You can learn a lot about your swing by starting at the bottom. Every swing has a low point and knowing yours can help you understand a lot about how you got there.
There are three possibilities for the low point:
- Too far behind
- Just right
- Too far in front of the golf ball.
The correct low point is a few inches in front of the golf ball for most shots. A swing bottom that is too far behind the ball causes golfers to hit fat shots. A swing bottom that is too far in in front of the ball causes golfers to hit topped or thin shots.
But to fully understand the importance of where the swing bottoms out, you have to consider the concept of angle of attack. You can hit behind the ball in two ways: with too shallow of an angle OR too steep of an angle. For this reason, there can be no discussion of fat shots without discussing swing width.
A good example to help you understand the swing bottom is that if you took a hula-hoop and stood it upright, there would one small point at the bottom that touched the ground. I call that a very narrow swing bottom. But if you took that hula-hoop and tilted the top portion closer to the ground, there would be several points at the bottom that touched the ground. I call that a wide bottom.
The differences in swing width have a lot to do with the different planes on which golfers swing. Flat swing planes tend to have wide bottoms and upright swing planes have very narrow bottoms. Flat swings keep the golf club along the ground longer, while upright swings are “in and out” of the ground for a shorter period of time. But both swings can bottom out too soon.
When the swing bottom is too far behind golf ball because of too wide an arc, you need to make a steeper swing. If the swing bottom is too far behind the golf ball because of too of narrow an arc, you need to make a more shallow swing. (Remember: steep is narrow and shallow is wide).
How can you tell the difference between too steep and too shallow? Just look at your divots. Are they burial grounds or thin slices of bacon? They can both hit behind the ball, but one just brushes the grass behind the ball and one digs trenches.
Let’s tackle fixing a swing with too shallow of a bottom first. You need to swing more steeply into the ball, so try the following:
- A narrower stance at address, with a bit more weight on your left side.
- A more centered pivot in the backswing
- A more upright backswing
- A more narrow pull down of the golf club, which feels like more “lag”
- An emphasis on turning through the golf ball
If you are too steep:
- A wider stance at address with a little more weight on the right side
- A bigger, wider shoulder turn in the backswing
- A flatter swing plane going back
- An earlier, wider release coming down
- An emphasis on swinging the arms past the body and staying behind it.
Remember narrow, steep swings can be late into impact, and flatter wider swings can be earlier into the ball. Let me offer a few examples: If you were watch Sergio Garcia, who has a very wide arc in his downswing after his vertical drop, you would notice that he relies on a lot of lag to narrow the width of his swing. This helps him reach the low point just in front of the ball. Tom Watson has a much earlier releaser of the club to widen his arc due to a very upright, and therefore narrow motion. Both are great players, but they have very different release points because of the different widths of their swings.
Your release is a function of your width, plane and angle into the golf ball. Your goal should be finding a compatible move that will bottom out consistently in the same place. The tips above might help you do just that!
As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.
Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., and Marriott Marco Island Resort in Naples, Fla. He has been a professional for over 25 years. You can learn more about Dennis on his website, http://www.dennisclarkgolf.com
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
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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.
More from the Wedge Guy
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- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 1
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2
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