You are 98 yards out and need to stick it close to put pressure on your competitor. You know you hit your pitching wedge about 135 and your 8 iron often flies well over 150. Doing the calculations in your head, you know a 56 degree wedge should not only get there, it might even go long if you pure it. You pull out your trusty 56 degree Titliest Vokey or Cleveland RTX. It may even be a little rusty because you are that badass. You feel your heartbeat in your fingertips as you know a shot inside of 10 feet here could close out the match.
You do everything you do with other iron swings. You get over the ball, you take a deep breathe, waggle the club a few times, take it back and let it rip. As soon as you hit it you know it’s pure. It goes straight up in the air and lands 15 yards short of the green. WTF? Why in the hell did my pure 56 degree wedge just go 75 yards yet I can hit a pitching wedge 135 yards?
I see this all the time with amateur golfers. It is especially prevalent with those that attempt to flatten their swing with their arms which then forces them to flip at impact. I call these golfers “fall back flippers”. They hit their driver 280, a hybrid 235, an 8 iron 160 and can’t hit a wedge further than 80 yards. Let’s dissect why this is the case.
Every time I break down a swing fault, it always starts with the setup. Patrick Kelley and I have had well over 120 lessons and every single lesson starts with a proper setup. Almost no amateurs have the proper setup. They think what feels strong is actually strong in the golf swing. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you ever go to a public driving range, you will see dozens of strong men standing like they are about to tackle you while trying to hit a golf ball. The goal with the golf swing is rotation not the ability to form tackle the ball.
Over the last year many have noticed the reemergence of Adam Scott and the continued great play of Rory McIlroy. What CBS, NBC and the Golf Channel never talk about is their posture. Adam Scott goes in ebbs and flows of being bent over versus standing up when setting up to the ball. When Adam Scott is playing his best and winning tournaments, he is much more bent over. When Rory is stripping it, he is much more bent over. When looking at Dustin Johnson or Keegan Bradley, most people assume they are bent over because they are tall. While this is true, the angle of their hips is what sets them up to hit 300 yard drives. Notice that Keegan often has the toe of the club off the ground at setup. It is much better for the toe to be off the ground at impact rather than the heel.
I absolutely love this video of Hideki Matsuyama at the 2019 President’s Cup:
Throughout the entire President’s Cup, Hideki was working on bending over at the hips before the take away. Notice how he accentuates it by straightening his legs while setting up. When first learning the correct posture of the golf swing, most amateur golfers are really going to feel it in their hamstrings. If you do thousands of reps of the proper setup your hamstrings will start to get more flexible. There are a select few amateur golfers that have naturally flexible hamstrings but they are few and far better. If you do not feel a stretch in your hamstring when setting up, you likely aren’t bent over at the hips enough.
Instead of a lazy setup in which you are sitting back on your heels or you have no bend at the hip, you must address this angle if you want to have a true shoulder turn that will allow you to lag the club, compress the ball and put spin on it; especially with your 56 degree wedge.
If you are a “fall back flipper” you are an arms swinger. You may think you turn your shoulders and drive your hips through impact, but you don’t. With poor posture and setup, it is very easy to be an arms swinger. Even if you have perfect posture, if the first move from take away is your hands, wrists or arms, your body is never going to catch up.
Professional golfers and Tour Pros start the golf swing with their left obliques. This is likely foreign to you as you have never used your left obliques in your golf swing. It took me about 100 lessons to finally get the feel of starting the swing with my lower left obliques rather than my hands, arms or shoulders. When hitting the ball extremely well, great golfers will lag the club with their take away. There are two lags in the golf swing. The lag at the take away and the lag at impact. If you are using your hands and arms to create the swing, you do neither.
A good visual explanation of the lag at takeaway is Jason Dufner swing and Rickie Fowler’s old swing. It looks like they were taking their arms away before the club even moves. Check out these videos:
Notice how far the club face stays outside the hands as Duf and Rickie take it back. Dustin Johnson has lag at the take away by setting his wrists. All golfers do it a different way but the best can feel the lag of the club with their take away.
Unless you have had many lessons or have a natural feel for golf, you have likely never felt the lag at take away.
The fact that most amateurs have poor posture and do not start the swing with their left obliques makes it impossible for them to turn their shoulders. The only shoulder turn they have is created by the hands and arms pulling the shoulders. This is not how to generate power in the golf swing. When the left obliques start the swing and the left lat drives to the top of the backswing, it is not necessary to lift the club with the hands and arms.
If you are a “fall back flipper” you start lifting the club as soon as you take it away. The better golfers don’t feel a lift of the club at all. The very good or scratch amateur golfers don’t feel the lift until the top of the backswing. The earlier you lift the club, the earlier you are going to release it on your downswing. If you lift the club at take away, you are going to release it at transition at the top of the backswing and have no ability to create lag. The goal is for speed to be generated at impact, not at the top of the backswing or during the transition.
