Right Might be Wrong

Try Not to be Overly-Reliant on the Dominant Side

May 15, 2005

One common cause of swing problems is relying too much on the dominant side of the body. Because golfers sense their power and control from the dominant side, that is what they want to use. Unfortunately, the dominant side is usually the trailing side in a golf swing (the side farther from the target) and it causes all kinds of problems when it gets overly active. When a right-handed golfer relies on the right shoulder, arm, hand, and even the right leg to power his swing there will likely be some unappealing golf shots.

From the very start, the effect of the dominant side can be seen. Even the setup suffers. Often I see golfers (right-handed golfers) who set up with a very stiff right arm, which tends to make the shoulder alignment open up, pointing to the left of the target. Stiffening the right arm and shoulder also tends to make the spine tilt more to the left (toward the target), which is exactly the opposite of what we want in the full swing. Also, tension in the right wrist and hand results an unwanted change in the grip, the left hand being pushed into a “weak” position, which means it has rolled too far around the club toward the target.

right1These setup tendencies are very common with beginners, whose instinct seems to encourage them to set up and swing the club like an axe swinging from the dominant arm. This is what I call the “smasher setup”, and it usually leads to a “hitting” motion rather than the relaxed, free-flowing swing we want.

Even if a golfer sets up well, the dominant side will frequently take over during the backswing. The right arm will pull the club too far around the body, causing “disconnection” between the club and the body as the club travels too much to the inside. The right elbow can be seen chicken-winging and the left arm either bends at the elbow or closes across the chest with this kind of backswing. Sometimes the dominant hand will cause the wrists to hinge sideways, making the clubhead “flair” to the inside too soon, or lift the club too much, causing the swing planes to get too upright.

There are also several different flaws that plague the downswings of golfers who rely too much on the dominant side. Sometimes it is simply an effort to “fix” the kind of backswing mentioned above–if the right arm pulls the club too far around the body, then the right arm and hand will need to push the club back through, trying to get back on path, and trying to get centered with the body which allows the clubface to square up. Contact usually suffers dramatically at this point because the club is unstable and the “window” for effective ball-striking has become very narrow.

When the right hand gets involved, there will often be a “flipping” motion which is when the wrists hinge side-to-side too much. If the right hand pushes through impact, the left wrist will cup and create a variety of shots from low hooks to high “scooped” cuts, and even topped shots.

Another problem emerges if the player allows the right shoulder to tighten and rotate too quickly through the downswing. The arms and club fall behind the body and the shaft often jerks in a “casting” manner, which lets the golfer experience weak pop-ups and slices to the right.

And it is not always the right shoulder, arm, and hand that take over during the downswing. Sometimes it is the right side of the body itself. Imagine the shoulders, spine, and hips forming an “I”. During a good, “quiet” swing, the golfer will rotate while maintaining the “I”. But sometimes there will be a “right side lunge”, which is when the “I” bends, the right shoulder dropping toward the right hip, the left shoulder rising away from the left hip. Unless the golfer compensates there will be heavy and rightward shots as a result. Players with quick hands usually end up hooking the ball when they make this lunging move.

Even the right leg gets into the mix. When it stiffens during the downswing, it extends, which pushes the right hip upward. As a result, the golfer ends up coming up, out of posture too early (often hitting the top of the ball), or the spine moves to the left, which causes a variety of shots. Rather than stiffening, the right knee should bend to allow the golfer to maintain posture; the hips will then rotate rather than “slide” laterally.

right2Sometimes the dominant-side flaws start with the eyes and lead to a chain reaction. Most right-eye dominant golfers unknowingly aim to the right of their target. This alone will require a “smashing” sort of downswing to reroute the club towards the target; over time, the smashing move becomes a habit or else the golfer will continually hit the ball right of the target, where he is aiming. If he also uses the dominant arm or hand to pull the club away to the inside during the backswing, the need to smash the downswing will be even greater.

So a lot of golfers struggle when they rely too much on the dominant side of the body. But how should they address the ball and swing the club if they do not rely on the instinctive use of the side that gives them a feeling of power and control?

Very often I have to teach an “anti-right” setup just to get started: the right arm relaxed and slightly bent at the elbow, the right shoulder tucked back until it aligns squarely with the target, the right shoulder also lower than the left since the spine tilts slightly to the right; a neutral to slightly “strong” positioning of the hands; the club under the left arm which is fully extended.

From there, a good image for the swing is to “swing the 7.” The shoulders and the left arm form a “7” at address. A “connected” swing will use the big muscles and the core muscles of the body to rotate while maintaining the “7”, the left arm staying in front of the body throughout the swing.

When I tell golfers that we do not want to pull and push with the right arm, they usually say, “So I should hit it with the left arm?” But that is not exactly the idea either. The idea is to swing the left arm and club from the core of the body, using the strength of the arms to maintain the “7” rather than to hit at the ball. I like the strength of the arms and hands to be preventative rather than active, meaning they stabilize the swing instead of taking over.

