Tecnically speaking, the most common cause of the hook is swinging from in-to-out with a clubface that is closed in relation to its path. An even more destructive shot is the pull-hook (commonly known as a ‘duck hook’, or ‘snap-hook), which is the result of swinging out-to-in with a closed clubface. In all cases, for the right-handed golfer, the end result is a ball that ends up well left of its intended target (see right).
As with all swing faults, it is caused by incorrect technique, but the issue that always needs to be addressed first is whether or not that flawed technique is owing to a lack of golf fitness.
What You Should Do
A golfer seeking to correct problems with hooking the ball, should first identify the exact source(s) of his/her problem and ascertain, via screening, whether they are caused by physical restriction(s) such as insufficient rotational ROM in the hips and thoracic spine, restricted external rotation in the trail shoulder, or a lack of requisite wrist flexibility and inability to maintain angles in the downswing, for example.
Lateral shift, or sway, instead of rotation, caused by a lack of rotational capacity in the hips and thoracic spine, often leads to the trail knee extending and the trail hip rising above its lead counterpart. If the lumbar spine hyper-extends in order to pick up some much needed range of motion, it leads almost inevitably to a reverse spine angle. From here, either the golfer slides laterally back toward the target, getting ahead of the ball and blocking the shot, or hangs back and remains too far back, both of which can promote a hook of some description.
If the clubhead/arms get ‘trapped’ behind the body in the downswing, the golfer has to manipulate the clubhead to square it at impact. If that manipulation is premature, it closes the face through impact and a hook is the result. Hanging back with weight staying in the trail leg, means that the golfer is forced to pivot more around the trail hip and by the time the club meets the ball it will likely be travelling out-to-in, with the face closed and closing further all the time and the pull hook – probably the most destructive of shots with its vicious curve, low flight and seemingly endless roll out!
Stalling is another problem which often has its root cause in limited internal ROM in the lead hip rotators. Clubhead speed for the average golfer is 85-100 mph so, if the body stops turning, momentum whips the club and arms on through, the hands are forced to flip the face closed, and there’s every chance that you’ll hit a hook. If you combine a lack of weight transfer onto the lead foot in the downswing with a stalled turn, then a pull hook is almost inevitable.
Another possible cause is a restricted ROM in the external rotational capacity of the trail arm, which will frequently lead to premature internal rotation at the start of the downswing, propelling the club in front of the body on an out-to-in path. If this is combined with a casting motion, which of itself tends to close the clubface, then it’s a recipe for disaster once more.
Here are a couple of exercises to improve separation and rotation in the hips and thoracic spine:
- Hold a club shaft across your chest and, keeping the shoulders square and the butt of the shaft pointing down your imaginary target-line, rotate the hips clockwise through 40-45˚. Hold the end range position for 5-10 seconds and then, again keeping the shoulders square and the butt of the shaft aiming directly down the target-line, rotate the hips back anti-clockwise through a full 80-90°, if you can, into a 45° open position as per the downswing. Hold this new position for 5-10 seconds and then ‘release’ the shoulders through to ‘close the separation gap’.
- Hold the club across the back of your shoulders and rotate to your top of the backswing position – shoulders turned >90° and hips <45°. From here, keeping your shoulder turn intact and without the shoulders turning back toward the target at all, transfer your weight over to your lead leg with a slight hip shift and then rotate your hips slightly back toward the target. Rotate the hips back and shift weight back into your trail leg with a hip shift away from the target and then repeat the hip movement – all the time keeping your shoulders static. Do 10-15 reps.
Now for a couple that will help to improve external rotation in the shoulder:
- Stand in a narrow doorway with the forearms flat against the door facings to anchor the forearms, step forward through the doorway to stretch the muscles. This exercise can also be done in the corner of a room, with the forearms anchored on the walls and by stepping into the corner. Do not grasp the doorjamb and hang on because that seriously interferes with the requisite muscular relaxation for this exercise to be effective. One foot is placed in front of the other and the forward knee is bent. Hold the head erect looking straight ahead, neither craning the neck forward or looking down at the floor. Increase the stretch by bending the forward knee as you shift the body through the doorway or into the corner of the room. Adjusting the hand position on the doorjamb or walls will stretch all of your rotator cuff muscles as well as the major medial rotators like your pecs, lats and teres major. To target all of these muscles, firstly place your elbow well above shoulder height, then level with the shoulder and finally at mid-rib level.
- Lie on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your elbows should be tucked in at your sides and bent at 90°, so that your forearms are vertical. Make sure that your spine is in its neutral position, and perform an abdominal brace. Keep your elbows tucked in and in contact with the floor, as you rotate your forearms out to your sides through 90°, so that your wrists each travel through a quarter circle and touch the floor at your side, with your forearms now perpendicular to your torso. Pause for 7 seconds. This is position one. Keeping your elbows and wrists in contact with the floor and your elbow flex at 90° throughout, slide your arms across the floor until your upper arms are perpendicular to your torso and your forearms parallel to it, in an “I surrender” posture. Pause for 7 seconds in position two and then, really focus on not allowing the curve in your lumbar spine to increase as you continue your arm sweep, still maintaining your elbow flex and contact with the floor with your wrists and elbows, until the tips of your fingers meet above your head. Pause for another 7 seconds in position three, before sliding your arms down through position two, back to position one and then rotating the forearms back to their starting position. That is one repetition. Do 10-15 reps.
Now for a drill that will help you to keep rotating through and prevent stalling:
- Stand in your address posture and fold your extended lead arm across your chest and anchor it there by flexing the elbow of your trail arm and hooking it around the lead arm. Now rotate your body through as per the downswing until your lead arm reaches its impact position. The only way you can get it there is to continue to rotate your torso until your chest is facing your imaginary target.
And finally a simple exercise to improve wrist flexibility and the ability to maintain angles and keep the club on plane in the downswing:
- Stand in front of a wall just under an arm’s length away from it. Hold your hands up with the palms facing the wall and your arm extended straight out at shoulder height. Step into the wall until your palms are flat against it and your wrist bent back at 90° to your forearm.