If you’re like most golfers you’re always looking to improve your ball striking.
As you probably know, there isn’t much worse than feeling like you can’t find the center of the club face even if your life depends on it. Especially if it seems to happen when you’re hitting almost any club in the bag.
Inconsistent ball striking can come from all kinds of reasons (posture, tempo, backswing, etc.) but there is one part that a lot of amateurs have in common. The problem is, most amateur players don’t even know it’s a culprit behind their inconsistency.
So what is the X factor?
Early extension is the subtle shift that can happen during your backswing or downswing that can wreak havoc on your consistency. Keep reading to learn what is an early extension, how to cure it, and the best drills to help you move correctly toward the ball on the downswing.
What Is Early Extension?
Like a doctor, we must first diagnose what is an early extension before we can recommend a cure. As I teased in the intro, most golfers don’t even look at this part of the downswing, yet it affects so many everyday golfers.
Early extension is when there is forward movement of your lower body towards the golf ball during your swing. This can happen on your backswing but mostly occurs on your downswing for a few reasons.
Usually, on the downswing, your pelvis and hips will kick in towards the golf ball instead of around your lower body. This move makes your chest get further away from the ground and your arms will straighten out.
It’s as if you’re standing up too early (hence the word, early).
Your head raises up and your hips go in instead of around the body. Plus, you’ll usually see the back foot come off the ground instead of pushing off it and rotating around your lower body. This move makes it much harder to control the club and likely losing distance as well.
When all this happens, your arms and hands get stuck behind your body on the downswing. You might hear guys say “I’m getting stuck” which is another term for describing early extension.
The Big Misses From Early Extension
When you extend early, two main misses occur: the push block right and the hook left. These are big misses from the early extend!
Since your hands are lagging behind your lower body and your hips open, the club path goes more out and pushes it right. Or, you might subconsciously realize how right it’s going and try to course correct by flipping your hands at impact, thus creating the nasty hook.
The worst part is that these misses is they bring both sides of the golf course into play. In this crazy game, having two big misses makes the game a lot harder than a one sided miss.
This is why it’s so crucial to diagnose it and fix the issue as soon as possible. Here is a very helpful YouTube video that breaks it down visually:
How to Spot Early Extension
If you’re lacking consistency with ball striking, don’t just automatically assume it’s from this issue as it could be a myriad of things. Instead, make sure that you properly evaluate the problem before trying to fix something that might not even be happening.
Here’s how you can identify early extension in your lower body.
First, record a normal shot from behind you with a mid iron (record 2-3 swings). Don’t try to do anything out of the ordinary and swing at about 80-90% of normal. Don’t try to kill it either (which is why I suggest using a mid iron instead of a driver).
After you record your swing, download or open an app like Hudl Technique to check for early extension. This free app allows you to draw lines on your videos, slow down videos, compare shots, and diagnose your downswing.
Once you have a few swings on video, draw a straight line from your butt straight down to the ground. Then, watch your video in slow motion (you can do this with the app) to see what your pelvis and lower body do during the downswing.
What you should see is your pelvis and tailbone staying connected to the line throughout the swing. As you go back, your hips should turn and your right pocket should rotate away from the target.
During transition your tailbone and pelvis should still stay connected to the line. Finally, on the downswing your front butt cheek should move behind the line as you open your hips and complete the downswing.
You shouldn’t move toward the ball during the downswing. After impact is the only time that you should move your body this line!
Golf Early Extension 101 – Why It Happens
So why does this early extension happen?
This move towards the golf ball could be a few reasons.
The first is a physical problem in your upper body or lower body that might be affecting your extension. For example, if you have limited mobility in your spine, knees, hips or ankles, it could make early extension happen.
A good way to test your mobility is doing a bodyweight squat. If you’re unable to go below parallel on the way down, you’re much more likely to extend early. This stiffness usually forces you to alter your spine and posture throughout the swing.
To fix this issue, make sure that you’re doing plenty of stretching and staying active. Also, regular massages and even yoga can help you big time in relaxing lower and upper body muscles.
Don’t forget, golf is very unnatural and hard on the body, so make sure you are doing all you can keep playing a long time. Focus on lower body and core work to get this issue fixed for your game (and your overall health).
Posture and Setup
The second reason is posture throughout the downswing (or lack thereof). It’s crucial that you keep your posture consistent through impact
Also, your setup position plays a big role as well. A lot of times you might early extend if you stand too far away from the ball.
In fact, once golfers realize they extend early, they’ll likely adjust and stand farther away to get away with it. By doing this, it makes it slightly more playable as you have more room to extend early.
To correct this, try to get a little closer to the golf ball at address and check out the second drill below.
Fixing Early Rotation
So what do you want to feel?
