Going over the top

Distance is primarily the first and most important improvement that many players want to change when discussing their game.

A club off the correct plane leads to being “over the top

A club off the correct plane leads to being “over the top

Distance is primarily the first and most important improvement that many players want to change when discussing their game.

If only I could get 20 more yards with each golf club, this game would be so easy. Driving the ball further would mean hitting a more lofted club into each and every green.

A shorter approach leads to more greens in regulation therefore lowering your scores.

True is all true, in theory!

Of course we all know that raw distance does not equate necessarily to lower scores.

Although an integral part of the game, keeping the golf ball in play becomes the first step to lowering your scores. Greater distance in many cases means that you will just hit the ball further into the trees or the water.

Speed is the number one contributing factor to increasing distance.

The faster you swing the golf club the further the golf ball will travel. Speed is easily understood or recognized by the sound the golf club makes when performing a practice swing.

The golf club will make a swooshing sound as it cuts through the air during a practice swing. The faster you swing the club the louder or sharper the sound will make.

There certainly is a difference between swinging the club faster and swinging the club harder. In many cases, golfers who want to hit the ball further will grip the club much too tightly and attempt to swing hard.

Swinging hard at the ball does not actually create speed. In most cases it does exactly the opposite.

A hard swing is one that is tension-filled primarily due to grip pressure.

Grip pressure (too tight) creates tension in the hands and works itself throughout the body. This tension resists the body from moving fluidly, therefore compromising speed.

Eliminating tension from the body is the first step to creating speed and this begins with grip pressure. Hard vs. fast, although a play on words, certainly is the first step to understanding how to create more speed.

One of the most common questions I get when working with a student is “should I slow my golf swing down?

“My playing partners have told me that I am swinging too fast and if I slowed my swing down I would hit the ball better.”

It seems that when a player is having difficulty making contact with the ball the answer to all of their problems (or at least how their playing partners see it) is to slow the swing down.

The fact is that in all of the years I have been teaching, I rarely see a golfer swing the club too fast. Generally speaking, poor contact is a direct result of incorrect body positions.

Slowing the swing down does not mean that your body positions will improve. In fact, in most cases, I prefer and will instruct players to speed up their golf swing.

Speed is a critical component to hitting the ball further.

The second component is contact. If you do not have good contact, then all the speed in the world will not get the ball to travel far and in the direction your wish to go.

Poor ball contact can be attributed to many different factors.

Although too many to discuss in this article, one of the main factors is what is referred to as an “over the top move”, or an outside-to-in swing path.

An outside-to-in swing path refers to the path the clubhead takes as you begin your downswing. A correct swing path would be one that approaches the golf ball a little from the inside and then travels down the line that the ball is intended to travel.

In other words, the line directly towards your target.

Basically, an outside-to-in swing plane means that you are approaching the ball (in your downswing) from outside your intended target line (the line you intend your golf ball to travel), cutting across the ball and creating a slice-spin due to not making solid contact.

This creates and in most cases is the root cause of any slice, also creating a loss of distance. Therefore, the first step to increasing your distance is to eliminate the over-the-top movement.

One of the main causes to the movement is an incorrect swing plane in the backswing. During the backswing and downswing, you are attempting to make a circle around your body with your golf club. This circle is the same on both sides of your body and is extremely important to solid contact.

This circle is the same as the angle of your club shaft when in your address position.

During the backswing, the clubhead travels straight back away from the ball for approximately six inches.

From here, the natural rotation of the body works the club inside your target line, and then as you hinge your wrists the golf club will start traveling upwards until it is positioned above your trail shoulder.

This movement simulates a correct swing plane in most cases.

An over-the-top movement is first of all created by taking the club too far inside the line early in the backswing.

This positions the golf club too far behind your trail shoulder at the top of the backswing. To get the golf club back to the ball a player has to re-route the club, causing an over-the-top movement.

In conjunction with this movement, most players who have an over-the-top movement will tend to grip the club too tightly.

A tight grip pressure generally causes tension, but more importantly gives the player a feeling of control.

Through this control they tend to swing the golf club using their hands primarily, which causes them to use too much trail hand (right hand for right-handed golfers) during the downswing. This control will not allow the club to drop down on plane and therefore re-routes over the top. The result in an over-the-top movement will be poor contact with a loss of distance.

Ensuring that you start with a relaxed grip pressure and do not take the club too far inside at the start of the backswing will most certainly assist in hitting the ball solid, ultimately creating more distance. Enjoy the warm weather and play well this week.

Scott Bergdahl is the head professional at Lakewood Golf Resort near Sylvan Lake. His column appears Tuesdays in the Advocate.

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