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Where should my shoulders be at impact?



There is a lot of conflicting advice about whether the shoulders should be open, square, or even closed at impact. The real answer, like most things in golf, is “it depends.”

The key to shoulder position at impact is matching your pivot with your arm swing. What I see on a daily basis is players doing things that by themselves might not be wrong, but they don’t fit with the rest of their pattern. Even worse is someone who tries to a make change to their golf swing by adding a piece that will do more harm than good. That’s because the piece they are trying to “fix” has to match the rest of their pattern.

So where should your shoulders be at impact? It depends on the rate at which your rear arm straightens, the location of your right elbow and the speed of your arm swing. Because people tend to understand things better when they see them we will go over some examples (all examples use a right-handed golfer).

Golfer 1

For a golfer whose left arm is deeper and more across the chest and right arm stays bent longer, the shoulders should be more open at impact. This will help the golfer’s swing move in the direction of the target.

For this golfer, the arms are moving slower, or closer to the same speed as the right shoulder. This is why their right arm stays bent longer. As the hands move closer to impact the right shoulder is also moving at a similar rate down, out and forward toward impact. This gets shoulders more open at impact.

If this golfer’s shoulders were more closed, their swing direction would be too far to the right of the target and he or she would struggle with pushes and hooks. Hunter Mahan in the video below is a good example of this sort of pattern. His right arms stays bent until well after impact, allowing/forcing him to use his body to get the club out to the ball in a way that results in a fairly neutral path.

Click here to see a YouTube video of Hunter Mahan’s swing (SwingVision — down the line)

Golfer 2

In contrast, a golfer whose right arm straightens faster needs his shoulders more square at impact. This golfer’s arms move faster in relation to the pivot than Golfer 1, which is why the right arm straightens faster. Golfer 2’s hands are moving toward impact at a faster rate than his right shoulder is moving down, out and forward. Because of this, Golfer 2’s shoulders will be more square/less open than the shoulders of Golfer 1. This type of golfer has the club working out toward the ball due to straightening of the right arm, and will work toward the target without having the body nearly as open to the target.

A great example of this is Ricky Fowler: Click here to see a YouTube video of Fowler’s swing (down the line)

The key to understanding this is that both Golfer 1 and Golfer 2 can have the same ball flight and resultant path. They just get there two different ways.

Mahan vs. Fowler at impact 


Most good golfers fall somewhere between these two extremes. Poorer golfers mix and match these patterns. Most commonly, I see slicers who open their bodies too fast with a right arm that straightens too fast. This kicks the club out past the ball and causes a path that is out-to-in, which produces deflected slices and big pulls along with shots hit off the heel and shanks. You will also see some good players with a lot of “lag” who keep their right arm bent but don’t pivot enough through the ball, resulting in a path that is too in-to-out which can lead to toe shots.

When working on your impact dynamics, make sure you are adding parts that match the rest of what you’re doing.  Mixing components here can lead to very poor results and frustration.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction and Academy” forum. 

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I currently teach at Hidden Hills Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla. I began teaching golf in 2001 and have had PGA Tour teaching credentials since 2009. I have been lucky enough to work with players on the PGA,, LPGA and Symetra tours as well as top amateur and collegiate golfers, including multiple NCAA national champions. I've had two students in the last two years graduate from the Tour to the PGA Tour. I am constantly trying to push myself to learn as much as possible about golf and many other areas of life.



  1. Todd Martin

    Apr 17, 2020 at 1:06 am

    This was a great article , Iv’e been playing for many years and never heard any one talk about this !
    Its either one our the other with most teachers Iv’e seen or read, I have been going crazy trying to figure out what happen
    to my Ball striking, I have tried both over the last year and then they kind of just blended into half and half, its not good. LOL
    I think I fire my arm and straighten it more like player 2 Fowler, at least more naturally. If I use the player one method it seems very forced.
    the player one system seems to help me separate my hips easier if I remember to keep my shoulders more square to the target line a little longer. my question is , do you do lessons where I could text you a few videos of my swing and you send me answers back?maybe a text video of you showing me what Im doing right or wrong?

