Golf's 7 Deadly Sins

Darren Hodgson, teach professional, is here to help you get rid of your bad habits

Charlie Lemay's picture
Mon, 15 Apr 2013

Golf's 7 Deadly Sins

For those of you looking to practice your game while stuck at the desk in the office or at home by your PC, I hope after reading and digesting these lessons, your game will improve significantly, just by adhering to a few basic fundamentals.

All of us slip into bad habits when we play golf but trying to rectify them is another matter. I hope I can help by eliminating the seven deadly sins of golf or look at our Golf Practice Drills series for more help.

The first thing to understand before you read and practice the lessons in the rest of this feature, is that changing anything is like swapping your knife and fork over in the middle of meal...and then trying to eat with it...it's tricky at first, but you get used to it.

Change in the golf swing will always feel awkward, even the smallest change can make you lose confidence and want to give up…be patient and don't be afraid to try and experiment a little in search of a better game.

To eat with a knife and fork is not natural, but we take it for granted. The reason is because we have been taught that way from an early age how to use them.

Eating with a knife and fork...and remembering how to do it each time we have dinner...is what we call in golfing terms…Muscle memory…Golf is the same. We swing the club the way we do because that is how we remember doing it last time we played.

But if your game is in serious need of repair, or just requires a fine tune by referring back to the basics, this little series should help you score better and become a more consistent player…consistency, the secret of good golf.

Remember, any changes will feel weird at first. Think positively, it will show that you have changed something and the awkward feeling will soon disappear as the muscles start to forget the old bad habits and remember the new.

Sin 1: Aiming the club in the wrong direction

This may sound like stating the absolute obvious, but you may be surprised to learn that the majority of weekend and occasional golfers do not aim the clubface in the intended direction. The cure for this is simple…point it in the right direction and the results will improve.

When you practice, you should lay a club shaft down, aiming towards the target to see where you are going to hit the ball. This imaginary line between the ball and the target is called, wait for it…"The ball to target line".

Many people tend to turn the clubface away from their intended target as they take their grip on the club. The club becomes either closed and heading for a pulled shot or, less usually, fanned open and heading for a slice or shank! 

To check for this while you are practising on the range draw a straight line about 6” long on a note pad. Place the clubface behind and square to the line so that the lines on the face of the club are pointing in the same direction as the one on the note pad and then imagine your are setting up to take a golf shot. 

Once you have completed your grip and posture check to see if the clubface is still square to the line. If it isn’t, this is where you must discipline yourself to a bit of practising by repeating the procedure as often as possible taking care not to move the clubface. This will help to achieve a better aim with the clubface.



Sin 2: Bad Grip


The old saying is "Good golf begins with a good grip". It's old because it just happens to be true! 

The grip is one of the many things that gets overlooked and is the reason why a lot of people tend to wear out their gloves very quickly in the heel of the hand. That becomes expensive as you need to buy a £14 glove far too often!

The reason is you're holding the club too high up the grip. This loses control and brings in too many inconsistencies into the swing with a distinct lack of power through the ball.

Even at home you can pretend to set up to a golf ball and then keeping your hold position lift up the club so you can look at the very top of the grip, if your hand is above and covering the end then you are to high up the grip. 

A good way to help this problem is to move your grip slightly down the grip so your whole hand is below the top of the grip. You might thin a few shots to begin with but you should soon start hitting the ball better and it will help in gaining a little more control of the club head which in turn gives you a few more yards, a straighter ball flight and a happier golfer!

For those of you who struggle with getting the right grip to suit your hand size, bear in mind that there are no rules as how to hold a club. The only thing to bear in mind is that both hands should be married to each other I.E Not separate on the grip. 

If you have small hands, try the Interlocking grip. Jack Nicklaus used this grip very effectively winning 18 Majors. He had fairly small hands and the only way he could hit the ball properly with power was to employ this grip. John Daly is another who uses the Interlocking grip.

The ideal grip for children and some beginners is the baseball grip. The two hands are not connected to each other, but it does allow small children to learn the basics of the game until they are old enough to use a more conventional grip. 



Sin 3: Poor stance and ball position

With the feet too close or too far apart, this can lead to swaying, topping, hitting the ground before the ball and a general lack of consistency.

Start by measuring the width of your shoulders with a piece of string. Place the string on the floor and then place the inside of your heels on the string and then shuffle the feet about 3” closer.

This will be a good position for a 6 iron and can be adopted for all of the full iron shots. With the woods it would be best to have your feet the same width as the length of string.

