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How wide should your golf swing be?

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There is a lot of information about the importance of swing width, and I don’t think any good instructor would argue the value of sufficient width in the golf swing. But many golfers struggle with the concept, because they don’t fully understand what swing width means.

Let’s define swing width in simple terms — it’s the distance the golf club travels away from the golf ball. Here’s an image that may help: Let’s say the player faces 12 o’clock. The club travels a certain width from 3 to 9 o’clock, and another width from 12 to 6 o’clock. The video below explains the concept in more detail.

Swing width greatly varies from player to player, and has two functions: It can create speed, but most importantly, it determines the bottom of the swing arc. 

Swings that are too wide (think of a U shape) stay along the ground too long and can bottom out behind the ball. Swings that are too narrow (think of a V shape) get in and out of the ground more quickly and can bottom out too late, or too far in front of the golf ball. With that somewhat vague definition, let me discuss what can create swing width or the lack of it.

Factors that contribute to more swing width:

  • Flat swing plane.
  • Lateral body motion off the ball (swaying).
  • Arm extension (late wrist set).
  • An early release on the downswing.

Factors that contribute to less swing width:

  • Upright swing plane.
  • Centered, and/or “stacked” pivot.
  • Early wrist set or retracted lead arm.
  • Late release (lag).

How much width is good or needed? If you are a regular reader of my instructional articles, you know the answer: enough width to create sufficient speed AND bottom the club out where it should bottom out, slightly in front of the ball on shots hit off the ground and slightly behind the ball on shots hit with the driver.

So how do you do that?

Let’s discuss the 3-to-9 width first. I like to think of it like this: A golfer’s backswing is a preference, but their backswing and downswing must complement each other.

A golfer with an early release: You have to accept a swing arc bottom that will occur early. To complement it, you need a takeaway that helps move your swing bottom forward a bit. For you, an upright swing, a more centered or “stacked” weight shift, and a narrow arm swing going back are going to help that.

In other words, wide and early is a dangerous combination.

A golfer with a “late hit,” or a lot of lag: You can expect a swing bottom that is much farther forward than an earlier release player. To complement it, you’ll want to move off the ball, and/or swing flatter and get your arms extended away from your body. It’s just the opposite of the early-release swing.

When I was younger, I remember being taught to “ring the bell” or “pull the handle down.” “Don’t throw the head,” was another popular tip. They were all good thoughts, I suppose, but remember we were in an era where where the top players used a “reverse-c” swing and all had a lot of rear side bend. They were well behind the ball.

In other words, narrow and late is a dangerous combination.

Now let’s discuss the 6-to-12 width of the swing. Here we are thinking in terms of distance from the golf ball and how around or up the swing is. The key to effective center face contact is distance from the ball. If you have a vertical action to your swing, you’ll need to stand in a bit closer to the ball. “What goes up must come down” applies.

If you have a more horizontal motion (flatter), you’ll need a little more distance because “what goes around, comes around.”

Posture and distance from the golf ball are the factors that largely determine swing plane, and you need to — here’s that word again — complement your swing width with the distance you stand from the ball. It’s the chicken-or-the-egg theory; how far you stand from the ball determines plane, and plane determines how far you stand from the ball.

This article is yet another example of how I see and teach the golf swing. I came upon this view over years of watching all the great swings. In the Hall of Fame there are literally dozens of swing types; their commonality is IMPACT. The way those golfers chose to get there was largely preference, but the parts they chose always complemented each other.

I hope this helps, and as always, send me an email or message me on my Facebook page with any questions!

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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Johann van der Walt

    Oct 22, 2015 at 2:01 am

    I have read Dennis’s article very carefully and find it to be the best advice I have ever had for my particular swing. I tend to have an early release, and what he says makes perfect sense and has enabled me to improve my ball striking tremendously.

  2. Dennis Clark

    Oct 16, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    you’re welcome; glad it helped!

