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Understanding “open-faced hooks”



At the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Dustin Johnson hit an ugly quacker (read snap hook) off the tee on Tuesday afternoon that was headed in the general direction of Haleakala. After the shot, NBC’s broadcast team, Johnny Miller and Gary Koch, decided to take a look at what happened.

They zoomed in to impact using the high-speed Konica Minolta Swing Vision Camera and saw that as Johnson’s club collided with the ball, his club face opened — massively!  The booth went silent briefly, as Miller and Koch were flummoxed by the fact that Johnson’s club face was opened and he still managed to hook it off the planet. After realizing that they had dead air, they probably figured:

“Hey, we have to say something!”

So Miller went on to talk about how Johnson must have opened the face at impact to try and hook the ball less, or that maybe he was trying to fade the ball, but opened the club too late. Sound hard to believe? That’s because it’s total nonsense.

Here’s what actually happened — when the golf ball collided with the toe of Johnson’s club, the face opened and gave the ball hook spin. It’s a phenomenon called horizontal gear effect, which is what created the spin axis that caused Johnson’s ball to hook. To say or believe anything otherwise is to go against what science knows. DJ hit a toe hook; it couldn’t have been more obvious.

This harks back to an article I wrote some time ago about controlling the face after impact, in which I pointed out that a player CANNOT control the face upon and immediately after collision if the hit misses the center of the face. But apparently Miller and the old school team still seem to think you can. I was saddened to hear the announcers try to explain what happened using antiquated theories that have since been proven wrong by Dopplar radar systems such as TrackMan and FlightScope, as well as other new technologies.

I am not going out of my way to criticize Johnny Miller, Gary Koch or anyone else at the network, but I am saying this: The job of commentating on national television brings with it a great responsibility to the viewers. The vast majority of viewers will take the word of these experts as Gospel; no questions asked. So they have the responsibility to stay abreast of all the latest science and what is being learned about impact.

It would be easy for me, as a teacher, to bury my head in the sand, never read another book, never attend another seminar and just go on teaching what I taught before the enlightement era. But I can’t. I am a professional. I charge for my services, and therefore have the responsibility to my students to learn all we know TODAY. I would think the famous ex-players who comment on swings and things should have the same responsibility. In this case, explaining to the audience what caused DJ to hit a toe hook might have been of great help to many watching and listening.

Like it or not, we are living in the “teacher era.” Gone are the days when the top players teach golf. Why? Because staying on top of all the latest information is a full-time job. It is wonderful to hear Miller and others tell us about how they played certain shots, course management, reading greens and how to handle pressure — for that, I’m all ears. But as for impact principles and swing science, Miller and Koch are still living in the days they played, and I think we should hold them to a higher standard.

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 in the “Instruction & Academy” 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]



  1. Dennis Clark

    Jan 31, 2013 at 9:41 am

    path to face insignificant with extreme toe or heel hits. Could be +5, 0, or -5 path and toe will still have hook spin. Lie angle with 8 degree club has minimal effect compared to say 60 degree wedge.

  2. paul

    Jan 22, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Great point! However, until we know how upright/flat his driver head is, we cannot know how much of the hook was caused by the gear effect. It also depends on club path. That is, if he swung 10* in to out, then 9* open face will still draw the ball. If the driver head is 7* upright, which is not unusual for a driver, then it will exaggerate the hook. That means that even if it was not toe shot, you can still hit a hook if by an in to out club path and an upright lie angle. Lie angle contributes to the side spin significantly.

    By the way, I didn’t watch the tournament, but did they actually show where on the club face the impact was made? If so, how far off the center?

  3. Austin

    Jan 15, 2013 at 6:27 am

    Good info and comments. Thanks DC.

  4. John

    Jan 14, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Sounds like an extreme version of the ol’ “toe-ball draw.” I’m good for at least one and as many as three a round.

  5. paul

    Jan 14, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Last summer i was driving a ball with a terrible shaft in my 909 D2, i hit a tried to kill it at the start of a long par 5, I caught the ball on the toe and could feel the shaft twist. i saw the ball start off left then hook right (yes Im left). It blew my mind because I didn’t know that was possible. Nice to read an article on it, though it wasn’t that tough to figure out what happened when you hold the club, but probably harder to understand when you are watching it on tv.

  6. Doug

    Jan 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    The center and heel portion of the club head travel forward faster than the toe, since they are not “restricted” due to running into the mass of the golf ball, like the toe. This is the same as the clubhead rotating clockwise, while it is in contact with the golf ball. The golf ball rotates CCW (like a gear would) and boom you get hook spin. Not even Johnny Miller can stop the club head from rotating, much less Chuck Norris. The roatation itself (torsional compliance) can come all of the above: shaft twist, club grip twist, gripping, hand/wrist rotation. Yes I am an engineer.