  2. Nick

    Dec 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Could not agree more. I was having an issue with slicing that was corrected by an emphasis on staying connected going back and not letting my shoulders race to open with my arms lagging behind, leaving the face open. A thought of “staying connected” through impact, which is obviously not a completely accurate description of what actually happens in down swing, but it slowed my shoulders and got my ina better impact position and back to drawing the ball. Took a quick look at some video and I am more of a ricky than a hunter.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots



You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?



As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.


  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]





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The Wedge Guy’s favorite wedge practice drills



I received an email from a reader this past week asking me what my favorite practice routines or drill were for sharpening my wedge game — or at least warding off any creeping wedge yips. My theory from years of experience and multiple bouts with that ailment is that it stems from poor fundamentals, which leads to one or two skulled or chunked short shots — which then can advance into full-fledged wedge yips.

So, my wedge practice routine begins with a detailed look at fundamentals – posture, alignment, ball position, grip/grip pressure – and then advances to examination of the actual chipping and pitching motion of the swing.

Rather than get into those fundamentals, I’ll dive right into my favorite practice drills once those are re-visited and in place. No matter what your skill level might be, I am convinced that time spent on these will yield giant rewards in your scores and enjoyment of the game. There is nothing quite so demoralizing and maddening than to hit a good drive and better-than-average approach shot, then chunk or skull a simple chip or pitch, turning a par or bogey-at-worst into a double or even more.

How can the shortest shot on the hole be the one that causes the most frustration and damage on the scorecard, not to mention the havoc it wreaks in your mental state? So, let’s move onto what I think are some great practice drills and routines to keep your scoring game at its best.

Core activation

The key to a solid short game is to control the swing with the rotation of your body core, rather than to allow the arms and hands to be the driver. When I’m about to start a short game session, I like to begin with the club extended in front of my body, with my upper arms close to my chest, then rotate my upper torso back and through, to give me the sensation that I am moving the club only with my core rotation, with the hands only having the job of holding on to it. In this drill, you want to ensure that the clubhead is exactly in front of your sternum as you rotate back and through. When you lower the club into the playing position, this puts the upper end of the grip pointing roughly at your belt buckle and it stays in that “attitude” through the backswing and follow through.

S-L-O-W motion

I believe one of the most misunderstood and destructive pieces of advice in the short game is to “accelerate through the ball”. What I see much too often is that the golfer fails to take a long enough backswing and then quickly jabs at the ball . . . all in the pursuit of “accelerating through the ball”. In reality, that is pretty hard NOT to do if you have any kind of follow through at all. Relying on that CORE ACTIVATION move, I like to make very slow swings – back and through impact – experimenting just how slow I can make the swing and still see some ball flight. You’ll be amazed at how slow a body rotation can be made and still make the ball fly in a nice trajectory


I’m borrowing this term from Tiger Woods, who often spoke of hitting his iron shots through certain “windows”, i.e. first floor, second floor, etc. He was and is a master at controlling ball flight. For your short game, I simplify this into hitting short pitch shots on three different flight trajectories – low, medium and high. I have found the simplest way to do this is to use the same swing for each shot and determine the trajectory by where you place the ball in your set-up. Start by finding the ball position that gives you what you consider to be a “normal” trajectory with your sand wedge. Then, hit some shots with the ball just one inch back and forward of that spot and see what trajectory you get. You can then take that to another level by repeating the process with your other wedges, from your highest lofted to your lowest.

Ladder drill

For this exercise, I like to have some room on the range or practice area that lets me hit balls any distance I want, from ten feet out to about 25 yards, or even more if you can. I start by hitting a basic chip shot to fly precisely to a divot or piece of turf I’ve targeted about ten feet in front of me. The next shot I try to land where that ball stopped. I repeat that process until I have a line of balls from ten feet to 25 or so yards from me. With each shot, I repeat it until I can land my shot within a foot or less of my “target ball.”

The idea of this kind of practice with your short game is to hit so many shots that you feel like you can do anything with the ball, and you can take that confidence and execution skill to the course. You can literally work through a few hundred shots in an hour or so with these drills, and there’s nothing like repetition to build a skill set you can trust “under fire.”

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