Most golfers struggle with a hook at some point in their careers. This guide will give you all the information you need about how to stop hooking the golf ball.
Golf has a lot of age-old lingo, and once you start playing, some of the terms that might seem strange suddenly take on a very clear depth of meaning and we realize that the choice of words handed down through time are very carefully chosen, as they often perfectly describe a given motion or event.
One of the more common terms you’ll see thrown around the golf course is the dreaded “hook” shot. Let’s take a closer look at everything to do with the hook and understand why that is the perfect description!
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What Is A Hook?
A hook is a ball that curves too much from right-to-left for a right-handed player. The reverse is true for a left-handed player, their “hook” would be a left-to-right shot. For this article we will stick to the reference of a right-handed player.
A hook is the opposite of a slice, and is the same motion as a draw, but it becomes a hook when the ball is curving a lot more than intended.
You’ll also often hear the term “snap hook” which refers to a ball that is generally a more violent version of the hook that starts decently straight and then suddenly dives off-line mid-flight, and if the ball starts left of the target and moves even more left you can call it a “smother” hook. To understand why “smothered” is the preferred term for this shot amongst golfers, let’s take a look at what causes a hook and why.
What Causes A Hook?
Understanding the cause of your miss is an easy way to get better at golf without taking lessons. So let's talk about what causes a hook:
The first step to learning how to stop hooking the golf ball is the understand why it happens. Very specifically and very technically, by the laws of physics a hook shot is going to occur when the face is closed to the path of the club head at impact. Generally speaking this means if the face is pointed straight or left of the target at impact and the path of swinging out to the right of the target. It’s the same way you would spin a ping pong ball or a topspin forehand in tennis.
You can check your swing path by watching which direction your divots are going in. If your divots go to the right, your path is to the right. If your divots go to the left, your path goes to the left.
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This is the overriding rule that governs hook spin being put on a golf ball. There is another factor, however, called gear effect which, leaving the details aside for now, means that the strike location has also been proven to affect the spin of the ball. Balls struck on the toe will add more hook spin and balls struck on the heel of a club will add more fade spin. This could cause a ball with an otherwise decent face-to-path ratio to still produce undesired curvature. It can also “cancel out” the effects of face-to-path (to an extent) and a shot with, say, a slice swing could be hit off the toe and fly relatively straight (but probably not very far). The gear effect is most apparent with bigger club heads such as fairway woods, hybrids, and especially the driver.
This pretty much defines the spin that is going to be put on the golf ball. Now what leads to these things? Once you understand what path-to-face ratio and strike location can produce a hook shot, it is easy to reverse-engineer what had to have happened based on where you struck the ball, what line it started on, and where it ended up. What line it started on will tell you what the face was doing, and in order for a ball to hook on a good strike, the path must have been to the right of the face.
The most common way that a golfer ends up in this position is by shutting the face rapidly through impact and mis-timing their face closure. Slightly counter-intuitively this is often the result of having an open face in the downswing and trying to close it very rapidly, and many players will complain of battling both blocks (that start right and stay right) and hooks (that start on-line or left and move dramatically more left) at the same time, depending on their exact timing through impact.
Another way golfers hook the ball is by swinging the club too far out to the right, which can be caused by not rotating the body along with the arms. If the body is rotating it is always working to the left and it becomes harder to hook the ball. This is partly why Ben Hogan famously developed such a rotational swing, to stop hooking the ball. If the body stops moving or slows down through the bottom of the swing the arms can “sling” out to the right and players can get the path so far out to the right that they will also battle a hook shot.
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How To Stop Hooking The Golf Ball With A Driver And Irons
Like we’ve mentioned, given that strike location is taken out of the equation, the key to managing a hook is to understand path to face ratios and the resultant ball flight laws. This might sound very technical but knowing the causes will allow a player to make tiny adjustments pre-round or mid-round such as slightly altering their grip, stance, ball position or intended swing feels once they start seeing a hook.
Tour professionals are constantly checking these fundamentals, and they will help you too. Whether you want to break 90 or break par, keeping the following consistent is the first step.
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The first thing to check when you are learning how to stop hooking the golf ball is your grip and grip pressure.
Traditionally, strong grips are blamed for causing hooks and the logic is certainly there. Strong grips tend towards pre-setting the club face closed in the swing and if the face is shut to the path, the ball will either draw or hook. However, we also know that a grip that is too weak can cause a player to over-rotate the club face through impact trying to “save” the shot and can lead to the face closing down and a nasty hook, as well. With all the said, you can set yourself up for success by using the proper golf grip.
So the caveat here is that there is no grip that “causes” a hook, but it is a combination of grip and release in relation to path. Knowing this you can try to micromanage your grip to change your ball flight or reduce the chances of an over-curvature. It is a lot easier to change your grip than it is to change your release, especially on the course. A release change is a long-term project, a slight grip change can help you get through a round.
