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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 [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: Short game tempo



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.


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



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?



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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