The difference between an open-to-closed golf swing, and a closed-to-open swing

I’m into the the heart of my second week in Dublin, OH and it certainly has been an eventful time of it, especially on the golf course. Indeed, the Workday Charity Open was a barnstormer and the duel down the stretch between Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas was thrilling.  

Off the course, things have been quiet for me.  I have spent a lot of time in the hotel room, reading, watching TV, podcasting, and making appearances on CBS Sports HQ.  Giving online golf lessons, via the Skillest App, has also kept me occupied, and there was one specific lesson that reinvigorated a debate that has raged inside my head for a long time.

At the center of the debate is a simple question: Is it easier to square the clubface at impact when the clubface is open at the top of the backswing, requiring it to close slightly? Or is it more effective to keep the clubface closed at the top of the backswing, and keep it from closing further through the swing.

It’s an important question to consider, because where the clubface is pointing at impact, along with the swing direction, will determine where the ball goes.

Webb Simpson has an open clubface with an extended wrist; Rory McIlroy is in a neutral position; Dustin Johnson has a closed clubface with a flexed wrist. (GETTY)

Personally, I like the idea of the ability to be able to slam the clubface shut on the downswing and through impact, without the fear of closing it too much and hooking the ball. To me that essentially reduces the tendency of a pulled shot and a two way miss.  

Nowadays though, a number of highly respected instructors will argue otherwise and a number of leading golfers play from shut to open.  To a certain extent I agree with this approach as the theory of reducing the rate of clubface closure through impact, and hence this approach has merit. 

Ultimately, it all depends on what helps you get that clubface squared through the impact zone.

“Open-faced” golfers (where the toe of the clubhead is dangling more towards the ground at the top of the backswing) need to “sling” the clubhead through impact to square the face. “Closed-faced” players (where the clubface is pointing towards the sky at the top of the backswing) “hold” the clubhead through the impact area to achieve the same result.

Here are some examples of each:

Open to Closed

Notable examples: Ben Hogan, Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson

  • The lead wrist should be moving into flexion in the transition into the downswing;
  • The lead hand should be moving into pronation (palm pointing toward the sky) through impact;
  • The head should remain “back” and the eyeline should remain on the back of the golf ball;
  • The rotation of the chest and shoulders should be a little slower and the clubhead should be accelerating “past” the body pivot through impact; and
  • The wrist and forearms should “cross over” each other post impact.
Notice Hogan’s clubface and wrist position. (GETTY)

Closed to Open

Notable examples: Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Lee Trevino, Viktor Hovland

  • The lead wrist should not move toward Flexion in the transition;
  • The lead hand should not pronate as much and the lead wrist should “raise” and remain ahead of the clubhead until after impact;
  • The head and eyeline should rotate toward the target through impact;
  • The body pivot should move more aggressively and lead the club through impact; and
  • The trail elbow should remain more under the lead arm with less forearm crossover after impact.
Trevino’s clubface is pointing to the sky at the top of his backswing. (GETTY)

Indeed both styles have their advantages and disadvantages, but the truth is that the most important thing is the ability to repeat whatever the chosen style is under pressure.

Finally, remember there is a point of diminishing returns to both methods.  One can certainly be too open or too closed making it impossible to consistently square the club through impact.

All I can tell you for sure is that “one size does not fit all.”

NEWSLETTER Contributor

On-course announcer and analyst Mark Immelman is passionate about the game of golf. As a decorated instructor, award-winning NCAA college golf coach, and an accomplished golfer, Mark brings a robust knowledge and vast experience to his role as a television broadcaster and golf instructor. He is currently a Golf Analyst for CBS Sports HQ, and an Analyst and On-course Announcer for CBS Sports and Golf on CBS. He currently also serves as a Studio Analyst and an On-course Announcer for PGA TOUR Live  for PGA TOUR Live.

The older brother to 2008 Masters Champion, Trevor Immelman, Mark grew up in Somerset West, South Africa. After a successful amateur career in South Africa he was offered a golf scholarship to Columbus State University (Columbus , GA). He enjoyed a prolific collegiate tenure highlighted by his four-time All-America selections, two-time Academic All-America awards, and two NCAA Div. II National Championship victories. After graduation, Mark had a short season as a playing professional, but quickly turned his attention to his true passion – golf teaching.

As a golf instructor, Mark believes in cultivating ability and talent by providing comprehensive, holistic golf instruction that is easily understandable and of the highest quality to golfers of all abilities and skill levels. His passionate approach and keen knowledge of the game have led to him being a sought-after mind by leading Professional and Amateur golfers alike. Through his career he has taught and/or consulted to PGA TOUR and European Tour professionals and tournament winners such as: Larry Mize, Loren Roberts, Trevor Immelman, Scott Brown, Patton Kizzire, Louis Oosthuizen and Will Wilcox. He has been recognized as one of “Golf Digest’s Top 20 Instructors Under 40”, Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers in the State of Georgia” and Georgia Trend Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40 – Georgia’s Best and Brightest”.

As a NCAA College Coach at Columbus State University (since 2001) Mark continues to coach the Columbus State Men’s Golf Team and his program is a perennial contender for Conference and National Titles. He is a two-time NCAA Div. II Atlantic/Southeast Region Coach of the Year, two-time Peachbelt Conference Coach of the Year, and the 2009 NCAA Div. II National Coach of the Year.

In 2019 Mark was selected as Captain and Coach of the (Arnold) Palmer Cup International Team. His team triumphed over the United States Team in the Palmer Cup Matches held at The Alotian Club outside of Little Rock, AR.

Mark’s additional broadcast duties include being a guest analyst on the CBS Sports “First Cut Podcast”. CBS Sports also uses Mark’s unique voice for audio and promotional PGA TOUR advertisements and promotional reads.

He has also served a 6-year tenure as a Play-by-Play Announcer for Sirius/XM PGA TOUR Radio.

Additionally, Mark hosts “On the Mark”, a PGA TOUR Podcast, which to date has been downloaded more than 3 million times in more than 125 countries.

He has also written golf instructional columns and articles for Golf Digest SA, Golf Digest USA and is currently penning instructional pieces for Golf Magazine. As an author, Mark has published two e-Books on golf instruction: “Scandalously SImple – The Easy Way to Accurate Golf Shots” and “Golf is a Game of Recovery”.

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