You may have great hand eye coordination that allows you to hit the ball well, but you will not be lagging the club.
To see a fantastic backswing watch this video of Cameron Champ:
Notice how he doesn’t need to lift the club with his arms. A good way to see this is to look at how his right arm is tucked to his right lat and right armpit at the top of his backswing. Most amateurs that think they are turning have a huge separation in their right arm and right armpit. If there is any separation, this means you are lifting the club.
Dustin Johnson often says he feels the most connected when it feels like his right arm never leaves his body on the backswing. This is the towel under the armpit drill. I would never suggest someone do that drill until they have had dozens of lessons and understand the takeaway and how to get the shoulders turning. If you are a “fall back flipper” you are going to try to keep the towel under your right armpit but you are going to do it by getting the club to the top of the backswing with your hands and arms.
There is another “swing aid” that is a ball that hands around your neck and you are supposed to keep it in place with your elbows. Once again, while this could create the correct feel, most amateurs are going to do it completely wrong by squeezing the ball and then lifting the club with their arms.
When first learning how to turn without lifting, the swing actually feels very short. Amateur golfers are used to their hands pulling away and up. When turning with the body, the hands will stay connected and closer to the middle of the chest. There is only so much flexibility in the human body so the swing will feel short. If you had a swing in which your hands were lifted and pulling on the backswing, the rotational swing will feel like a half swing. Just because your hands aren’t above your head or at your ear, it doesn’t mean you cannot generate power.
The Backswing Creates Power and Lag
For the purposes of this article, I will not address the downswing as that could take hours. Understand that the backswing is what creates power and lag in the golf swing. There are no professional golfers that hit a driver over 300 yards that do not have a huge shoulder turn. You may say Jon Rahm doesn’t go back that far but he kills it. Exactly.
You may not think he “goes back that far” but he does have a shoulder turn and keeps his hands and arms connected. He generates most of his power from his strong legs but he still gets a great turn with his shoulders. He is tight in the hips which limits his turn but he can combat that by using his powerful legs to stabilize at impact and create tremendous power and distance.
Why Does My 56 Degree Wedge Go So High and Short?
I have many friends that play golf every single week yet they cannot figure out why they hit a specific club a certain way. They are not alone as millions of amateur golfers throughout the world will never get a lesson. If they do get a lesson they get a package of three or five and that’s it. Remember when I said it took 100 lessons for me to feel the take away starting with my left obliques? Yes, 100.
One of my good friends is a former NFL tight end that can hit a driver well over 325 and can rip a 6 iron about 220 yards but can’t hit a 56 degree wedge 100 yards. He is about 6’5″ and 280 pounds. I have another friend that is 5’8″ and 150 pounds soaking wet and can rip a driver over 280 and hits his hybrids around 230. He too cannot get his 56 degree wedge to go 100 yards. In fact, both of these guys often hit their 56 degree wedge about 65-75 yards with a full swing.
How can you hit an 8 iron 160-170 yet you can’t hit a wedge 100 yards? Understand that distance is not created solely but hitting the ball correctly. “Fall back flippers” do exactly that. On their downswing, they fall back, reach their arms out and flip. This creates a bigger arch right at impact but is not the correct way to hit the golf ball. If they hit the golf ball correctly, every single club would create a driving trajectory in which the ball took off with the loft of the club and then rose based on the spin of the ball.
The best golfers in the world see the club get through impact well before the ball takes off. It feels like you are going to double hit the ball because you don’t release the club until well after impact. The first time an amateur sees this, it looks like the ball is going to shoot straight right. Think about it. Most amateurs see the club through the ball coming from the outside and the club is in front of the hands. If the club is then coming from the inside and is behind the hands, one would think the ball will go 40 yards right.
What the ball actually does is it starts about five yards right, takes off like an airplane and then slowly drops back to the left. A pure draw drops or falls back to the left, it doesn’t spin back with a hook. When you play with a golfer that hits the ball high and it falls back to the left you know he is a very good player. Do not bet this type of golfer no matter what his handicap is.
So, the reason “fall back flippers” hit a driver and irons so far is they can get away with it with amazing hand eye coordination. When a ball is on a tee or sitting on fluffy lie, “fall back flippers” hit great shots. When the ball is on a tight lie and they need to hit a most precise shot, they often hit behind it and chunk it a bit. They will never tell you, but they often hit the ground first before they hit the ball. This type of golf lends itself well to courses in which length is the defense. They can hit their driver 300 yards and then clank a 9 iron somewhere near the green and walk away with a par.
These types of golfers likely score well on longer holes and par 5s. They have swings in which they can hit the ball far but not properly. If you want to beat this type of golfer, take him to a Donald Ross course that is 6200 yards. Play him from shorter tees and he will go crazy.
