There are few worse feelings in golf than catching a case of the ‘duck hooks’.
Personally, I reckon they’re right up there with the dreaded shanks as one of the most crippling shots you can play – and having suffered both over my golfing journey from time to time, I feel I’m pretty qualified to make that call.
We’ve all felt helpless when, often out of nowhere, we take what seems like a normal swing, only for the ball to careen violently right-to-left through the air (for a right-handed player), rather than a gentle draw.
With excessive top spin imparted onto the ball, it will often roll deep into trouble – whether it’s the thick rough or, even worse, out of bounds – which is what makes duck hooks (also known as snap hooks) such an awful, debilitating shot.
So, how do you fix a duck hook?
To correct a duck, or snap, hook you need three things: a club path that isn’t excessively in-to-out; a clubface that is close to neutral at impact when striking the ball; and a grip that isn’t overly strong. If you can keep these three elements as neutral as possible, you will eliminate duck hooks from your game.
Now this is, obviously, easier said than done when you’re battling some big hooks during a competition round and your mind is racing a million miles an hour, trying to think of a solution.
But hopefully this article will give you some guidance on what to do when confronted by duck hooks, and some ways you can drill your swing on the driving range to prevent them from showing up without warning.
Table of contents
What is a duck hook?
A duck hook – otherwise called a snap hook – is a golf shot that veers violently from right-to-left through the air for a right-handed player. They most commonly occur with driver, fairway woods or long irons and are caused by a severely in-to-out swing path combined with a closed clubface.
The duck/snap hook likely derives its name from the shot shape it creates – which is normally a low, curling, bullet-like trajectory that snaps, or ducks, off the clubface and usually comes to rest well left of the fairway.
You could say the ball ‘ducks’ off into the worst possible spot every time you’re unfortunate enough to hit one of these low, hooking runners.
But what exactly causes a duck hook? And how do you stop hitting them? If you want the answers to these all-important questions, read on.
What causes duck hooks?
Duck hooks are usually caused by an excessively in-to-out swing path, combined with a closed clubface at impact – which can also be exacerbated by flipping of the hands. The outward path coupled with the face direction imparts sidespin onto the ball, causing it to hook sharply.
Quite often, amateurs will attempt to combat their duck hooks by swinging the club farther and farther out to the right – in order to try and stop it moving left – which only makes matters worse.
All this motion does is impart more and more sidespin on the ball, causing it to hook more and more sharply from right-to-left, rather than getting it moving left-to-right in a fade-like manner.
However, in golf, often the solution to a problem is contradictory to what you think it is.
As legendary golfer Ben Hogan so eloquently put it:
“Reverse every natural instinct and do the opposite of what you are inclined to do, and you will probably come very close to having a perfect golf swing.”
It’s time to take Hogan’s advice and put it into action. Below, I’ve outlined some steps to do this and fix those snap hooks for good.
How do I stop hitting duck hooks?
To stop hitting duck hooks, you need your club path, clubface and grip to be as neutral as possible. A swing path that is under plane, a closed clubface and an overly strong grip are common contributors to duck hooks and must be corrected to straighten out your ball flight.
Another often overlooked swing flaw that can lead to snap hooks is a stalling of the hips through impact, rather than rotation.
Below, I’ll go into more detail about why getting these elements of your swing right are crucial to reducing how much right-to-left movement your shot has through the air.
Step one: Check your club path
If you’re hitting duck hooks, there’s a very high chance that your club path is too far in-to-out (commonly referred to as ‘under plane’).
Your swing plane is the neutral arc your golf club swings around your body in order to hit the ball straight: a path that is under the plane will contribute to a ball that starts right of target, while a plane that is over the plane tends to start the ball left of target.
When you swing severely under plane, you’ll tend to throw the club out to the right – your body’s natural reaction to this, in order to try and hit the ball towards your target, is to close the clubface at impact, resulting in a duck hook.
Drill to try: Fix your plane with an aid
As someone who has a tendency to swing under plane, a drill that often works well for me to try and get my club moving on a more neutral arc is to practice hitting half-shots using an alignment stick.
To set up the drill, simply:
- Address the golf ball as if you were about to play a shot, and note the angle of your club shaft
- Take an alignment stick and place it in the ground a few feet behind you, and tilt it so it matches the angle of your club shaft (if you can’t press it into the dirt, thread the alignment stick through a range ball bucket so that it stays upright)
- Using a 7 or 8-iron, practice hitting half shots while trying not to strike the alignment stick
If you make contact with the alignment stick, it means you’re swinging too far under plane.
If you’re worried about damaging your clubs with the stick, a great training aid to use instead is the Eyeline Golf Speed Trap.
