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5 death moves for golfers



From time to time, every golfer falls into bad habits and plays poorly for a short stretch of time. To get out of the brief predicament, sometimes all it takes is a small swing tweak or another set of eyes to point out the obvious… you know, just to get their game back on the rails and the golf ball out of the trees.

This list does NOT cover any those small fixes. It examines swing flaws that are absolute death moves for golfers, and require immediate attention from a professional swing instructor.

Below is my list of the top 5 swing flaws that a golfer needs to fix immediately before their swings are destroyed and their confidence is shattered beyond repair.

1. An excessive “over-the-top” driver swing

As with any longer club, an “over-the-top” motion creates an unmanageable ball flight with the driver. But with the big stick especially, two radical misses occur. One is the banana slice, with no “pop” off the face and a severe loss of distance. The other is a low pull-hook that carries about half the normal distance; it starts left and goes farther left, and if there are firm conditions with out-of-bounds stakes, then golfers are certainly teeing up another ball.


Click to enlarge

If you read my articles, you know by now that the ball begins mostly in the direction of the clubface and curves away from the path (with centered contact). With that in mind, take a look at the Trackman numbers above.

This player wants to hit a draw, but it’s an impossible shot for him to manage from this position. Why? The path is moving -8.5 degrees left of the target. To compensate, golfers will automatically hold the face open to the path, causing a slice. After they do this a time or two, they will begin to rotate the face closer to the path, which will cause a smaller, but more playable fade… until they begin to rotate the clubface left of the path. That creates a radical pull-hook.

If you have a severe over-the-top swing, RUN, don’t walk, to a respected teaching professional in your area.

2. A strong grip with a shut face at the top


Through the generations, golfers have become stronger and so have their grips at address. Nowadays, the common position at address is to have a grip that puts a cup in the lead wrist (seen in the photo above).

I have no problem with stronger grips or a slightly shut position at the top, as long as the player knows he is doing it. I do, however, have a big issue when the cup of the lead wrist “flattens” all the way at the top of the swing, causing the blade to shut excessively for a strong-grip player (pictured below).


Most of the time players don’t know they’re doing it, and it causes pulls as you can see in the Trackman data below. The data is from a better player who has a very slight in-to-out swing path (0.2 degrees), but a clubface that is consistently left of the target (in the -2 to -4 range).


Click to enlarge

When this player came to see me, he could not understand why he kept pulling his shots. Once he became aware of the problem, he was able to fix the position at the top of his swing and the pulls disappeared. Had he never sought help, he could have ruined what was otherwise a very solid swing.

3. Adding excessive dynamic loft at impact with irons

Most players have a quest for more distance, but sometimes they go about it the wrong way. Anytime the lead wrist moves into extension too early and the shaft backs up in the downswing, golfers will add dynamic loft to the club at impact. Everyone is different in regards to how much lag they need, but the fact remains that if you tend to “flip” the club at the bottom, you will continue to have spin lofts and spin rates that are too high. Translation: you won’t hit iron shots as far as you could.

Some of these moves can return the club shaft to “vertical” at impact, which is not a bad thing, but too much flip and not enough lag will cause a loss of compression and distance. That’s not what any golfer wants. The fix is to make sure your pivot is driving the arms, hands, and club through impact. Whenever the pivot is faulty, you will also see poor impact alignments (as shown above).


Click to enlarge

The position above is not one that you can play your way out of; it will get worse and worse without teacher supervision.

4. Low spin loft (relative to swing speed) with the driver


Click to enlarge

Sometimes players are so focused on adding lag to their swings, or keeping their hands ahead of the ball, they forget loft is necessary for distance! When spin lofts are too low, the ball will launch too flat and golfers will have to rely on roll for distance. While this is OK under some conditions, it’s not ideal for most course conditions golfers see on a weekly basis.

The fix is to make sure your driver loft is correct so you can deliver the correct amount of loft into impact. For the player above, simply changing the loft from 9 degrees to 11 degrees was all that was needed to create longer drives. If your drives launch too low and get a lot of distance through roll, try adding more loft to your driver. If adding loft doesn’t fix the problem, then make sure your teacher audits your pivot, swing direction, angle of attack and dynamic loft.

