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Faults and Fixes: Getting Too Steep

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The idea of correcting your golf swing is one that all of us entertain, and we probably all should work to fix our swing at one time or another… at least those of us who want to play better. So golfers go in search of faults and fixes every chance they get. If a golf website, video or magazine offers a quick tip that might help, it makes too much sense to try it.

But there has always been something missing from this school of golf. In my many years of teaching, I have found that a singular swing correction almost never works. The reason is simple; when you get the golf club or your body out of position in your swing, you will inevitably attempt to correct that move to get the club face back to the ball.

Here’s an example. Golfers who get the club too “steep,” either during the backswing and especially during the downswing, are almost always “shallow” at impact. The reason is simple; NOBODY wants to hit the ground the behind the golf ball, so golfers make every compensation possible to avoid it (they stand up, they back up, they chicken wing, they raise the handle, etc.). So the result is a swing that is too steep, but an attack angle that is too shallow.

“I have found that a singular swing correction almost never works.”

What I’d like to offer to GolfWRX Readers is a series of articles that deals with two-part adjustments called “Faults and Fixes.” Each article will offer a correction of the initial problem, and just as importantly a correction to the reaction to that fault.

I will also discuss the order in which faults may be fixed. Make no bones about it; this is a series for serious golfers who wants to take their game to the next level. Let’s get started.

Fault: Too Steep

Faults_Fixes_Too_Steep

Most amateurs get the golf club too steep, particularly in the transition. If the butt end of the club is not pointed at the golf ball or the line of flight, it can be too vertical.

This incline can cause fat shots, toe hits, weak slices and occasionally toe hooks. The cause can be one of several things: a cupped lead wrist, crossing the line at the top, coming over the top, trying to “lag” the club down (instead of moving it down the plane) or a “flying” rear elbow.

This steepness in the swing is common and very correctable. But here’s the catch; does the steepness of the golf club need to be corrected, or does a golfer’s REACTION to the steepness have be fixed? And how do you know? How can you be sure if it’s the position of the club causing poor impact, or if it’s a reaction to the poor position? The only way to be certain is to know the answer to this question, “What’s happening at impact?

Too steep, by definition, should cause deep divots, slices and toe hits… but you may be very shallow with tops, hooks or even shanks. In the later case, you can be sure that the reaction to the golf club is your issue.

In the video at the top of the article, you saw a golfer who hits “thin hooks.” But if you only watched the video of his swing you would think he’s hitting fat slices. You see him raising the handle and flipping the hands through impact in the video. If he was actually sticking the golf club in the ground behind the golf ball and slicing, we would FIRST have to put his club in a better position. But remember if we do and he has the old reaction, he may actually miss the golf ball altogether! Tricky business, because the last thing a teacher wants to do is have the first few shots be worse.

What I usually do, and what I’m suggesting you do, is correct impact. In working with this golfer, I helped him learn to release the club and hit down through the golf ball. In other words, I made the club act as it should from where it was. I took away his reactions to the steep position instead of correcting the club first. Why? Because he’s shallow more than anything and hits hooks, even from that open club face position and steep shaft.

Let impact be your guide, NOT the positions the video suggests could be a potential problem. If and when you start actually getting steep, THEN try correcting the golf club.

Here’s a few tips for the golfers out there who are struggling with an impact position that is too shallow:

  • Hitting balls from downhill lie.
  • Turning through the ball at impact and getting more onto lead foot.
  • Releasing the club down (not dragging the handle).
  • Lowering the handle into impact.

With these corrections a golf swing will become steep, and then we can lay the shaft down a little.

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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]

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Rogerinnewzealand

    Feb 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Dennis, as always, a thoroughly researched article with great insight! And courteous answers to the disbelievers.

  2. Mike

    Feb 23, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    you have to fix the turn first . he doesnt turn his shoulders and has no depth at the top . all he can do is throw is hands forward. fix the turn first

    • GOLFman

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      A+. Mr Clark mentioned a arms and hands connection. I agree but I’m sure Dustin Johnson wouldn’t hit anywhere without the ground and proper footwork. Needs depth big time.

