We all know that there is no substitute for teaching proper fundamentals. They are the bases of forming a good swing and overall game. There is no doubt that the finest players in the game have mastered the fundamentals, and the closer our students can do the same, the more they will improve.
But there are times when gaining proficiency in the fundamentals is rather difficult for some of our students. There are some teaching shortcuts that can be used in conjunction with the fundamentals that can expedite the learning process. Keep in mind that these won’t work for every student, but they’re worth trying when a student’s progress is stalled. Here are a few that cover the basic errant ball flights:
Many students have a hard time squaring the clubface because they don’t understand the feel of the proper release through impact.
Using an extremely strong grip –Most students employing this grip will have no choice but to square or close the clubface at impact.
Back to the target drill – The student sets up with a stance that is at least 45° closed to the target line. Since they can’t turn very well through the impact area, the arms and hands will tend to release properly through impact. This drill works for the vast majority of slicers.
Try to hit the ball with the toe of the clubhead – USGTF Hall of Fame teacher David Vaught emphasizes that the student must do the opposite of what he or she is currently doing in order to effect a change. This feeling of trying to hit the ball with the toe of the clubhead (not the toe of the clubface, but the actual toe of the clubhead) helps many slicers realize how much clubhead rotation is necessary through impact. And if you’re worried about the student actually hitting the ball off the toe of the clubhead and ruining their $500 driver, relax. Members of the USGTF Technical Committee have yet to see one student do this in our collective years of teaching.
Hooking, of course, is the opposite of slicing, as the clubface is closed to the clubhead path at impact. This is more of a good player’s problem, but we still see average players and novices struggle with it.
Drag the grip or clubhead inside through impact – USGTF teaching legend Bob Toski has been quoted as saying, “Swing in the direction of your miss.” So, if the ball is hooking left for a right-hander, it is imperative that the clubhead and/or grip be swung hard to the left through impact. Some may get the feeling of “sawing” across the ball.
Feel the lead shoulder move down and behind the golfer through impact – Golfers who hook often drop the clubhead too far inside starting down, the result of the lead shoulder moving too far out and up. Cultivating the opposite feel can do wonders.
Golfers can top the ball as the clubhead is either ascending or descending. Regardless of the angle of attack, many toppers “chicken-wing” the lead arm through impact, the result of not turning properly. But until that fundamental problem is fixed, a simple solution is to get the student to try to hit underneath the ball instead of trying to hit the back of the ball. Having them take practice swings where they brush the grass, or even take a slight divot, gets them to feel where the bottom of the clubhead is in relation to the ground.
HITTING IT FAT
This is the opposite of topping, as the student is hitting the ground before hitting the ball. Both topping and fat shots can have their origin in poor posture, but those hitting it fat really need to emphasize a more proper posture as they are likely to be too hunched over at setup. Also, as in topping, it is helpful to get the student to try to do the opposite of what he or she is actually doing, and this would involve trying to top the ball. And this bears emphasis: Knowing where the bottom of the clubhead is at impact is a crucial skill that must be mastered for any sort of proficiency in the game.
The best advice here might be the old saying, “Take two weeks off…then quit.” Seriously, shanking is a problem that has a number of causes, but the result is the same – hitting balls off the hosel of the club. A quick fix is to place an empty water bottle just outside where the toe of the clubhead should be at impact. Another quick fix in extreme cases is to have the student address the ball off the toe of the club and actually try to either hit the ball off the toe of the clubface, or even try to whiff to the inside of the ball. Sometimes all it takes is for a student to see his or her perception doesn’t match reality, and this can get them going in the right direction.
These teaching “hacks” aren’t substitutes for emphasizing the proper fundamentals, but they can help get results where other traditional methods may have either failed or are taking a long time to implement. It’s our job to get our students hitting the ball solidly, and sometimes that may mean taking shortcuts until the root cause of the problem is corrected.