“You can talk to a fade,” Lee Trevino famously said, “but a hook won't listen.”
Anyone who's experienced a bout of the hooks – shots with an extreme leftward curve (for right-handers) – knows that all too well. Unlike the fade and its ugly sibling, the slice, a hooked ball flies with topspin and hits the ground running. Hard a ball hooked toward a hazard or trees is likely doomed before it ever lands.
There's only one good thing about hooking the ball: It means you're releasing the clubhead (rolling the right hand over the left) through impact, a necessary action in the swing. The problem is, you're either overdoing it or suffering from a different flaw.
Here's a list of three common hook-shot causes and cures.
1. Swing is too flat: Stand closer to the ball
A flat swing plane is one where the left arm is too horizontal to the ground at the top of the backswing. While there's no standard right or wrong plane, any angle below 45° is pretty flat. This causes the clubhead to approach the ball on an exaggerated inside-to-out path, resulting in a hook when the clubface is closed relative to this path.
By simply standing a little closer to the ball, you'll naturally swing on a more upright or vertical plane and straighten your clubhead path. Another tip is to tee the ball slightly lower with the driver, which accomplishes the same goal.
2. “Casting” the club: Pause at the top
A golfer who starts the downswing with the hands and arms, rather than the lower body, is said to be “casting” the club from the top. This can cause a number of issues, including wicked hooks.
To instill the proper hips-first downswing motion, try the “pause-at-the-top drill” during your next practice session. Done correctly, this drill makes it practically impossible to cast the hands.
3. Over-rotating through impact: Left hand faces target
Knowing they're supposed to rotate the right forearm over the left on the downswing and follow-through, some players go too far. The release shouldn't require conscious effort; instead, it should happen naturally as a result of correct hips-torso-shoulders-arms sequencing.
However, there's a good mental key to prevent you from violently flipping the club: Think about keeping the back of your left hand facing the target through impact. This will prevent the right hand from taking over.
The Top Ways to Fix Your Hook
Of all of the different types of poor shots you can hit on the golf course, a hook is probably the worst. When you look up to see your ball hooking to the left (for a right handed golfer), there is nothing you can do but hope that it stops before it gets into too much trouble. Unlike a slice, a hook is a shot that comes in hot and usually bounces and rolls before it finds a place to rest.
Depending on the design of the course you are playing, it might take a bit of luck to even find your golf ball after hitting a quick hook off the tee (or from the fairway). To add consistency to your game, and to reduce your stress level on the course, you should work on fixing your hook as soon as possible.
There is a paradox associated with the hook. On one hand, a hook is possibly the worst ball flight you can hit on the golf course. However, on the other hand, hitting a hook usually means you are close to making a good swing and hitting a quality shot. Golfers who struggle with the slice tend to need dramatic mechanical changes before they can hit good shots. That isn't true of those who fight a slice.
The difference between a nasty hook and a beautiful draw is just a matter of a few degrees of club face position at impact. You should gain some confidence from knowing that, while you are struggling with a hook for now, you could make a couple of minor tweaks to your swing and be right back on track. A swing overhaul isn't going to be necessary for most players who are fighting the dreaded hook.
One of the keys to fixing your hook successfully is putting away your frustration so you can focus on the technical improvements that you need to make to your swing. It is easy to let your temper get the best of you when hitting hook after hook, but you have to put those emotions to the side if you are going to improve. To make this easier, try carving out a week or two within your schedule where you can simply practice your swing without playing any rounds. Without the frustration that can come with hitting poor shots on the course, you can clear your mind and focus in on the task at hand.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Three Common Causes
There are a number of swing faults that can lead to a hook, but some are more common than others. For most golfers, the cause of their hook will be contained within the three potential swing problems below. Read through this list while thinking about your own swing to determine if you are guilty of any of these mistakes.
- Lack of lower body rotation. The engine of your downswing is the rotation of your lower body toward the target. However, if that engine stalls, a quick hook could be the result. When your lower body stops turning through the shot, the club face will have an opportunity to close down and point to the left. Even if you are swinging through the hitting area on a good path, the closed club face position at impact is more than enough to create a nasty hook to the left of your target.
- Extreme inside-out path. Swinging the club through the ball on an inside-out path is a great way to create a nice draw. Unfortunately, if you overdo it and swing too much from the inside-out, you will hit a hook instead of a draw. Usually, this swing fault originates during the takeaway phase of the swing. By swinging the club too far to the inside during the takeaway, you establish a swing path that you may use to return the club to the ball. If you scribe this extreme inside path both back and through in your swing, it is almost inevitable that you will hit a hook.