With the ball position I have found that for best results with an iron it should be one to two inches inside the left heel and for a wood closer to the heel. The idea is that you hit down on an iron shot generally and with woods, you should "sweep" the ball away for full power.

The best way to achieve this is to take your set up and have the shaft of the club pointing towards your belly button so that the club head is also right in the middle of your body and stance. This will place the ball slightly to the left of centre. This is a good ball position for a six iron. With the wood you then move the ball two inches towards the left heel.



Sin 4: Aim your feet too!

Many people tend to misalign their feet in relation to where they wish to hit a golf ball. This causes the body to be twisted and can cause undue stress to the spine.

Set up to a target using a six iron then place the club you have in your hands down on the floor with the shaft touching your toes. Step back to see where it is pointing.

This can be more easily seen if you replace the ball with another club so that the shaft is then pointing at the target representing the "ball to target line".The club that was touching your toes should be parallel to the ball to target line. I bet it's not!

If it isn’t then move the club next to the toes about six inches closer to the other club, making sure that they are running like railway tracks parallel to each other.

Move the ball to target line club away and take your set up again with your toes now parallel to this club. The club should be in the between your toes and ball so that you do not stand on or hit the club. If you repeat this process on the range every time you are there then you will soon start finding that your feet are aiming in the right direction.

Once you have all your feet running parallel to your ball to target line you are able to allow yourself to swing with less stress in your lower back.

Sin 5: Posture…or lack of it!

Once you have learned to swing a club pretty well, bad habits come in many guises like this classic fundamental that is abused by even the top players in the world at times - posture.

In everyday life, people are normally at their computer and hunched over. This becomes natural in your posture and thus comfortable. However, it doesn't mean to say that it is right and invariably you may develop lower back problems and be unable to take that nightly trip to the range and practice.

The best way to try and achieve a good posture is to try and imagine that you are in the army and on parade standing straight to attention.

Chest out, stomach in, but with the feet nearly shoulders width apart. Then, holding the club so that the shaft is parallel to the ground at about waist height, lower the club down to the ground by bending at the waist, keeping the legs straight, until the sole of the club touches the ground.

Then allow the knees to flex slightly with your body weight favouring towards the front of your feet. Your hands should be about four to five inches away from your thighs and while keeping your legs still, lower the top of the grip down and it should touch the middle of the left thigh.

If it doesn’t then shuffle the feet until it does. This is a good indicator that you are the right distance away from the ball and have enough room to let the club go past your body during the downswing at high speed without risking serious injury to any valuable parts of anatomy!

The relation between the grip and the left thigh will always remain the same when playing any full shot with any club, but because the clubs are all different lengths the ball will obviously be a different a distance from your body.

Sin 6: Bad Balance

When on the range I am sure you have seen a few people trying to hit a golf ball looking like they are in a Shakin' Stevens look-alike contest. This is due to them setting up to the ball with their weight on the outside of their shoes.

If balance is a serious problem for you, the best tip to give you would be to set up with your weight evenly distributed on the inside of each foot. This can be done by setting up and then slightly squeezing your knees together to create a bit of resistance.

When swinging, try and keep your weight towards the front and inside of each foot. Only on the follow through does the weight move from this position.

To practice and see if you are getting it right, take a few continuous slow, deliberate swings from the address position and keep in control of the club and your balance until you can swing the club at full speed. Imagine you are swinging in a jar of honey…slow and sweet!

Sin 7: Equipment from the dark ages.


Now, I am not advocating that everyone should go straight out and burn a hole in the gold card on a £500 driver and a £1500 set of clubs. But, if you still use Wooden or hickory shafted clubs, Gutta Percha balls and wear tweed suits, there is something missing from your game.

Golf has evolved enough for everyone to realise the full potential of new technology and how it can benefit your game and scores.

You are probably playing with grips that have not been washed since you bought the clubs and that is the most important part of the club. It is the only place that you can hold and should make a powerful swing.

A few extra tips

Why do new clubs feel so good? 
This is down to the new grips that are on them. A lot of people only change their grips when they buy a new set. Grips that are warn and cracked can cause bad shots because you have to hold onto them so tight through fear of the club slipping out of your hand causing tension in the swing. Tension is a killer in golf.

You should change your grips at least once a year maybe twice if you play often enough. This will help in such for that important smooth swing.

Have you slipped when playing a shot recently?
When was the last time you looked at the underside of your shoes are all your studs still in place? Look at new shoes and compare the length of those studs to yours, if there is a big difference then it might be time to replace those studs and stop slipping.

Darren Hodgson is employed by DH Golf as a coach and also works as an Equipment Techonology Tutor, Examiner and Lecturer for the National Training Academy European Center of Excellence.

