Over the years, I've worked with thousands of golfers, and if I had to find a common trait among them all, it would be that each and every one has his or her own unique swing. A second–albeit unfortunate–universal characteristic is that all of these swings are plagued by at least one major flaw.
This is not to say that all of my students can't play the game of golf. Some are intimately aware of the position of their golf club throughout the swing and understand the adjustments that must be made in order to get the clubface squared up in the impact zone.
Most have become better golfers by eradicating their flaws, however. For these players, the path to lower scores wasn't easy–it takes a great deal of time and practice to beat a swing fault. But the process is much simpler if you discover which flaw or flaws are doing the most damage to your swing and, more importantly, the drills you need to eliminate them.
That being said, ask yourself if you're guilty of committing any of the faults listed on the next several pages. If you're unsure if your swing is hindered by any of these flaws, look at the clues we present for each. Often, a golfer may not know he or she is laid off, for example, but will know the ballflight errors this flaw typically creates. Once you uncover a flaw, or flaws, get to work on the drills. You'll soon find yourself fault-free and ready for a season full of low scores.
Are You Laid Off?
Here are the clues:
1 You seldom take a divot, your ballstriking is inconsistent and you feel the need to make adjustments on the way back down to the golf ball.
2 Your playing partners tell you that your shaft points left of the target at the top, and that you take the club away too far to the inside.
3 Your backswing initially is flat, so you adjust it on the way up and down. Your hands are very active in the golf swing.
Typically, the club gets laid off in the beginning of the backswing. If you can start the club back on the correct path, chances are good that it will stay on path, eliminating the need to make costly adjustments. First, check your setup. Specifically, make sure your right arm isn't tucked in too much (above). A tucked right arm leads to an inside takeaway and a laid-off position at the top.
If your setup is solid, then the problem may be an overactive right hand or right arm in the backswing. When the right side dominates, it usually pulls the club too far to the inside.
Also, if you prefer to roll the clubface open as you take the club away, you may be susceptible to the lay off–don't overdo it.
Fixing The Lay Off
Shaft At Ball Drill
Assume your setup and make a 1/3-backswing (left arm at waist height) and hinge the club up. Check the following to see if you're on the right path: 1) your hips have rotated so your belt buckle has turned toward your back toe; 2) your left arm is parallel to the target line and your left elbow points down; and 3) the shaft points at the ball and is on-plane (use a tee for reference). These are all elements of a fundamentally correct takeaway.
Push Ball Drill
Take your normal setup, but with a second golf ball placed on your target line six inches behind the ball you're going to hit. Now, make your backswing. Did your club push back the second golf ball? If your club traveled back on path, it would have pushed the second ball straight back. If you rolled the club to the inside, the ball would have moved inside the target line. Practice this drill until you get both the club and the second ball traveling straight back. Progress to hitting the real ball and check your ballflight against the direction in which you pushed the second ball back.
Are You Reversed?
Here are the clues:
1 You finish your swing on your back foot, you have a vertical backswing and you find it difficult to hit low shots.
2 Your ballflight is inconsistent and you seldom take a divot. Furthermore, you feel the need to overuse your hips to create a weight shift and your hands are very active in the golf swing.
3 Also, you try to keep your head perfectly still. These are all flaws that can lead to the dreaded reversed position.
The reversed position has the majority of the golfer's weight stranded over the front foot at the top of the backswing. A common fault that can lead to a reversed position is establishing level shoulders and hips at address (right). Your right side should be slightly lower so that your left heel, left knee and left shoulder are all in a vertical line that's also slightly tilted away from your target.
Even if your setup is sound, you can force a reversed position by keeping the head too still. Remember, the head must float a bit on the backswing. If it isn't allowed to, you'll make it extremely difficult to swing the club in balance.
However, the most typical cause of a reverse pivot is sliding–not turning–the hips on the backswing. When you slide, your upper body will tilt toward the target. This negates any possibility of turning behind the ball. Without rotation, the only backswing you can make is one that's all lift and no turn, with the bulk of your weight sitting where it was at address. This is a powerless, slice-causing position.
Fixing The Reverse
Take your normal setup with any club. Once you're set, place the shaft on your chest to mimic the angle of your spine (left) and see where it points. The shaft should point toward your left heel. Notice that when it does, your left hip sits taller than your right and that your right shoulder hangs below your left. Proceed to make backswings from this address position with an eye toward rotating your hips and turning your left shoulder over your right thigh.
Backswing Coil Drill
Once your setup is correct, set the club across your shoulders. Practice turning the shaft over your right foot, keeping your right knee flexed. Picture your hips turning in a barrel, not sliding side to side. A good, upper-body pivot will naturally shift your weight onto your right leg without conscious effort. Now you're coiled in a great position to swing the club to the ball on the proper path.
Are You Trapped?
