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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dexter's Coming Over the Top, Part 3

Ok, we’ve gotten all the “theory” out of the way:
  • You know what makes an over-the-top swing different from our desired swing: Instead of swinging along the plane, the hands get in a bad position which causes them to go straight up and “crashing through” the plane, resulting in a loop.
  • You know the hands get in this position because you bent your right elbow (or left elbow, for you lefties out there) too early in the swing.
  • You know you bent your elbow too early because you didn’t start coiling your shoulders early enough in the backswing, a move also called a “one-piece takeaway.”
So now you only need to know two more things:
  • How to make a proper one-piece takeaway.
  • How to know when you’re making a proper one-piece takeaway.
Don’t underestimate that second one. Golfers really get tripped up trying to do the right thing but not knowing whether they did it or not. While golf is a game of feel, unless we know what the proper movements feel like to us, we often find out that what feels right isn’t right at all. (Come to think of it, a lot of life is that way. But I digress…)

Because of this, I’m going to break the backswing into two parts:
  • the one-piece takeaway, which carries the hands from the address position to about waist high; and
  • the rest of the backswing, from waist high to the top.
Why am I including that second part? Well, if we’ve been bending our elbows too early, then we’re used to bending them incorrectly. We need to learn what they’re supposed to do after we get that one-piece takeaway working smoothly. Simple, right?

So today we'll start with the one-piece takeaway. It’s actually the easiest part of the whole swing! Here’s the first “feel drill” for learning the correct takeaway; all it does is teach you the proper position and let you learn how it feels to you. You can do this drill with or without a club; with a club is pretty obvious, but doing it without a club may be less so. Here’s how to create an “instant club” so you can do this anywhere you have room:
  1. Hold your left hand out in front of you, as if you were going to shake hands. (You lefties out there will need to use your right hand.)
  2. Make a fist and stick your thumb straight up as if you were giving somebody a “thumbs-up.” Your thumb is the “shaft” of your club.
  3. Take your normal golf grip by placing your free hand on the “shaft.” You’ll be surprised how much this feels like your normal grip; at any rate, it will give you a solid way to position your hands.
Simple, huh? Now let’s try the drill:
  1. Take your normal address position. On the outside chance you need to work on your setup, let me give you a couple of checkpoints:
    • Your knees should be slightly flexed and your spine tilted forward from your hips.
    • Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart, and your weight should be on the balls of your feet and pretty evenly distributed between them.
    • Your upper arms rest lightly against the outside muscles of your chest. I know not everybody stands as close to or far from the ball, but just avoid the extremes—don’t glue your elbows against your chest, and don’t stick your arms out so straight that the upper parts of your arms don’t touch your chest muscles at all.
    • And of course, your forearms and grip should be relaxed. You don’t need tense arms to do a one-piece takeaway. No locking those elbows, ok?
  2. From this address position, with your knees still bent, straighten your spine so it’s vertical again. Don’t move your arms; let them just stay in the relaxed position they were in before. Did you know that your hands should be about waist high when you straighten your spine? Surprise!
  3. Now, without moving your lower body, turn your upper body (yes, that’s your shoulders! Turn at your waist) so your arms, still relaxed and fairly straight, are pointing to the side. Did I hear you ask “how much should I turn?” Here are a couple of guidelines; use the one that suits you best.
    • Turn until your club shaft points straight out to your right (left for you lefties) or angles up slightly. You might also think of the shaft being parallel to your toe line.
    • Turn until your hands are just outside your right foot (left foot for you lefties).
    Using these two guides, you should be able to get things about right. You can also check the pic of Paula Creamer below. I would guess this is about a 60- to 75-degree shoulder turn from her setup position. Note that her arms are still in the same position relative to her spine that they were at address; they haven't changed. Paula's club shaft angles up slightly; if you usually have your wrists completely cocked at this point, that's ok too. Letting the shaft "droop" just makes it easier to keep your arms relaxed during this drill.
  4. Tilt your upper body back into your setup position. Let me point out that you did not poke your right hip (left hip, lefties!) out to the side when you did this, so don't start poking it out when you try to make the actual takeaway. Note how your lower body feels when you do this drill, and duplicate that feel when you actually swing!
Picture of Paula Creamer's takeaway
Although you’re pretty much in the proper position, there’s one last thing you need to do. I’m making a big deal of it because it makes a big difference in the feel. Your left arm (right arm, lefties!) isn’t quite correct because your elbow is closer to your side than it should be. The reason is that we kept your elbows near your side, in the same position as they were at address… but at this point in the takeaway, your elbow should be pointing straight down at the ground. (When you actually make your takeaway from your setup position, you'll make this adjustment naturally.) If you just relax your arm, you’ll feel your shoulder joint pivot just a bit as your elbow swings away from your side a little. Just firm it up once it’s in position and TA-DAH! This is how a one-piece takeaway feels to you.

It won't take you long to get the hang of it; you'll be able to take your setup position and swing back to waist high with barely a thought. Once you do, you can try using your new takeaway to make short swings with a club, either just swinging in your back yard or actually hitting pitch shots at the driving range. (Yes, this will help both your full shots and your short game. MULTITASKING -- THE ONLY WAY TO PRACTICE!) Focus on keeping your forearms and wrists as relaxed as possible, and it will also help you improve your release.

Tomorrow is the Limerick Summary, so you've got a couple of days to work on this, although I doubt it'll take any of you that long. Just leave any questions you have in the comments. The fourth post will teach you how to turn this improved takeaway into an improved backswing... and how to kiss that over-the-top swing good-bye.