While there certainly could be instances where it works in the opposite way, generally speaking most players will lessen their hook tendency by weakening their grip, resulting in a ball that curves less, or starts right of the target and curves back to it.
Setup is an area that even pros struggle with doing exactly the same way every time, and believe it or not, it is one of the things they practice the most. Even an almost undetectable change in the direction of your swing can produce enough unwanted curvature to cause a missed green. That's why adjusting your setup might be a key to help you stop hooking the golf ball.
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Having a closed stance is one of the biggest things that can lead to a hooked shot. This stance sets a player up for exactly what the ball flight laws tell us is a recipe for a hook - swing path right, face left. Be mindful of this, as a closed stance is useful for a slicer but if your tendency is to hook you can’t afford to let your stance get out of whack in this direction. One very difficult habit to break is that a golfer sees their ball missing left, so starts “aiming” more right, which actually causes their ball to go MORE left, and is one of the reasons why amateurs find golf so mystifying and frustrating.
As difficult as it might sound, if you are missing left with a hook, try setting up with your body aimed SLIGHTLY more left, with the face still pointed at the target, and see if it calms down your hooks.
Proper Club Path
While setup affects the tendency of the swing path, ultimately your feeling or intention of where to swing is at play, also.
Again, a swing path that is too far right is going to bring hooks into play. It is definitely possible to swing left and still hook the ball, which would be the “smother” hook where even though the path is left of the target, the face is MORE left (“smothering” the ball), and this ball will likely be off the map entirely. This most commonly happens when a slicer happens to completely close the club face down before impact.
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If slicing with the occasional smother hook is not your tendency, however, it is more likely that you have an in-to-out club path that sometimes gets too far in-to-out and causes a hook. This is generally the pattern of a lot of high-level players and good ball strikers.
One way to manage this is just to “feel” like you’re swinging more to the left on your swing. You will see many pros in their rehearsals do very exaggerated slicer swings but still play a draw as they almost have to feel like they are swinging hard left in order to keep it from hooking if they have a very shallow, sweepy swing.
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Another way to do this is to use the older Tiger Woods advice of feeling like the hands stay lower on the follow through, which will help pull the path to the left slightly. The last and maybe best way to manage a hook pattern is to feel like the body is rotating more than the arms and the chest is opening towards the target slightly by impact. For example, that the trail shoulder is getting to the ball before the club head (even if this isn’t the reality). This will again neutralize the swing path, lean the shaft forward, usually help hold off the release, and produce better results for a hooker.
Proper Club Face Angle
Just like the relationship between setup and path, we have a relationship between grip and face angle at impact, but this is just a tendency and there are other factors at play as well. As we have noted many times, it’s not just one factor, but the combination of face in relation to the path, that creates a hook.
It’s good to understand a few reference points in the swing when trying to diagnose your hooks. At the top of the swing if the toe of the club points straight at the ground this would be considered by most to be an “open” club face. If the face of the club is pointed to the sky this would be considered a completely shut club face. Most players are somewhere in between, with the blade at roughly a 45 degree angle or matching their lead forearm. If you have a high quality camera, you can also check this face angle at P6 or when the club shaft is parallel to the ground right before impact. Ideally it would be matching the angle of your spine.
A face angle that is open at either of these positions can lead to a block/hook pattern (or slice/pull) if timing is off. A face angle that is closed at these positions, unless manipulated in a very strange way, will produce nothing but pull-cuts or hooks. Obviously bad shots can still happen even if the face angle is completely neutral in these positions because golf is hard and unforgiving and a lot can and does happen in the split second before impact.Checking these face positions can help because we know that if the face is shut, you better not be swinging to the right or you will hit low hooks every single time, and your only real chance is to hold off your release, lean the shaft forward, swing left and play a fade from there (a la Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka). Conversely if that face is open you are going to be very dependent on proper timing from day-to-day and swing-to-swing to produce a ball flight that behaves itself.
Lastly, one often overlooked aspect of face angle is also that de-lofting the club affects how open or closed the face is. All else equal, leaning the shaft forward makes the face point more right, and adding loft, early releasing, or “scooping/throwing” through impact makes the face point more high and left. If you are hitting high hooks one of the best things you can do is feel like you release the club slightly later with slightly more shaft lean (i.e. a “drive-hold” feel even if that’s not what actually happens) and you could see really exciting changes in ball flight and compression/sound with just this one adjustment.
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Proper Ball Position
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to stop hooking the golf ball is understanding how ball position affects face/path ratios. This is in fact one of the easiest “hacks” that good golfers use to alter their shot shapes without changing anything in their swing.
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When we understand that the club head is swinging on a tilted oval, we can visualize that as it approaches its low point, the club is traveling out to the right, and past the low point of the arc, the club head is coming back around to the left again.