Here are the clues:
1 Your ballflight is very low and, since your right arm is trapped behind your body, you can only block it right or you flip your hands through the hitting zone and send the ball low and left.
2 As such, you can't hit a high, soft fade, and the majority of your divots point to the right or,
3 if you come over the top–a natural result of being trapped–your divots point left.
Two main culprits: your setup or your overactive hips. A common setup problem is that your right side is too high. This causes your hips to slide to the right during the backswing. You react by bringing your right arm inside to get the club on path (right). On the downswing, your objective is to swing the club on an in-to-out path, and you achieve it, but your chest and shoulders are too open. With your upper body racing in front of the lower, the clubhead gets trapped behind you. Ouch.
Trapping also occurs if you rotate before your arms and elbows get in front of your chest on the downswing._Ê In a good motion, the arms drop down (without releasing the hinge in the wrists) while the body gradually opens. This creates arc width without destroying path.
Fixing The Trap
Right Hand Drill
Select a wedge or 9-iron and tee up a golf ball. Grip the club with your right hand only, and set the back of your left hand against your right elbow. Attempt to hit shots as you keep your left hand on the right elbow throughout the golf swing. On the downswing, sense the timing needed to bring the right arm down with a gradual body turn.
Right Foot Drill
Take your correct setup, but with your feet about six inches apart. Move your left foot slightly forward and your right foot back and balanced on the toes. Your hips will close naturally as you find your balance. Proceed to swing the club. Your goal is to maintain your balance and spine tilt until impact. If you do, you'll be assured that the club is traveling on a better path.
Are You Too Flat?
Here are the clues:
1 Your ballflight is very low and right-to-left, you seldom take a divot and you like hitting your woods over your short irons.
2 Also, you can't hit a high, soft fade. Your playing partners notice that you take the club inside in the backswing and roll the clubface from open to closed in the downswing.
3 Furthermore, your backswing is short and you keep your hands very low to the ground.
First, check your setup. If you bend from the knees and not the hips, your upper body will tend to get too erect. This results in the shoulders turning too flat in the backswing and downswing.
If your setup is good, then the problem may be in your right arm. Many golfers try to keep their right arms close to the body throughout the backswing and downswing. This will also produce a too-flat approach to the ball. Coming into the ball on an overly flat plane can also stem from keeping the hands too low. Remember, the backswing is up as well as around.
Fixing The Flat
Stand erect, with your feet close together and your hands holding the club out in front of you (bottom photos). Bend from your hips as you set the club, keeping your lower back straight and your chin up. Feel like you're sticking out your rear end. Your upper arms should rest lightly on your chest and hang straight down. Now, look at your target and set your feet apart. Allow your knees to flex as you keep your hips out. Practice this drill in a mirror to ensure your setup contains these important elements. When it does, you're set up to turn correctly.
Feet Together Drill_Ê
Get in your correct setup, but with your heels about six inches apart (about a blade-length) and your toes flared slightly. Go ahead and swing the club, making sure to maintain your spine tilt. Your goal is to maintain your balance and spine tilt throughout the swing until impact. Doing so will get the club on a better path. On the course, make this your practice swing as it will help you sense the feeling of an on-plane delivery.
Are You Too Steep?
Here are the clues:
1 Your ballflight is very high and left-to-right (slice).
2 You take a divot, but it's usually too deep.
3 You like hitting short irons, not your woods.
4 You hate to play in the wind.
5 You find it difficult to hit low shots.
6 You like to take the club straight back in the backswing and your hips tend to slide instead of pivot.
7 Your backswing is long, with your hands high above your shoulders.
Again, check your setup. If you bend from your stomach and shoulders, the upper body will tend to hunch over too much. This results in the shoulders turning too upright in the backswing and in the downswing. If your setup is good, then the problem may be with your hips. If you keep your head too still and slide your hips instead of turning them, you'll get too upright.
Fixing The Steep
Perform the Setup Drill discussed in the Too Flat section and the Right Foot Drill discussed in the Trapped section.
Hip Pivot Drill
Take your setup. As you assume your posture, set your golf club across your shoulders. Now, make a backswing and turn the shaft over your back foot, making sure that the spine tilt you established at address is intact (left). In order for this to happen, your hips must pivot, not slide. Don't keep your head still. A correct hip pivot will help the club travel back and through on the correct path–neither too steep nor too flat.
Are You Flippy?
Here are the clues:
1 You either like your woods or your irons, but seldom do you like them both at the same time._Ê
2 You're great on the practice range, yet struggle on the golf course.
3 Your hands are always very active in the golf swing.
4 As a bonus, however, you're fairly adept at the greenside flop shot.
Enemy number one: Your body is out of position or out of balance. Your body senses this, so your hands take over to try to get the clubface squared at impact. However, this adjustment usually takes the form of a flick or flip of the wrists.