  3. McCleod

    Oct 16, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I appreciate the article. I believe that I now understand why I tend to hit the ball fat.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Oct 15, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Yes, correct; you’re way too shallow. Gary Player is a classic example; that why he walked through every shot because he was so wide! Thx

  5. Alex

    Oct 15, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    I finally understand why I can’t swing like Jason Dufner lol. I too learned the swing during the reverse C days and as a kid we tried to swing like Norman or Tom Watson. If I try to go too flat and to wide, I can’t even get near the ground in the downsing.

    Good article.

  6. JeffL

    Oct 15, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I couldn’t really follow the article. But the video was visual, and made a lot of sense. This sort of article NEEDS examples to be understood. If you disagree with or didn’t understand the article, try watching the video.

  7. Tanner

    Oct 15, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Good article, Dennis. I am not sure why most golfers like to take pot shots at the pros who are trying to help us. Thanks, for continuing to write for us WRX’ers despite these folks. In my case, I sway, narrow at the top, a sway and an early release. Would I benefit from staying more stacked? Anything else? Cheers Tanner

  8. Pingback: How wide should your golf swing be? | GolfJay

  9. Dennis Clark

    Oct 14, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    . Read through my articles. Theres a theme: IF this THEN that. Grip, posture, back swing etc are preferences not fundamentals. The only fundamental is squaring the club face on a good path at a good angle into impact. Everything else is window dressing.

  10. devilsadvocate

    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Very nice article Dennis… Ignore the clowns with the armchair commentary… If they can’t wrap their heads around what you are saying then tough, this article wasn’t meant for them… However I will fold this info into my own way of teaching the game, just like all of your other articles… Thx and keep up the good work

  11. marcel

    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    whit all the respect on online video coaching tips. if i cant see the instructor playing – hitting – and see the result the video is pointless. I don’t have track-man eye sight to see if it was hook or what.

    there are few specialist like this Golf coach of the century Brain Manzella – who even takes pics of his sequence where he dips his forehead below the line of chin (starting position)… then trying to compensate… hmm and that suppose to teach? I have AAA+ coach that laughs at this stuff.

  12. Dennis clark

    Oct 14, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    If you spin around and fall down but square the face consistently, you have a good swing. Simple enough?

  13. Tahoedirt

    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Thin I’ll continue trying to copy Steve Stricker’s swing- Not a huge turn or width and very simple- Back and thru ??

  14. Tahoedirt

    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    Is it me or is there just an incredible ammount of conflicting information regarding the proper way to swing a golf club- It’s not helping me ??

    • Dennis clark

      Oct 14, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      This isn’t conflicting it’s just observations I’ve made over many years. The key is to find the best way for YOU. Get your parts to match and you’re good. Thx

  15. gvogel

    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Here is a more succinct answer: as wide as possible. At the end of your backswing, you want your hands to be as far away from your right ear as possible. But, here is the more important part: at the finish of your swing, you want your hands to be as far away from your left ear as possible.

    The more I play golf, and watch golfers, the more I realize that the width in the follow-through is the most important aspect of a real quality swing.

    • Dennis clark

      Oct 14, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      Is that something you teach your students?

      • Greg V

        Oct 15, 2015 at 9:06 am

        I teach them to finish in balance; the more width – hands away from their left ear – the better.

        A solid grip and a solid finish are two key components to getting students to swing through the ball, not at it. That helps to get the swing bottom in a better place, and the club squaring through impact.

        Everything after that is refinement.

  16. Greg V

    Oct 14, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Here is what Percy Boomer had to say about width:

    “1. It is essential to turn the body round to the right and then back and round to the left, without moving either way. In other words, this turning movement must be from a fixed pivot.
    2. It is essential to keep the arms at full stretch throughout the swing-through the backswing, the downswing, and the follow-through.
    3. It is essential to allow the wrists to break fully back at the top of the swing.
    4. It is essential to delay the actual hitting of the ball until as late in the swing as possible.
    5. It is essential not to tighten any muscle concerned in the reactive part of the swing (movement above the waist).
    6. It is essential to feel and control the swing as a whole and not to concentrate upon any part of it.

    In a sense this last point is the most vital. The swing must be considered and felt as a single unity, not as a succession of positions or even a succession of movements. The swing is one and indivisible.”

    I guess No’s 1 and 2 bear upon the subject; but remember No 6.

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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