Hitting your chip shots fat or thin usually comes about because the bottom of your swing arc is in the wrong place (usually too far back), which means the angle of attack is poor. You’ll either hit the ground behind the ball or hit up on the ball causing you to thin the ball across the green. The best way to overcome this scenario is to learn to use the bounce on the club and recognize the right feeling of the club ‘skidding’ through the grass.
Bounce on Sand Wedge
Sand Wedges have a a varied amount of ‘bounce’ on the sole of the club. This is the difference in angle between the front and back edge of the sole. As with this Taylor Made lob wedge, most soles are also fairly wide and smooth at the edges.
The bottom of the sand wedges are designed in this way to aid the club in ‘skidding” when the club makes contact with the grass.
With this in mind, achieving the feeling/sound of the sole skidding in the grass should be one of your key intentions when playing the shot. If the club skids at he right point relative to the ball then you will have perfect connection and the ball will lift with the desired trajectory.
In my pre-shot routine for chipping I make sure that I have a few practice swings to establish, among other things, that sound/feeling of the club skidding. This lets me know that I have the right angle of approach for the shot.
A great drill to develop the right angle of approach is outlined on this video I made with Today’s Golfer magazine.
TODAY’S GOLFER VIDEO
It is not uncommon for club golfers to feel as if they are lifting up as they approach impact. Even with well meaning friends giving constant feedback, try as they might, staying down through impact remains a struggle and of course leads to constant topped shots and generally inconsistent striking. If this sounds familiar then don’t despair, there may be other factors that cause the ungainly lurch away form the ball. In the common scenario outlined below the raising up motion is a merely a symptom of another aspect of the swing.
In a previous post I highlighted the concept of the club arc pulling in towards in the downswing.
This is the what happens when a golfer tries to re-trace their back swing arc by throwing the club out from the top of the swing and unhinging the wrists too early. It’s a classic ‘hit from the top’ move. This is typically caused by a player being anxious to hit the ball and throwing their arms down before getting the legs to move sideways towards the target. The result is a shocking out-in swing path across the ball and a steeper approach into the ball.
Stand Up Quick!
The golfer has inadvertently increased their swing arc by unwinding the arms and wrists too early. As a result, they will hit the ground early unless avoiding action is taken by standing up away from the ball to make way for the increased arc. This leads to an impact position like the one pictured left and very inconsistent striking.
Effects on Strike Quality
From this angle we can see that the premature straightening of the right arm and wrist has led to the club arc being increased and unless avoiding action is taken the club will slam into the ground about a 12’ behind the ball.
The unconscious mind is at work here leading to an impact position like the on above. Sensing that the club is coming in toward the ball too low, the body has to raise up to avoid a huge divot before the ball. Quite how much to raise is clearly a difficult thing to gauge hence the myriad of topped and fat shots resulting from this movement.
Unless the early release is addressed there will always be a need to raise up through impact. Trying to stay down in this instance will only result in a lot of ground contact before the ball.
Effects on Swing Path and Direction
The right arm and wrist have unwound too early causing the club to be approaching the ball steeply from the outside. Notice how the body hasn’t cleared at all. The result would be pulled shots and slices. With the driver I would expect to see a lot of skied shots as the club chops under the ball.
Prior to Impact
By now the right arm is fully unwound causing the club to chop down and across the ball. Ideally, the right arm would stay slightly bent until just after impact. Also note the high right shoulder.
Good posture at set up is always a prerequisite to stability during the swing. A clean tilt from the hips allows the spine to be angled forward but not to curve over. The goal is to maintain this angle and the knee flex until after impact.
Correct Downswing Dynamics
When the downswing starts in the correct sequence, the hips will slide to towards the target and the wrists will remain hinged with a feeling that the club arc is getting narrower. If we try to replicate the width of the upswing then this encourages the undesirable ‘casting’ effect.
The knees are flexed and there should be a slight ‘squatting down’ feeling. You can see that the wrists are still fully hinged and the club head is trailing well behind the hands.
