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Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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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]

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Dennis clark

    Feb 20, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    JD it is a vicious cycle and that’s why I caution all my students and readers with IF this THEN that. Grip, aim, posture all preferences. Backswing preference. But what is NOT one day this, one day that is matching your downswing to any or all of the above.

  2. DS

    Feb 20, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Flat takeaway, not downswing. My personal curse. Add to it a pretty flexible back, and I turn too much, stand up, and my right shoulder (I’m a righty) actually moves back towards the target at the top. I get across the line every time and ‘compensate’ by coming over the top on the downswing. Net – I felt like 1 Year I didn’t hit a fairway. Actually, I hit many – just none my own. Big pulls and huge fades. Unsure of any early/late release but I hit it pretty far. Just not straight.

    I’m working on both a better takeaway and a downswing that is ‘under’ the plane. Such a hard thing to master but making progress, little by little. This is a long way to say “I love the idea of a flatter downswing”, and appreciate the cautionary note about “comes in pairs”, Dennis.

  3. Steve

    Feb 20, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    Interesting article, thanks, Dennis. I think the challenge for us mere mortals, is “how” to shallow the club’s angle of attack into impact. I struggle with this owing to a backswing that does not conventionally “set” the club at the top, so I tend to come down steeply. Spent last year, somewhat in vain, trying to shallow my attack and compress the ball better. “Modern” teachers such as G Gankas and Brad Hughes (among others) preach about getting hands and arms out in front, but differ on how to get there. Keeping back to target and leading with lower body are newer teachings that are hard to incorporate, especially for my generation that grew up with watching Nicklaus and learning swing concepts from 30+ years ago. Again, thanks.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Feb 20, 2019 at 8:29 am

    The main reason I wrote this is that MANY players who flatten the transition start SHANKING. For all the reasons listed in the article. Be careful.

    • Benny

      Feb 21, 2019 at 7:17 am

      You guys want a fix to all of this.. go watch “square to square” on you tube. Thats Stricker, Zach Johnson a bit and even Speith a little. No wrist, just cock, lock amd swing. Take the guessing out of it.
      Time and time again people put WAY to much into the issue instead of just playing. Pros, sure this is their life, but hand – eye contact is what humans are good at. Just stay still, stable and swing but make sure you watch the ball off the face..

  5. Russell Ziskey

    Feb 19, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Ha! I have historically had a steeper path into the ball, and played around with laying the club down (with Sergio as the mental model). Great results at first, but then I turned into my alter ego – El Hosel…interestingly have also noticed that sidehill lies (ball above feet) don’t force as much of a pulled left shot for me in stock shots…compensation comes in pairs is the key phrase that is sticking with me…great article

  6. geohogan

    Feb 19, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Ben Hogan dropped into the Slot
    Jack Nicklaus kept the club equally between the arms in DS, as he used a gravity drop

    Both players knew how to use the leverage of both arms equally, letting their torso rotation square the clubface, with release after impact, Level Left.

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 19, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      Hogan late Jack earlier Watson earliest. Lag watson swing and stick it in the ground. Release Hogan’s move and drop kick hook it. The release point is a function of the shaft plane and hand height into impact.

      • geohogan

        Feb 19, 2019 at 9:13 pm

        Hogan and Nicklaus, among others (two, Moe Norman and Knudson), showed us that if we drop into the Slot ie (3 levers in a common plane) then torso will square clubface at impact without release of the hands until after impact if at all.

        Of course using torso rotation to square clubface is one way to swing. Right arm straightening and hitting with the hands are the other ways, where shaft plane and hand height may well be key. After all the latter two methods are so very timing dependent.

      • geohogan

        Feb 19, 2019 at 9:27 pm

        So no surprise in order to rid himself of going left, Hogan learned to drop into the Slot, and let torso rotation square the clubface. No reliance on squaring the clubface within thousandths of a second, with the hands.

        • Dennis Clark

          Feb 20, 2019 at 8:26 am

          Agreed. His whole thing was “how not to hook the ball”, which in the 30s, into early 40s he did plenty of. He became Ben Hogan the legend when he stopped hooking. But some of the things he advocates can cause amateurs to slice. Nothing is for everybody! Tnx

          • geohogan

            Feb 20, 2019 at 11:06 am

            Hogans go to shot was still a draw, but he could fade at will.

            Many things that Hogan stated and wrote have been misconstrued. Any and all details need to be vetted. Opinions dont matter.

            The subconscious does not, not do anything. ie there is no negative intention.
            Dont drink and drive…translates in SC, “drink and drive’

            Dont hit it left into the hazard…translates to ‘hit it left into the hazard’

  7. MG

    Feb 19, 2019 at 11:37 am

    I am self taught and for the last 5 years (until this last year) always shot between 71 and 79 at my home course. I have always been steep in the downswing. To combat this, I would naturally early extend starting on the backswing and then early extend even more on the downswing. The contrast between my head always raising and a tour player like Tiger’s head always lowering in crazy. “Knowing” I should be flattening my downswing, I was able to get rid of my early extension on the backswing and reduce my early extension on the downswing (to me it feels like is gone but when I watch video I still do it). I was hoping that getting rid of early extension would then eliminate my steep transition. Unfortunately the opposite is true. I believe I have been early extending because I have a steep transition. The final result is a nicer looking take away but now with less early extension and still having a steep transition, I hit a ton of shanks. It has ben really hard to play the game for the last year. And I don’t know how I can go back to my old swing. It just doesn’t feel right to do so much early extension now.

    • Dennis clack

      Feb 19, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      Send me a video I’ll ftske a look. V1 app if you have it

    • geohogan

      Feb 20, 2019 at 3:12 pm

      Everyone’s Slot will be unique to their body size, shape, length of arms etc.
      ie neither steep or flat.. just right for you.

  8. JD

    Feb 19, 2019 at 10:02 am

    one day do this, next day do that. Back and forth we go. It’s a viscous cycle.

  9. juststeve

    Feb 19, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Whatever works. What a great concept!

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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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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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