When the dominant side of the body takes over, usually in an effort to add power, the club will generally get out of position and out of plane. Poor contact, lack of distance, and inconsistent directional control will result. So the “right” swing rarely comes from the right side.


  1. Ken says:

    Hello John

    Great piece you wrote on what can happen when the right side dominates or powers the swing.
    When I watch Fred Couples swing he really puts the right side into it and gets off his right foot quickly in the downswing. He is able to hit a consistent fade.
    When I get really strong with the right side to start the club down I hit a consistent block or push.
    In your opinion what is Couples doing in his downswing to prevent the ball going straight right?
    In order for me to prevent this I have to keep the weight on the right side longer and “wait” on the club from the top and not be so quick to power it from the top with the right side to start it down. I hit it straighter this way but not quite so far.
    I wanted to pass this on to you as you seem to be very knowledgeable about this particular dilemma and also get your opinion on what I described to you about my downswing. Thanks for making your expertise available online and I hope to hear back from you. Regards

    North Carolina

  2. John Rogers says:

    Hi, Ken.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my article and write to me.

    Obviously, it will be tough to make sense of your swing without seeing it, but I’ll at least relate the pieces in regards to Freddie and make a few guesses as to why you get a different reaction from the ball.

    First of all, I’m not completely sure that Freddie doesn’t play more of a push-cut (if he is playing the cut–there were times when he drew the ball I think), meaning it starts right and then fades. It seems to me he sets up left of target, with the shoulders even more left than the rest of the body. So he sets up open-shouldered to the left; then in the backswing he picks the club and left arm up into a very vertical plane; then he bumps the hips pretty strongly to the left (this is the right side body-drive you mentioned) and lets the club lag his body; and as he goes through the ball, the right shoulder is in a lower/steeper plane than it would have been if he turned “stacked”. The head stays more behind the ball than the hips do.

    These are some of the primary elements that creates his shot pattern. The open shoulders, the vertical arm and club swing, and the hip drive generally would help cut the ball, while the lag and the head staying back help create the fluid, free arm-swing and a little bit of “push”. This is closer in model to the two-plane swingers who were so dominant in previous generations. It’s also harder on the back, as Freddie could tell you.

    As for your version of the swing. If you are trying to model your swing after Freddie, you might want to see if your elements match those listed above. Maybe you are “too square” in your setup. Maybe your arm and club-swing are too flat for this type of motion (which would likely produce blocks). Perhaps your wrists aren’t cocked as long on the way down as Freddie, which might make you instinctively come out of the shot causing a weak block (notice how long he keeps the wrists cocked in order to be able to keep the right shoulder low through the ball). Maybe your head moves to the left at the same time as the hips, rather than staying back as Freddie’s head does.

    One final thing about Freddie’s swing–I don’t know if he still does it or not, but many years ago I saw a photo of him at impact where his right hand was flipping the club so hard the hand was almost off the club. No doubt this hand action at the bottom was part of what it took to create the flight he wanted in light of all the other planes and moving parts. This would be very hard for most people to reproduce–and it might be how he keeps from hitting big misses like the ones you describe.

    In the big picture, you are correct that Freddie has a strong right-side drive through the ball. And we’d all love to hit it like he does, wouldn’t we? But for those of us who don’t hit millions of balls, and don’t make millions to pay chiropractors and doctors, I prefer to see a different set of planes and a more stable core. Fewer moving parts for those of us who aren’t Freddie.

    Best wishes, and I hope you find some of this information helpful.


  3. Randy says:

    I just got to tell you the information provided above if read carefully and understood is dead on. You are a genius. Thanks for making a difference in my swing.

    • John Rogers says:

      Randy, I appreciate your comments, and just the fact that you read my article so closely. And I’m especially glad that you found something to help your game!

  4. Peter says:

    My golf game has been plagued by consistently missing virtually all my short putts (apart from tap ins) always by a fraction on the right side of the hole. I have kept statistics and these missed putts have cost me an average of 8 shots per round over the last year. I have used putting alignment mirrors set up very accurately and still miss to the right, always by the same small margin. I always set up with my left eye over the back of the ball which is how i was taught by a highly regarded coach. Today before i played i went through a routine on the practice green with the putting mirror and with the usual results. During the round i started to miss the usual short putts to the right. I was however playing with a new member at the club, an experienced golfer. He saw the problem and the solution straight away. I am strongly right eye dominant and he told me to set up with the right eye over the ball, not the left. I did this and suddenly my short putting was transformed. At the end of the round i got the putting mirror out again and set up as normal but with my dominant right eye over the ball and hit about 20 10 footers and didn’t miss one.
    I am almost certainly a good example of never realising how important eye dominance is in golf. The rest of my game is pretty good but there is a slight right bias in all my shots – i intend to work on that now by shifting my head slightly in the set up to move the right eye further forward.
    I just wonder how many golfers there are out there and probably more to the point, how many coaches, who do not know of the significance of eye dominance.