- Overactive hands. This last hook cause is not as common as the other two, but it still happens to some golfers from time to time. As the club approaches the ball, your hands should be mostly passive while the rotation of your swing allows you to arrive at a perfect impact position. If you were to use your hands too aggressively to rotate the club at this point, you could wind up with a shut club face and a quick hook. You don't want your hands to be particularly active at the bottom of the swing simply because everything happens too fast for them to keep up. It would take super-human hand-eye coordination to square the club face consistently using your hands, so it is better to rely on the rotation of your body to do that job.
The first swing fault on this list – lack of lower body rotation – is easily the most-common cause of a hook among amateur golfers. Some players will give up on their lower body turn because they lack confidence, while others will just get lazy and make an arms-only swing from time to time. If you have ever played a round of golf where you were swinging nicely only to be interrupted by a couple of quick hooks, you can likely look to your lower body as the culprit. However, it is important to take a close look at your swing to determine the exact cause of your hooks before you start making any swing changes to fix the problem.
An Anti-Hook Practice Drill
As mentioned above, you shouldn't need to make drastic swing changes in order to eliminate your hook. Rather, you should be striving to achieve minor improvements that will make you less likely to produce a hook at the worst possible time. The simple fact that you are capable of hitting a hook means you are already doing a lot of things right in your swing – the task now is to eliminate the minor mistakes that are causing the problem.
One of the best ways to eliminate minor mistakes in your golf swing is to use drills. Most professional golfers have a variety of drills that they use on a regular basis when their swing starts to get out of order. Drills also are beneficial because they can provide some direction to your practice sessions. Many amateurs make the mistake of simply standing up on the driving range, hitting shot after shot without any real purpose or direction. By using a couple of basic drills, you can improve your focus on the range so that you will make real progress toward improving your technique.
The following drill is simple, but it can quickly help you eliminate the hook from your game.
- To start, choose any club (other than your putter) and pull it out of your bag. You won't actually be hitting any golf balls in this drill, so it doesn't particularly matter which club you choose to swing.
- Find an area where you can safely make some practice swings. If you are at the driving range, obviously you can use one of the hitting stalls that are available. However, you don't even need to be at the range to work on this drill. If you have an open space in your backyard, for example, that could work nicely.
- Prepare for the drill by taking your normal stance as if you were going to hit a full shot. Don't make any adjustments or tweaks to your stance – simply take your address position as you would for any regular shot during a round of golf.
- Once in your stance, start your swing and take the club all the way up to the top of the backswing. Once you have reached the top, stop and hold that position. You should be well balance at this point – if not, go back and work on improving your balance before continuing with the drill.
- While holding your position at the top of the swing, lift your left heel up into the air so that only the toe of your left shoe is still on the ground. Your right foot should remain flat on the ground at this point.
- Hold your left heel off of the ground for a second or two, and then begin your downswing. The downswing motion should start with your left heel returning to the ground, but it should continue seamlessly from there. As your left heel falls back to the ground, continue turning toward the target and complete your swing all the way up into a balanced finish position.
- Repeat this drill as many times as necessary until you are comfortable with the action of your lower body in the downswing.
So what is the point of this drill exactly? The goal is to help you understand how your lower body needs to continue moving throughout the downswing. By lifting your heel off the ground, and then using it to initiate the downswing, you will create some momentum that will be difficult to stop. Your swings should be aggressive when using this drill because you will have developed a motion in your lower body that will naturally continue all the way to the finish.
If you are at the driving range, you can transition from making some practice swings with this drill right into hitting some actual shots. When you go back to hitting shots, you can keep your left heel on the ground, but remember the feeling of momentum that you had established in your lower body rotation. When you are able to use that feeling to keep your lower body turning left all the way through the shot, your hook will likely become a problem of the past.
Set Up for Success
There are some steps you can take when building your set up position that will reduce the likelihood of hitting a hook. Of course, these are not fool-proof methods, and it is still possible to create a hooking ball flight even after using these tips. Even still, if you have been struggling with the hook lately, these adjustments to your set up are a quick and easy way to get your ball flight back on track.
- Stand closer to the ball. Move your feet one or two inches closer to the ball at address to reduce the chances that you will hit a hook. When you stand closer to the ball, your swing path won't have as much room as it did previously to come from the inside-out. As a result, it will be harder to hit a hook, even if you don't change anything else about your swing. If you use this tip when hitting a driver, you can expect to lose a little distance in exchange for avoiding the hook – but that is generally a smart trade to make.
