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How to fix the dreaded chicken wing

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A lot of golfers, when describing the “problem” with their swing, say something like, “I know I have a chicken wing, I just cant stop doing it!”

In golf, a “chicken wing” is the shortening of the left arm (for a right-handed golfer) in the downswing and into impact. I call these types of moves in the golf swing “fit-ins” or “savers” — golfers fit them into their swing to complement another error, and they use the move(s) to try and “save” the swing from calamity.

When a golfer is conscious of a habit, but cannot refrain from doing it, there must be a good reason for it. No one woke up one day and decided to “chicken wing” their left arm. They are doing so because they MUST; for the simple reason that if they didn’t do it, something worse than what usually happens would occur.

What could be worse than a weak slice? Slamming the golf club into the ground on the the downswing might be worse — much worse, because the weak slice goes somewhere, the fat shot does not.

Hitting the ground behind the ball is a golfer’s worst nightmare. It is an embarrasing shot that only goes a few yards, gets your clothes dirty and makes you look like a duffer more than any shot in golf (shank possibly excepted). Golfers will do anything to avoid it, so when their body or your brain senses a crash, it is going to get off the road, one way or another.

An involuntary habit, by definition, is one over which you have no control. So you typically do one of a few things:  stand up, fall back, or chicken wing. All three of these disastrous motions are typically caused by the golf club starting down too STEEP in the transition from a golfer’s backswing to downswing.

If the shaft plane is steep when a golfer starts their downswing, with the butt end of the club pointed at a golfer’s feet or the ground between the feet and the ball, a golfer senses that he or she is headed for a crash, and reacts accordingly.

 

A too steep down swing (left), versus a downswing that is flatter (right).

I’m often asked, what can I do to fix my lifting or my chicken wing? There is no drill that I know of, or a teaching aid that will help you if you are consitently on too steep of an angle in the downswing. You have to fix the root cause of the problem — you have to learn to “lay the shaft down,” or flatten your transition.

Much like slicing; if you want to develop a more inside path you have to get rid of the slice.  The same thing goes along with saving the downswing. Think of it this way: if the shaft was way too flat, as some are, a golfer would consistenly top the ball and actually dive DOWN to hit it. These swings are rarely guity of chicken winging, because the gound simply isn’t in play as much for them. So we’re back to my theory of golf as a reaction game (click to read the original story).

PGA Tour players don’t chicken wing or stand up, believe me. But you, dear reader, Mr. bogey golfer, what can you do about this move? These are a few of the things I recommend:

  • Hit balls on a side hill lie with ball above your feet. Think baseball.
  • Hit balls off an high tee with the club in the air as high as the tee at address. Think baseball.
  • Go to the top of your swing and pause: Feel your right wrist cup (dorsiflexion) and your left wrist bow (palmar flexion)
  • At the top of swing, your right forearm is angled similarly to your upper body. Immediately make it more vertical, moving the right elbow OUT in front of you.

Notice how the wrist action I descibed and the right forearm action happen together — as the left wrist bows, the right wrist cups and the right forearm moves out. Now notice the position of the shaft: The butt end is now pointing OUTSIDE the golf ball, and you are in a better position from which to start down.

The sidehill drill cannnot be overdone for many of you —  the more you think “lay the shaft down” in transition the better off you will be.  If you have seen your swing on video with your pro, he has probably pointed out this steepness. If you’re one of the many in this position, these drills are worth a try. When, and only when you get into this position to start down will you feel the freedom to extend your arms, particularly your left arm, into impact. You will not fear fat, in fact, you will start to top the ball, UNTIL you learn to stay down, keep rotating and extend the arms. 

If you want a great winter project, think about this and do it thousands of times in your indoor center, garage or wherever.  You don’t even have to swing — just learn to start down more horizontally so you can STAY DOWN into impact.

One last thing: note earlier I said the player typically does one or a few things to avoid fat shots: chicken winging, standing up OR falling back. If you find yourself “backing up” into impact with the upper body adding extra tilt back into the classic “reverse C” look, it is often because of the very same steepness I decribed starting down. You are all trying to shallow out the golf club to avoid hitting the big ball instead of the little one.

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 to see what people are saying in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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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. .

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Manny

    Jul 1, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    There are a couple guys on tour that “chicken wing” it. Jordan Spieth is one that I’ve seen.

  2. Mike

    May 20, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I read with great enthusiasm your comments. I have a somewhat different situation. I have experienced severe trauma to my left shoulder which I believe causes me to retract just past impact to avoid any pain. Surgery is not an option so I grasping for straws. Your feedback is appreciated.
    Cheers

  3. Martin

    Jan 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Good tip Mark. I am always thinking I am gonna practise halv swings, then when I stand on the range I fall into the same pattern and hit the balls full swing in stead. This coming season I will practice more half swings and more punch shots. Thats a promise! 🙂

    And a comment to my comment… What I didnt say was that I have been working the whole winter (mostly in my living room since its very cold here and snow during the winter) to get the club more in front of me, mainly focusing on my backswing cause I have been to much inside going back before, leading to major inconsistency. Now I wonder what the reaction to this action will be? I believe I will hit the ball with a more open face if I dont let the club come flatter in to the ball and if i dont turn properly. Any comment on that?

