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.
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!
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?
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:
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.
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.
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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