Darren has coached some of the best players in the world including Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Want anymore tips? Check out our instructional guides to Golf’s Toughest Shots or our top Golf Practice Drills

Article first published September 2000, updated April 2013

For those of you looking to practice your game while stuck at the desk in the office or at home by your PC, I hope after reading and digesting these lessons, your game will improve significantly, just by adhering to a few basic fundamentals.

All of us slip into bad habits when we play golf but trying to rectify them is another matter. I hope I can help by eliminating the seven deadly sins of golf or look at our Golf Practice Drills series for more help.

The first thing to understand before you read and practice the lessons in the rest of this feature, is that changing anything is like swapping your knife and fork over in the middle of meal...and then trying to eat with it...it's tricky at first, but you get used to it.

Change in the golf swing will always feel awkward, even the smallest change can make you lose confidence and want to give up…be patient and don't be afraid to try and experiment a little in search of a better game.

To eat with a knife and fork is not natural, but we take it for granted. The reason is because we have been taught that way from an early age how to use them.

Eating with a knife and fork...and remembering how to do it each time we have dinner...is what we call in golfing terms…Muscle memory…Golf is the same. We swing the club the way we do because that is how we remember doing it last time we played.

But if your game is in serious need of repair, or just requires a fine tune by referring back to the basics, this little series should help you score better and become a more consistent player…consistency, the secret of good golf.

Remember, any changes will feel weird at first. Think positively, it will show that you have changed something and the awkward feeling will soon disappear as the muscles start to forget the old bad habits and remember the new.

Sin 1: Aiming the club in the wrong direction

This may sound like stating the absolute obvious, but you may be surprised to learn that the majority of weekend and occasional golfers do not aim the clubface in the intended direction. The cure for this is simple…point it in the right direction and the results will improve.

When you practice, you should lay a club shaft down, aiming towards the target to see where you are going to hit the ball. This imaginary line between the ball and the target is called, wait for it…"The ball to target line".

Many people tend to turn the clubface away from their intended target as they take their grip on the club. The club becomes either closed and heading for a pulled shot or, less usually, fanned open and heading for a slice or shank! 

To check for this while you are practising on the range draw a straight line about 6” long on a note pad. Place the clubface behind and square to the line so that the lines on the face of the club are pointing in the same direction as the one on the note pad and then imagine your are setting up to take a golf shot. 

Once you have completed your grip and posture check to see if the clubface is still square to the line. If it isn’t, this is where you must discipline yourself to a bit of practising by repeating the procedure as often as possible taking care not to move the clubface. This will help to achieve a better aim with the clubface.

Sin 2: Bad Grip


The old saying is "Good golf begins with a good grip". It's old because it just happens to be true! 

The grip is one of the many things that gets overlooked and is the reason why a lot of people tend to wear out their gloves very quickly in the heel of the hand. That becomes expensive as you need to buy a £14 glove far too often!

The reason is you're holding the club too high up the grip. This loses control and brings in too many inconsistencies into the swing with a distinct lack of power through the ball.

Even at home you can pretend to set up to a golf ball and then keeping your hold position lift up the club so you can look at the very top of the grip, if your hand is above and covering the end then you are to high up the grip. 

A good way to help this problem is to move your grip slightly down the grip so your whole hand is below the top of the grip. You might thin a few shots to begin with but you should soon start hitting the ball better and it will help in gaining a little more control of the club head which in turn gives you a few more yards, a straighter ball flight and a happier golfer!

For those of you who struggle with getting the right grip to suit your hand size, bear in mind that there are no rules as how to hold a club. The only thing to bear in mind is that both hands should be married to each other I.E Not separate on the grip. 

If you have small hands, try the Interlocking grip. Jack Nicklaus used this grip very effectively winning 18 Majors. He had fairly small hands and the only way he could hit the ball properly with power was to employ this grip. John Daly is another who uses the Interlocking grip.

The ideal grip for children and some beginners is the baseball grip. The two hands are not connected to each other, but it does allow small children to learn the basics of the game until they are old enough to use a more conventional grip. 

Sin 3: Poor stance and ball position

With the feet too close or too far apart, this can lead to swaying, topping, hitting the ground before the ball and a general lack of consistency.

Start by measuring the width of your shoulders with a piece of string. Place the string on the floor and then place the inside of your heels on the string and then shuffle the feet about 3” closer.

This will be a good position for a 6 iron and can be adopted for all of the full iron shots. With the woods it would be best to have your feet the same width as the length of string.

With the ball position I have found that for best results with an iron it should be one to two inches inside the left heel and for a wood closer to the heel. The idea is that you hit down on an iron shot generally and with woods, you should "sweep" the ball away for full power.