    Thank you!

  4. mark

    Jan 9, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    A bent left arm can also cause a “chicken wing”.
    To fix this do half swings at half speed concentrate on extending your left arm thru out this drill. Your left arm should be as straight as possible but relaxed. Hit a 100 balls a day and soon you will hitting it great.

  5. Martin

    Jan 9, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Thanks for another great article!

    In a two plane swing your supposed to be steep in the backswing, the club pointing at the ball or at least inside the ball when your left arm is horisontal, am I right? If I start my downswing with turning my hip a little, the club should flatten automatically, at least thats what I read? I think Penick calls that the magic move? IfI then continue to turn (seperating the lower and upper body of course) I cant go wrong can I?

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Fixing what’s broke

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Understand that today’s post is coming from a bona fide lifetime range rat. I’ve always loved time on the range, hitting ball after ball after ball, trying to become the best ball-striker and shotmaker I could be. My Dad’s advice as I was growing into the game was always, “there’s nothing wrong with your game another five thousand practice balls won’t fix.”

My childhood idol was Ben Hogan, so I studied his books, “Power Golf” and “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” relentlessly. And I made myself into a pretty good player, with the strength of my game always being hitting fairways and greens. To be honest, the chipping/pitching/putting part of the game just didn’t interest me all that much.

Maybe because my father and my brother were both such good putters and pretty effective around the greens, I felt like my mark had to be through outstanding ball-striking.

But as I got older, I realized that any measurable gains I might make on becoming a better player would be through improving my scoring skills. Even the best players in the game only hit 12-14 greens per round, and I’ve always been right there. But PGA players turn that into 65s and 68s, while I turned mine into 71s and 75s, or worse.

The point of sharing that is to encourage all of you to – as we enter the 2022 season – to honestly and candidly assess where it is your game can use the most improvement. And my bet is – regardless of your handicap – you’ll find that answer is within 50-75 yards from the flag. Whether your goal is to break 90 or par, you’ll likely find that the shots that kept you from that goal are happening much closer to the green than the tee.

  • How often do you miss a putt under 6-8 feet for par or bogey?
  • How often do you hit a chip or pitch shot that leaves you outside that range . . . or completely misses the green? I’ve always said when you have a wedge in your hand for the second shot in a row, you have completely thrown one or more shots away.
  • So, unless you are committed to instruction and the long-term process of changing your swing to change your ball-striking consistency, your time would be better spent honing your short game skills and your putting, and here’s where I think we can divide into two primary groups – those looking to break 80 and those looking to break 90 or 100.

For you higher handicap players, I advise your practice time be invested in two primary areas:

  • Learning to hit a basic pitch and chip shot so that you can do it with confidence and consistency. Your goal is to make sure a missed green (of which you have 13-15 per round) leads to nothing worse than a bogey almost all the time. Go to your golf professional and invest the time and money to learn a technique for chipping and pitching that is reliable and repeatable.
  • Practice making putts of eight feet or less. If you can get better in this range, it will take pressure off your short game and lower your scores. Again, get a pro to help if you need to, as these putts are usually pretty straight and a sound technique will improve your performance quickly.

For you more advanced players trying to break 80, 75 or even par, your goals are not all that different:

  • Learn how to hit a variety of shots around the greens. Even if you tend to always pull the sand or lob wedge, spend some time seeing what your other wedges can do. I find it a lot easier to just change clubs to make the ball fly lower and release a bit more, than I do to try to manipulate my technique to achieve those goals.
  • Know when to be bold, when not to. Sometimes a missed green leaves us short-sided or with a high-difficulty recovery. If you aren’t sure you know that shot and can pull it off, play away from the hole and take your medicine with a bogey. Doubles usually come from those greenside shots that are the most risky.
  • Like the other golfers, improve your statistics inside eight feet. That means working on your stroke a bit, but more likely working on your routine. Get your line, focus your attention on the putt and relax . . . make a sound stroke.

So, there is my advice for today. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — and really analyze what might be broke.

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Stickney: Do your golf shoes really matter?

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One of the most overlooked aspects of your golf equipment is the shoes you wear, how they react, and what they will do to your swing to enhance it or detract from it while you play. There are a million different types of shoes — some have higher heels, others have flat soles, and the bottoms are all different sizes, shapes, and thus provide different interactions with the ground. It’s these interactions that help to power your golf swing and when they are maximized great things can happen but when you have a deficiency within these forces you will find that you are leaving distance and speed behind.