  3. dennis clark

    Feb 23, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    John Jacobs once remarked that the he had heard so much about footwork in golf that he thought the objective of the game was to kick the ball around the course. Footwork is critical to balance and creating force but does not direct the golf club. After observing this dynamic for some 35 years I have reached the conclusion that the body reacts to the position of the club. Not the other way around. No amount of footwork or leg work or great balance automatically puts the golf club in the correct position. It is held by the hands and arms. When it gets too steep, too flat, too outside, too open, too closed etc. the body will do whatever it can to right the ship. That’s why the grip is soooo critical. IT controls the face, therefore commands the rest of the motion. If i move the weight of my body perfectly but cup my lead wrist or orient the club too steeply I will hit a well
    Balanced slice. And when my golf ball spins off to the right I will swing well left to combat it.

    • SoCal

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      Well, we agree to disagree. Try making a golf swing without touching the ground, you’ll get my point… Motion that takes place in the body in rotation from the ground, involves position, velocity, acceleration, plus angular position, angular velocity and angular acceleration. Each of which a vector is needed. Thus ground… It’s the initial start point, plus proper balance and footwork is very important…

      • Dennis Clark

        Feb 24, 2017 at 6:56 am

        But we are NOT disagreeing on proper use of ground reaction forces. No teacher who studies this craft seriously would disagree with that. Its simple physics and bio mechanics. However, where the misunderstanding lies may be this: I’m trying to explain WHY golfers misuse the ground and execute poor motions. It is because the golf club is well out of position and no proper ground force can put it in the correct place because the hands and arms hold the club. This is where some of the science today is divorced from the reality of what golfers actually do. He could have 100% correct turn and weight displacement with a poor grip, a flying elbow, a cupped lead wrist etc…and then when the golf club gets in the position we see here (or any number of poor positions) he will IMPROPERLY use the ground forces you correctly describe. Or even if he did push off the earth properly starting down it will not, could not, hit a good shot because the club is open and steep. In this case he would be very late into impact with an open face. So what does he do? He reverses his weight, hangs back and raises the swing center to try and right the ship. If someone can prove to me that proper ground reaction forces will correct the plane and face of the golf club, I will take another look at this. Believe me I have changed and adapted to many things the golf science community has taught us as I’ve grown as a teacher over 35 years. But I cannot see the connection here. BTW So Cal I am not disagreeing with you personally, I also raised this point at the teaching and coaching summit recently and raised a few eyebrows there too. I did not receive one logical good answer to the disconnect I see here. Thx for the discussion, these are always healthy for the game and our part in it. DC

    • HoleIn2

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:27 pm

      There is a video on how pressure helps hit a draw on golfwrx by meandmygolf. Give it a view Mr Clark. I think SoCal brings up a valid opinion. Plus your reference to the Great Mr Jacobs is ok, but technology now is what it is. The instructor I have in Arizona was mostly based on how my feet and body work. JAT

      • Dennis Clark

        Feb 24, 2017 at 7:02 am

        HoleIn2…I am aware of the video and own a boditrak unit myself, but let me ask you this as I did them: If I use the proper “force” and execute an inside path, WITH an open face from a steep shaft or a poor grip, will I hit a draw. And how will those forces correct that plane or grip? I’ll get on any force plate you want and execute all the correct motions and top, slice, hook etc all day, IF that golf club is not fixed. Thx DC

    • Pinhigh

      Feb 23, 2017 at 4:49 pm

      Completely disagree about your position on proper lower body mechanics in relation to the path on the backswing. Went to a GEARS assessment and that’s what they stressed the most. Body lineage.

  4. SoCal

    Feb 23, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    IMO. You’re not discussing his poor footwork. Place him on a pressure plate to get him to feel dynamic motion.

    • Looper

      Feb 23, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      I agree with SoCal I think you’re working in reverse. SoCal might like from the ground up.

  5. Philip

    Feb 22, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    So would you know why the golfer is steep? Or it really isn’t relevant in that everything is so interconnected and reliant on each other that it is easier to get impact correct first, and then over time the body will correct itself all the way back to one’s setup and how they hold the club? It’s just that one has to allow their body to teach them how to swing the club instead of thinking the swing? Just curious because I was stalled with my OTT (backswing too flat or totally upright ITO) for 3 years before I changed my approach 2 years ago to focus on impact. Since then little things have continually clicked and now my swing is falling into place over this winter. One of the bigger things for me was to just stop and take a minute to reflex on what it was I wanted my body to do – I never actually visually thought about what a golf swing looked and felt like from the person doing it – I was always looking from the 3rd person via videos and photos.