At impact the weight is heavily favoring the lead leg but most notably the hands are still slightly ahead of the club head. This encourages a strike that is still on the downward part of the arc.
Easier to Learn
Prominent research into skill acquisition suggests that learning by analogy frees up the mind from specific extrinsic instructions and allows us to perform without the over thinking associated with technical change. Rather than the learner having to compute the individual elements of a new movement, they can tap into a larger, exhisting motor program and adjust and adapt from that.
Resilient to Pressure
Studies in automaticity and ‘choking’ under pressure have indicated that if a skill is learnt implicitly, that is without specific instruction, then the movement is more resilient to pressure. The basic premise being that with less swing thoughts and technical instruction in the learning phase, the competitor will have less of a distraction during performance. This is closely linked to reinvestment theory, to be covered in detail in a future post.
This is a powerful analogy to help create a strong movement in the downswing and develop the desired movement sequence.
The great artwork is courtesy of Today’s Golfer magazine
Related to the Golf Swing
The action of skimming stones is a great analogy for movement and balance in our golf swing. Specifically, the way the right elbow stays close to the body through the downswing while the hips move towards the water and clear to the left. This is a vital move in golf in order to deliver the club from a strong inside path. Only as the skimmer reaches the bottom of their arc would the right arm straighten and the stone get released with a flick of the wrist. Should the wrist ‘flick’ too early and the arm come away from the body then the stone will be unceremoniously dumped into the ground before even reaching the water. This of course represents the common golf swing faults of ‘casting’ and swinging ‘over the top.’
This image also shows how the body stays down and the knees remain flexed until the stone is released. Immediately after this release point the body then straightens to allow the hips to continue turning and to finish in a balance position.
Practice the stone skimming action a few times on the range and you may well be able to connect with the movement pattern without having to think too hard about the specifics of the technique.
Don’t Re-trace Your Backswing!
This is a concept taken from the Everyday Golf Coach Power app which covers the dynamics of the swing in great detail. In the ‘Width in Back Swing’ video we emphasize the importance of not trying to re-trace your back swing in the downward movement. It’s clear from these screenshots how the downward arc is pulled to the left and closer to David’s body.
Narrowed down swing arc
The Dynamics During Transition
The narrowing of the swing arc is largely created by the change of direction from back to downswing (transition phase). At this point, the legs and hips are pulling forwards towards the target and the club gets literally dragged behind putting load into the shaft. The wrists stay hinged as or in many good players, actually increase their hinge creating what is commonly referred to as ‘down-cock’.
As in this bat and ball strike, the right elbow is dragged closer into the right hip and there is a pressure on the left thumb as the wrists are being forced into a fully hinged state.
This movement not only creates more power by improved sequencing but also gets the club into a deeper ‘slot’ for an inside delivery path.
More on this topic in the following ‘Early Release’ post
This is taken from an article I wrote for Today’s Golfer Magazine
Keep Your Left Wrist Cupped for High Bunker Shots
If your goals are to play to single figures than you will need a diverse short game that can cope with the variety of green side challenges that the course presents. Being able to play a high bunker shot will not only enable you to recovery from steep sided bunkers but also give you the tools to stop the ball quickly when the hole is cut close to the bunker.
Use your most lofted sand wedge, ideally a 58-60 degree lob wedge. The set up is the same as for a normal ‘out to in’ bunker shot but with a few adjustments.
Set up with a wide stance and the ball well forward of middle. My hands are level with the club head so there is maximum loft and no shaft lean
My weight is toward my heels and I’ve got my knees more flexed than normal. This ‘sitting down’ position will lower your hands and promote a shallow approach into the ball. This is necessary to get the ball up quickly.
Through the Ball
We are aiming to return to the ball with a shallow approach that just slides under the ball with a sliver of sand. With this in mind and to keep the loft on the club face, my weight is favoring my back foot.
