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Coming over the top doesn’t have to spell doom for your swing

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One of the most common phrases in golf instruction is “coming over the the top.” It’s a phrase even the most novice golfers use, but it is also very little understood.

First, let’s describe what is meant by “coming over the top” or “coming over it.” It’s a motion that sends the arms and club outside the target line and over the inclined plane that was set at address. It’s not in any way optimal, and can cause any number of issues. But in and of itself, it does not have to spell doom for golfers.

The real problem golfers run into is when they start their swings “out and over” the plane and then try to get the club back “in and under” the plane. I call this two moves from the top, and it’s generally far more destructive than a simple over-the-top move. In fact, given my druthers, I would much prefer that golfers simply keep their over-the-top motion; it is far better than trying to get the club back in and underneath the plane.

Look at it this way: if a player swings from outside the ball, the path is out-to-in, the attack angle a little steep and the face is open to the path. This is one way to play golf. Craig Stadler, Craig Parry and many other champion golfers swing this way. Bruce Lietzke made a wonderful career on the PGA Tour with an “in-and-over” move.

Their secret was simple: They made one move from the top of the swing. They didn’t attempt to re-route the club by backing up or reversing directions; just one move into the ball a little from the outside. Their rear sides fired down and through, which is the right side for right-handed players, and voila… a solid fade time after time.

By contrast, golfers who try to reverse direction in the downswing, actually pausing (imperceptibly) at some point and trying to get the club back to the inside, usually have very inconsistent results. They hit fat shots, thin shots, pushes and hooks, with solid shots being the exception, not the rule.

In fact, one of the most common causes of a reverse weight shift, or what I call “hanging back” through the ball, is starting down over the top and then trying to re-route the club. The “spin out” and “fall back” is the classic fault of mid- and high-handicap players.

I’m often asked by golfers how they can get “through the ball” better, or “get to their lead foot.” I explain to them that hanging back is often the result starting outside from the top and then trying to get back inside. No player has to “back up” simply because they started outside. The great players we watch exploding through the ball are hitting from the inside.

Having explained this from my years of watching it on the lesson tee, I will qualify it a bit; I am in NO WAY advocating coming over the top. I’m simply saying that if you do come over the top, you’ll have to accept a few things about your outcome:

  1. You’ll fade the ball.
  2. You can be prone to a pull.
  3. Your attack angle may be steep.
  4. You may not hit is as far as one who draws the ball.

Most golfers will hit better shots if they accept the move and don’t try to interrupt their natural motion by trying to get the club back insider.

For a deeper dive, see my video below.

If I can be of help to your game visit my Facebook page.

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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. Cliff

    Nov 22, 2019 at 12:33 am

    Thanks for the article. Makes me feel better. Is a draw-biased Driver best for someone who goes back to this type of swing? Or putting settings draw-biased. Any Driver recommended?

  2. Bill T

    Feb 23, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Great article, I have an out to in. It pulls left and draws left but the distance is great. When I try to correct it I lose between 15-30 yards. I wish I could straighten that 30 yard pull and I would be happy. Any Ideas

  3. Mad-Mex

    Feb 25, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! GRACIAS!!!!!!!!!!

    My brother in law knows my swing better than anybody and has been trying to get me to come down inside-out for months since I have a “baby” out to in. I have no issues with distance loss now I can go back to enjoying the game and stop worrying so much about mechanics.

  4. Jim

    Feb 24, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    This is one of the best golf articles I’ve ever read explaining how many golfers get the club behind them coming down. The one thing is does not say is how damaging this two-move downswing motion is on the lower back. I 100% agree it is better to come over the top consistently than to try and re-route the club inside after you have moved it out above the plane.

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 24, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it. Outside in and shallow is a bad combo period. ????

  5. Someone

    Feb 24, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Isn’t this the concept of ledbetters A swing? Outside going up inside coming down?

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 24, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      I’m not familiar with the A swing enough to comment

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      It is. But Lead’s point is not a particularly controversial one. He thinks it’s mechanically more sound to be a little steeper from about waist-high to the top, then at the right plane angle on the downswing. The only thing that’s changed much in the A-swing is that he’s more or less saying it hardly matters what the backswing plane is, as long as it’s not inside-then-over. (He advocates what seems like an overly steep plane on the backswing, seemingly as an exercise to show how little it actually matters, as long as the downswing plane is good, similar to how baseball players drop the bat into plane with a similarly extreme move.) When you go back too far inside, you run out of room and the almost universally natural thing to do at that point is to get the club moving out and over to get to what feels like a complete backswing.

      Leadbetter has always advocated “steepen, then flatten,” though.