As we have now learned with systems like Swing Catalyst, people use these ground reaction forces in different ways.  Some people are more horizontally driven, others use rotation to power the downswing, and some even use vertical force that makes them “jump up” at impact. The most common one that is used is side to side horizontal force. I don’t mean sliding back and forth exaggeratedly, but the simple aspect of loading your weight into your rear foot at the top and then moving or bumping your weight into your lead foot on the way down at the right time. It’s this side-to-side motion that most people understand yet have problems with daily.

One of the biggest issues in golf as it pertains to the backswing is the sliding of the rear knee out of its original position at address in route to the top. When this happens, players tend to move the pressure to the outside of their rear foot making it hard to “push off” of their rear foot transitional. When this happens, you will tend to leave too much residual weight on the rear foot during impact robbing them of power and solid contact.

As you can see this player below allows his rear knee to slide and this allows his weight to move too much to the outside of his rear foot at the top.  This is shown by the grey dot on the rear foot in the second photo as it has slid to the rearward portion of the ball of the foot to the top.

When this happens, you will find that the head will tend to fall backwards and the rear foot will tend to have too much residual pressure and you will remain “flat-footed” through impact making it easy to hit the ball fat and shorter thank you’d like.

One of the things we noticed was the shoes that this player was wearing. They were the soft, tennis-shoe, type of golf shoes with narrow soles and mesh uppers. While these are great for comfort they are NOT the best for a player who tends to move side to side in the backswing or for a player whom uses horizontal force as their biggest asset!

What narrow sole soft shoes do not do is provide support to the upper-ankle and the soft upper places little resistance against the foot for any type of tactile feedback during the backswing. This tends to allow players to slide their rear knees and pressure too much laterally in the backswing causing a delayed “push off” of the rear foot and lagging back through the impact zone.

For players such as this, I would suggest the widest sole possible with a stiff upper that will provide support for the backswing. There are many products from shoe companies that provide this support, and I’ll leave these up to you to investigate your favorite brand.

Please stay away from the narrow front sole, soft tennis shoe type of footwear if you have this propensity in the swing. Try to find one of the other better suited products from the company that you like that will support your backswing. If you do, I promise you will find your stability increase, your pivot will improve, and your ball will be further down the fairway as a result.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

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The Wedge Guy: Taming the wind

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The recent Players Championship fully illustrated the effect the wind can have on scoring, and even the tour professionals found ways to shoot in the high 70s or even 80s when the wind hit its peak on Saturday. On those rare occasions when these elite players have to negotiate strong and gusty winds, you just don’t see scores in the mid-to-low-60s like you do when greens are soft and flags are drooping.

I grew up down here close to the Texas Coast, so I learned to play the wind at an early age. My dad’s guidance was always “when it’s breezy, swing it easy.” And one of my favorite Scottish sayings is “if there be naye wind laddie, there be naye golf”.

A lot of The Players’ TV coverage was focused on No. 17, where so many of these players found the water. Understand that 17 green is one of the largest on the course, so what amazed me is how many of these tour professionals did not know how (apparently) to flight the ball down and control spin in those conditions. As I watched the carnage, I was amazed at how many of these players would apparently just club up and hit their normal towering short iron, with trajectory peaking at 90, 100 feet or more. I read that something like 80 percent of the balls in the water were on shots hit more than 70 feet high.

Puzzling, to say the least.

Today, I want to share the basics of wind play, as I was taught from early in my golf life. The first rule on a windy day is that you have to relax your expectations. As the PGA Tour players showed us, there is no tougher condition than wind in which to play this game.

Besides relaxing your expectations, however, there are some other basics you should understand in order to score better when it’s breezy. And the first is that the wind doesn’t affect a solidly hit ball nearly as much as one that is hit off center. Regardless of the shot you face, if you will throttle back your swing to 75-85 percent when playing the wind, your results will be much better.

Another tip for playing in the wind is to understand that it exaggerates everything. A gentle breeze to light crosswind will hardly affect a straight shot that is hit well. But if that ball flight has curvature to it, the wind will do crazy things. Curve it into the wind, and it will get “knocked down”, probably a club or more short. Curve it with the wind, and the curve will be exaggerated by a factor of 2-3 or more. A gentle draw becomes a sweeping hook, a slight fade a runaway slice.

With it blowing in your face, the goal is to keep the shot “under the wind.” To hit that shot, I play the ball a bit further back in my stance, typically take two more clubs than normal and grip down an extra half inch or so. My single swing thought it to keep is slow and make sure I lead with my body core and arms, so that the clubhead is the last thing through the impact zone.

Also, with this shot into the wind, I want to make a more sweeping motion, rather than a severe downward strike. The key is to minimize spin and height on the shot and these fundamentals help insure that.

Conversely, hitting downwind, Ben Hogan said you always want to over-club as well. A shot hit with less spin is less likely to get up and ride the wind clean over the green or get “knocked down” by the tailwind and come up short. In my opinion, gauging distance of iron shots downwind is always tougher than into the wind.

So, there are my wind-play basics. I hope all of you have the good fortune to put these into play this season. Golf become a very different game when you add a nice 15-20 mph breeze to the equation!

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