According to a conversation I had with the late great USGTF teacher Babe Bellagamba, there are two foolproof ways to cure an over-the-top swing fault and a resulting pull slice shot. In this article, the first in a two part series, I talk about how swinging like legendary golfers Tommy Armour and Seve Ballesteros did during their heydays can put your student’s faulty swing back on track.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the golf swings of thousands of amateur golfers. Wherever I am, without fail, I’ve noticed that the majority of high handicap players hit a pull-slice shot off the tee.
I’ve spoken to numerous USGTF/WGTF members about this common problem and most of you agree that the over-the-top move, along with the faulty cut-across-the-ball action occurring in the impact zone are the culprits. As for cures, two of the most original were explained to me by Babe Bellagamba, a great student of the game.
At Kissimmee Golf Club, in Florida, where Babe was based, he had a main teaching room with mirrors everywhere to “reflect” a student’s problem – even on the ceiling – and sequence photographs of great golfers on the walls of an adjacent room.
When it was a pull slice shot Babe needed to fix, he pointed to the techniques of three great players: Tommy Armour, Seve Ballesteros, and Ben Hogan.
“If you swing back like Seve and down and through like Armour, I guarantee the club will move correctly along an inside-square-inside path and the shot you hit will draw slightly from right to left,” Babe used to tell struggling students. “You will never hit a pull-slice,” Babe added.
It was Babe’s belief that common or traditional left-sided triggers, such as “Guide the club back in one piece with your left arm and shoulder,” together with the tip, “Pull the golf club down and through with your left hand,” actually did more harm than good. In fact, Babe believed these well meaning left-sided tips to be root causes of swinging the club outside the target line on the backswing then directing it across the target line in the hit-zone.
Babe was a big believer in right-sided golf over left-sided golf for right-handed players; feeling that the right-sided way is more natural, player-friendly, and better suited to golfers lacking the time to devote a few hours per week to practice. The next time you interview a new student and determine that his or her pull slice is likely being caused by left-sided triggers, follow this right-sided recipe in the style of the late Babe Bellagamba.
TIP 1: THE BACKSWING
Like Seve did during his heyday, when he won three British Open championships (1979, 1984, 1988) and three Masters (1980, 1983), instruct the student to pull the club away from the ball gently with the right hand while, practically simultaneously, turning the right hip clockwise. This tip of Babe’s makes perfect sense when you consider that until Seve started visiting left-sided instructors in America he was a natural, powerfully accurate right-sided golfer who said this in his book Natural Golf.
“Using my strongest hand to start the swing enables me to more naturally and fluidly control the pace of the takeaway and keep the club traveling along the proper plane and arc all the way to the top of the backswing.”
TIP 2: THE DOWNSWING
Drum home the following points made by legendary golfer Tommy Armour in his much overlooked book, How To Play Your Best Golf All The Time, an instructional text that was in Babe’s office library and one that stresses right-sided swingcontrol. Armour, known for hitting a high percentage of fairways and greens, won the 1927 U.S. Open, 1930 PGA, and 1931 British Open. So, as Babe used to suggest, have your problematic student listen to Armour’s words of wisdom.
“A swift moving right hand is the source of dynamic power,” said Armour.
“And with Hogan, Snead, and every other star, it is the right sided smash that accounts for masterly execution of the shots. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
“The more you can get your hands ahead of the clubface in the downswing, the more power you can apply with the right hand.
“The late un-cocking of the wrists, or the delayed hit, causes a decided acceleration of right-hand action at the most effective period.”
“You don’t have to think about the right hand not coming in time to whip the ball terrifically; it will get there spontaneously.
This golf swing, and the varying opinions of what is the best method, and what cures work best for which faults, is fascinating. In fact, as if it were yesterday, I remember vividly the stimulating conversation I had with Babe Bellagamba, after telling him that from my observations of golfers around the world I determined that the majority of high handicap golfers swing over the top at the start of the downswing, cut across the ball in the impact zone, and hit a pull-slice shot.
“Bob, I confront this problem every day, and the first thing I and every other teacher should do is get the student to start swinging the club back along an inside path,” said Babe.
“And one of the best ways to do that is to have him copy the closed stance setup position of Ben Hogan.”
Babe pointed out that when looking at the drawings in Ben Hogan’s classic instructional book, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, you can clearly see that Hogan’s right foot is dropped back, slightly farther away from the target line than the left foot. Look at the book and you’ll see Babe’s statement about Hogan’s closed stance is correct. This is even more profound when you consider that Babe told me he had read in a book or magazine that the drawings done by illustrator Anthony Ravielli were rendered from photographs of Hogan setting up and swinging. In short, each and every drawing, particularly the one clearly showing the closed stance setup on page 78 of the hardcover version of this superbly written instructional text, mirror or reflect Hogan’s actual positions. What’s even more profound, other that Hogan depending on what is commonly called a “hooker’s stance” to hit a controlled fade, is that Hogan and the book’s collaborator Herbert Warren Wind never addressed this feature of Hogan’s setup.
All this made sense to me when I recently re-read John Andrisani’s book, The Hogan Way. In this easy-to-follow instruction book, Andrisani says the following:
“This address position (closed) offsets the tendency Hogan had to swing the club back outside the target line during the backswing, owing to his very weak grip. The slightly closed stance position allowed Hogan to swing the club back along the target line, at the earliest stage of the takeaway, then slightly inside as he swung further back.”
So Babe was right. Although Hogan’s biggest fear was hitting a duck-hook, he also did likely fear swinging the club back on an outside path and likely, too, swinging across the target line on the downswing and hitting a pull slice. The closed stance obviously provided Hogan the comfort of knowing the club would not move outside the target line dramatically on the backswing and, instead, would be directed to the inside. This is precisely why Babe recommended pull-slice players set up closed.
“Bob, if there is one good thing the closed stance guarantees, it’s that the club will move to the inside on the backswing,” said Babe before adding this. “Therefore, a teacher who recommends this stance to a pull-slice hitter is halfway home in curing the student’s problem.”
According to Babe, the other shortcut to providing a remedy for the over-the-top pull-slice player involves the lower body. Again, Babe used Hogan as the model.
After reaching the top, Hogan actually moved his hips laterally initially then cleared them. Because he set up closed and swung the club back inside the target line, the lateral shift actually ensured that he start swinging out at the start of the downswing. In fact, I bet Hogan knew that if he felt blocked early in the downswing he was on the right track and could never hit across the ball.
Surely, Hogan also accepted that if, after making a lateral shift action, he failed to clear his hips, he would, indeed, hit a block. But, if he cleared his hips and kept his left wrist bowed, he would likely come into impact with the face ever so slightly open and hit a controlled power-fade. This is the shot Babe hit the best and the shot he successfully got former pull-slice hitters to hit.
All of this came together, and Babe was proved right, when I re-read two key lines in Hogan’s book.
“When the golfer is on this correct (less steeply inclined) downswing plane, he has to hit from the inside out.” When he hits from he inside out, he can get maximumstrength into the swing and obtain maximum club-head speed.”
CONCLUSION: Only if you have a pull-slice hitting student set up
closed, can he or she swing the club back inside the target line, and only if you have them trigger the downswing with a lateral move, can you be ensured of the student swinging out at the ball instead of across the target line and, too, hitting a supercontrolled power-fade – Hogan style – rather than a horrible pull-slice.