Category Archives: drills

Two Transformative Swing Drills

Regular readers know that one of the drums I beat is to have your hands leading the clubhead going into the ball. Let me give you two drills to help you learn how to do that.

1. Take your sand wedge and hit chips with only your left hand on the club. If you play left-handed, then it would be only your right hand on the club.

If your habit is to bend your left wrist backward through impact, you’ll learn very quickly that you can’t hit a good shot when you chip like that with the left hand alone.

You’ll have to keep your left wrist straight as you bring the club thorough the ball, and the easiest way to do that is for the left hand to lead the clubhead.

There’s no need to take a very big backswing. Maybe take your hand back to hip height at most. Make it a slow swing. It’s a chip. No need to belt the ball.

Your only concern is to get your left hand to the ball before the clubhead gets there.

After a few months of practice that have led you to mastery of this drill, you’re ready for drill number two.

2. Hit 75-yard pitches, over and over. Hit a bucket of nothing but that shot each time you go to the range. As before, work on the feeling of your left hand getting to the ball before the clubhead does.

You’re holding on with both hands now, but your mind is still on your what your left hand is doing.

And don’t abandon drill number 1, either. Use it to warm up for drill number 2.

Once you get really good at this drill, you are only inches away from making full swings in which your hands get to the ball before the clubhead does.

Along the way, there’s the bonus of learning how to hit those longer pitch shots really well. Most recreational golfers I play with hit this shot poorly.

You will also learn a few things about striking the ball on the center of the clubface, which never hurt anybody.

Practice these two drills patiently until you have mastered them. I would give you a year of continual practice before these drills, working together, make the hands-first strike a normal part of your swing, instead of something you have to think about.

When that transition has been made, look out!

An Invaluable Swing Exercise

When you go to the driving range, go there to work on something in particular. Don’t go just to hit golf balls.

The next time you go, try an exercise to learn what I believe to be the most valuable swing technique you can have: your hands lead the clubhead into the ball.

This video shows you what I mean, and gives you a drill to learn the rudiments of the motion.

Assuming you’ve learned that, here is a practical exercise for teaching yourself how to install that movement throughout your bag.

Go to the range with just two clubs, your driver and your 8-iron.

Warm up, then hit two or three balls with your 8-iron. The point is to feel the hands leading the clubhead into impact. Feel that your hands are dragging the clubhead through the ball.

I use the word drag advisedly, as it is not quite the right word, but you will get the feeling right if you regard the dragging as a movment that flows smoothly and with speed as a natural continuation of the swing movements that precede it.

Now take your your driver and hit one (1) ball with it, using the same swing feeling that you had with your 8-iron.

Maybe the swing will be bigger, but don’t put any more “hit” into it, or be concerned at all about how far the ball goes. The point here is to learn a swing detail with this club: the hands lead the clubhead into impact.

Put your driver down and hit another 8-iron shot, using an easy swing in which the hands lead the clubhead. Switch to your driver again and copy that 8-iron swing, with the same feeling. One shot.

Keep switching back and forth, one shot with each club, each swing being a copy of the other, each swing focusing solely on the hands leading the clubhead through impact.

By the middle of the bucket, you should be hitting brilliant shots with each club, seemingly without effort. That will do two things for you.

First, it will provide you with convincing evidence that this approach is right. Second, it will provide you with repetitions of a new habit in replace of an old one.

As well, it would not hurt at all to use this exercise as the centerpiece of your pre-round warm-up.

Perfecting the Finish

After the ball has been struck, the swing ends by the golfer continuing the turn to a finish position of some kind. What is little appreciated is that this position goes a long way toward defining everything that happens beforehand, and therefore deserves careful attention.

Probably the best way to say it is that a finish should be a finish. It should be a position of repose, of calm completion. It should not feel like the swing is over and you are hanging on.

Ideally, you would be facing your target squarely. This is, in fact, a good way to check your alignment. If you were to take a practice swing, where you are looking when the swing is over is where you are aimed.

But where your hands are, where the club is, all that depends on the type of swing you have, and there is no one position that is best. Your swing takes you to where it will. Wherever you end up, though, you must be in perfect balance.

Try this. Set up, without a ball, close your eyes, and swing to the finish. Eyes still closed, are you balanced? Are you about to fall over? Do this a few more times until you get it right. This exercise might do more good for your swing than any swing modification.

I’ll let one of my favorite authors, Percy Boomer,* say it for me:

“When I go up to address my ball, I do not think of pivoting (as you do); I think of following through. I think of the end, not the means. So if you and I are standing together on the tee, I am mentally playing my shot through to the finish while you are preparing to play yours through your pivot. My feel is based upon what constitutes a good shot, while yours is based upon what prepares the way for the creation of a good shot–obviously much further back in the golf conception.”

If the goal of your swing is a good finish, then the mind will create a swing which leads to that finish, with a clean, solid strike along the way.

* Author of, On Learning Golf, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946.


