Early Extension in the Golf Swing - What Is It and How Do You Fix It

Early extension in the golf swing is the most common swing characteristic among amateur golfers.

According to TPI, over 67% of amateur players (n=90,000) have the early extension swing characteristic.

To compare, less that 2% of professional golfers (LPGA, European Tour, & PGA Tour) have early extension.

That is quite a contrast and may be one of the biggest reasons why the pros are much better ball strikers than amateur golfers.

The Early Extension swing characteristic causes a myriad of issues, including pulls, hooks, slices, mis-hit balls, inconsistent iron distance, topped shots and the dreaded shank. 

It can also be the reason that golfers have two of the other big 12 swing characteristics, over the top and loss of posture.

With 67% of golfers having early extension the chances are good, you have it too. 

Luckily, I have the solutions for you!

Free Guide!

As a bonus to you readers, I have created a FREE guide that lists exercises that will help eliminate early extension from your swing.

Download it below!

Click to Download the Guide

Early Extension, What Is It?

Early extension occurs when your lower body moves closer to the ball during the downswing.

This lower body movement will force you to come out of your stance, causing you to lose your posture. 

Since the space between your body and the ball has become smaller, it’s hard for your arms and hands to stay on an inside to out swing plane. 

Therefore, you have to rely on hand-eye coordination to get the clubface back to the ball square to the target line. 

What tends to happen is the forward movement opens up the clubface causing you to push or slice the ball.

The other alternative is that your hands become too active, and the clubface reaches the ball closed, ending in a hooked shot.

The lack of space for your arms and hands can also give you problems hitting the sweet spot on the clubface. Resulting in weak, mis-hit shots, with a significant loss of distance. 

If that isn’t enough, early extension can cause your arms to get trapped behind your body leading to block shots that have little to no power or distance. 

There’s More

Golf is hard enough to play when you know where the ball is going.

When you have no idea if you are going to hook or slice the ball, the game becomes increasingly frustrating for you. Adding to the frustration is the loss of distance because of miss hit shots.

Besides the erratic curvature of the ball, early extension also leads to poor iron play because the change in swing place makes it hard to find the middle of the clubface.

It’s hard to play to pins when the carry distance of your irons varies by 5 to 15 yards each shot. 

In my opinion, early extension should be one of the first swing characteristics you need to fix.

You have no control over shot shape, distance control, and oh, did I mention that it can also lead to lower back pain?

How Early Extension Causes Swing Issues

When a professional golfer swings a club, their pelvis rotates like it’s in a cylinder. See the images of Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson below.

During the backswing & downswing, their backside stays in the same relative space as when they addressed the ball. 

Since the pelvis is shaped more like an oval than a ball, it moves outside the cylinder as it rotates. But their body stays back during the swing.

The early extension swing characteristic forces the pelvis and hips forward toward the ball. In other words, the distance between the body and the ball has decreased.

Since the lower body is closer to the ball, there is less room for the arms and hands to swing the club during the downswing.

Golfers say they felt trapped or stuck during the downswing. Their hips are getting in the way of the swing.

Swing compensations will need to happen due to the change in the swing plane. Since the body has moved forward and is taking up less area than at address, some postural changes during the swing have to occur. Most often the forward movement makes the golfer stand more upright and in order to hit the ball the body will dip at impact.

As you can imagine, this is not good, and it will cause all kinds of different shots and ball reactions.  

Below are Steve Stricker’s and Dustin Johnson’s golf swings captured at address, top of the backswing, and at impact. Notice that their pelvis never left the red line drawn on their butt at address. Neither have early extension.

The question is, do you?

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Swing Results Due to Early Extension

Early extension can cause many unwanted swing results. The result depends on how the body compensates for the decreased space between the body and ball.

As previously mentioned, a typical swing result with early extension is a block or push, and the ball will move out and away from the target.

If however, the brain realizes the swing path is too far inside to out, it will compensate by having the hands close the clubface at the last second of the swing. If the timing isn’t perfect the clubface will close too much, and the result will be a hook. 

The opposite can occur too. If during the backswing you start to move towards the ball, your arms and hands will have no choice but to swing over the top in an outside to inside swing path. Inside of a push, you now have created a slice or a pull. 

There’s one more, the block, where the arms and hands are trapped behind the hips and legs on the downswing. This swing will cause a block to the right of the target and usually poor timing and a lack of distance.

Biggest Issue

Here is the biggest issue with early extension, you can have drastically different ball flights. You are forced to aim down the middle and hope that the ball doesn’t slice or hook too much and miss the fairway. 

To make matters worst, the change in swing plane also makes it hard to hit the ball in the sweet spot of the club leading to weak, mis-hit shots and making distance control almost impossible. 

With the early extension swing characteristic, you can miss the green, right, left, short, or long and you are at the mercy of your hand-eye coordination. There is no way to produce a repeatable swing and a consistent game. 

