Shaft Lean In Golf: Get Your Hands Forward To Strike It Sweet

For anyone who has picked up a golf club and played a shot without any real thought or coaching, it’s natural to stand with the ball dead between your legs and the club pointing upwards towards the body in line with the ball.

For the average punter, this seems like the standard starting position any pro or good quality golfer would take, but is actually quite misguided thinking.

The optimum position for the club to be in at address, and through impact, is leaning slightly forward to help with compression and a downward strike.

Now, a forward leaning shaft can be a bit daunting for many golfers, given that it just feels a bit too steep and as if the club is going to dig down into the ground and lead to a fat shot with a huge divot.

Unfortunately this can be the case, but only if there are other factors at play that are hurting your golf swing prior to impact.

If you have the fundamentals down and a good set-up, then there’s no reason why a forward leaning shaft at contact won’t produce better results than if your shaft lean is too upright.

To increase forward shaft lean in golf, you need to set your hands in front of the clubhead at address, then return them to this position at impact. This will deloft the club, helping you strike down on the ball and lowering its flight. A bowed wrist will also help close the clubface a little and promote a forward leaning shaft.

You can also try and set-up at address with your hands in line with the thigh of your lead leg, as this will put them in a good position to create adequate shaft lean.

The result should be a better, more compressed strike as well as a slightly lower launch angle.

This will help to retain speed and power, increasing the distance with which you hit your clubs.

How do you get a forward shaft lean at impact?

Achieving forward shaft lean through impact starts with a good set-up with the hands forward of the ball and clubhead at address. It is important to focus on having a slightly bowed left wrist, as opposed to cupped, as this will help close the clubface and promote a forward-leaning shaft. Try and feel as if the clubhead is trailing or lagging behind, only catching up to the hands at the last moment of the swing.

For players who don’t get their shaft leaning forward, they run the risk of playing the ‘flip’ shot, where the club shaft is far too upright at impact, adding excessive loft and leading to high, weak golf shots.

It is very hard to compress the ball when doing this, so your strikes will be poor and generally weaker.

Along with a bowed wrist, a sensation of transferring weight forward through impact and into the front leg is vital to get that shaft leaning more forward.

A buddy of mine described to me a great tip from a pro to get this sensation, asking him to play some shots as if he was trying to keep the ball low and under a tree branch sitting at the peak height of where his 8-iron would be travelling.

Naturally, he leaned the shaft forward and punched through the ball, with the result being a great ball flight, much higher than he was expecting.

The moral of the story here? By getting the shaft leaning forward and compressing the ball, there’s still more than enough loft on the club to get it travelling a desirable height.

A great way to practice forward shaft lean is using an Impact Bag, as this will train the correct movement easily. You can check out our review of the best impact bags here.

HIT SOLID GOLF SHOTS | Missing Link to More Forward Shaft Lean

How much forward shaft lean should you have at impact?

At impact, you should have enough shaft lean so that your hands sit over your lead thigh, assuming you’re playing the ball from a fairly central position. If your hands are in front of your lead thigh you are probably overdoing it, whereas hands inside the lead thigh means you don’t have enough shaft lean.

The best indicator, and one that is a little harder to determine, is dynamic loft – the amount of loft actually delivered to the ball, not the loft of the club in its standard position.

For example, TrackMan believe that a 6-iron – which usually has about 26 or 27 degrees of loft – actually performs best at a dynamic loft of 22.4 degrees.

This means that, in order to strike the ball best and make the club perform to its optimum level, you’d need to remove about 4 degrees of loft through shaft lean during your swing.

Despite what many golfers think, pretty much every club should deliver less loft than what they are stamped with, with the exception being the driver that is hit with an upward motion off of a tee.

While it is easy to eyeball the hands over the left thigh at address, it’s going to be a lot harder to determine this at impact when everything is firing quite quickly.

Your best bet here is to buy a simple tripod for your iPhone and take a few slow motion videos to see whether your hands do, in fact, return to the position at set up, or whether the shaft actually steepens while the swing occurs.

You can read our guide on how best to record your swing here.

In order to identify whether you are effectively delofting the club by a few degrees, you’ll have to take things up a notch and look into purchasing a Flightscope Mevo Plus or other similar technology that can give you instant feedback about the loft being delivered.

If you are golf obsessed and hit the range weekly, then you may find this a worthwhile lifetime purchase that leads to massive improvements in your game.

How do I get my hands more forward at impact?

To get your hands more forward at impact you need to position the ball in the middle of your stance and lean the shaft forward so that your hands sit in front of your lead leg. Additionally, you want to drive weight forward through contact, avoiding sitting on the back foot which can lead to ‘flipping’ the clubhead at the ball.

A good indicator to look for here is maintaining bend in the right arm so that the clubhead is lagging behind for as long as possible in the swing.

This means that when it does catch up through impact there will still be a forward lean to your shaft.

You also want to focus on a feeling of moving downward through the ball, rather than rising, which will lead to weak, thin shots (this can be achieved by focusing on maintaining side bend throughout your swing).

Pay close attention to your divots and whether they are occurring before or after the ball to make sure you don’t develop a fear of fatting the ball and revert to an upward attack angle.

If you strike ball first, then ground, and aren’t too steep in your swing, getting the hands more forward will still lead to compressed, high flying shots.