The hands are allowed to unwind fully through the ball. This way the club head will overtake the hands immediately after impact
Taken from an article I wrote for Today’s Golfer Magazine
Use the Bounce to Slide
Through the Sand
If you are looking to break 90 on a regular basis then you will need to be able to control the trajectory and distance of your bunker shots. For this to happen we need to have the club sliding through the sand with minimal resistance and that means using the bounce on the bottom of the club and swinging slightly across the ball.
- Open the club face by turning it to the right and then re-gripping the club. When you place the club down it will be aiming to the right of the target.
- Now turn your feet and body to the left until the club face is pointing only slightly right of target.
- Swing the club outwards and along the line of your feet
- Keep you eyes focused on your intended contact point in the sand about 2-3 “ behind the ball.
- The ‘out to in’ movement across the ball will allow the sole of the club to glide neatly under the ball without digging into the sand and slowing down.
Through the Ball
- Keep your body turning through the shot and the club accelerating to a full finish.
This is taken from an article I wrote for Today’s Golfer magazine
Keep it Simple with a ‘Straight
A lot of golfers overcomplicate the bunker shot when a straight forward approach can give fantastic results. If your goal is to break 100 then you need to be able to get the ball out of the bunker every time with a consistent strike. This is without doubt the best way. In this method we are not opening the club face so make sure you are using a sand wedge or even your lob wedge.
This method is almost identical to playing a pitch shot and starts with a similar set up position. The big difference is that we are aiming to hit the sand about 2-3” behind the ball and let the club slide under the ball which will lift the ball on a cushion of sand.
- Stand with your body aligned square to where you are aiming and with a square club face.
- Adopt a fairly wide stance with 60% of your weight on the front foot
- Hands just ahead of the ball to create shaft lean
- The ball is positioned 2” in front of the middle of your stance
The backswing is much like pitching.
My wrists have hinged to 90 degrees and my arms have swung more upward than normal.
Try and keep your weight on your front foot and your legs quiet in the backswing. This will help you control where you hit the sand
The key skill with any bunker method is that we can consistently make our first contact in the sand 2-3” behind the ball.
To practice this skill, draw a line in the sand in the middle of your stance and practice the correct contact point and depth of your divot. Remember, the ball is place 2-3” in front of this mark,
Practicing this drill will help you become familiar with the correct impact with the sand and also give you the confidence that you can make a committed swing at the ball, safe in the knowledge that you will be striking the sand first.
As with pitching, be sure to keep your body turning through impact so that you finish with your hips and shoulders facing the target. Your club should accelerate through the sand to a position at least as high as it was in your backswing.
This is a much overlooked skill with woods. We need to be able to feel where the bottom of our arc is to strike the ball from the middle of the club face (on both a horizontal and vertical plane) and also to create the optimum launch conditions.
We are aiming to hit the ball in the centre of the driver face so as a rule try and tee the ball at such a height that half the ball is above the top of your driver face. Too high and you’ll either swing under neath the ball or be forced to make adjustments in your swing. Too low and you’ll hit the ball from the bottom grooves of the club face imparting too much back spin and costing you distance
It is imperative with the driver that we are sweeping the ball cleanly off the tee and launching the ball forward. To steep an attack and you may sky the ball and you’ll certainly get unwanted spin. Place a few tees in the ground about with about 2” above the ground. Take a number of practice swings trying to clip the tee about half way up and not make any contact with the ground.
To improve your awareness of the height of the bottom of you swing arc say to your self after each hit where on the tee you struck. Either top, middle or bottom. Once you can achive the middle height consistently you will not only improve your angle of approach but also find the middle of your driver face
Screenshots taken from Everyday Golf Coach Power app
This is piece I wrote for Today’s Golfer magazine on pitching. It’s by no means exhaustive but if you want the nuts and bolts then here they are.
The Essentials of Pitching
The set up for pitching is very similar to chipping. The stance is narrow and we stand closer to the ball than for a full swing. Be sure to get 65% of your weight on to your front foot and the ball positioned just behind the centre of your stance. Notice how the hands are in front of the ball.