The reason this type of golfer hits wedges so high and short is the weight of the 56, 58 or 60 degree wedge makes it harder to flip at the exact correct time. When you pick up a sand wedge or gap wedge, it has more weight on the face of the club than a common iron. The “fall back flipper” feels this weight right before impact and flips early. This gives it even more loft and turns the 56 degree wedge into a 72 degree wedge.
The icing on the cake is “fall back flippers” can never truly cover the ball because they are falling back. Tour Pros and great golfers cover the ball with their right lat. At impact, you will see Rory, DJ and Cameron Champ covering the ball with their right lat. Most people think they “drive their hips through impact” but the right lat is actually driving the club and the right hip is along for the ride.
If you are a “fall back flipper” and it drives you crazy to clank your wedges or hit them straight up in the air, please understand that there is not a quick fix. You are going to go through months and months, potentially years, of growing pains to learn to create the backswing with your core and cover the ball with your right lat at impact. It has taken me over 120 lessons to understand this and I am still working on allowing my core and lats to generate power.
The hardest part about creating lag and true power is it feels very weak. As stated earlier, when the hands and arms stay connected it truly does feel like a half swing. With this connection, it does not allow you to “pull down” in the transition which is what most people think is power.
We haven’t even addressed the knee plane which is also a huge issue for amateurs. Accept that you are going to play the longer holes extremely well and you will get smoked on the shorter holes. It might be a very wise strategy to hit 5 iron or 6 iron off the tee on par 4s that are under 400 yards. You benefit from longer irons that you can fall back and flip so there is no reason to try to get inside of 125 yards on any hole. Every single time you do this you are either going to chunk a wedge that lands at your feet or hit it straight up in the air and end up in a greenside bunker. Nice double after that amazing drive.
Hitting Behind the Ball
In the near future I will do a long article on hitting behind the ball but will briefly address it here. The reason most people hit behind the ball is because their body stops moving and their hands and arms take over. Rotation swing players go through phases when they hit shots just a tad bit chunky. This is because they use their arms at the top of their backswing and then the body stops turning at impact and they use their hands to get the club to the ball. The timing is off and they hit it a little fat.
Armsy swingers or “fall back flippers” hit fat shots all the time. In fact, they think a great shot is a semi fat shot. There are millions of golfers that have never hit a pure shot in their life so they don’t know what it is like to see the entire square club face through impact. If you are an armsy golfer and you hit behind the ball a lot, it is because your body is not rotating at all. Somehow you need to make sure your body keeps moving in the golf swing. There is no quick fix to this as all arms swingers are going to be inconsistent.
You probably notice the more you play (or the more drunk you are) you tend to hit the ball less fat. This is because you can get your timing a little bit better. If you only play once or twice a month, you can forget expecting to hit pure shots through 18 holes. There are some very good amateur scorers that don’t have great swings that can get through 18 holes and shoot in the 70s with a few chunky shots but they can’t play four rounds of golf and shoot in the low 70s every single time. This is why professional golf tournaments are four rounds. Anyone that plays a lot of golf can get lucky for 18 holes. They are not going to get lucky for 72 holes.
You probably have friends that can shoot a 72 and follow that up with an 88 and they have no idea why. I do. They are arms swingers. A rotational swinger of the golf club is not going to have much variation in their score. They are going to shoot in the 70s almost every single time they play. This is the reason Tour Pros can play almost any course in America and still shoot under par. The scratch guy at your country club cannot do that.
Are There Any Quick Fixes?
There are no quick fixes in the game of golf. If you want to learn how to hit the ball correctly by using the loft of the club to get height and lag of the club to get spin, there are hundreds of mental hurdles. Unless you are willing to give up years to learn these skills you are going to bang your head against the wall. You will hit a few good shots by using your body then you will revert back to your old swing and give up on any changes. I have seen it dozens of times.
I gave up playing golf for 20 months and am still learning how to create lag and true spin. Very few, if any, amateur golfers are going to give up golf for two years when they play every single weekend and they are part of a league night on Thursday nights.
Once again, the quick fix is to lay up to your strengths. Why are you hitting a 290 yard drive on a 390 yard par 4? You are going to be left with 90 yards and do not have the skill to consistently hit that shot. You may hit one out of five decent wedges but you will always hit a longer iron better. Hit a 6 iron 210 yards and be left with 180 yards in. Yes, your buddies will make fun of you for being so far back, but you will have a much better change at par or birdie from 180 yards than 90 yards.
Getting over the hurdle of your competitors hitting it 80 yards past you on the tee box is something most amateurs will never be able to do. Instead, they will hit a drive inside 100 yards, duff a wedge, hit another wedge straight up in the air, chip onto the green and two putt for a double bogey. Isn’t golf great?