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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dexter’s Coming Over the Top, Part 2

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. The weather was better Friday and I went out to make a video, only to find that the camera batteries were dead and I couldn’t even make still pictures. I’ll just have to make a video for these posts later on and add the links for that post to this series. At any rate, we shall soldier on.

Today I want to look at the two most common ways players take the club away from the ball, and why one of them works and one doesn’t. We commonly refer to these methods as a “one-piece takeaway” and just “lifting the club.” Ask most people what the difference is and you’ll get an answer like “a one-piece takeaway is where your arms stay straight” and you’ll just get a puzzled look about the second.

The difference between the two is actually very simple. In a one-piece takeaway, the shoulders start coiling very early in the backswing; when you lift the club, the shoulders start coiling very late in the backswing. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a huge difference in where your hands end up. And make a note of this: Although your arms do stay fairly straight in a one-piece takeaway, it’s not because you stiffen up and try to make them stay straight. Your arms are relatively relaxed throughout; they stay straight because your shoulder turn means they don’t have to bend.

Let’s look at those stills I took from Dexter’s video again:

Two stills of Dexter's swing

In the top picture, you’ll see that Dexter’s right elbow has bent very early in the swing. This causes his left arm to be pulled close to and across his chest, as you can see in the bottom pic. Compare this to these pics of Tiger (the 2007 swing) and Bubba, pulled from their slo-mo backswings at about the same position as Dexter’s top pic. (I added the black dots to show where the clubheads are. Bubba’s is a little misleading; unlike Dexter’s closed stance, Bubba’s stance is open so it looks like his right hand has actually twisted under his left. Watch the actual video and you’ll see it’s not as awkward as this pic makes it appear.)

Tiger and Bubba do a one-piece takeaway

Now I know what you’re going to say: It looks like their hands are in about the same position as Dexter’s in that top picture… and you’d be right. However, if you look at their shoulders, you’ll realize that their shoulder position matches Dexter’s bottom picture! Tiger and Bubba coil their shoulders early in the backswing, while Dexter coils his much later.

This has a huge effect on the swing plane. See, Dexter’s hands in the top picture are actually about where they should be… but he hasn’t turned his shoulders yet. So what happens after this point, when he finally does coil his shoulders? He pushes his hands backward (or sideways, if you prefer that term) about 12-18 inches, which puts them below his swing plane. From there he has to push them straight up, causing him to loop over-the-top. While it’s a little difficult to see the upward movement of his hands clearly in this video, you can very clearly see the shaft being whipped around from pointing straight behind him (that’s in the bottom picture) to pointing toward the target… all in about 1 second of video! That’s where he shoves his hands up in an effort to get them up to the correct plane.

You can also see his right elbow, which is against his side through most of the backswing, suddenly move out from his side as he makes that “pushing up” move. Compare that to both Tiger and Bubba’s videos; you’ll see that their elbows are already well away from their sides as their hands move above shoulder height.

How much difference is there between the two takeaways? If you lift your hands, you’ll turn your shoulders maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of their full turn by the time your hands are waist high; but it you use a one-piece takeaway, you’ll turn your shoulders from 2/3 to 3/4 of their full turn by the waist high mark. We’re talking two to three times more coil early in the backswing.

Now, I don’t want you to think that “lifting your hands” is entirely useless as a takeaway. It’s extremely useful in your short game. When you don’t need much power and your hands aren’t going much above waist high anyway, you don’t need to turn your shoulders a lot. In fact, the less you turn them, the more accurate your short game shots will be. That makes “lifting your hands” an extremely useful takeaway for chips and pitches.

But not for a full swing. You need power in a full swing, which means you need that shoulder coil, plus you need accuracy as well. The less you move your hands and arms up and down during the backswing, the easier it is to stay on plane and the more accurately you can strike the ball.

Which begs the question: What does a proper one-piece takeaway look like? That will be the topic of the next post. But before I go, I want to address a comment Dexter made on the first post because it's important for all of you to understand that this isn't rocket science.