The basic takeaway here is that putting the ball back in your stance will produce lower shots with more draw or hook spin, and more forward will produce higher shots with more cut or slice. You can use this to address your tendencies very easily and is a great mid-round or pre-round fix if you find yourself battling a big curve. For example, if you hit UP on a driver with a late release, it is a lot more difficult to have the path going too far to the right and hook the ball.
As with all of these modifications, be very careful to not over-do it, and be very careful combining multiple adjustments at once! Start experimenting with very gradual changes to one area at a time until you start seeing your ball start on the line you want and curving less.
Moving the ball too far forward can also cause you to start topping the ball, or hitting it thin.
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Drills To Stop Hooking The Golf Ball
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Use A Range Ball Bucket
Avoidance drills are maybe the best way to athletically change your pattern without any technical thoughts. If you are battling a hook, place a range ball bucket (make sure it’s plastic and not metal!!) down to help you neutralize your swing path if you are too far under the plane.
Position the bucket on your trail foot, and set it between your foot and the ball line so that when your club is properly soled the shaft is angled to be clear of the bucket. Give yourself at least 4-5 inches of “wiggle room” and from there simply hit balls while missing the bucket. It’s okay to start seeing cut shots while doing this drill as we are trying to establish the feeling of the path being more left.
Use An Alignment Stick Behind You Down The Line
A more “advanced” version of this drill is to use an alignment stick - either shoved in the grass or slotted through a range bucket. This stick should again match the shaft of the club. It should be set between the ball and your feet with enough room to miss the stick by 4-6 inches to start (you can always make it more difficult) and it should be set about a yard behind the ball (farther away from the target than your back foot - your hands should not be able to hit the stick).
Hitting balls while missing this alignment stick will help neutralize your club path by getting the entire club working on-plane even earlier in the swing. Be sure to only do slow swings and half swings with this in place, especially at first, as you would be surprised how difficult it is to actually change your pattern at full speed and you will send the alignment stick flying down the range, or even worse, potentially injure yourself or someone else.
Use An Alignment Stick In Front Of You Down The Line
Similar to the previous drill, we are going to use an alignment stick to make sure the club isn’t shoving too far out to the right through impact. Set this stick up similarly to before, either jammed in the ground or threaded through a (PLASTIC!) range bucket about 1 foot in front of the ball and 4-6 inches farther away from you than the ball line.
From here practice swinging UNDER that stick in the follow through which will result in a more covered, low-left exit that will stop the ball from hooking.
How To Intentionally Hook A Golf Ball
There are plenty of reasons to intentionally hook a golf ball, such as extremely firm, fast fairways where this shot produces maximum roll-out, a dogleg hole, or to get back in play out of tree trouble. If faced with any of these situations, here’s how to go about it:
The first thing to do is to get the face shut by strengthening your grip. You want the face pointing left of where it normally would be.
The second thing to do, after the face is pointing left, is to point your body to the right. Remember that the ball is going to START mostly where the face is pointing, and the amount that it is going to curve is proportional to how much more right of that your feet/hip/shoulder lines are facing. Be sure to aim far enough around any trouble to give yourself plenty of leeway and rely on the big curve to take care of business.
Swing In To Out
The stance just helps your TENDENCY to swing in to out, but you still have to execute the shot. Rehearse a in-to-out swing path, feel like you are hitting the inside of the ball, feel like you are sweeping the ball off the turf (this is not a shot to attempt out of the rough), and finish with your hands high. Do these as a rehearsal and avoid trying to think about them over the ball, but this pattern combined with the grip and stance will produce a giant hook, guaranteed!
Lee Trevino once quipped “you can talk to a fade but a hook won’t listen!” This sounds funny but rings true for every experienced golfer. The reality is that while a fade shot might end up weak and land soft, mitigating total disaster, a hook shot just keeps going, and going, and going … farther and farther from the target. It is also the bain of the good player’s existence, as the standard stock golf swing involves closing the face through impact and swinging in-to-out.
The good news is that there are plenty of tips and tricks developed over the years to manage a case of the hooks. The first thing to understand is the root laws that govern ball flight and face to path ratios, because there’s never just one reason why you hook, it is ALWAYS because of the relationship between the face and the path (assuming it was not a toe shot, when gear effect could also come into play).
Once you know this, you can use our grip (strong or weak) combined with your release (how much we either hold off or late release versus early releasing or over-releasing) to manage a face angle problem. If the ball is starting on line or right of target and hooking, you can use our stance, ball position, and drills that help change your swing direction in order to manage the path of your club head at impact. If all else fails, it may be worth it to get lessons to help you stop hooking the ball.
It’s actually small changes in these little feels in the swing and setup/grip tweaks that top players use to negotiate their ball flights day-to-day and shot-to-shot.
Now that you know what they know, you can play around with the parameters from this article and practice hitting big, giant hooks and then feeling how to tone them down into that coveted baby draw by changing one thing at a time and seeing how it affects your trajectories. And who knows, you might even come up with a new “get out of trouble” shot that you can use on the course! Good luck!