June 25, 2014
By Anne Cain, Master Instructor, PGA TOUR Golf Academy World Golf Village, PGATOUR.COM
- Sergio Garcia is number four in greens hit in regulation this season, with 425 greens in 612 holes through 37 rounds of play. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
According to recent Golfshot user stats, the average 10- to 19-handicap golfer hits approximately five greens per round, or less than 30% of the greens in regulation. That leaves a lot of cleaning up to do around the greens. The majority of these misses are the result of poor contact—i.e., fat or thin contact. In both instances, the clubhead's energy is released too soon, dropping the low point of the swing behind the ball. Consequently, you either stick the clubhead in the ground and hit the shot fat, or learn to shorten your arms to avoid the ground and hit it thin. Here are several drills you can work on to help you eliminate both misses.
First of all, you need to understand what a good impact position looks and feels like. Here, you can see that my weight is clearly on my left side and my hips and shoulders are open to the target line (see photo, above). That body rotation is what's responsible for bringing my hands forward (of the clubhead), so that I can hit down on the ball and compress it with a forward-leaning shaft. Impact is a turned position where the hips and shoulders are open, versus address where the body is neutral, or square, to the target line.
Most golfers who consistently catch the ball thin start out as fat hitters. Over time, they learn to shorten their arms through impact to avoid the ground, and as a result stop hitting the ground altogether. To hit your irons pure, the clubhead has to contact the ball and then the ground, peeling a divot in front of the ball. This can only happen if both arms are extended through impact. As a drill, lodge a Nerf football in-between both forearms and make some short practice swings without a ball, squeezing the football between your forearms so that both arms stay straight past the imaginary ball (see photo, above). Then add a ball and start hitting some small pitches, progressing up into a full swing with a 7- or 8-iron.
As soon as you begin to short-arm it the elbows will begin to separate and fold and the Nerf ball will fall to the ground (see photo, above). This left-arm fold is commonly referred to as a “chicken wing,” and is a major source of power leakage in the swing. If, after performing this drill several times you begin to start taking too much turf again, then the next step is to work on bringing the low point of your swing more forward. The following Bungee Cord Drill will help you do just that.
Loop a bungee cord or rope around your left shoulder and fasten it to the butt end of the club so it's fairly taut in the address position. Pose a few impact positions first, getting a feel for how the hands are leaning forward and the right arm is bracing and pushing downward on the left arm (see photo, above). Now hit a few balls with some half-swings—in order to keep the bungee cord taut, the right wrist must remain bent to apply some downward pressure on top of the left thumb joint. The right arm pushing down and eventually straightening just after impact is what keeps the left arm rigid and brings the low point of the swing forward, in front of the ball.
I like the following Line in the Sand Drill (see photo, above) for those people who are afraid of hitting their irons too fat, because the sand surface is much more benign than actual dirt. It's also very hard to see how far behind the ball you're making contact when hitting from grass; the sand is a much more precise way to train you how to bottom the clubhead out in the right spot. Draw a line in the sand several feet long representing your ball position, and place a ball down on the line. Work your way down the line, seeing if you can get each divot to start on the line and exit several inches forward of the line.
If you release the clubhead too soon, then the divot is going to start several inches behind the line. I tell my students to feel as if they're aiming well in front of the line, because they're so used to aiming at the ball. Start aiming past the ball and swing past it, and it will help bring the low point of your swing forward. It's also very helpful to think about driving the sand forward, because the only way to do that is to bring the hands through first (see photo, above). That's how you trap and compress the ball. Lastly, feel as if your feet are applying pressure down into the ground as you transition the club forward. This will help you pivot the body through properly and prevent the clubhead from slowing down and releasing too soon.
Anne Cain is a Master Instructor with the PGA TOUR Golf Academy World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., and is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher. To learn more about Anne and to book a lesson, click here.