5. Poor Smash Factor


If you’re experiencing a low smash factor, it could be a sign that you’re hitting the ball all over the face (as pictured above). Remember, if you can’t hit the center of the clubface consistently, there’s a bigger problem than just a low smash factor. A majority of the time, when your impact pattern looks like this, your pivot is faulty and the club cannot be delivered consistently.

Use foot spray (my favorite can be purchased here) to audit your impacts and see if you contact the same part of the face each time. If you cannot, then you’ll want to find out an instructor who can explain why.

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at tomst[email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.



  1. Pingback: How To Properly Start The Downswing: Lead With The Hips - Fortress Golf

  2. Billy

    Mar 3, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Is “smash factor” a swing move? But yeah, I get it!

  3. Peter

    Feb 27, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    I disagree, whether your cup the wrist and have a “square” face or flatten it and looks “closed” the relationship between the hands and the face is the same. Dan C has a great article about Cupped, Flat and Bowed wrist “looks”

  4. Mike W

    Feb 26, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    The last line for problem #1 (and #3 for that matter) should read RUN don’t walk to your nearest golf FITNESS professional. These are physical limitation issues that need addressing in a gym setting not band aid training aids on the range.

    • Cliff

      Feb 26, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      These usually have nothing to do with fitness!

  5. dhauser00

    Feb 26, 2016 at 6:13 am

    I also have problem #2.

    If I adopt a strong grip at set up, how should the wrist look like at the top?

    And if I use a neutral grip at set up, how would this look like at the top?


  6. kyle

    Feb 25, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    How is number two different than how DJ, Trevino, Azinger, Duval, etc… have made a living?
    I have a strong grip and shut face and play quite well. Probably isn’t great for many players, but it works well for others. Not sure why it’s considered a “death move”

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 11:59 am

      “…as long as the player knows he is doing it.”

      Pretty sure those guys — and you — know you’re doing it, and have the necessary adjustments or compensations. Dustin Johnson is another example, of course. But the more shut you are, the more you have to do something to keep the face from closing at or before impact, which usually translates to a more emphatic move with the rotational elements. Some people see that as unnecessary error-plus-compensation. Other people say it’s just a matter of an individual player working out what he can live with, what his orientation is (he prefers going at the ball hard with rotation, for instance), etc. I wouldn’t do it, but there’s no denying that there are players who have been successful with it.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      With regard to listing it as a “death move,” though, I think the author is right in saying that it’ll kill your chances of anything like accuracy or consistent contact, if it’s an isolated fact of your swing — that is, if you don’t have compensations or adjustments to make it work.

      Still, it’s interesting: Is it a “death move” in the same sense over-the-top is? I don’t know. Probably not. You see the occasional really good player playing from a shut position. You see pretty much zero players getting severely over the top, because when you get OTT relative to your body lines, it really negatively affects your ability to apply energy forward through the ball instead of steeply downward, dissipating it into the ground. And it makes your body work differently in ways that can kill your speed. Moving the body harder to compensate for a shut position at the top doesn’t necessarily do any of those things, although it _is_ true that if the move becomes a total drag through the ball, if the arms and club aren’t trying to catch up and pass the center of the body at some point (in the case of a shut player, it’ll be further past the ball than with the conventional player), that can kill speed. But I think you could argue that OTT is more fatal, fundamentally, in how it affects the mechanics of the body and the dynamics of energy transfer.

  7. Other Paul

    Feb 25, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    I love a strong grip and a shut facebat the top. If i lead with my hips and have open shoulders at impact the face is square or a hair closed. Played with some friends last night and hit one 330 (122MPH CH speed). Fast hips and shoulders are the way to go. I am not a big guy.

    • farmer

      Feb 26, 2016 at 11:55 am

      For Kyle and Paul, look at Judy Rankin when she was playing. I will bet that 90% of every pro’s students are looking to get rid of a slice. If you get into a toe down, clubface open position, you are going to have to make some compensation to get back to square.