Flippiness can also occur if your body gets too far in front of the golf ball. When this happens, your club will drastically lag, usually with an open face. Instinctually, your hands will work to close the face at impact. This level of timing is difficult even for the pros to execute on a consistent basis. What usually happens is the clubhead races in front of the shaft and strikes the ball with an open or closed face, and typically on an ascending arc. In baseball, if you get too far in front, you'll hit the ball to right field, unless you flip the wrists. The same is true in golf. You need to establish a firm left side and keep your head behind the ball. If you do, the flipping will disappear.
Fixing The Flip
Impact Bag Drill
The best drill to help eliminate a timing flip is to use an impact bag. Set up to the impact bag (or use an old duffel bag full of towels), push the club into the bag and set your body into a good impact position. The left arm and shaft should form one straight, vertical line while the head remains back. Make sure your left leg is braced and your hips are turned slightly open. Hold this position to create the feel. Now, set up to the bag and make a small swing into it. Again, hold the impact position and make sure the elements of a solid contact position are all there. Focus on form first and not speed in this drill. Work on hitting the bag with a square clubface and with the clubshaft aligned with a straight left arm. Now, you're solid.
Take a short iron and tee up a golf ball. Assume your normal setup. Now, close your eyes and swing. The key here is to keep your balance and feel the club during the swing. The better the balance, the easier it is to hit solid shots. Swinging with your eyes shut forces you to become much more aware of your balance since you won't be able to rely on hand-eye coordination. Try it and you'll see what I mean.
Are You Over the Top?
Here are the clues:
1 Your ballflight is left-to-right and your divots point to the left of the target line.
2 You either pull it or hit a slice and find it impossible to hit a high, soft draw.
3 You prefer to hit short irons and avoid hitting your long irons.
4 You aim toward the left rough and hope to hit the right side of the fairway with your tee shots. You often make solid contact, only to look up and see your ball headed left of target.
Likely, you aim left of left or you try to hit the ball hard with your upper body. Golfers who swing hard from the top often have difficulty getting the club on the correct plane on the downswing. When you rotate or lunge your upper body too aggressively, the club travels outside-to-in.
Check your setup and alignment. If you set up with your body aiming way left–and usually with your weight favoring your left side and your shoulders open to the target line–you'll never get turned behind the ball in the backswing. As such, you'll have no other choice but to come over the top in the downswing and swing out-to-in.
Even if you're set up correctly, you can still fall prey to coming over the top if you lead with the shoulders or over-rotate your upper body to start the downswing. Many amateur golfers do exactly this in an effort to increase clubhead speed. The key to extra power lies in understanding the proper sequence of movements in the transition from backswing to the first part of the downswing, and that these motions are anything but aggressive. I teach my students to first set their left legs. This initiates the downswing movement. I ask that they keep their shoulders quiet and use their hands to set the club on the proper path. With the club on-plane, the next move is to swing the hands and unwind the body in a smooth, synchronized motion.
Fixing Coming Over The Top
Perform the Right Foot Drill and the Feet Together Drill (Previous Pages)
Split Grip Drill
Tee up a ball, assume your address position and grip the club with your hands several inches apart. Now, simply swing the club and focus on your path. Because your hands are apart, you'll become more aware of where the club is traveling. More importantly, the split grip will make it difficult to get the club back on-plane if it does happen to stray off-line.
Stop Flaws Before They Start
Most swing flaws can be traced back to the setup. In addition to the requirements listed in this article, add these critical components to your everyday address position to ensure a faultless swing.
Find a grip that fits your build and flexibility. Here's how: Grip the club with the left hand. Bend from the hips and let your left arm hang straight down. Hinge the club up and down, hitting the ground as you do so. Adjust your grip so that the club feels solid in your left hand and the clubface is hinging straight up and down. Now, lift the club up and set the right hand with the lifeline of the right hand covering the left thumb. Hinge the club up and down once again to check that the clubface remains square.
The majority of amateurs walk up to the ball, set their feet first and then set their club. Setting your feet first creates two chances for success: slim and none. The best way to aim is simple: Walk up and aim the club first at your target or intermediate target; align your shoulders parallel to your target line; then set your feet so that your in balance and ready to hit a great shot.
Your waggle is a dress rehearsal for your golf swing. If it's incorrect, you'll have to work twice as hard to find the correct feel and motion. If you have the right waggle, then you've set the tempo and feel for the correct motion for your golf swing. Practice hitting shots with your waggle and see if it's helping or hurting you hit more consistently.
I always ask my students which is more important to them in a golf swing: clubhead speed or control? I always take control, and so do those golfers who can consistently score to their potential. When you're balanced, most flaws magically disappear.
Senior Instruction Editor Glenn Deck is Director of Instruction at the Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Coast, Calif., and oversees the award-winning Glenn Deck Golf Academy at Pelican Hill (www.pelicanhill.com). A former So. Calif. PGA Teacher of the Year, Deck is recognized as one of the Top 25 Instructors in California.