    • John Rogers says:

      Peter, thanks for sharing your story. It’s obvious that you have found something of importance concerning the eye dominance, and it agrees with things I see on a regular basis from my clients. I hope the results continue to prove your discovery correct! And I hope it carries over to the full-swing as well! I would encourage you to make sure that your eye dominance hasn’t skewed your alignment too much–a lot of swings “evolve” to fit poor alignment which is usually caused by the visual distortion that comes with eye dominance.

      As for the putting: I wonder if you consider your troubles of the past also to be a “yip”? As I mentioned briefly in my article about the yips, the main mechanical issue that leads to these issues is allowing the face to shut on the backswing (often because the action is too steep or outside). If the face shuts too much, or faces the ground too much, on the backswing, golfers tend to make a jabby, hard-accelerating stroke that opens the face. This “fix” of the backswing often leads to right-side misses.

      Hopefully your days of struggling are gone, but if the problems re-emerge, have someone help you learn to slightly open the face going back so that you can make a natural release of the putter going through. Good luck!

  5. gary says:

    sept. I,2013
    which I had read your article,a long time ago, I started to do the same as described,
    after trying different things in a practice session. it took me quite some time to discover what worked . your article confirms what I found out the hard way

  6. gary says:

    which should be wish.soory ,for the type error

  7. joanne says:

    I found out that my grip was affecting my right arm dominating is that all in my head or could that a tually be a factor?

    • John Rogers says:

      Joanne, thanks for commenting. I’d say your grip can absolutely play a large role in terms of dominance during the swing. In fact most beginners instinctively put their hands on the club in a somewhat tortured manner that reflects the dominance they are about to apply to the swing. I actually use an unorthodox grip myself, for the opposite reason–I use a “double overlap” grip (two fingers of the right hand overlapping the left hand instead of just the pinkie) which keeps my right hand from over-powering the left hand. Good luck to you!

  8. Jimmy says:

    Hi, very interesting article!

    I am strongly right sided (eye, hand and leg) and I don’t not able to do anything with my left hand and foot.

    Given that, what clubs do you recommend for a beginner like me: right handed clubs or left handed clubs?

    Thank you.

    • John Rogers says:

      Jimmy, thanks for reading and commenting. I hesitate to answer that question, and suggest you try swinging from both sides to see what you feel. Given the things I generally see people struggle with at the range, it would not hurt to have the dominant side in the lead (play left-handed), but you might feel completely befuddled on that side. If you feel the same on both sides, give some thought to going lefty, otherwise go with the more natural swing. Good luck!

  9. Dennis G says:

    Greetings from Illinois where spring is trying to come early and I hope it does for you too.

    I just wanted to drop you a line and thank you for your 2005 article “Right might be wrong”. Over the years ( and there has been many of them), I’ve often played with keeping more emphasis on the left side during the backswing and downswing. The book by Carl Lohren “One move to better golf” pretty much saved my season a few years ago when my takeaway became hopelessly inside and then over the top. Although I play at a single digit handicap, I constantly have to guard against getting too quick, Ott and casting.
    I don’t know how I ran across your article but it has had a profound effect on my game. The simple thought of your shoulders and left arm forming a 7 face on is what made all the difference. When fully conscious of this thought , really good things happen.

    Better backswing, more on plane at top of swing, club comes down into hitting zone slightly from the inside and impact has become so consistently solid with a flat left wrist that is same as address. Over the top is a thing of the past.

    What is most surprising is that it works with every club in the bag. Irons have always been my strong point , but this tip had totally changed my driver distance and accuracy.

    Thanks again for the ” best tip ever” (at least for me) and that includes a half day private lesson from one of the top five in Florida. I have no doubt that I will now shoot my age sometime this year.

    • John Rogers says:

      Dennis, thanks very much for your message, and for reading my article. I’m glad it has been beneficial to you, especially given that you are obviously a long-time, dedicated student of the game. I hope you continue to have fun and be successful with the game for many years to come, and I hope the image of the “7” continues to be a successful key for you.

  10. Neal says:

    Hello John, I read this article on arm dominance you wrote. I was wondering in the swing since you are swinging with free swinging arms should you feel any dominance in either arm or would they both feel about the same and be used to just hold the club while the body swings them?


    • John Rogers says:

      Neal, thanks for reading and commenting! I’d say for most people it’s an ideal to pursue the feeling of being able to simply let the arms swing freely, but to be successful doing this usually demands some very functional movements of the body. The hands and arms end up making a lot of split-second corrections for us when we have less-than-ideal movements and positions (let’s say I lean into the ball with my body, I will instinctively chicken-wing my left arm so that I still have a chance at decent contact), so they are helping us most of the time when they are active, but the better the swing, the less we need them to become active. If you sense over-control from the dominant side (I’ll assume right-handed golf with an active right side) I would spend some serious practice sessions feeling like it’s a left-sided swing, even swing the club for practice with only the left arm. Eventually you should be able to back off this feeling as the sides come more into balance. Good luck!

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