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The important relationship between your lead wrist and the club face

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The most important part of any golf swing is the club face. You can do everything right in your golf swing, but get the club-face positioning wrong and you have a flawed swing. After all, the definition of a good swing is simply one that can control the club face, period. So the question we need to ask is simply this: What controls the club face?

Any discussion of the club face has to begin with the grip. A good grip is one that controls the face by being compatible with your swing. Does it match “your action?” Any teaching pro should begin there. I’ve helped a lot of golfers simply by having them hold the club a little differently. We could discuss grips all day and still not say enough about them, but for purposes of this article, I’ll leave it at this: see your pro and be sure your grip is functional for you.

Flat/Neutral Left Wrist Position

Dennis_Clark_Flat

The thing I’d like to explain this time is keeping your grip throughout your swing. For example, if you start with what I’ll call a neutral grip, your lead wrist (left for right-handed golfers) will be fairly flat, or perhaps slightly cupped if your grip is strong. If it stays that way throughout the swing, you’ll maintain the face angle. But if it cups, or dorsiflexes, you have just opened the face relative to its starting position. The same can be said of bowing your wrist, which closes the club face.

The lead wrist IS the club face in golf. I have seen more problems caused by cupping the wrist than almost any other swing flaw. As soon as the the wrist cups, you have opened the face, steepened your swing and added loft to the shot.

Cupped Left Wrist Position

Dennis_Clark_Cupped_Feat

Try this as soon as you can: get in front of a full length mirror with a golf club, move to the top of your swing, and observe the club face. Now simply cup (bend back, dorsiflex) the left wrist. Look at the club face now; it’s considerably more open than it was. Now start your downswing, and check the incline of the club. If the wrist is cupped, the club is pointing straight at the ground, and it is considerably more open than it was it address.

Bowing, or flexing the wrist has just the opposite effect. It is much more uncommon and, in my opinion, not as destructive because it slightly flattens plane and even de-lofts the face a bit — not a bad idea for most to initiate the downswing.

Bowed Left Wrist Position

Dennis_Clark_Bowed

The other position you’ll notice is this: when you cup the wrist, you have effectively moved the handle of the club well behind the face (lofted it). Do the same exercise you did a minute ago: stand up at address and simply cup your lead wrist. Where did the handle go in relation to the head? BEHIND IT! If this position does not change in the downswing, and for many it does NOT, you have little to no ability to hit DOWN on a golf ball. It would be a perfectly good position for a greenside bunker shot, but not a shot off the grass.

As many of you have heard me say so often on GolfWRX, if you want to make a change, you have to go practice something 180-degrees differently than you’re doing it now. Exaggeration is the key to change, rarely modification. So if you discover that you’re cupped at the top, or worst of all, coming down, and you want to square that face, you’ll need to practice serious flexion, or bowing of the lead wrist.  

Beacuse golf is such an individual game, some will actually cup the wrist or bow it to open or close the club face in their backswing. So when we discuss grip as a fundamental in the golf swing, it is just that. But if and only if you can maintain that position throughout your swing.

If you’re interested in my online swing analysis program, click here for more info, or contact me on Facebook.

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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]

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Phil

    Jan 13, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    Bowing my risk is really helping me strike the ball more consistently and the ball is flying straighter. Bowing my risk has had the most dramatic improvement on my game.
    I was typically a cupper. “Not Good” Leads to very inconsistent strikes.

  2. Greg

    Aug 3, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve never believed in a flat wrist at the top is best. slightly cupped is IMHO is the best position. It’s a more powerful position. Just like hammering a nail.If i grab a hammer and begin nailing, my wrist is cupped,not flat. Its due to the natural hinging of the wrist. Just my 3 cents. There is no right or wrong way to do this. There are a thousand different ways to swing a golf club. We as a golfer must understand our own swing and learn from it.

    • dennis clark

      Aug 3, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      no question the hinging (cocking) and unhinging is easier and more powerful when cupped (dorsiflex) And a slightly stronger than neutral grip has the hand in this position. But…the problem occurs with the face. its easier to cock the wrist if its cupped but it DOES have an opening effect on the face AND begin the downswing too steeply. Fine line like most things. My swing cups too much coming down and I fight right because of it. Thx

  3. Bobalu

    Aug 3, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Good article Dennis…however, I really wish that we could transition to more GolfWRX instruction videos rather than written articles. For swing instruction it is so much easier to learn motion, position, and exaggeration moves by video. Written golf magazine instruction articles are now supplementing with direct links to video using apps. GolfWRX on a computer is perfect for direct audio-video learning, and I would think that this is much more effective way to learn for most golfers. Some articles are still perfect for the written media- reviews, golf stories, image rich pieces, etc, but swing instruction is just tailor made for video. My 2 cents.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 3, 2016 at 11:51 am

      I agree. good idea Bobalu, and I think we are doing some of that. I may do that for this one…

  4. sprcoop

    Aug 2, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Dennis, I have found that going to the top cupped, then consciously bowing in the transition flattens the club and keeps my swing/transition dynamic. I tried jut setting the wrist bowed at the top and maintaining but lost the feel in transition and was unsure of face angle at impact and became inconsistent. Bowing in transition seems easier to maintain face angle through the hitting area. I know it sounds like it would be more consistent to just bow at the top and keep it that way (that was my thinking) but it didn’t work out that way for me. Any thoughts on going from cupped to bowed in transition?

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Well i think what you’re doing is great. Bowing in transition, does “re-plane” the swing and is ideal. If that is working, definitely stay with it. The opposite of that is what causes most problems….

    • Conor

      Aug 4, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      I think this is similar to what Hogan preached. I try to have a bowed wrist at impact in order to press the ball a little more. For me, that was probably the most important lesson in Hogan’s book. It can lead to hooking the ball, if you get too handsy, but it’s much better than leaving club face open and shooting it right.

  5. Not Scratch

    Aug 2, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Yes having no gap in the v’s. Instead of putting my right thumb and index finger over touching like so many do I tried to place it the other way to create a wrist angle at address. Seems to work but I hope to find a better way

  6. Bill Wood

    Aug 2, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Dennis – I understand that. But how do we get there. What excercise can we do. Many thanks.

    • Dennis clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 11:37 am

      SKLZ Smart glove is fairly effecive. Making backswings cross handed is another way to feel a flatter wrist. I also like a headcover tucked under right arm pit IF a flying elbow is causing the wrist to cup.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      i don’t like to recommend drills sight unseen, but if you send me a video, I’ll take a look at it…

  7. Not Scratch

    Aug 2, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Thanks you for this great stuff. How important are the v’s in the golf grip. Also I have been trying to keep v’s on both hands tight so I can hold my right wrist angle. Does this make sense. Any tips for holding the right wrist bent

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 10:55 am

      well everyone’s Vs are slightly different, stronger, weaker grips etc. Right wrist bend is significant for hitting down on the golf ball and controlling the face. You do not want to lose the angle of the right wrist too soon OR too late. By “Tight”you mean no gap between index knuckle and thumb?

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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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Instruction

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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