    • dennis clark

      Feb 23, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      right. What’s know as whole part whole style learning. You have to have the big picture in mind before working on details. I agree.

  6. Randel

    Feb 22, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Nothing wrong with an up right golf swing, agree getting to Impact with it takes a little practice, as Inbee Park, Jack Nicklaus, D.J. Trahan etc. have proven it can be done to a high level…..

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 22, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Yea worked pretty well for Jack huh? Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, nowadays Geoff Ogilvy…. Big diff here though. They were upright for sure and even more vertical into impact than say Trevino or Hogan, but…rarely will you see an elite ball striker get the center of mass of the golf club ABOVE their hand path in transition. Craig Parry, maybe Craig Stadler possible rare excetions. Mid, high cap club golfers do, so the face gets seriously open, as the video demonstrate. The first little move from the top flattens on even the most upright swings of the professionals. Take say Furyk, that almost gets too flat into impact, you’d never think it at the top. They MATCH components amateurs don’t bye and bye… Thanks for reading

      • Adam Barnett

        Feb 27, 2019 at 3:09 pm

        I have a friend who’s built very much like Craig Stadler, and is in an identical position at the top. He struggles with weak push fade shots, fat shots, and with impact as a whole. He’s not looking to start hitting draws, only to get better impact. Any drills you’d recommend to help him get better strikes?

  7. dennis clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    The last paragraph states: IF you are struggling from shallow IMPACT position, try these drills. DOWNHILL LIES and sidehill ball-below-the-feet lies are a drill for steeping attack angles; Uphill lies and ball above feet are used to SHALLOW attack angles. The golfer has a VERY shallow attack angle, hence the point of the article. The point is NOT to change transition but to change the REACTION to the transition. If/When he gets too steep at IMPACT, then and only then we will address shallowing the AA.

  8. MAC

    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE A GOLFER WITH A STEEP TRANSITION HIT BALLS FROM A DOWN HILL LIE AS A DRILL! WTF!?!?!?

    YOU ARE OUT OF THE PROGRAM!

  9. Bigly Yuge

    Feb 22, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Just do the A-Swing. You can go from the photo on the left to the photo on the right if you just did the A-swing. Simples!

  10. dennis clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    I agree Marnix. That would a good title.

  11. dan

    Feb 22, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Why are there so many shank comments on this article? What I took from it is that it’s important to understand that just trying to fix the “look” of someones swing is a bad idea if you don’t understand that the glaring “look” can influence a players reaction at impact. Makes sense to me. You have to have the student understand the basic impact conditions you’re trying to get them to achieve before you start talking about the swing.

    I liked the article. About putting the horse before the cart.

    If people are going to click shank, they should at least give a basic explanation of why.

  12. Marnix

    Feb 22, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Well done, although the title of the article is a bit confusing – it should really be something like “Impact is Everything”, or “Make Students Better, not Worse”. I have had quite a few lessons where my ball striking afterwards was worse then before, probably because they started with fixing the wrong fundamental flaw first. And yes, in the theme of ‘let’s start from scratch and get you a new swing’, that approach is defensible. But it really takes the fun out of your game for a (long) while until you have mastered the new fundamentals. It’s not about fixing what’s wrong, it’s about fixing what matters. Actually, that would be a good title too :).

  13. dennis clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 11:59 am

    When golfers get the club back to shaft plane at address or close to it they often shank the ball. That’s why they stand the club UP!

  14. Dennis Clark

    Feb 22, 2017 at 10:10 am

    If you notice the grip end of the club is pointed up at his chest into impact; it started at his belt buckle. That’s what I mean by striving to get the handle lower into impact. He raises the handle because he is too steep to release the club properly.

  15. Steve

    Feb 22, 2017 at 7:51 am

    What exactly do these things mean?

    Releasing the club down (not dragging the handle)
    Lowering the handle into impact.

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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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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