Hit the Golf Ball Forward, Not Up

Beginning golfers haven’t learned yet to trust the club to get the ball in the air. It is not unusual for them to try lifting the ball in the air as they hit it. If they learn golf the right way, that is, by taking lessons, this tendency will be eliminated quickly.

Many golfers do not take lessons, though, and have retained this insidious habit. It is called flipping, and I’ll bet you know someone who does it. This flaw leads both to topping the ball and hitting it fat in the full swing, and to dumping short chips and pitches in front of their objective when close to the pin.

The cure is to learn how to drive the ball forward. By drive, I don’t mean hit it with your driver, but impel the ball straight forward.

That’s how you hit the ball, by the way, on all but the most specialized shots. You hit it forward. The loft of the club takes care of the getting-it-in-the-air part.

If this is your habit, try this drill to fix it. Hit some medium-length chips firmly with an 8-iron. Figure on the ball landing about fifty feet away. The drill is to make sure the club shaft and your left arm are in a straight line when you hit the ball, and they stay that way in the follow-through. I chose such a short shot to make it easy to keep your left arm from wanting to fold.

This will give you the idea of driving the ball forward, which prevents the right hand from flipping under in a (pointless) attempt to get the ball in the air.

When you get this down, you can hit longer shots and include a body turn so you can follow through farther but still keep the arm-shaft line straight. As your swing lengthens, the left arm will have to start folding after the ball has been struck, but if you have done your work with the short shots, that arm will stay straight as the club goes through the ball.

Hit through the ball in this short way a lot. A whole lot. Over time, you will replace the flipping habit with a habit of keeping your wrists in the correct position at impact.


Hitting the Ball Off the Ground

In this world, you have to give a little to get a little. Baseball and tennis are difficult sports because the ball we have to hit is moving so fast. Let’s slow the ball down a little, like to a complete stop, waiting for us to hit it at our leisure. Welcome to the ground, welcome to golf.

What we gave up to get a stationary ball is the freedom to hit a little above or below the ball, and now a second dimension, behind the ball, is added. The spot the clubhead has to hit is about the size of a dime, and the clubhead will be moving at about 80 miles per hour at the time. The margin for error is gone.

Learning how to pick the ball cleanly off the ground is the hardest problem new golfers have to solve. It will haunt them well into advanced golf, and may be an issue for their entire playing career.

There’s an easy way to learn this, and if you’re willing to put in the time, you can move on from wondering if you’ll hit the ball to planning exactly where you’re going to hit it.

Get a 9-iron, drop a ball in front of you, and take a stance with your feet about six inches apart. Now just chip the ball with a backswing that is no more than two feet long. The ball doesn’t have to go anywhere, you just want to focus on clean, ball first-ground second contact.

You’ll soon be able to tell if you hit the ground first, even by just a little, and also if you missed the ground completely, even though you hit the ball reasonably well. You’ll learn, too, what the perfect strike feels like, where the ball, ground, and club all come together at just the right moment. That’s your ball striking goal.

Do this exercise for a few minutes every day. Make short swings, get clean contact. You can’t get too good at it. Once you have mastered the two-foot swing, and I truly mean mastered it, lengthen your swing, maybe by about a foot. If you have problems making clean contact, go back to the two-foot swing and gradually work back to the longer swing. This is the Madsen Rule in practice.

Keep lengthening you swing, but only when you feel you are ready to. There’s no need to rush, and there are no short-cuts. This exercise builds a lifelong habit that will produce effective golf shots to the degree that you develop your skill with it. Six months of dedicated practice will get you to where you want to go.

If you have taken your time with this exercise, working in a controlled way through longer swings, being thoroughly prepared for the the time you move up, by the time you get to your full swing, you will be the ball-striker you had hoped you would be.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

Solid Golf Shots Depend On Knowing Where the Ground Is

One reason why golf is so much harder than other stick-and-ball sports is that the ball is on the ground, not in the air, when you hit it. There really isn’t any room for error. If the club comes into the ball a half-inch too high or too low, that’s a mis-hit.

Maybe it wouldn’t be noticed if you were off this much while hitting a tennis ball, but in golf a half inch is a lot. It is imperative, then, that you learn how to find where the ground is.

Imagine this. I’ll bet you have done this more than once. You take a practice swing and miss the ground. You take another swing and miss the ground again. Now you know this is not the way to hit the ball, but you say to yourself, “That’s OK, I’ll get it right when I hit the ball.” And you mis-hit the ball.

Why? Because you had no feel for where the ground is.

You might say, “I know where the ground is, I can see it right there in front of me, I’m standing on it and I can feel it with my feet.” True. But when you swing a golf club, can you find the ground with the sole of your golf club?

Hitting into the ground and raising up a big chunk of dirt doesn’t count. That’s finding one inch below the ground. You have to be able to nip the surface of the ground with your swing every time, or at least much more often than not, to play golf well.

In 2006, I saw Paula Creamer at a golf tournament waiting to hit on the tee of a par-3 hole. She was taking loose practice swings, and she hit the ground in the same spot every time, and the hit made the same sound every time.

