No matter how fundamentally superior the swings of the world's best players are to those belonging to the rest of us, there has never been, nor will there likely will there ever be, a golf swing without at least one flaw. The swings of greats such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els may look perfect, but each features a number of flaws—the same weaknesses that plague the swings of recreational players. If that's the case, then why do these golfers own championship trophies while you can't even make the A flight at your club championship? Is it because great golfers can overcome flaws by grooving them out? Not quite. The real answer lies in the ability of tour pros to repeat their flaws and effectively apply others to compensate for the error.
For example, Ben Hogan battled a snap hook early in his career. It affected his game so badly that he developed a very weak left-hand grip, a cupped wrist and an open face at the top in order to offset the hook. Not only did Hogan learn to negate his hook, he also managed to win nine majors and notch 63 victories—not a bad effort considering the flaws inherent in his swing.
Like Hogan, you, too, can learn to use swing flaws to your advantage. The key is to identify your flaws and make sure you have an even number with which to work. I believe you can play great golf with an even number of mistakes by balancing them out. With an odd number, however, you're in for a long day.
A slicer's golf swing is inherently too steep relative to the ideal swing shape. When you're too upright, generally the effects are:
1) Deep divots.
2) Toe-first contact with the golf ball.
3) An open clubface at the point of contact.
A steep swing is traveling down too abruptly through the impact zone, which makes it difficult to pick the ball clean and avoid digging deep into the turf. The necessary fix is to inject some width into your swing to help shallow out the steep, descending blow. A great way to add width is to widen your takeaway, much like Jack Nicklaus did in his heyday. The steep-swinging Nicklaus triggered a bigger turn by first turning his head away from the target. Although turned, Nicklaus kept his head stationary, forcing him to stretch his arms low, wide and away from the target on his backswing. This trigger was exceptionally useful with fairway woods.
Despite the awesome information we can get from a videotaped or televised golf swing, it's darn near impossible to get an exact idea of how close or far we should stand from the ball. Players with naturally steep swings tend to benefit from standing closer than usual to the ball to accommodate their upright swing shape. For a player with a normal swing, standing closer to the ball can put the heel dangerously close to the ball, often causing shanks. But for a steep swinger who misses frequently on the toe area of the club, standing closer will help balance the toe hit caused by the steep swing. Scott Hoch, who has among the most upright swings on the PGA Tour (his irons are about four degrees upright), stands closer to the ball to accommodate his steep swing. If he were to back away, it'd be near impossible for him to hit solid shots. In this case, he didn't change his swing, he just changed his distance from the ball.
DRILL: Get Closer at the Start
Steep swingers need to stand closer to the ball. Here's how to hug it at address. Hold a club in your right hand, then sole it squarely behind the ball and step in with your right foot so that the handle of the club rests against your right thigh. Step in with your left foot, then widen your right foot to about shoulder width for a full shot. Because you started with the club leaning against your body, your setup position will be nearer to the ball than normal, thus helping you to prevent toe hits. This drill is useful for every club in the bag. Remember, always pick a target and align your body not at, but parallel to that spot. You'll see improvements immediately!
DRILL: Roll the Ball for More Width
Set a golf ball about a foot behind and just inside the target line from where you would normally place a ball at address. With your left arm only, gently use the back of your iron and roll the ball away from the target line. Use a cap or a basket to catch them. The ball should roll slowly, not quickly, into the basket. So long, deep divots!
Sometimes there are certain equipment tune-ups that can help you lessen a slice without making a single change to your swing.
2. Get More Flex
If the clubface is opening too much and stays open at impact, the means for balancing things out is to adopt a stronger grip where both hands are rotated well to the right on the grip at address. In most cases, this grip is considered to be too strong, but for a slicer, it's the perfect remedy. If you're concerned that a strong grip will turn your slice into a hook, consider the swing style of Fred Couples. Couples has a stronger-than-usual left-hand grip, but uses a cupped left wrist at the top and a fast turn to the target to keep the clubface in check. Keep in mind that cupping the left wrist usually promotes a slice, while flattening or bowing the left wrist generally will produce a hook. Another common balancing act for slicers is to simply preset the clubface closed at address. This helps the golfer who chronically slices to maintain a square clubface through impact.
DRILL: Front Loader
Another one of my favorite drills that tends to work beautifully is what I call the Front Loader. This drill is designed to help you feel a postimpact hand rotation for more of a hooking shot. Set your ball on a medium-height tee. Hold your club a few feet past the ball as if you were about 1__ã4 of the way into your followthrough with the toe of the club turned well past the heel. Swing back (don't contact the ball in the backswing) to about a 3__ã4-length backswing then through, striking the ball with the front-loaded rotated feel. You should see the ball easily holding its line and perhaps even hooking a little left.
If it's easy to read the glove logo in a mirror, then you know you have a strong grip. Mimic the fold in your index finger and thumb with your lower hand and you're set. In this postimpact photo of Couples (right), you can see his body has outraced his hands through impact. If he didn't have a strong thrust through the ball, his strong grip would cause hooked shots. This is why it's critical to fully turn your body with a strong grip.
