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Clark: How to stop hitting the toe

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Last time we had fun analyzing Dustin Johnson’s toe hook and the reaction of the broadcast team at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. But I have a feeling DJ is not the only guy out there hitting the toe once in a while. So let’s take a look at WHY he might have done that.

Off center hits occur for a number of reasons, and I’m going to list a few of them. But first there’s one thing to note — we all have a pattern to our swing; those of us guilty of toe hits rarely hit the heel of the club, and vice versa. So our own particular misses are in our “personal family” of golf shots.

If you look at the best players at address and then at impact, you’ll see a number of differences in their positions. Some have lower hands at impact and some have higher hands, but it is rare to see a great player with their hand line much further out from their body than it was at address. There’s a good reason for this: They lower the club on plane in transition, have a vertical handpath and tumble the club outside their hands into impact. They also have powerful pelvic rotation, which pulls the hands in —  many amateurs do not.

Most amateurs start down with a shaft plane that is much too steep (Click here to read about that in a previous article). When golfers start down steep, they have to use a bail out move to avoid a number of errors that can result at impact. One of those bail out moves is for golfers to start their hands out, or away from their body during the transition, instead of starting the hands down, which lays the shaft down.

This movement out, which is also known horizontal hand path, is a real death move for all but some one-plane swingers (Click here to read more about one-plane and two-plane swings). Moving the hands out can flatten the shaft plane, but it also puts a golfer’s hands WAY too far in front of them. It forces them to “stand the club up” as they approach impact in order to avoid a shank. So while it might seem like having the hands too far in front would cause a heel hit, it often is just the opposite because of the late reaction to raise the hands. If golfers with a horizontal hand path didn’t stand it the club up or raise the hands, they would contact the hosel and hit a shank. A lot going on in a little time, huh? And most of the people I teach wonder why they’re not more consistent 🙂

Another reaction to starting down too steep is to “back up” the upper body in an effort to shallow out the steepness-right shoulder down. This puts the left shoulder up, raises the hands high and makes the shaft more vertical — a recipe for a toe hit. So toe hits can occur two different ways — they can result from golfers who go out with their hands during the transition and then stand the club up, as well as from golfers who tilt the upper body back and right to combat steepness. In both cases, the golf club will be quite vertical (from the excessive Ulnar deviation) and will likely make contact with the ball on the toe. This is common for people who cross the line at the top of their backswings, and don’t get the hands very deep (behind them) in the backswing.

Yet another way of hitting the toe is because of a very closed face at the top of the swing, followed by a late attempt to open the face coming down. This pulls the toe in (a reverse rotation of the arms caused by a left hand pronation instead of suppination), which can reduce the width of the arc, thus bringing to toe more into play. Essentially any move that does not have the club head centrifically rotating out can cause a toe hit.

Lastly, toe hits can occur from our old friend, “over the top.” An out-to-in path has the club swinging IN TOWARD YOU. Although it goes out first, the very leftness of the swing path (for right-handed golfers) brings it in.  The opposite move, an in-to-out path, tends to produces heel hits because the hand line is going away from the body.

What can you do if you’re combatting toe hits? Well, you can see how much of the problem lies in the transition and the steepness we discussed. Most toe hits are vertical swings, too up and down, not enough around. If the hands don’t get sufficiently behind you going back they CAN come down too vertically. If this is your problem here are some drills that can help:

  • Weaken the grip a bit. This might help you flatten your left wrist and start the club (and sweet spot) more horizontally. Note: A lot of toe hooks are hit with a really strong grip, which causes the left wrist to cup, the club to get too vertical, or the face to close very early, which makes the toe dominant coming through — a hook.
  • Hit balls on a side hill with the ball well above your feet to help flatten your arc.
  • Hit balls on a high tee without grounding the club for the same reason.
  • Excessively roll (or fan) your arms open going back, and roll them back the other way coming down (the roll, roll drill). This will give you a better sense of the horizontal component your swing lacks.
  • Put a tee OUTSIDE the ball you’re hitting and try to hit that tee. This will give you a sense of extending your arms AWAY from you into impact.
  • Stand a bit further from the ball (NOT closer), bend a little more at the waist and feel the arms swing across the chest in the backswing.

Finally remember this: In anotomical terms, when we go from radial deviation (thumbs bent back toward forearm) to ulnar deviation (pinky toward forearm) we are reducing the angle of the hands and golf club we had at address. This will make the golf club more vertical, raising the heel of the club and lowering the toe.

If the hand line does not move OUT to compensate for this new arrangement, here comes the toe. A simple general rule —  flat swings equal shanks, upright ones hit the toe. The golfers that don’t have these problems are playing golf for a living.