It should feel like your hips are much more open at impact. You’ll probably also feel a slight tightness in your left hip. And you will probably also feel that your hips are slightly back from the normal position.
Whenever you’re making adjustments, it’s going to feel awkward but you need to stick with it! As one of my golf coaches said, “If it doesn’t feel weird, you’re probably doing it wrong.”
3 Early Extension Drills
So how do you get rid of an early extension in golf?
After diagnosing and confirming the issue, here are some of our favorite early extension cures.
1. Belt Buckle Drill
At the 3:40 mark in this video you can learn how to feel the proper position. For this drill, you want to focus on the position of your belt buckle as it directly relates to extending properly.
Step 1: Take an alignment stick and put in the ground about 2-3 feet in front of your left foot and about a foot to the left (roughly 45-degree angle).
Step 2: Work on feeling your belt buckle extend towards 10 o’clock not 12 o’clock (aka your target). Remember, you don’t want to extend toward the ball or toward the target. You want to extend to the left of the target so that your hips are making the proper move.
Step 3: Hit a few shots with a short to mid iron feeling the buckle go towards your alignment club. Make sure that you swing around 70-80% effort to get into the right position. As you get more comfortable with the drill, you can go to a longer club and swing closer to full speed.
2. Stand Closer Drill
The second drill is simple and helps you adjust your setup so you can fix this issue instead of trying to manage the issue.
Step 1: Grab a short iron and address the golf ball as normal.
Step 2: Step closer to the golf ball than what feels comfortable (this should be about one golf ball closer). You will feel like you’re very close to the ball and probably feel like you’re addressing it on the hosel.
Step 3: Make some slow swings (around 70% effort) and focus on rotating your hips instead of standing up through the swing. While it might feel like you’re crowding the ball, it will force you to rotate on the downswing instead of coming out of your swing.
Focus on hitting it in the center of the face more than anything else.
3. Pitching Wedge Drill
The final drill is from Chris Ryan Golf and is very effective as it’s clear whether you’re doing it correctly (or not). Here’s his video and a breakdown of how to use this drill (which you can do at home as well).
Step 1: Grab a pitching wedge and place the club underneath your trail foot. Stand on the face (not the grip) without a club. The grip should be up in the air at this point.
Step 2: Take a few practice swings at half speed and see what happens to the pitching wedge. You’ll probably find that your heel lifts up and the club will drop to the ground. The correct movement will allow you to keep pressure on the golf club and keep it in the air.
FAQs About Golf Swing Extension
Do you have more questions about early extension in the golf swing? If so, we have answers to the most common questions.
Can you play good golf with early extension?
Yes and no.
Some golfers get in the habit of doing it so frequently that they get better with timing their hands and can make it work. Others struggle with it in certain conditions (like when it’s cold and their body is stiff) or when they’re tired late in the round.
In an ideal world, you want to correct this issue sooner than later so you aren’t so dependent on timing in the downswing. If you consistently have to flip your wrists or think too much during your swing, disaster can strike on any hole. Bogeys, doubles, and more could be near so make sure you’re working to fix this issue sooner than later.
Remember, the best golfers in the world build swings on strong foundations like this one, so they don’t have to depend on timing. Because as you probably know by now, some days your timing just isn’t there.
In order to help you play consistently better, we suggest getting this fixed sooner rather than later. Don’t let the silent killer wreak havoc on your game!
Does early extension cause shanks?
Depending on your timing, this can also lead to the dreaded shanks aka the “S” word.
This happens because the club is traveling too far from the inside to outside with an open face. This is the 1-2 combo that can lead to one of the most embarrassing shots in golf (and also highly contagious).
But if you have this shot happen to you, don’t assume it’s always because of early extension either. This is why it’s so important to video your golf swing before trying to fix any specific issue.
Is early extension bad?
Bad in the sense that it’s likely holding your game back from shooting lower scores – yes!
While extension is part of the golf swing, doing it too early can lead to big misses on both sides of the golf course. If this happens too often, you’ll likely find it very difficult to score consistently as you’ll miss a ton of fairways and greens.
Remember, it’s a combination of increasing mobility and adjusting your posture to make the necessary adjustments.
Extension in Golf Swing Summary
Hopefully you have a clear picture of early extension and how to rid it from your game. Remember, this usually happens either from upper body or lower body issues (such as lack of mobility) and possibly setup issues as well.
But early extension is something that you can fix by working on your posture, lower body flexibility, and the drills above. Just remember, you shouldn’t move toward the ball during the downswing.
Just keep thinking, rotate first, extend second.
Otherwise, your arms will get stuck behind your body at impact.
But remember, you need extension in your golf swing. It just needs to happen at the right time so that your body can come around and make proper contact with the ball on the downswing.