A player who hooks the ball has a golf swing that's flatter and more rounded than that of a player who slices, leading to the exact opposite impact and flight characteristics.
1) No divot or divot well behind the ball.
2) Heel-first contact.
3) Clubface closing too much through impact.
No Divot Or Divot Behind
A flat swing tends to travel along the ground for longer than it should, and when this happens, the face is likely to close and sweep across the ball with a hooking motion. Here, width is the enemy.
Try to balance things out by staying centered, with your backswing resisting movement away from the target. Ben Hogan, a very flat swinger, was able to steepen his hit by reminding himself to keep his weight on his left side as well as narrowing his release angle through the ball. Hogan also visualized his arms wrapped tightly with rope, indicating the importance of keeping his arms tight to the torso, another means of narrowing the arc.
DRILL: Left Foot Right Toes
Stand solidly on your left foot with your right foot back and your right toe down for balance. Hit some shots from this stance. You'll feel extremely centered over the ball, with little or no head movement. Any lateral movement will result in a loss of balance. Staying more centered will effectively narrow the width of your swing, leading to crisper contact. It's that simple.
Although Ben Hogan didn't keep his hands in front of his chest at impact, he could do it when he had to. Here you can see that Hogan maintained knee flex and kept his weight in the center of his stance, resulting in a crisply hit bunker shot. His weight never fully shifted to his back foot. Staying centered is key for better bunker play, as is a more upright swing.
Often, heel hits are the result of standing too close to the ball. The fix is to actually try a technique that Fuzzy Zoeller uses. Zoeller sets up the ball well off the heel (don't be afraid), then works his arm close to the body through contact to deliver a solid blow. This address position forces Zoeller to do two things: 1) it prevents too much lean into the ball at impact, which can lead to a shank or heeled shot; 2) it keeps his arms close to his body, which is another means of adding speed, much like an ice skater spinning faster as the arms work closer to the torso. This drill absolutely forces you to stay a comfortable distance from the golf ball. With practice, you'll grow accustomed with a stance farther away from the ball resulting in fewer heel hits.
DRILL: Be Like Vijay
Most of you have seen by now some of the interesting drills Vijay Singh does to work on his game. One of the most common is hitting shots with a glove tucked under his arm. If you're hitting shots off the heel, then your arms are swinging too much away from your body through impact. Hit a few shots with a glove or headcover tucked under your right arm. You'll feel more harmony between your arm swing and body turn leading to on-center hits. Caution: Your arms will require some room to float and move as your swing size increases, so keep these swings small at first for best results.
Stand Away From It!
Take a look at Zoeller in this photo (right). He has taken avoiding heel hits even further by setting up extremely far from the ball. For the normal player, this stance could lead to off-balance toe hits, but for the flat swinger, this stance can help eliminate heel hits without making a major adjustment to the swing. Try this routine with your irons and kiss heel hits goodbye!
Clubface Closing Too Much
If you hook the ball too much, in some cases, it's due to excessive hand and wrist rotation through the downswing. One of the best ways to beat this flaw is to adopt a slicer's (weak) grip. Instead of the two folds in the hands between both thumbs and index fingers pointing at the right shoulder (left for lefties), try pointing both folds more toward your sternum. This will help you not only prevent a closed face at impact, but also to get more of your body involved in your swing. Another cure for a closing face is to speed up your turn to the target. Increasing your body's rate of rotation will delay the closing of the face, leading to less hooks and straighter shots. A good example of someone with great target-side body action is Sergio Garcia. Notice how his hands are in front, and his shirt buttons are facing the target in this postimpact shot.
DRILL: Thumbs Up
Hold your left hand up in front of your chest and give the standard thumbs-up sign. This will put your left hand in a neutral position. Place your left hand on the grip in the same position so that your left thumb is positioned nearly straight down the shaft. Viol__ ! Hooking the ball is a tall order with this kind of grip.
Turn And Burn!
When you don't turn your body, the clubface closes too fast, causing a vicious hook (top, far left). To avoid this position, be like Sergio and make sure you clear your hips through impact (top, left). This will make closing the face more difficult and help you hit the ball straight. Also, if your shoulders are level at impact, you'll come over the top, so keep your front shoulder up!
Many golfers argue that a hook is easier to fix than a slice. A couple of ways to get your hook straightened out is to make a few simple modifications to your equipment.
1. Fatten Your Grips
2. Shortened Sticks
There you have it. Practice these moves and you'll see much faster improvement than you ever will trying to grind out swing flaws from your natural swing. Remember, all swings have flaws, and the key to improvement is getting those flaws to work as effectively as possible for you. Do this and you're sure to see some amazing results.
PGA teaching professional and instruction editor Jeff Ritter is the director of instruction at the ASU/Karsten Learning Center in Tempe, Ariz.