      • stephenf

        Mar 10, 2016 at 11:42 am

        False dichotomy. There’s a middle ground between shut and toe-down, and that’s what you see in the preponderance of swings by great players.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Another way to put it, in your case: If you want to move your body, hips, etc., really fast, maybe you have to have a strong grip and be shut at the top (a la Dustin Johnson — just don’t go steal anybody’s sh$%, sleep with their wives, or do coke). But it’s not the only way to play, or even the best way for everybody. Still, it points to the need for the elements to be in a balance that any particular player can live with.

  8. TR1PTIK

    Feb 25, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Tom, perhaps everyone is just tripped up by the term “smash factor”. Maybe a more appropriate way to say it would be impact location – which directly correlates to smash factor – and is a prime reason for errant shots and low ball speeds among amateurs.
    Almost any golfer should be able to find relative center with some repeatability if they work on it regardless of what their swing looks like. It doesn’t mean they will have a great smash factor or the best ball speeds, but it will be the best they can produce relative to the swing they currently have.

    • stephenf

      Mar 10, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Much easier to do if they can produce an appropriately shallow angle of approach with the club moving from the inside of the target line through the ball, though. When you get the kind of player whose path is always changing depending on how hard he’s throwing the body at it — which a lot of modern instruction actually makes worse — he’s going to find it pretty much impossible to find the center of the clubface (or the sweet spot, which is usually a little off-center with the irons) consistently.

  9. Big Slice

    Feb 25, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    I need help with all of these. I suck

  10. BRL

    Feb 25, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    I need help with #3. I didn’t see any articles about it, do you have a drill?

    • 8thehardway

      Feb 27, 2016 at 12:04 am

      Google early wrist extension in golf. Also, I think a Shawn (sp?) Clement video made the point that, at impact, some golfers think the hands should be back at the address position when they really should be past where they were at address.

  11. cgasucks

    Feb 25, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Foot powder is a good idea to see ball impact on the clubface. I personally use duct tape since its way cheaper than those specialized impact labels you see in golf stores, widely available, and less messier than foot powder.

  12. larrybud

    Feb 25, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    OK, but these are results of things which happen earlier in the swing, or with a bad setup. Smash factor is the ultimate “result” which a hundred things can affect why the player didn’t hit the center of the clubface and/or has a lousy path/face angle causing an oblique hit. Nobody goes in saying “I’m going to work on my smash factor today”.

    I mean, might as well add “Swing and Miss” this this “death move” list, but none of it mentions common *causes* and fixes.

    • TR1PTIK

      Feb 25, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      I don’t think this list is really about trying to identify specific causes or fixes because there are far too many variations between golfers. I think the main point of the article is to help people identify things that are probably out of their control to fix without help from a certified PGA professional.
      As for smash factor, I work on that all the time – exactly how Tom described. Even at home without a ball, I will place a tee in the ground or my practice mat and try to mark the clubface (driver) where I think the tee should hit (about 1/3 of the way up the face in the center). Assuming my path is good (which it usually is according to SkyPro) and the face angle is correct (what I struggle with more often), I should be able to take what I practice to the course with at least some success.

    • Birdy

      Feb 25, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      agree..having a bad smash factor is hardly a ‘death move’ as the title suggests.

      • cgasucks

        Feb 25, 2016 at 2:33 pm

        Agreed, a low smash factor is a by-product of a “death move”.

  13. WB

    Feb 25, 2016 at 12:19 pm


    What is the best fix for #2? Weaker grip?


    • goobers80

      Feb 25, 2016 at 11:28 pm

      You can have a weak grip with a cupped lead wrist. In fact quite a lot or maybe all of the great players had it to some degree. A cupped lead wrist has been happening for quite some time in golf. I have seen pictures of Bobby Jones with a cupped wrist. That does nots determine the strength of the grip.