      If you’re interested, there’s an obscure book out there by a guy named Xichao Mo called _Decoding the Golf Swing Plane_. The book is, for my money anyway, the best and most up-to-date examination of the realities of the swing plane (and the best busting of swing-plane myths with empirical evidence) that you’re going to find. It confirms the notion that beyond the point where the right wrist and elbow joint make it necessary for the club to rise above its plane through impact (from about waist-high to waist-high), it doesn’t matter that much what “plane” the club is on, because there is no one single plane throughout the swing, nor really even — as Mo demonstrates — two planes (one above the waist and one below), both on the same swing angle, as Haney and Leadbetter et al. describe. At least the two-planes-one-angle thing is more accurate than the Hogan “sheet of glass,” or even “one-plane” theory, and thinking about plane at all, even on a technically erroneous model, will help people who are way off to start with. But as a matter of precise observation, Mo’s work is unsurpassed and unequalled, as far as I’m concerned (although I suppose its instructional value might be limited, or at least unexplored as yet).

      Anyway, Mo’s work actually supports most of what Leadbetter is after with the “A-swing,” regardless of how much anybody might be inclined to think the “A-swing” is mostly just another iteration of the same stuff, in an effort to sell some more books and DVDs. Hey, can’t blame a guy for making a living.

      An alternative view advanced by Luther Blacklock is the idea that the plane isn’t defined by the angle of the shaft at address (or relative to it), but rather by a line that goes from the sweet spot of the club through approximately the top of the sternum. His explanation of it and demonstrations of it are at least internally consistent and pretty convincing in some ways. I’d like to see an effort to resolve Mo’s work and Blacklock’s theory.

  6. John kuczeski

    Feb 24, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    The first move you demonstrated looked like Corey Pavin’s practice swing….thanks for the input!

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 24, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      Tiger too for a while under Haney. It’s a great feel drill for under…

  7. snowman

    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Nice article.; Your 4 point summary describes my tendencies exactly and I am a single digit handicap. I would love to draw the ball and hit it further and Im still trying to improve my path, but I’m self taught and apparently my Swing DNA is an OTT move…

  8. Easy tiger

    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Take some Ritalin buddy

  9. Andrew

    Feb 23, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Dennis, Great video – thx for sharing. Can one also be successful with an arms swing (swing your own swing) or do you still advocate swing from the ground up (lower body starts first)? Thanks, Andrew

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 23, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      Biomechanists tells us that all good golf swings use the ground as a source of power and force. I wrote a piece on this site about it a while ago.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      True, of course. But even the “arm-swing” advocates like Toski, Flick, et al. don’t say the arms ought to be all there is. Go back to their older stuff and you’ll see them making it absolutely clear that the body must support the arms-and-club swinging elements, and to do that the legs and hips move, you have to use the ground, etc.

      The question has always been how much rotational force can be applied, and when, and precisely how, in a way that doesn’t destroy the swinging elements. I think it’s evident that over the years, various changes in swing technique and equipment have increased the level of ground-up force that can be applied without destroying the swing.

      But then, it’s not so new. This all started not long after the steel-shaft era began. Snead always said “turn and burn,” for one thing. Even Toski and Jacobs advocated not getting loose with the lower body on the windup. Toski always said the farther from the ball any specific body part was, the more it should be responding rather than creating on the backswing — and then, whatever moved last on the backswing (feet and legs) was in position to move first on the downswing, as it should.

      I just think a lot of the “body-versus-arms” argument comes down to a difference in emphasis and a difference in what any specific player or class of players tends to need. If you’re a very good player, a tour-level player for instance, you already know how to create a lot of speed at the clubhead with a strong, free release. So maybe you need to look at how your body is supporting that motion, and what you focus on will sound a lot like “body swing.” For an amateur who has never felt what it’s like to produce that kind of speed, though, and who is already throwing his body (particularly his upper body) at the ball, he’s going to destroy his swing if “body release” is his dominant thought. Even going with something as undeniably solid as “ground-up” isn’t going to improve a release he never learned to make in the first place.

      It all reminds me of what Nicklaus said one time about the swing being a massing of many coordinated elements, and that you couldn’t say it was “all this” or “all that.” That kind of balanced approach was absolutely critical in making him so consistently excellent over such a long period of time. You could say exactly the same of Snead, who could talk about “turn and burn” and “hands snap” in the same two minutes.

  10. Jimmy

    Feb 23, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Plenty of great players have come over the top, George Knudson (the most accurate fairway wood player ever, could hit his carry distance within a yard and could stop his 3 wood with 1 hop) Craig Perry, Brendan De Jonge and many others play great, its about hitting it solid and being able to repeat it.

    • dennis clark

      Feb 23, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    • Steve

      Feb 24, 2016 at 12:26 am

      But both these guys Perry and De Jonge are not any where as consistent with their swings and have to many rounds near par to be regular winners…for sure De Jonge trys to move the ball with that swing…only Bruce Lietzke just let the ball fade 99% of the time which I think was do to the fact he had a finish that was almost the same every time.

      • Dennis Clark

        Feb 24, 2016 at 8:28 am

        Right. The move is not what I teach or would call OPTIMAL, point is it can be FUNCTIONAL. 99.99% of the golfers in the world would give their first born to play like Craig PArry or any of those guys.

  11. LC4

    Feb 23, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Thank you for the video and thank you for making me feel better about accepting something I’ve tried in vain to change!

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      I prefer inside but outside doesn’t have to spell doom, does it?

  12. Tom

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:32 am

    video helped.

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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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