difficult to hit a nail angled to the right when the ball is really far forwards in your stance. Test it yourself.

Calibration

After a bit of experimentation, try and go back to calibrating a square swing path, as shown in the picture below. Use the feelings gained from your experimentation to guide your way to your ideal swing path.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 3.13.02 PM

Start slow, build up

Start the drill by hitting chip shots, before moving to pitch shots and gradually adding more speed. Higher handicappers might want to even tee the ball up slightly so it allows them to experiment without fear of the strike.

The most important thing to remember is to keep your intention on the nail and not so much the mechanics involved. We all instinctively know how to hit a nail in different directions, and when we go back into our old thought patterns and think about positions and mechanics our old habits often creep back in — especially on the golf course!

Adam discusses these principles and much more in his book, “The Practice Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Golfers,” which is available on Amazon.

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Adam is a golf coach and author of the bestselling book, "The Practice Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Golfers." He currently teaches at Twin Lakes in Santa Barbara, California. Adam has spent many years researching motor learning theory, technique, psychology and skill acquisition. He aims to combine this knowledge he has acquired in order to improve the way golf is learned and potential is achieved. Adam's website is www.adamyounggolf.com Visit his website www.adamyounggolf.com for more information on how to take your game to the next level with the latest research.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Jayw

    Jul 6, 2015 at 4:01 am

    Adam, thank you for this practice drill. I personally like to see the different ideas that are presented to help us golfers improve. I recently took some video lessons and they were teaching me to exaggerate the inside out swing in practice. I like your idea to visualize the nail. I’m going to us it in my practice. Thank you.

  2. Steve

    Jun 28, 2015 at 10:01 am

    I love that the site is deleting the negative comments. And only allowing positive comments. Like Matt’s comment that Tom Duckworth responded too, mmm what happened to Matt’s comment? Good way to see all opinions.

  3. May be typos

    Jun 28, 2015 at 9:15 am

    I need a nail drill for cleaning the grooves

  4. raj

    Jun 28, 2015 at 3:22 am

    Great article. It’s useful to have something simple to think about on the course other than body mechanics.

    • Adam Young

      Jun 28, 2015 at 5:41 am

      Definitely Raj – One simple thought that you can keep consistent throughout the round, rather than searching for the secret every other shot.

  5. Ben

    Jun 27, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Great article Adam. Take no notice of the haters, for those of us that coach day in day out we know what works well with golfers and what doesn’t and this intuitve style that you talk about here certainly works. With statistics showing these days that scores are getting worse and more people are giving up the game, maybe more people should be open to trying a different approach for improving their golf.

  6. John Grossi

    Jun 27, 2015 at 6:48 am

    Adam, that drill you reminded us of a few weeks ago has helped me greatly. I’m now reading your book and find it very helpful. Thank you for your articles. I understand they help promote your new book, but I think they are helping many others on this site.

  7. I like it , this makes sense to me

    Jun 26, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    This is great, easy to follow.

  8. Tom Duckworth

    Jun 26, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    I get it, nice drill. Why all the hate mail hey Matt if you don’t like something just shut up and move on.

    • Steve

      Jun 26, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      I quess your advice, doesnt apply to you.

  9. Al

    Jun 26, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    I’ve struggled so long with all golf instruction until I threw it all out but the most basic fundamentals in favor of “feel” and just getting the f out of the way of letting my brain do it instead of trying to make it happen.

    I struggled to drive it 220 from the Whites (in ANY direction), last week I hit the longest drive of my life (cold, a few practice swings), a pretty little draw, 257, close as I could tell.

    I played the hardest side of my course in 3-over a couple weeks ago when I usually feel like breaking bogey is a pretty good round for me.

    I remember telling my club pro when I started golf I’d be happy to shoot bogey, to which he instantly replied, “Wanna bet?”

  10. Steve

    Jun 26, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Is this guy serious? You just wrote an article about nails that shanked big time. http://www.golfwrx.com/308896/practice-the-nail-drill-to-improve-your-swing-without-thinking-about-it/.
    Now you are writing another one about nails. Maybe you should be a carpenter. Again stealing from other teachers, Nick Bradley, without giving credit. We get it you love Nick Bradleys book. Have a original thought, not someone elses idea that you rehash over and over. What a joke

    • Adam Young

      Jun 26, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Hi Steve – which book is this from by Nick Bradley?

      I actually got this drill when I worked at the Cranfield Academies 8 years ago. Not sure who those guys got it from.

      • Steve

        Jun 26, 2015 at 4:41 pm

        7 laws of the golf swing.

        • Adam young

          Jun 30, 2015 at 7:09 am

          Not sure if you have read the book steve. I purchased it to make sure. There is nothing in it about hitting a nail.

          There is a picture of a grip with a nail through the hands, showing unity of the hands. Maybe that is what you saw.

  11. cb

    Jun 26, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Hey Adam, great two articles on this drill. I came across this drill in golf forums a few years back and will always go back to it. One thing I did to help with the transition from hammer to golf club is I found an old adams 1 iron on ebay and bent it even more strong so it was around 12 degrees. I know its not 0 degrees like a hammer, but I have found that it helped me with the transition from drill to golf swing.

    • Adam Young

      Jun 26, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Great stuff CB. There is a training aid out there called the Golf hammer – it’s a mallet with a golf grip attached. Although your 1 iron is a nicer transition to real golf.

  12. Christosterone

    Jun 26, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Yall are super into nails…

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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