      • WB

        Feb 26, 2016 at 12:26 pm

        My point was that I have a strong grip but a flat left wrist at the top causing a closed club face. I do indeed struggle hitting pulls. Tom said he worked with a better player to fix his position at the top. I just wondered if it was making the grip weaker and living with the flat wrist or keeping the grip the same and working on cupping at the top.

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The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips



While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.

  1. Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
  2. Don’t just “do”…observe.  There are two elements of learning something new.  The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
  3. Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
  4. Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
  5. Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.

My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.

So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?

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The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things



As someone who has observed rank-and-file recreational golfers for most of my life – over 50 years of it, anyway – I have always been baffled by why so many mid- to high-handicap golfers throw away so many strokes in prime scoring range.

For this purpose, let’s define “prime scoring range” as the distance when you have something less than a full-swing wedge shot ahead of you. Depending on your strength profile, that could be as far as 70 to 80 yards or as close as 30 to 40 yards. But regardless of whether you are trying to break par or 100, your ability to get the ball on the green and close enough to the hole for a one-putt at least some of the time will likely be one of the biggest factors in determining your score for the day.

All too often, I observe golfers hit two or even three wedge shots from prime scoring range before they are on the green — and all too often I see short-range pitch shots leave the golfer with little to no chance of making the putt.

This makes no sense, as attaining a level of reasonable proficiency from short range is not a matter of strength profile at all. But it does take a commitment to learning how to make a repeating and reliable half-swing and doing that repeatedly and consistently absolutely requires you to learn the basic fundamentals of how the body has to move the club back and through the impact zone.

So, let’s get down to the basics to see if I can shed some light on these ultra-important scoring shots.

  • Your grip has to be correct. For the club to move back and through correctly, your grip on the club simply must be fundamentally sound. The club is held primarily in the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. Period. The lower hand has to be “passive” to the upper hand, or the mini-swing will become a quick jab at the ball. For any shot, but particularly these short ones, that sound grip is essential for the club to move through impact properly and repeatedly.
  • Your posture has to be correct. This means your body is open to the target, feet closer together than even a three-quarter swing, and the ball positioned slightly back of center.
  • Your weight should be distributed about 70 percent on your lead foot and stay there through the mini-swing.
  • Your hands should be “low” in that your lead arm is hanging naturally from your shoulder, not extended out toward the ball and not too close to the body to allow a smooth turn away and through. Gripping down on the club is helpful, as it gets you “closer to your work.
  • This shot is hit with a good rotation of the body, not a “flip” or “jab” with the hands. Controlling these shots with your body core rotation and leading the swing with your body core and lead side will almost ensure proper contact. To hit crisp pitch shots, the hands have to lead the clubhead through impact.
  • A great drill for this is to grip your wedge with an alignment rod next to the grip and extending up past your torso. With this in place, you simply have to rotate your body core through the shot, as the rod will hit your lead side and prevent you from flipping the clubhead at the ball. It doesn’t take but a few practice swings with this drill to give you an “ah ha” moment about how wedge shots are played.
  • And finally, understand that YOU CANNOT HIT UP ON A GOLF BALL. The ball is sitting on the ground so the clubhead has to be moving down and through impact. I think one of the best ways to think of this is to remember this club is “a wedge.” So, your simple objective is to wedge the club between the ball and the ground. The loft of the wedge WILL make the ball go up, and the bounce of the sole of the wedge will prevent the club from digging.

So, why is mastering the simple pitch shot so important? Because my bet is that if you count up the strokes in your last round of golf, you’ll likely see that you left several shots out there by…

  • Either hitting another wedge shot or chip after having one of these mid-range pitch shots, or
  • You did not get the mid-range shot close enough to even have a chance at a makeable putt.

If you will spend even an hour on the range or course with that alignment rod and follow these tips, your scoring average will improve a ton, and getting better with these pitch shots will improve your overall ball striking as well.

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Clement: Don’t overlook this if you want to find the center of the face




It is just crazy how golfers are literally beside themselves when they are placed in a properly aligned set up! They feel they can’t swing or function! We take a dive into why this is and it has to do with how the eyes are set up in the human skull!

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