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Changing your golf swing? Consider this before you do

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Golfers I have taught over the years have an almost uncanny ability to put the golf club on the ball (to varying degrees, of course). I have seen well-hit shots from an incredibly wide variety of positions. I’ve seen closed faces, open faces, steep swings, flat swings, outside-in paths, inside-out paths, slow and fast swings, strong grips and weak grips ALL hit the golf ball solidly at times. How? Well, thinking about this may very well help your swing, especially before you decide to change something in it. Let’s take a look at a few examples to explain.

Strong Grips/Closed Clubfaces

We’ll start with the example of a strong grip that tends to get the clubface quite closed to the arc in the swing and at the top of the swing. If that is left alone in the downswing, the shots are very predictable: low and left (for a right-hander), sometimes barely getting off the ground. But many golfers hit the ball in the air and straight with a strong grip; in fact, many hit high blocks to the right. How? Well, they open the face on the way down and usually “hold on” through impact. They adapt to the closed clubface to make it work, and that’s the point here.

Now, if they reach good impact consistently like a Dustin Johnson, Graham McDowell and several others do with a closed clubface, we have no problem. But often club golfers do not; in fact, many slice and top the ball from a shut face at the top.  They do so because opening a closed face is a very shallowing move and prevents one from releasing the club properly (it’s a power outage as well).  Functionally, however, opening a shut is far better than releasing it from there, for obvious reasons. If the trail hand pronates, the face goes from closed to really closed. So golfers simply learn to open it.

So along comes some well-meaning friend who says your clubface is really closed at the top. You look at many great players, and sure enough, your face is clearly shut. So you correct it. What happens next is also very predictable: high and very right, and very thin with many topped shots. Why? Because you only corrected part of the problem. You fixed the shut face, but now you’ve taken a square clubface and massively opened it as a force of habit. You have ingrained that move into your swing because you had to open your old, shut clubface in the downswing. Correcting only ONE thing made your swing worse. Your swing is now dysfunctional.

That’s why if you commit to one change for the sake of improvement or consistency, you have to commit to both changes. If you don’t, you’ll get worse… not better.

Steep Swings

Here’s another: many amateur players start the downswing with the golf club far too steep. Maybe it’s over the top, maybe not (you can be just as steep from inside the ball). But when the golf club is too vertical in transition, it can result in any one of a number of impact mistakes: namely fat, slices and toe hits. So the idea of “flattening the transition” (good idea) becomes your priority, but there’s always a catch. Most experienced golfers correct steep through one of a few different ways listed below:

  • Raising the hands (standing the club up) to avoid fat shots
  • Tilting the torso back or away from the target to avoid opening the face
  • Sending the hands away from the body to avoid toes hits
  • Raising the swing center

You get the picture here. You learn to get the club on a better plane (flatter with the butt of the grip pointed more at the golf ball), but you’ll likely still have one of the “fit-in” moves left into impact. So a flatter club, which is by far a better way to square the face, might result in a shank if you’re used to sending your hands away from your body to avoid a toe hit. Raising the hands might top. Tilting the torso back away might hit shallow fats or tops. So you fixed the steep transition, but your impact is worse! Again, you’re dysfunctional.

Remember, if you commit to one change, you MUST commit to both.

Weak Grips/Over-The-Top

One more: Golfers who start out with a weak grip (as most do) slice. So as a reaction, they come over the top and swing outside-in. So they fix the grip, and of course, the result is predictable. They pull the ball, generally low and left (for right-handers). You get the pattern here. They need to learn a new swing direction, and on and on.

The lesson is clear; a single correction of a swing issue can be sufficient, but in my experience, two corrections must be tackled for long-term improvement. What to correct first? Well, you’d have to consult with your teacher or coach. As a rule, I try to get better impact first if I can get someone there from where their swing is now. Some other teachers may prefer a different sequence, but I think they’d all agree that a two-part correction is ultimately in the works.

I’ve always believed that teachers can disagree widely on the prescription, but they should be pretty much in unison regarding the diagnosis. Learn the swing flaw AND your reaction to it before you decide to make a swing change.