A tool like the CHAMPKEY Premium Golf Impact Mat is perfect for getting instant feedback about your divots.

Why can’t I get forward shaft lean in my golf swing?

If you struggle to get forward shaft lean in your golf swing then it probably comes down to a poor set up, incorrect weight distribution or ‘flipping’ of the clubhead at impact. If you set up with the shaft too upright then that’s naturally the position the body will try to return to, so getting that shaft leaning forward at address is important. Similarly, failing to transition weight onto the front foot can cause the clubhead to come through before the hands, causing an upright shaft.

A fear of the hooks can be one of the big reasons golfers don’t want to commit to a forward leaning shaft, and knowing that delofting the club closes the face, you can’t blame them for thinking that way.

However, the perfect golf shot will come slightly from the inside with the face a little closed, creating a nice draw back towards the centre of the fairway or green, so a tendency to snap hook is due to underlying issues and won’t be solved by avoiding forward shaft lean.

People with this hook anxiety will tend to try and hold the club off to stop it from going left, allowing the clubhead to catch up to, or even get in front of, the hands at impact, presenting extra loft, rather than taking loft off.

The result is weak shots that lack power and travel high, off to the right.

One of the best tools to use to determine the position of your clubface is a magnetic alignment rod.

By attaching this to your club and making some slow swings, you’ll be able to see exactly where your clubface is pointing at the moment of impact.

If your club is way too closed without even leaning the shaft forward, then there are pre-existing flaws in your swing such as coming too far from the inside or failing to fire your hips early enough in the swing.

Put some work into solving this problem first, then you’ll have far more confidence getting that shaft leaning forward and taking some loft off your clubs.

You should have less forward shaft lean when using driver.

Should you have a forward shaft lean with driver?

No, you shouldn’t necessarily set up with a forward-leaning shaft when hitting driver since the strike you are making is upward, not downward. Given the driver has a low loft – as low as 8 or 9 degrees – you want the driver shaft to be neutral, perhaps even hands slightly behind the clubhead, in order to promote and upward strike, increasing dynamic loft.

PGA tour players deliver around 12.8 degrees of dynamic loft when hitting driver, yet most of them will use drivers in the 9-10.5 degree loft range.

When you look at someone like Bryson DeChambeau, who uses a driver with loft as low as 5 degrees, there’s a lot of extra loft that needs to be added to the club through impact (which is achieved by increasing attack angle).

If you have too much shaft lean with the driver then you are likely going to hit the ball too low, something that can be especially damaging during winter when there is minimal run on the fairways.

Interestingly, leaning the shaft forward with driver not only delofts the club, but it actually opens the club face, so you might develop a miss to the right, rather than the left.

Ultimately, keeping the driver shaft fairly neutral to the centre of the body – with an inside to outside attack angle – should give sufficient loft to get the ball sailing at a nice height.

Does forward shaft lean increase distance?

Yes, a forward leaning shaft should lead to an increase in distance – but mainly with irons and wedges. This is because leaning the shaft forward will take loft off of the club, helping the ball to travel with a lower, more piercing trajectory. All irons should be hit with a dynamic loft that is a few degrees less than the true loft of the club to perform at their best.

Now, obviously all of this is dependent on things like strike and club path, but generally a little forward lean in the shaft will take a few degrees of loft off of the club and lead to a little more distance.

With many of the game improvement irons on the market (check out our comprehensive list of the best irons here) having strong lofts, however, it is important not to over do it, given that a strong-lofted iron that is stamped with a 6 could perform like a 3 iron if delofted too much.

Ultimately, this can be accommodated by making correct club selections based upon distance, but generally there is a sweet spot and hitting a 7-iron 200 yards and rolling it through the green isn’t necessarily going to be of benefit to your golf game.

Can forward shaft lean deloft my irons in golf?

Yes, it can. To deloft your irons you want to focus on two things: increasing forward shaft lean and closing your clubface. By leaning the shaft farther forward you reduce the dynamic loft – that’s the loft presented when you strike the ball – increasing distance and power. You may also struggle with a high right miss due to an open clubface, so a closed face will assist you in straightening out your flight and flattening out your shots.

These are the main two things to focus on, but there may be some other things you need to work on to get that face closed.

Some players have a great forward shaft lean but hold the club open due to a fear of hooking, finding they lose the ball out to the right with high slices.

To remedy this, work on your release of the club and slightly rolling the wrists through impact to deloft the club a little by closing the face.

Should the hands be forward at address in golf?

Yes, the hands should be forward at address as this will help you visualise the position you want to return the club to at impact. Forward hands can also help you get more weight into the front foot, leading to a more downward strike that compresses the ball and helps to deloft the club.

Most golf coaches will spend ages working with their students on set up, and with good reason.

While many YouTube videos and online experts obsess over how to stop slicing or gaining more distance, a real lesson places a huge focus on the set up, given that beginning the swing from the right stance makes it so much more likely you will make a good strike.

Shaft lean is no different, and beginning the golf swing from the position you want the club, and club shaft, to end up in through contact is a complete no-brainer.

Final message

Understanding that you need to hit down to make the ball go up can take years for many golfers to grasp, but once you realise a forward leaning shaft and downward strike will lead to better compression you’ll never turn back.

By mastering the forward leaning shaft, you’ll reap the benefits of better contact, longer shots and a penetrating ball flight that will be the envy of your playing partners.

Lewis Carhart
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