- Move the ball up in your stance. This is another tweak that will improve your swing path through impact. By moving the ball up in your stance (toward your left foot) just slightly, you will decrease the likelihood of imparting hook spin on the shot. Since the swing is rotational around your body, moving your ball position forward means that the club will be reaching the ball later in the arc, increasing the chances of fade spin being transferred to the ball.
- Bend your knees. This is always good advice in golf, but it is especially important when you have been struggling with a hook. Without flex in your knees, your lower body won't be able to do its job properly in the downswing. Straight legs at address mean lazy legs through the shot – and that means a hook. Before starting your swing, make sure there is enough flex in your knees to keep your legs engaged and active throughout the swinging motion.
- Relax your grip pressure. By squeezing the grip tightly throughout the swing, you will be giving too much control to your hands – increasing the likelihood that you will 'flip' the club face over at impact. Prior to starting your takeaway, make an effort to relax your grip pressure so that your swing can flow naturally from start to finish. You need to hold onto the club tight enough to keep it from slipping, of course, but don't squeeze it so tight that you lose all of your rhythm.
It is easier to make changes to your set up on the fly than it is to make changes to your swing. Therefore, if you find yourself in the middle of a round of golf with a bad case of the hooks, start by trying these minor set up adjustments. Even something as simple as ball position or knee flex can be all it takes to straighten out your shots and get you through the round. Once that round is completed, you can take your time during a trip to the driving range to get down to the real root of the problem.
Remember that all of these set up adjustments should be subtle. For example, if you decide to move closer to the ball, don't move in so far that you are nearly standing on top of the ball at address. At the most, you should be adjusting your set up by just one or two inches when it comes to taking your stance or setting your ball position. Small changes can have a big impact on your ball flight, and you don't want to go from hitting a quick hook to hitting a huge slice. Make minor changes to your set up and continue to adjust as you go until you are happy with your ball flight.
Make Good Decisions
Just like everything else in golf, hitting a hook is part physical, and part mental. While you have to make sure that your swing technique is in order if you are going to avoid hitting hooks, you also need to work on making smart decisions. Some shot choices during a round of golf can make hitting a hook more likely. By knowing what a good decision looks like, you can steer clear of the bad ones and keep your ball closer to the short grass.
The most common way to create a hook through a mental mistake is aiming down the right side of a hole that has trouble all along that side. By aiming directly at the trouble that lurks on the right of the fairway, you are telling yourself that you have to move the ball back to the left in order to keep it safe. While you are striving to hit a draw in this situation, a draw can easily turn into a hook. Since the penalty for missing right could be a lost ball or a nasty lie for your next shot, you will be extra cautious when making your swing. Most likely, you will subconsciously provide the ball with extra hook spin to keep it away from the trouble. Of course, it doesn't do you much good to keep the ball away from the hazards on the right if you hit a big hook way to the left.
So how should you approach this kind of hole? First, you always want to avoid aiming at any trouble spots on the course. When you identify a dangerous spot that needs to be avoided, you should pick a target that steers clear of that area. The rule of thumb is this – never pick a target that will leave your ball in trouble if you hit a straight shot. It is fine to plan on hitting a draw or fade, but don't choose a target line that will punish you if the ball flies straight instead.
Getting back to the example, the mistake that led to the hook was deciding to aim down the right side in the first place. In choosing a dangerous line, you set yourself up for hitting the hook. Instead, you could have done one of two things.
One option would have been to aim for the middle of the fairway and try to hit a slight draw. If the ball flies straight you are fine, and a slight draw should be okay too. With this approach, you will be less likely to hit a hook because your mind knows that a straight shot is okay. The other option is to aim down the left side and try to hit a fade. If you have this shot in your bag, it is a great option because it allows you to aim as far away from the hazard as possible.
Besides picking a smart target, the other important mental step you can take is simply dedicating yourself completely to every single shot that you hit. Countless golfers hit poor shots solely because they aren't totally committed to the decision they made. Once you have decided what kind of shot you are going to play, your mind should move on to executing the swing properly. If you are standing over the ball still doubting your decision, making a great swing is an unlikely outcome. Don't let yourself get 'caught in-between' on any of your shots during a round of golf – be decisive and trust your instincts. Not every shot will be perfect, but you can hit far fewer ugly hooks just by being committed to your decisions.
Hitting a hook is never a fun experience. Very rarely will a hooked golf shot lead to a decent result, and often you won't even find the golf ball. While it is probably inevitable that you will hit an occasional hook from time to time no matter what you do (golf is a hard game, after all), you can limit the number of hooks you create by using the instruction contained above. With the fear of a hook pushed to the back of your mind, you can stand over your ball with a newfound sense of confidence and excitement.