This extremely handy device, which you can place on the ground and hit shots from, comes built with four foam uprights that guide your club along the correct channel through impact.
If you come into the ball under plane, you’ll collect one of the uprights, giving you instant feedback (but without damaging your clubs).
You can purchase the Eyeline Golf Speed Trap (pictured below) off Amazon.
Step two: Check your clubface
New ball flight laws show that clubface has the biggest effect on the starting line your ball will take when it leaves the clubface.
While it used to be thought, and taught, that swing path had the biggest impact on curvature through the air, the rise of TrackMan and other launch monitors has disproven this.
Naturally, then, a severely closed clubface coupled with an in-to-out club motion will generate duck hooks.
Drill to try: Get control of your clubface
As I’ve explained in another article, one of the ways to gain better control of your clubface is to ensure you have enough forward shaft lean at impact.
Doing this has a number of benefits: it will help square the clubface easier and more consistently; it will improve your compression onto the ball; and it will create a more penetrating ball flight and increase your distance.
Impact bags are perfect for training correct shaft lean (I’ve written plenty about the benefits of impact bags, and listed my top picks, here).
A great drill to practice clubface control is as followed:
- Using a 7 or 8-iron, slowly take a backswing until it reaches parallel with the ground, with your wrists slightly hinged
- Practice maintaining those wrist angles through the impact zone (without hitting the ball)
- After doing a few practice swings, take a three-quarter swing and feel as though you’re playing a low punch shot (with the club finishing not much higher than parallel on your follow through)
- Repeat, focusing on feeling as though you maintain your wrist angles through impact, while using your chest rotation to move the club around your body
Practicing this drill well stop your hands being too overactive and ‘flipping’ at impact, which can lead to chunks, thins and especially duck hooks.
If you want some extra feedback while doing this drill, I’d recommend trying the Total Golf Trainer.
This super-helpful aid, which you can grab off Amazon, slips onto your lead wrist and promotes neutrality, rather than a wrist position that is too closed (bowed) or open (cupped).
Step three: Check your grip
Another piece to the puzzle, when it comes to stopping duck hooks, is ensuring your grip isn’t too strong.
A strong grip – where your bottom hand is positioned too far underneath the club, similar to how a baseballer holds a bat – can cause you to roll your hands over the ball at impact, closing the face and causing a low, snapping ball flight.
A simple way to fix this is to take a grip that is closer to neutral.
Drill to try: Point your palm to target
One of the easiest ways to fix a strong grip is through the use of the SKLZ Golf Grip Trainer.
This nifty attachment simply slips onto the handle of your golf club, and its special moulds show you exactly where to place your hands – it’s well worth the modest price if you’re someone who really struggles with getting your grip right.
Another way to take a more neutral grip is through the following steps:
- Grip the club with your top hand first, making sure your thumb and forefinger make a V down the centre of the handle
- Take your bottom hand and open your palm, ensuring it is pointed at your target
- Grip the club with your bottom hand, keeping the palm square to your target
Holding the club in this manner, which YouTube gurus Me and My Golf explain in good detail, will stop your bottom hand slipping too far under the handle and promoting a strong grip.
Step four: Get your hips open
Stalling of the hips can be another contributing factor to duck hooks.
As I’ve explained in another article, your hips should, ideally, be 45 degrees open at impact.
Many amateurs, however, will slide rather than rotate their hips during the downswing, keeping them square to the ball when they make contact.
This will likely cause them to early extend (come out of their posture) and flip the club at the ball in order to stop hitting it fat, which can lead to closing of the clubface and a duck hook.
Drill to try: Alignment stick in your belt
One of the best ways to practice getting your hips open at impact is through the use of two alignment sticks.
To do this drill, simply:
- Take an alignment stick and place it into the ground next to your lead side, on a 45-degree angle from where the centre of your hips are
- Take another alignment stick and place it through the belt loops in your pants
- Set-up over the ball and take the club to the top of your backswing
- In the downswing, the aim is to get the alignment stick in your belt buckle to make contact with the alignment stick next to you before you connect with the ball
- Start off slowly, and gradually build to hitting three-quarter shots
Practicing this drill will ensure your hips are 45-degrees open at impact, rather than remaining square, which will give you ample room to swing the club without needing to compensate by flipping your hands or early extending.
This, in turn, well prevent the clubface closing over and moving the ball right-to-left in a hooking fashion.
Duck hooks can be debilitating when they strike while you’re out on the golf course – rarely do they lead to a good result.
But thankfully, they are curable, and following some of the tips above will put you on the right path to straightening out your ball flight.
Soften that grip, fix your club path, square-up your clubface and open those hips, and you’ll soon rid yourself of those nasty duck hooks.