That sound of her club thumping the ground was the key. The only way she could have made the same sound was for the club to be hitting the ground at the same depth. That’s knowing where the ground is.

Practice this. Practice without a ball. Take easy swings and have the club brush the surface of the ground the same way every time as you swing through where a ball would be.

This is Johnny Miller’s “brush-brush” drill. Practice this so you get the club down to the ground consistently and without having to consciously search for it with your hands as you come into the ball.

On the course, if you take a few practice swings, brushing the ground each time, put the ball in your stance about an inch behind where the brush was at its lowest point. That is the perfect spot for it.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

An Easy and Valuable Swing Drill

There’s a rule of the golf swing that good golfers everywhere apply. Fourteen clubs, one swing. Well maybe not your putter, but no matter what club you have in your hand, use the same swing with it as you use will with all the other clubs.

Golf is difficult game, and a good golf swing is difficult to learn. We all know this. Golf is even harder if we think we need one swing with the short irons, one with the middle irons, one with your long irons/hybrids, and another with your driver. That’s just too much to ask, and thankfully, you don’t have to pay golf that way.

Learn one swing and swing very club with that same one swing. Of course, as you go from longer clubs to shorter clubs, the swing plane changes, but it’s the same swing otherwise.

The foundation club for your swing is the 9-iron. This is an easy club to hit, does not encourage you to swing hard, and is a small swing, which lets you feel very clearly what is going on with your body when you do swing. Practice hitting the 9-iron a lot at the range to build into your head the principles your teaching pro gave you. When you are hitting shot after shot with a 9-iron and smiling every time, you’re ready to extend this swing to the rest of your bag.

Take your 9-, 7-, 5-, and 3-irons or their equivalents in hybrids and fairway woods, and your driver, to the range with you. Warm up with your 9-iron only. Now hit one ball with a 7-iron, imitating your 9-iron swing. Put the 7-iron away and hit another ball with the 9-iron. Now take out your 5-iron and hit a ball, again imitating your 9-iron swing. Repeat with 9-iron and 3-iron, and 9-iron, driver.

So again, your sequence of shots looks like this: 9-7-9-5-9-3-9-D. Work that eight-shot sequence over and over. Every swing you make, no matter which club you’re swinging, should feel like it’s a 9-iron.

On another day you can bring the even-numberd irons and hit 9-8-9-6-9-4-9-2-9-FW.

There’s movie of Ben Hogan hitting irons, shot from a down-the-line viewpoint. A caddy waits in the distance to shag the balls Hogan hits. He works his way from the 9-iron to the driver, and the only way you can tell that he is swinging a different club is that his caddy is in a different place than before. And I mean the only way. The swings are identical.

If you school yourself to hit every club with just one swing, not only will you make the game a lot simpler, you will get this benefit in addition: you will hit the ball better. Too often when we take longer clubs we think we have to take over the shot instead of letting the club do what it was designed to do.

Distance? You will be amazed at how far you can hit a 5-iron if you just let the club do its work. Accuracy? The One Swing concept leads you straight to it.

Try it. I guarantee you will hit the ball better, shoot lower scores, and have more fun.


Your Wrists at Impact

I have a two-page photo spread of professional golfers at the moment impact that I saved from an old Golf Digest magazine (July 2004). I saved it because impact is the whole point of the swing — to deliver the clubhead to the ball square, on line, and with force. I wanted to have this set of of photos hanging around so I can keep looking at them and see what it is that they all do the same way.

Cut now to Ike S. Handy. Ike is a fellow who took up golf late in life (over age 50) and in a matter of a few years was a scratch player. He won senior tournaments in Texas, has many holes-in-one, and reliably shot his age even in his 80s. Why? Because he hits the ball straight. Not real far, but straight. He wrote a book called, oddly enough, How to Hit a Golf Ball Straight, in which he explains how he does it.

I got a copy of that book, and here is the message that hits you over the head in chapter after chapter, page after page. After studying the filmed swing of a dozen of the world’s best players of his day, the one thing he found that they all did the same was that their “hands passed the ball ahead of the clubhead and their wrists were cocked at the impact of clubhead and ball.”

He says this in every imaginable way throughout the book. The hands must pass the ball before the clubhead strikes it, and the wrists must still be cocked at that moment. That is, there must still be some backwards bend in the right wrist.

Back to the photo layout. These golfers pictured are: Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson, Michelle Wie, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, Charles Howell III, Se Ri Pak, and Ernie Els. There are two things about them that is all the same: their right wrist is bent backwards, and their hands are ahead of the clubhead. Here’s what it looks like when Rory McIlroy does it.

Here’s a simple drill to learn how to get those wrists in the right place. Take out your sand wedge and make half swings with only your left hand on the club (right hand if you play left-handed).You will feel the proper shape of your left wrist going through impact. The practice maintaining that shape when you swing with two hands on the club.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.