The best way to achieve this is to take your set up and have the shaft of the club pointing towards your belly button so that the club head is also right in the middle of your body and stance. This will place the ball slightly to the left of centre. This is a good ball position for a six iron. With the wood you then move the ball two inches towards the left heel.

Sin 4: Aim your feet too!

Many people tend to misalign their feet in relation to where they wish to hit a golf ball. This causes the body to be twisted and can cause undue stress to the spine.

Set up to a target using a six iron then place the club you have in your hands down on the floor with the shaft touching your toes. Step back to see where it is pointing.

This can be more easily seen if you replace the ball with another club so that the shaft is then pointing at the target representing the "ball to target line".The club that was touching your toes should be parallel to the ball to target line. I bet it's not!

If it isn’t then move the club next to the toes about six inches closer to the other club, making sure that they are running like railway tracks parallel to each other.

Move the ball to target line club away and take your set up again with your toes now parallel to this club. The club should be in the between your toes and ball so that you do not stand on or hit the club. If you repeat this process on the range every time you are there then you will soon start finding that your feet are aiming in the right direction.

Once you have all your feet running parallel to your ball to target line you are able to allow yourself to swing with less stress in your lower back.

Sin 5Posture…or lack of it!

Once you have learned to swing a club pretty well, bad habits come in many guises like this classic fundamental that is abused by even the top players in the world at times - posture.

In everyday life, people are normally at their computer and hunched over. This becomes natural in your posture and thus comfortable. However, it doesn't mean to say that it is right and invariably you may develop lower back problems and be unable to take that nightly trip to the range and practice.

The best way to try and achieve a good posture is to try and imagine that you are in the army and on parade standing straight to attention.

Chest out, stomach in, but with the feet nearly shoulders width apart. Then, holding the club so that the shaft is parallel to the ground at about waist height, lower the club down to the ground by bending at the waist, keeping the legs straight, until the sole of the club touches the ground.

Then allow the knees to flex slightly with your body weight favouring towards the front of your feet. Your hands should be about four to five inches away from your thighs and while keeping your legs still, lower the top of the grip down and it should touch the middle of the left thigh.

If it doesn’t then shuffle the feet until it does. This is a good indicator that you are the right distance away from the ball and have enough room to let the club go past your body during the downswing at high speed without risking serious injury to any valuable parts of anatomy!

The relation between the grip and the left thigh will always remain the same when playing any full shot with any club, but because the clubs are all different lengths the ball will obviously be a different a distance from your body.

Sin 6: Bad Balance

When on the range I am sure you have seen a few people trying to hit a golf ball looking like they are in a Shakin' Stevens look-alike contest. This is due to them setting up to the ball with their weight on the outside of their shoes.

If balance is a serious problem for you, the best tip to give you would be to set up with your weight evenly distributed on the inside of each foot. This can be done by setting up and then slightly squeezing your knees together to create a bit of resistance.

When swinging, try and keep your weight towards the front and inside of each foot. Only on the follow through does the weight move from this position.

To practice and see if you are getting it right, take a few continuous slow, deliberate swings from the address position and keep in control of the club and your balance until you can swing the club at full speed. Imagine you are swinging in a jar of honey…slow and sweet!

Sin 7: Equipment from the dark ages.


Now, I am not advocating that everyone should go straight out and burn a hole in the gold card on a £500 driver and a £1500 set of clubs. But, if you still use Wooden or hickory shafted clubs, Gutta Percha balls and wear tweed suits, there is something missing from your game.

Golf has evolved enough for everyone to realise the full potential of new technology and how it can benefit your game and scores.

You are probably playing with grips that have not been washed since you bought the clubs and that is the most important part of the club. It is the only place that you can hold and should make a powerful swing.

Why do new clubs feel so good? 
This is down to the new grips that are on them. A lot of people only change their grips when they buy a new set. Grips that are warn and cracked can cause bad shots because you have to hold onto them so tight through fear of the club slipping out of your hand causing tension in the swing. Tension is a killer in golf.

You should change your grips at least once a year maybe twice if you play often enough. This will help in such for that important smooth swing.

Have you slipped when playing a shot recently?
When was the last time you looked at the underside of your shoes are all your studs still in place? Look at new shoes and compare the length of those studs to yours, if there is a big difference then it might be time to replace those studs and stop slipping.

Darren has coached some of the best players in the world including Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Want anymore tips? Check out our instructional guides to Golf’s Toughest Shots or our top Golf Practice Drills

Article first published September 2000, updated April 2013