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Clark: How to hit it low

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It’s almost PGA Tour time again, and as the guys head to Hawaii next week many of them will be working hard to get their games ready for competition. Despite the tropical paradise that the Hawaaian Islands are, their golf courses are always a stiff test of golf thanks to the strong and persistent winds that blow through that beautiful part of the world. If you were to go to the practice range there, I’m sure you’d see the guys working on their “knock down” shots.

In places like Hawaii, Texas and Florida, low shots are a must. With that in mind, it might be a good time to look at the dynamics of hitting the ball low. A lot of amateurs can’t hit the low shot, but it’s one they should practice. If they do, they’ll likely see an improvement in the overall quality of their ball striking.

To understand the concept of hitting it low, let’s talk about the things that cause trajectory in the first place. Here are the variables that figure into the equation:

  • Loft
  • Point of contact (on the face)
  • Spin
  • Speed

These are the actual impact factors that create flight. Things like ball position, width of stance, attack angle, etc. are how you affect the impact, but are not causes in and of themselves. Very often, I work with players who want to know what caused a certain flight, and they are always quick to jump right into what the body did. You have to remember the player is influencing the club directly and therefore the ball indirectly. So in creating low shots, what ballistics do we need? Well, it would stand to reason that we need less dynamic loft, less spin, less speed and contact slightly lower on the face of the club than we would on a regular or higher trajectory shot. Make sense? Good. So, how do we do it? Try these tips.

The setup

  • Use one more club. If the shot requires a full 6 iron, use a 5 iron. Then choke down an inch and take your regular grip.
  • Move the ball back and the hands forward (slightly).
  • Aim slightly left to offset the back ball position.
  • Narrow your stance. A wide stance can get the swing center too far behind the ball.
  • Keep the right side higher at set up (very little axis tilt with upper body)

The swing

  • Make a low takeaway with less wrist action than normal. You’ve gone back far enough when your left arm gets to parallel.
  • Keep your pivot centered over the ball.
  • No flipping on the downswing. Keep the hands ahead of the clubhead at impact.
  • Keep the finish low, no higher than perhaps belt- or rib-cage high coming through.
  • For a driver, tee it lower (to insure lower face contact).
  • Swing slower than normal. Too much speed creates too much spin.

The principals

Here’s a simple phrase that helps a lot:  LOW SHOT, LOW SWING.

The more you get the wrists involved, the more likely you are to add loft and get “flippy” into impact. The is a shot that must be driven with a low, boring trajectory.  The only way to do that is to keep the hands in front of the clubhead, which de-lofts the club at impact.

The second the clubhead gets ahead of the hands, or the upper body reverses (backs up), the more you will add loft at impact. Look at it this way — address the ball as you normally would with a 7 iron. Then move the handle forward until you have the loft of a 6-iron. You can move it even more forward to give you the loft of a 5-iron, and so on.

Caution: Moving the handle forward is not the same as closing the club. You can move the handle as far forward as you like and still keep the club square (leading edge perpedicular to target line). Remember, the golf ball has to be driven low and can’t rise too much. It’s critical that the club arrives on a lower plane and the hands lead the clubhead.

Here’s a drill to help you get a feel for the shot:

Find a bench at the range, maybe 2 feet tall. Put it two yards in front of you, grab a 7 iron and see how it feels to hit the ball UNDER that bench. You will get the idea quickly.

Several times in this article I mentioned the word slightly. Normally I would not advise that. My regular readers and students know that believe in exaggeration. In the case of correcting a slice or hook, you almost can’t overdo the prescription. But changing trajectory is a different story.

Ball position is a great example. If you get it too far back, you can get really steep with a high vertical swing plane.  I have seen people put the ball SO far back and de-loft the club so much that they can’t even get it a shot off the ground. To fix it, they start hanging back and increase upper body tilt, which completely defeats the purpose!

So a little back, a little lower swing, a little less speed, slightly more club and well, you get the picture.

Happy New Year everyone! I hope it’s a good one for each and all of you with lots of birdies, fewer bogeys, no “others.” Most importantly, let’s hope for a lot of smiles 🙂

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion and the opportunity to ask Dennis a question in the forums. 

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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]

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. paul

    Dec 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Yikes, so much to remember . I just add a club and put the hands forward then pray and hit it. Things seem to workout when i think less. Not to discredit your method, I love your articles 🙂 New years resolution: Take 10 more strokes off my handicap ,like I did last year.

  2. Trevor

    Dec 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Excellent article, I think many people take for granted the accuracy a knock down shot gives you under certain conditions, these tips will separate you from your weekend competition. Great article Dennis

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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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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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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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