Dexter's comment started,
"This is great Mike. I had no idea that I was that shallow on the takeaway. I am no where close to where I need to be huh? I was practicing today and I was trying to figure out how to get a little steeper without getting too steep." 
You should read the whole thing for yourself, because it really helps you understand why the average weekend player has trouble breaking 100. Dexter thinks he's a long way from a good swing simply because he's learned a lot about the golf swing... but very little that helps him solve his problem. You see, Dexter doesn't need to get any steeper -- an over-the-top swing is too steep to begin with!

I can go out, take a tennis lesson or two, and have reasonable expectations that I can go play a decent game this weekend and have a good time. Same deal for softball. But once you utter the word "golf," you are told you will need to spend a fortune on lessons and hours on practice before you can even hope to be a duffer. Sure, there's a lot to learn about golf because you face so many different challenges in the game... but that doesn't mean it's so hard to learn. It's no wonder that golf isn't growing like other sports. Why spend a fortune on equipment, lessons, and greens fees when I can buy a basketball and a goal, have a friend teach me the basics of dribbling, passing, and shooting... and then I can have fun? Where is the simple instruction that would teach golfers how to just go out and hit decent shots?

Here is Dexter's problem in a nutshell:
  • Dexter has an over-the-top swing because he gets his hands in a bad position early on.
  • He gets them in this bad position because he bends his right elbow too soon.
  • He bends his right elbow too soon because he doesn't turn his shoulders early enough in the backswing.
  • If we teach him how to turn his shoulders properly, then his elbow won't bend too soon, which means his hands won't go to that bad position and he'll stop swinging over the top.
Now, is that so hard? It's important for him to understand why he's making this mistake because, if he understands how a good swing works, he'll avoid making a lot of other mistakes. (Read his whole comment and my reply. He developed his problem in part because he didn't understand how his swing worked.) I had this problem plus several others, yet Carl got me straightened out in just one lesson. Contrary to what he believes, Dexter is not far from a good swing at all.

And neither are any of you, no matter what kind of problems you're having with your swing. Hitting a golf ball is pretty simple. The vast majority of players who struggle with an over-the-top swing have exactly the same problem that Dexter has... and most just need a simple fix. Don't give up.


  1. Dexter's problems will be over once he goes to Over The Top Golf's web site and buys the DVD. Five set-up changes is all you need to learn, then just use your own swing. Wait until you see where the ball goes. Longer, lower and, most important, straight as a string.

  2. Perhaps they would be gone, liquidwater... I don't know. What I do know is this...

    I intend to fix his swing for free. ;-)

  3. I definitely will not give up. This is too much fun. I played today, but the conditions were tough with rain and not being able to warm up. Tomorrow is a practice day, so I will be looking forward to your next post.

    Until then I will try to ingrain into my psyche that, "I am not that far away." I have watched so many different videos that I think that I have way too many swing thoughts in my head(most of which are probably wrong). I have a slight case of information overload. Something simple I can replicate and groove into my swing will be very welcome.

  4. Information Overload is the #1 killer in modern society. (Well, at least it kills all the fun... ;-)

    You're right, though. You're thinking too much. When you're on the range or somewhere other than the course, you figure out what your mechanics should be. You perform those mechanics perfectly, as slowly as necessary, to learn how they feel. You make sure you remember that feel; and then when you go to the course, you duplicate that feel and concentrate on your target.

    In a very real sense, feel creates mechanics. I'll have to do a post sometime explaining that, but it happens all the time on the golf course. You don't want your mind cluttered with mechanics when you try to play.

    Think about playing tennis or baseball. As the ball flies toward you and you start to hit it, do you consciously think "I need to lower my right shoulder and straighten my right elbow in such a manner that the racket (bat) will meet the ball at waist height"? Of course not! You just swing and hit the ball.

    That's what I'm going to help you learn to do.