The back swing length will differ depending on the length of the shot but always aim to create a clear ‘L’ shape between your lead arm and the shaft. Probably the most important aspect of the backswing is that my weight has stayed predominantly on my left foot.
Our intentions should be on hitting the ball forward. Let the loft on the club create the lift. This way, as we move through the ball, the shaft is leaning forward and the weight is still on the lead foot. This will slightly reduce the loft on the club but will ensure that we get the correct downward contact.
Commitment is the key. It is paramount that you keep your body turning through the ball and make sure that your hands don’t overtake your body action. In this picture we can see how I’ve controlled the club face keeping it square to the target for as long as possible.
If we accept that the golf swing is primarily a circular motion then it would make sense to keep the club head on the very perimetre of that circle. This not only is a feature of creating power but is vital for ball striking consistency.
If the arms get drawn toward us at the top of the swing then they are no longer on the arc which means that they will have to be outstretched again to make contact with ball. This in/out movement is a huge calculation for your brain to make mid downswing and inevitably leads to topped and fat shots.
Straight left arm
This topic is some what in line with golfers that try to “keep their left arm straight”. However, this is not the best way to think about your arc for a number of reasons.
- Not everyone has the flexibility to keep the lead arm locked out. A really straight left arm would lead most golfers to becoming very tight and stiff in their movement
- From a motor learning perspective, latest research suggests that we are far better off focusing on the affects/ intentions of our movement than focusing on the actual body segments. (see more on this in the research section.)
- The left arm is only straight in the backswing, just after impact the right arm straightens/thrusts as the left folds away in towards the body. You really don’t want to be thinking about all of this at 100mph. Aim to keep your hands as wide as possible and the arms will look after themselves.
This is a video taken from the ‘Everyday Golf Coach’ app that explains the concept and demonstrates a great drill that will help you maintain your radius all the way around your swing while keeping a quiet focus.
In the downswing the legs are moving left and the hands will be pulled in towards the body somewhat. This has the affect of narrowing the arc in relation to the upswing. This is part of strong dynamics and should be encouraged. Should one try and swing down on an acr that mirrors the upswing then the movement sequence will be compromised and the arc will be too wide. The result is an out to in swing path and fat shots.
This is a screenshot taken from Everyday Golf Coach Power that indicates the upswing arc and downswing.
And here is Hogan demonstrating the same affect
Achieving a consistent, powerful contact on the ball is very much down to you being able to accurately predict where the arc of your club head will bottom out. Once again, here is Mile Bennett of “Stack and Tilt’ demonstrating this skill perfectly.
This level of accuracy and control requires a number of principles falling into place.
- Dynamic Posture: Holding posture angles throughout the swing
- Consistent Swing Radius: Keeping your hands stretched away from your body until late in the follow through
- Centre Point: Keeping your body from moving laterally in the back swing
- Arm Dynamics: Unwinding the arms,wrists and club head at the correct time and in sync with the body
This is partly why golf coaching can get a little messy at times. The pupil is normally after a relatively ‘quick fix”but until all these principles are mastered the ball striking will be a little unpredictable and heavily reliant on timing.
This is the principle of simply holding your posture angles until well after impact during the swing. This screen grab is taken from the Everyday Golf Coach app where I explain this concept in more detail and demonstrate the ‘x’ drill to create a powerful pivot motion of the body while staying in posture. The images represent a still at address position (top right), back swing and impact (main still). A useful thought is to imagine that your back side is touching a wall and must remain touching until after impact. This would keep you from standing up out of your posture prematurely.
Upon learning the game it would seem fairly instinctive to lift the ball from underneath but it is this instinct that leads to an array of swing errors. In actual fact the club should still be moving downwards as we make contact with the ball. It is fairly common advice to ‘hit down’ on the ball but the important thing is not to strike down in the ground but to control where the club arc bottoms out in relation to the ball.