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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]

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Foreleft

    May 22, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Hi Dennis
    This article and several others of yours are lightbulb moments for me thank you so much you seem to be able to communicate ideas brilliantly ( to me anyway)
    Can’t thank you enough

  2. Sky

    Mar 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Excellent article! Interesting how he said at the end to actually stand further from the ball. Most would think to stand closer.

  3. Dave

    Mar 13, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Great article. I think it nailed it by explaining the different causes for a toe. Its really frustrating when you only hear about the over the top move causing problems. Many fixes tend to focus only on the very beginners. There are many who don’t go over the top but struggle with toe hits, shanks, etc. Again, thanks for the article!

  4. Terminology challenged

    Feb 13, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Without an accompanying vodeo, a golfer with a basic swing problem like consistent toe strikes hasn’t the experience to understand the descriptive terms being used to help him/her. Most golfers needing this type of help have no way to visualize “flatten wrists” and even more complex visualizations used here. Some will say they do but my experience proves that give 10 golfers this explanation, they couldn’t reconstruct the totality of what is intended. In this age of easy YouTube demos, there is a better way to reduce confusing and frustrating those you mean to help. FYI, I am an 8 and can’t follow some points. I find it unhelpful to be honest. Think and speak on the level of the intended audience and not in “instructor lockeroom” levels.

  5. Painter33

    Jul 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I present with complications that have the same result – toe pull hooks. My natural ball flight is/was a draw and an in-to-out swing; however, since the third of my three lumbar spine fusions, all solid contact and my game have gone out the proverbial window. While I have only a little less turn than I did, I can’t do two things – get my hands higher at the top or take any divot whatsoever. I’ve never been a “digger” and usually barely brush the grass, even on solid hits. I’m now hitting off the toe and low on the club face, resulting in consistent low pull hooks. Ugly. I’ve gone from an 8 hdcp to >15 (or at least play like it). I tried a shortened backswing with less wrist cock (Steve Stricker?) to no avail. I “feel”as if I’m straightening my legs coming to impact (bi-lateral TKR), which might be me pulling out of the swing and pulling the club back, but that’s my analysis that I can’t seem to act on to fix the swing. The “feet together” drill is fine but doesn’t translate to a regular setup and swing. Your and other teachers’ swing help fail me because of my orthopedic history, as very few other golfers have had 22 orthopedic surgeries (wear and tear – no injuries). Any thoughts/suggestions (understandably limited by my text description w/out visuals) would be helpful. Your highly descriptive and clear swing analyses are remarkably different from nearly every other golf teacher because you explain “why” with kinesiological interpretations. As a teacher of human anatomy, I appreciate those details.

  6. Rod Trump

    Jan 22, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Dennis…you rule! Thanks for your time today…great working with you! What an awesome teacher!

  7. Darrin Cook

    Jan 22, 2013 at 11:21 am

    This explains a lot of what is going on with my swing. I was hitting the heal a lot, when I saw my swing on camera, I noticed I was pretty flat, so I decided to consciously get more upright. I watched DJ as a model for this ironicly. This has resulted in downright awful shots and most off the toe. The funny part is when I set up with the intent to kill the ball, I just swing and seem to hit it right, something to be said for getting in an athletic position and allowing the swing to happen. Thank you for explaining why I am struggling with this. I believe my best be is to admit I will never be a pro and just work within my comfortable swing.

  8. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 18, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Very well explained Dennis,

    The toe shot is my bad shot and happens occasionally when I get too steep coming down.

    I’ve been able to fix the issue mostly by improving my set up to a more ‘reverse k’ style which has helped get my downswing a little flatter.

  9. Martin

    Jan 17, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    I agree, I would love taking lessong from you Dennis. As long as that is not possible, keep on writing!!!
    Question: If I would simplify: The toe hit is the two planers mishit, and the heel hit is the one planers mishit? So what about a hybrid: one plane backswing with two plane follow through? Is there any logic to this question, or am I completely wrong? Dont worry, I can handle the truth! 🙂

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      be careful with the distinction here; it’s get blurry as you apparently know. MOst swing are hybrid but the principles behind them are separate. But in a very general sense, yes! The body oriented flatter move is more likely to deal with heel and vice versa. Up is narrow and around is wide. In a very GENERAL sense, thx

  10. WVUfore

    Jan 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    ITs amazing all your stuff makes such perfect sense. Wish I lived closer for a lesson.

  11. Turn & Release

    Jan 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Dennis, I love your articles. You have a way of explaining this stuff perfectly. I feel like I can actually learn the swing through your work! Golf WRX is lucky to have you.

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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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