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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Olle Eriksson

    Oct 21, 2019 at 5:07 am

    Great article. Most of it makes sense to me. But what I’m left wondering is what the correct 2nd change to flattening the shaft, if the list of things you mention are the incorrect adaptions?

  2. Commoner

    Jul 16, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Based on previous exposure to Clark’s teaching, it’s my opinion he has the ability to phrase points or express himself in a way that the ‘average’ golfer can understand concept and method. What really impresses is his acceptance of the pupil as a real live being with assorted quirks, habits, limitations, and traits. This is so much better than trying to pound that square peg into the round hole.

  3. Lm

    Jul 15, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    is that you, Clampett? Lmao

  4. E

    Jul 15, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I get the broader point that things work in systems but my god why does this have so many technical and confusing specifics

    • ogo

      Jul 15, 2018 at 4:14 pm

      …. so you will seek help from an instructor… rather than attempting to do it subjectively not knowing what you are really doing right or wrong…!!

    • JK

      Jul 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      If you want a K.I.S.S. solution stop golfing for two weeks… and then sell your clubs on ebay. That should solve your swing problems!

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Instruction

An awesome drill for lag that works with the ball!

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Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!

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I’m a big believer that the golf swing is much easier to execute if you begin with the proper grip and learn how to put your body in the starting position that promotes a sound golf swing. Today, I want to talk about the grip only.

As you can imagine, I come into contact with hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. One of the universal truths of golf is that it is very rare to see a good player with a bad grip! There are some, for sure, but they are very few and very far between — and they typically have beat so many balls with their poor grip that they’ve found a way to work around it.

But if you want to make the swing easier to learn and repeat, a sound and fundamental hold on the club is mandatory. Whether you prefer an overlap, interlock, or full-finger (not baseball!) grip on the club, the same fundamentals apply. A proper hold on the club allows it to function in the swing in a correct manner, and a bad grip will completely prevent improvement and consistency.

Here are the major grip faults I see most often, in the order of the frequency.

Too tight

Nearly all golfers hold the club too tightly, and it tenses up everything. You must feel that the club is controlled in the last three fingers of the left (upper) hand, and the middle two fingers of the right (lower). If you engage your thumbs and forefingers in “holding” the club, the result will almost be a grip that is too tight. Try this for yourself.  Hold the club in your left hand, and squeeze firmly with just the last three fingers, with the forefinger and thumb off the club entirely. You have good control, but your forearms are not tense. Then begin to squeeze down with your thumb and forefinger and observe the tensing of the entire forearm. This is the way we are made, so the key to preventing tenseness in the arms is to hold the club very lightly with the “pinchers” — the thumbs and forefingers.

Too much right hand on the club

Almost all golfers have the club too far into the palm of the right hand, probably because they are trying to control the path of the clubhead to the ball. But the golf swing is not a hit at the ball – it is a swing of the club — so the proper hold on the club has the grip underneath the pad at the base of the fingers. If you will slide the grip down into your fingers, so that you feel “weak” with the right hand, you will experience increased clubhead speed immediately.

The position of the grip in the left hand

I observe many golfers who have the butt of the grip too far into the pad of the left hand. It’s amazing how much easier it is to release the club through the ball if even 1/4-1/2″ of the butt is beyond the left heel pad. Try this yourself to see what I mean. Swing the club freely with just your left hand and notice the difference in its release from when you hold it in each of the pictured positions. Make that simple little change and you’ll get the club square through impact much easier.

Mis-aligned hands

By this, I mean that the palms of the two hands are not parallel to each other. Too many golfers have a weak left hand and strong right, or vice versa. The easiest way to learn how to grip the club with your palms aligned properly is to grip a plain old wooden ruler or yardstick. It forces the hands to align together, and shows you how this feels. If you will grip and re-grip a yardstick several times, then grip a club, you’ll see that the learning curve is almost immediate.

So, those are the four fundamentals of a good grip that anyone can learn in their home or office very quickly. A good grip will help any golfer make an immediate improvement to his/her swing!

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Understanding how weight shifts in the golf swing is the difference between easy and strenuous power.

Ben Hogan developed his swing around both how to get to the target more consistently and his anatomy. Get the facts from Wisdom in Golf on how the human machine does its thing without having to micro-manage your body parts!

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