    • andy

      Jan 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Nice exlanation Doug…you should have been in that booth with JM & PK.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm

      There is also evidence to suggest that the head of the club has no influence at this point; that it is basically a free flying object through the ball sans player control? Again as a teacher, not a scientist, this is not my professional area of expertise but maybe you science-minded types might find it interesting to kick it around. Enjoyed the engineering perspective Doug, DC

      • 4G

        Jan 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm

        That depends on HOW MUCH WEIGHT you have on the toe or the heel. The amount of force generated horizontally = fulcrum point = of the hosel will influence how much twisting there is at that point, therefore the shaft. To counter that effect, if you were to have enough weight towards the toe = would probably mean a HUGE swingweight to that end = you might lessen the twisting gear = but you also would have to be able to hang on to it! And by HUGE weight, I mean as much as it is necessary to counter the hit force generated at impact to equal the stabilizing of the shaft twist at the hosel. Ya dig? The opposite would be true, of course, if you were to have NO WEIGHT at all whatsoever at the toe but all the weight on the heel = that is, way above the total head of the club, lets say = can you imagine the twist? You would have no control over the toe end of the club.

        • 4G

          Jan 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

          Sorry, what I forgot to add was:
          imagine a door with the hinge. The hinge would be the hosel/shaft. What would you have to to make the door from NOT swinging, thereby making the handle end to move equally in one direction thereby knocking the door down cleanly off its hinge? That’s the resistance at the hinge, you see? And that’s the tricky thing about engineering a club head that works well with all these weight configurations and such.

    • Rohan

      Jan 29, 2013 at 7:49 am

      Hi Guys, glad to see people catching on. I use global play golfs impact analyser and have seen these results for six years now but nobody believed me. Seeing wether the head is moving counter clockwise (ccw)or clockwise before impact and what happens during and after impact is essential to teach and club fit these days

  7. MainMan

    Jan 13, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Surely you aren’t going out of your way to criticize the Announcing Booth, but in an article titled “Understanding The Open Faced Hook”, there is only one paragraph about the open faced hook, and the rest is criticizing the booth. I love your tips and articles, but this one fell kind of short, according to the title. No offense.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm

      No offense taken and all comments welcome…Maybe a better title might have been, “understanding Horizontal Gear Effect”. Maybe next Ill do something on not hitting the toe…Thx DC

  8. yo!

    Jan 13, 2013 at 1:58 am

    Funny that I came across this article again. Different type of shot but made me think about how a shot is made. Dogleg right and I tried to hit a fade with an open stance and weak grip. It was a soft draw. Not exactly sure how I did that. Thankfully, shot still worked out ok.

  9. stevie lee

    Jan 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    even i was able to tell he opened ‘too much’ and created hook by reading your article while back… i was also sad to head what the announcers said about his swing.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Steve: not so much “he” opened- more like he couldnt stop it from opening when the contact was that much out on the toe. Not even the worlds strongest man can resist the twist. Thanks for reading. DC

      • stevie lee

        Jan 13, 2013 at 10:07 am

        i thought DJ had in to out swing path and opened club face to hit a draw but opened ‘too much’ and that created snap hook. so you are say that his club face got twisted as he made contact with the ball at toe, so my question is that does that contribute to the ball flight as well? or it does not because it got twisted after the impact? or does it contribute ever so slightly? thank you very much!

  10. Josh

    Jan 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Not even a mention of swing path? I know how gear effect works, but I do not believe simply hitting off the toe created the “snap hook”

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 12, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Final comment here: face to path causes curve WHEN THE CENTER OF GRAVITY OF THE CLUB AND THE CENTER LINE OF THE BALL MEET. Today i saw a 4 degree closed face (closed TO THE PATH)create right axis tilt and a fade. Again when you see these readings day in and day out, they are as clear as a bell. I read the machine, i watch the ball, voila!Thx for reading. DC

  11. tlmck

    Jan 12, 2013 at 9:11 am

    All I know is I play a nice tight draw with my 2 degree open face angle driver.

  12. yo!

    Jan 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Technical stuff probably not suitable for TV commentators or for their audience. Not sure if Dennis would be a suitable TV commentator, but he is easily one of the best writer with useful information for GolfWRX.

  13. Steve

    Jan 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    So, as a follow-up…since the clubhead opened as a result of the off center toe contact, does the shaft twist, does the shaft tur within your grip, or are your hands moved as a result?

    • Amir

      Jan 12, 2013 at 9:05 am

      IMO the whole club goes in the initial direction that it was intended to, but it’s because of the face being closed in relation to its path. Imagine swinging to a tree that is 30 yards right , but your clubface is pointing at a bunker which is 15 yards right (both in relation to the target[the flag]). That difference is what caused the “hook spin” or in trackman terms , axis tilt which causes the ball to spin to the left.

  14. Dennis Clark

    Jan 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I think listening, reading and all forms of learning are best done with a questioning mind. Thx for comments

  15. Nihonsei

    Jan 11, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Yes great article, I read another recently that spoke of open face draws with a sing plane even further right! Thanks for the updated info but science as truth??? That’s like saying that Pi never terminates, oh it? Ohhh???

  16. Mat t Newby, PGA

    Jan 10, 2013 at 10:18 pm


    Great read. As a PGA Professional I cannot tell you how often I am pained by some of the scientific inaccuracies we hear from commentators. Don’t get me wrong there are varying principles and different ways to do things but there are also some things that are simply fact. Frankly it makes our job more difficult because now we have to explain to our clients why that is incorrect, and of course people love hearing what they heard on TV is wrong.

    • Tim Boegh, PGA

      Jan 11, 2013 at 8:14 am

      I agree great read! Being a PGA Professional I have to deal with this every day. Some of my best players in the world are amazed when you explain to them why certain things happens when it comes to ball flight. Better education leads to better players!

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What you can learn from Steve Elkington



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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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf



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



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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