If you’re serious about your game, you need to realize that just about every bad shot you hit is created by faulty technique.
Even golfers with technically sound swings make mistakes due to poor execution or bad decision-making. But on the whole, golfers with solid mechanics are able to consistently play solid shots because their technique allows them to do so.
In contrast, most high-handicap golfers suffer from a great deal of inconsistency because they have fundamental flaws in their technique that need to be corrected.
If you want to hit better shots more consistently and feel you have a reliable way to approach every swing, then pay close attention to the following flaws and fixes, and be honest with yourself regarding the weaknesses in your game. In the long run, you’ll find making fundamental changes in your technique pays much greater dividends than simply applying a new Band-Aid every time you take a lesson.
Fault: Falling Back After Every Swing
Fix: Develop A Proper Weight Shift
This is a very common flaw, and occurs in varying degrees, but beware: even a slight fall back in the followthrough can spell disaster. The main cause of falling backward is a reverse pivot, which has the majority of weight placed on the front leg at the top of the swing. This move causes the club to move toward the target on the downswing while the body moves away from the target. The most common result of a reverse pivot is a variety of mis-hits, including fat, topped and thin impact. In addition, because the weight is moving away from the target through impact, most golfers who fall back after the swing tend to slice quite a bit and lack power.
In a sound golf swing, the upper body, not the legs, moves away from the target in the takeaway, while the right knee (for right-handers) remains flexed. This places more weight on the back foot at the top of the swing, and allows for a proper transition of weight to the front foot in the downswing._Ê
The best approach for fixing this mistake is to learn to properly pivot the body in the backswing. As the upper body begins to rotate away from the ball with the club, the lower body (specifically, the hips) should actually get a little closer to the target. On the downswing, both the hips and the upper body should move with the club toward the target, creating a downward strike at impact and a full, balanced finish.
Fault: Leaving The Ball In The Bunker
Fix: Learn The Proper Setup
Recreational golfers tend to have problems getting out of bunkers because their setup position is incorrect. Most amateurs play the ball well back in their stance and position the clubface relatively square to the target. From this incorrect position, the clubhead is forced to dig too deeply into the sand, resulting in very little energy transfer to the ball. In a proper bunker shot, the sand that lies directly behind and under the ball is shot out of the trap, carrying the ball with it.
The long-term solution is creating the proper starting position to facilitate a splashing of the sand instead of a dig. Fortunately, accomplishing this task is fairly simple; move the ball forward in your stance and open the clubface. This position will allow you to come into the shot on a shallower angle, which will facilitate blasting both the sand and the ball out of the bunker and onto the green.
Fault: Inside Takeaway
Fix: Keep The Club Outside Your Hands
In an inside takeaway, the clubhead travels below or inside the shaft line and under the desired backswing plane. This leads to a flat beginning of the backswing and eventually causes a lift of the arms at the top. The Fix: Keep the club outside your hands until your wrists hinge.
Fault: Outside Takeaway
Fix: Keep Your Chest And Arms Connected
Golfers guilty of an outside takeaway usually detach their left arm from the chest. This makes the backswing too upright at the start and can lead to a laid-off position at the top, resulting in a steep downswing, fat shots, pulls and slices. The Fix: Keep your hands moving down the target line longer and attach your left upper arm to your chest.
Fault: Too Upright At The Top
Fix: Maintain Right-Knee Flex
If you’re too upright at the top of the backswing, your left arm is above the original shaft line established at address. This occurs because the upper body has turned improperly and is more bent over than it was at address. Deep divots with the irons and pop-ups with the drivers can result. The Fix: Keep your right knee flexed.
Fault: Too Flat At The Top
Fix: Steepen Your Shoulder Turn
At the top, the left arm is flatter than the original shaft line. This occurs because the upper body rotates too much, which keeps the arms from going up. The results can be tops, thin shots and pushes. The Fix: Point your left shoulder at the ball at the top of the swing.
Fault: Across The Line
Fix: Allow The Left Arm To Rotate
At the top, the shaft points to the right of the target line. This occurs because of the improper rotation of the left arm or an overly steep shoulder turn. This often causes shanks, pulls and slices. The Fix: Rotate your left arm away from the ball on the way to the top.
Fault: Laid Off
Fix: Keep Your Elbows Level
A laid-off position at the top features a shaft that points to the left of the target line. This occurs because of excessive rotation of the left arm or a flat shoulder turn. The result is a steep, over-the-top attack. The Fix: Create a level elbow position at the top of the backswing.
Fault: Sculling Or Thinning Pitch And Chip Shots
Fix: Strike The Ball With A Descending Blow
Skulled and thin chips and pitches are the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of how the ball gets in the air. Basically, these types of misses occur because many players believe they have to get the clubhead under the ball to get it up. Like most problems in the golf swing, this one starts in the setup, with too little weight on the front foot and an incorrect shaft angle. Generally, this bad setup prevents the clubhead from getting in the air quickly enough in the backswing, forcing the ball to be struck with an ascending blow, making contact with the leading edge of the clubhead instead of the clubface inevitable.