The key factors that influence the bottom of your arc will be discussed in future posts but until then, have a look at this impact in slow motion. The divot starts 2″ after the ball and the arc bottoms out just after that.(You Tube video by knaapjen)
A lot is made of weight transition but the reason why a beginner may stay on their back foot is their intentions to lift the ball up into the air. It is also for this reason that the same novice has a breakdown of the wrist and arm structure coming into the ball. You Tube video from John Dunigan
Not until we understand the correct motion of the club into the ball can we create a solid and reliable movement. So what is the correct striking motion of the club?
The club travels in a circular arc that needs to bottom out in the right place. That equation is the key to quality striking. The club’s arc should bottom out some 2-4″ past the ball. This means of course that the ball is being struck on the downward part of the arc with the divot starting 1-2″ past the ball..
This video I’ve grabbed from You Tube (gyddor) explains it well. I like the drill too. It will condition better intentions into the ball.
It should be the intention of any development plan to improve key factors that dictate the ball strike and flight. In terms of the actual strike on the ball, there are several factors that will heavily influence your success.
- Correct intentions on how to ‘lift’ the ball
- A consistent bottom of your arc
- Dynamic impact alignment
- The ball position relative to the arc
Golf is the most wonderful that one can play. Spending 4 hours in beautiful surroundings with great company while pitting you wits against the course, the elements and that cleverly dimpled ball. If you are reading this then you must have already have experienced the feeling of a ball struck well out of the centre of the club and subsequently you have picked up the golf ‘bug.’ As the saying goes, ‘nothing that comes easily is worth having’ and that certainly apples to golf with it’s enormity of challenges. These are a few ideas worth reading if you are just starting out on what I believe to be a the most thoroughly rewarding game of all.
Any beginner lesson always starts with a check on expectations. The golf swing is a very complex motor skill and to develop and repeat a functional movement takes time and many hours of practice on the range. On average it takes a golfer about 12-24 months to become comfortable playing a full size course. Then another year at least to obtain an official golf handicap. More on that later.
The priority at the start must be to groove a consistent (ish) contact on the ball so plenty of hours on the range where massed ball bashing can take place are vital. One must commit to at least one session per week to make measurable progress. After a couple of months of this I would urge you to find a small par 3 course to venture out and discover the game. DON’T score, just enjoy.
Now you will see the need for a good short game, that’s chipping and putting, so add this to your practice each week too. With one practice session and one on course session per week you’ll start to get to grips with things.
Aim to venture on to a full size course within your 1st year of playing, again, scoring is not the priority at the start.
Key factors that will keep you improving and prevent you from becoming one of the many ‘drop outs.’
- Continuity: Commit to at lest a practice session every week and put it in the diary
- Support: Having a friend to learn with is ideal to maintain regular practice and moral
- Coaching: Get good coaching from the start and don’t rely on well meaning freinds. “In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king” and no where is this more true than on your local driving range, however, you don’t want to be practicing the same mistakes that others have made
- Range Balls: If you can, commit to a bulk range card. it’s cheaper and commits you for a while.
- Attitude: You will have some great practice session and inevitably some real shockers. Roll with the punches and don’t take it personally.
- Approach to Learning: Celebrate all your victories (good shots) and ignore all your fallings because these are all part of the process.
- Little and Often: It’s far better to hit a few balls at a time and come back the next day than ht 100′s of balls at once. This way you make use of sleep and incubation time. More on this later in the ‘Research’ section of the blog
- Clubs: You don’t need a fancy set right now but you do need something that will help you learn. A 30 year old rusty stick is not going to inspire you. Seek advice on ‘cavity back’ clubs and the right shaft flex.
- Be Excited: At no other time in any game will you improve as fast as at the beginning
Good luck, enjoy every ball!
This is an article I’ve written in this months Today’s Golfer. It is an advertorial for the Everyday Golf Coach Power app and covers the topic of why we as golfers typically learn the game by piecing together ‘positions’ and shapes. Since the golf swing is a complex motor skill that demands correct sequencing and timing wouldn’t it be easier and more natural to learn the dynamics and from there the positions will by and large form themselves. This approach would not only be more fun and relevant to the task of whacking balls but also involve far less cognitive input/technical overload.