  1. Hi Mike. Thanks for the drill. This is great stuff. I have a question about part 3 of the drill. When I straighten up, should I be looking straight ahead or should I still be looking at the imaginary ball? I feel as though my back is too arch when I straighten up. It feels a little uncomfortable. I guess it may until I get used to the feel.

    I can definitely feel the difference. My left arm is further away from the body and my right elbow isn't as tucked into my ribcage. I will be practicing in my living room while watching the final round of the Wyndham Championship and then I'll go out this evening to hit a few shots.

  2. I'm not surprised you're feeling a little pressure in your back, Dex. It's a combination of two things:

    1) You're probably not straightening your spine quite right; it's a matter of where you focus the movement. I bet you're trying to keep your butt stuck out too much during the straightening part. I'll help you with that in a moment.

    2) I speak from experience here: A one-piece takeaway forces you to make a good coiling motion. You probably haven't been coiling properly in the past, so it just feels a bit odd. Once you start swinging directly from setup to waist high, you'll get more comfortable with the feel of coiling. Coiling is one of the fundamentals that I feel isn't explained well enough by most teachers.

    Ok, let's take care of the first part by working into it backwards. Instead of starting in your setup position, stand straight like normal, as if you were just talking to someone. Then hold the club (imaginary or real) in front of you, with your hands at waist level. Now just flex your knees the same amount as you do in your setup.

    This is about how the #3 position should feel. If it feels different, you're trying to keep your rear end poked out too far when you straighten up. Does that solve the problem?

    As for your head position, it doesn't matter during the third step. When you bend back into #4 you'll probably want to look at your hands and arms to get a visual to match with the feel, and then turn your head back to "look at the ball" the way Paula is in the picture. When you're confident that you can feel the correct position, start swinging the club directly from setup to waist high while looking at the ball, and then glance over to make sure you got it right. This will reinforce your confidence in your feel, and you'll get comfortable with the position much quicker.

    And you ARE doing it right! The left and right arm feeling you described is EXACTLY what you should be feeling when you do it correctly. When you hear teachers on TV talk about "keeping the club in front of you," this is what they're talking about. Not only does it start you on the proper plane going back, but it gives you lots of room to swing the club freely past your body... and that means more clubhead speed.

  3. AHHHHH...So much better. You must have been watching me because that's exactly what I was doing. My rear was too far out. It was putting a lot of pressure on my back. Working backwards makes it a whole lot easier.

    I always hear the analyst talking about a good coiling motion and I understand what they are talking about but I never feel like I do it like the pros.

    I like when they show a swing in slo-mo and you can see the mid section of the golfer coil and uncoil. They get that lag action that instructors say your supposed to have to get more distance.

    I try practicing it but now that I have the information that you have given me, I realize I was getting way ahead of myself. Because my takeaway was all wrong, it was probably impossible to get the proper coiling action no matter how hard I tried.

    I have heard instructors talk about keeping the club in front of the body but I never quite understood it before. Definitely makes sense now. I can already feel how it is going to free up my swing.

    Okay, back to my simulated practicing. I may be stuck inside for the rest of the afternoon. The skies are starting get darker in preparation for our daily summertime afternoon thunderstorm here in S. Florida. Hopefully they pass by the time the tournament is over.

  4. I'm going to advise you to forget about "lag" for the time being. Without going into the technical stuff, Newton's Third Law of Motion means that it is impossible for your upper body to start before your lower body. I think you'll have better results, especially while learning to coil properly, if you try to start the downswing with your upper and lower body together. Players who have been over-the-toppers tend to poke their hip out when they start the downswing, and starting everything together should minimize that tendency.

    If you do this one-piece takeaway properly (and you are), you will learn to coil automatically. Just swing the club and don't try to over-analyze things too much. ;-)

  5. I just got back from practicing and what a difference. Like I said, I just practiced the move without a club while watching the tournament in my living room and then I took it out to the course.

    The move completely got rid of the loop. It did take some getting used to, but I rehearsed the move before each swing. I was getting some funny looks from the people around me, but I didn't care. Anything to get better.

    I only hit my 52 degree gap wedge and didn't take any full swings. The most I would go to was just above 9 o'clock. Anytime my back swing got to long I pulled it.

    The other thing I noticed was that all my divots were straight at the target. With my old swing, my divots were always left of the target, probably because I swinging across the ball.

    It's incredible that such a simple change could make such a big difference. I will probably practice again tomorrow and then put all the pieces together after your post on Tuesday.

    Thanks again Mike. This is really awesome. It's a good thing you are doing for all the hackers out there trying to improve their golf game.

  6. I told you that you weren't far off, Dex. ;-)

    I'm glad you played it smart with your practice by keeping the swings short. The important things right now are that you know what you're trying to do, and you know how to tell when you're doing it properly. That's how you build confidence. Work on it one piece at a time, the way you're doing it, and it'll all fall into place.

    You'll get much more comfortable as you go; in a month you may not even remember how to swing bad!

    You're right about the divots as well. Divots from pulled shots go to the left (for right-handers) and they go to the right for pushed shots. Straight divots mean you're swinging right on your target line.

    Remember this: This simple change made a big difference because it has such a major influence on club path. It also made a huge difference because it was the cause of your problem. Too many times we try to make big changes and get nowhere; that's because we're attacking symptoms, not the source.

    Tiger and Phil know this, so when you hear them saying they're "close," you'll know they mean it. One correct small change can have a huge effect on your results.

    And you're welcome. ;-)