The long-term solution to this problem is learning the proper way to get the ball airborne, which is to strike it with a slightly descending blow. Creating the proper setup position with the hands ahead of the clubhead, the majority of the weight on the front foot, and the knees flexed toward the target is critical, because it allows you to get the clubhead in the air quickly and encourages the hands to lead the shaft into impact. Striking the ball in this manner also is the proper way to create spin on full wedge shots, which is another concern many recreational golfers have.
Fault: Bouncing Putts Instead Of Rolling Them
Fix: Improve Your Setup Position
Putts bounce when the putter strikes the ball with negative loft. There are several reasons this happens, the most common of which is positioning the ball too far back in the stance. This creates an excessively forward lean to the shaft, which de-lofts the clubface, negating the normal four degrees of loft built into most putters. As a result, the putter approaches impact on a downward strike and the negative loft drives the ball down into the turf. The ball pops up and bounces before it begins to roll properly, destroying both distance control and accuracy._Ê
The long-term solution to the problem is creating a stroke that gets the ball rolling end over end as quickly as possible, which begins by positioning the ball forward in the stance, with the shaft perpendicular to the ground and the hands almost directly over the ball. From this position, the putter will contact the ball from a level or slightly ascending path, which gets the ball rolling immediately. This is what Tiger and other pros refer to as releasing the putter. Try using a pitching wedge to putt and concentrate on meeting the middle of the ball with the leading edge of the clubhead.
Fault: Hooding The Face
Fix: Create Some Wrist Cup
When you’re hooded, the leading edge of the clubface is parallel to the ground. It leads to hooks, pushes and low shots. The Fix: Don’t be afraid to let your left wrist cup a bit.
Fault: Fanning The Face
Fix:_Ê Keep The Left Wrist Flat
A fanned clubface at the top is caused by a weak grip or an excessively cupped left wrist. The Fix: Point your right palm at the ball on the takeaway. This helps create a flat left wrist at the top.
Fault:_Ê Under Plane
Fix:_Ê Think Left
On the downswing, the clubhead is below or under the original shaft line as it approaches impact, and can create the gamut of poor shots: The Fix: Try to start the ball left of target.
Fault: Over Plane
Fix: Right Elbow Below Left
The clubhead is above or outside the original shaft line as it approaches impact—a huge no-no. The Fix: Keep the shaft between your forearms.
Fix:_Ê Maintain Posture
A common flaw where the right elbow becomes stuck behind the hips on the downswing. The Fix: Maintain your spine angle throughout the swing.
Fault: Hitting Iron Shots Well, But Woods Poorly, Or Vice Versa
Fix : Develop A Neutral Swing Plane And Path
When the player’s swing path into impact is too shallow or steep, only one part of his or her game becomes manageable. The inability to attack the ball from a neutral or on-plane position makes it almost impossible to be consistent with both the irons and the woods, and a variety of specific problems like fat (too steep) and thin (too shallow) iron shots and pulled and pushed tee shots are the result._Ê
If you’re unable to hit the driver but have moderate success with the irons, it’s fairly safe to say your downswing is too steep. As long as the ball is on the ground, this steeper attack can produce some decent shots, particularly with the mid- and short irons, because it encourages striking the ball before the turf. In some cases, this produces abnormally long short-iron shots, but very poor long-iron and fairway-wood shots. When the driver is hit with an excessively steep attack, the ball usually is popped up, pulled, sliced or hit extremely low.
If you have better success with the driver than the irons, then your swing path is probably too shallow (too flat). Playing from an overly shallow angle of attack makes it much easier to hit a ball off a tee than off the ground because the clubhead approaches impact on a sweeping path. If the ball rests on the turf, it becomes quite difficult to make solid contact with this path because the club’s leading edge tends to strike the ball before the clubface, creating thin, drop-kicked, and pushed and hooked shots. A wedge shot from a tight lie is a nightmare with this type of swing.
The long-term method of fixing overly steep and flat swing paths is learning to swing on a more neutral path. Using the original shaft line at address as a reference point, the clubhead should approach the ball from an almost identical line. If the clubhead is under or inside that line, then it’s excessively shallow, and if it’s over or outside that line, then it’s excessively steep. Grooving the proper angle will create consistency with all the clubs in the bag and dramatically improve your ballstriking and distance. For a reference, use your forearms as guides. In a solid downswing approach, the clubshaft should lie between them, with the grip end of the shaft pointing at the golf ball.
Fault: Pop-Up Drives
Fix: Improved Setup
As previously discussed, pop-ups with woods off the tee are caused by an excessively steep angle of attack. In many cases, a ball position that’s too far back in the stance and an upper body that isn’t tilted away from the target at setup (or at impact) encourage this steep angle. The result is a chopping motion on the downswing that’s totally incompatible with hitting a ball from a tee._Ê_Ê
The long-term solution to this problem is creating an impact position where the upper body is tilted slightly away from the target. This begins by setting the ball more forward in the stance at setup, with the left shoulder in line with the left hip, which effectively tilts the upper body away from the target and creates a slightly flatter turn of the shoulders on the backswing. As the downswing begins, a slight bump of the hips further tilts the upper body away from the target, enabling the club to approach the ball from a shallower angle, and eliminating the pop-up for good.
PGA professional and Senior Instruction Editor Brady Riggs instructs at Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, Calif. Special thanks to Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark, Calif.