Well, that’s not true, you will have a consistently poor game.

These reasons are why you need to correct early extension as soon as possible. 

Early Extension Can Cause Other Swing Characteristics

Early extension is one of the “Loss of Posture” swing faults. 

For me, when I had early extension, it caused me to swing over the top. Instead of driving my lead hip toward the target and rotating it to the counter-clockwise and pulling my arms down into the slot, my body moved forward toward the ball and my arms had nowhere else to go except around my body.

If early extension starts during the backswing, the space between the body and the ball is gone even before the downswing starts. The arms and club have nowhere else to go except to come over the top.

Another common swing fault caused by early extension is flat shoulder plane. Instead of keeping the shoulders pointed down and aimed at the ball, they flatten out more parallel at the top of the backswing and point well out in front of the ball. 

How Do You Know If You Have Early Extension?

The easiest way to know for sure is to record a video of your swing from the down-the-line view and see if you keep your butt back during your swing.

You can do this with your smartphone: How To Video Your Golf Swing.

Below are some down the line photographs of my swing in July 2015.

In the first photo, I’m in my address position, you will notice I have drawn a short red line on the backside of my butt. In a good swing my butt and hips will not leave this line, just like Stricker’s and Johnson’s swings.

TPI Swing Assessment Program

Send me a video of your swing and I will analyze it for you. Not only for early extension but all of the 12 common swing characteristics.

I will send you back a report containing screenshots of your swing marked with diagnostic lines and a written analysis of whether or not you have any of the 12 most common swing characteristics. 

The TPI Swing Assessment Program can also include a corrective exercise program.

For more information on this service click the button to learn more. 

Learn More


Ok, Back to the Photos: At Address

In the first photo, I’m in my address position, I have drawn a red line on the back edge of my butt. 

Top of Backswing

In the second photo, the club is positioned at the top of my backswing.

You can already see a space between the line and my butt. My lower body has moved towards the ball.

Even on the backswing, I exhibit the early extension swing characteristic.

I have not drawn a line at the top of my head, but I can tell you it hasn’t moved more than a couple of inches.

In fact, on the downswing, my head is at the original set-up position.

Most people with early extension stand up and out of the address position, instead, I scrunch myself up.

At Impact

The third photo is taken at impact. Notice that the distance between the line and my butt has increased even more since the top of the backswing.

Look how bent my upper back is at impact as I try to stay down on the ball to hit it.

What is Causing My Early Extension?

I know that I need to stay in posture, I need to keep the angle of my knees and hips the same. In my mind, I know I need to keep my butt back and not extend my lower body forward.

It appears that I can’t rotate my hips and shoulders while staying in posture. I’m also sliding, so not only is my body moving toward the golf ball, it’s moving toward the target too.

I can hear a swing instructor now, “You need to keep your butt and hips back and keep more distance between your hands and your head.” 

He would also say, “Keep your lead arm straighter when you reach the top of the backswing.”

I know this shit. I can see it. 

But why can’t I do it? 

Because I Lack Mobility & Stability

How do I know? Because I got myself screened by a TPI fitness professional. 

The TPI screen results show I have a limited hip hinge and some pelvic and thoracic spine rotation limitations (see below why this is important). As well as, a lack of shoulder stability. 

As shown in the photos, my inability to rotate my pelvis and T-spine significantly impacts my swing. 

The lack of shoulder stability won’t allow me to extend my hands up and away from my head. 

These mobility and stability issues don’t stop me from playing golf. They do stop me from playing golf better, though.

My brain tells my body that it needs to rotate back, so the body does whatever it can to get the job done. My body figured out that if I make myself a little more upright I can rotate further, and if I bend my lead arm I can bring the club back more. 

The body will find a way to swing, problem is, there’re always consequences. 

I’m rotating more from my lower back, which isn’t designed to rotate significantly and is probably the reason why late in the round I have low back pain.

A swing instructor can scream at me all day to keep my hips bent, bring the club back higher, but whatever the command is I won’t be able to repeat his instruction. I might be able to do it once or twice, especially if I concentrate on doing it, but I won’t be able to do it the next time I play.

Not until my mobility improves. 

That said, I have learned to compensate, I find a way (by compressing my upper body & sliding) to get the clubface semi-square to the target at impact. Mostly I push the ball with this swing. But once I start aiming down the left side of the fairway to compensate for the push, that rogue hook shows up, and I double cross myself. 

I also mis-hit the ball quite often, yardages vary shot to shot. I’m just as likely to be on the front of the green as I am the back of the green. 

To play better, I need to address my physical limitations that are causing me to early extend.

Physical Causes of Early Extension

There are several physical limitations that may cause early extension.

To identify limitations, I recommend you have a TPI screen performed on you. For more information, you can read Why You Should See a TPI Professional.

Early Extension Screens

Below are the physical screens used to identify early extension.

Performing Full Deep Overhead Squat

Almost 99% of people that have early extension can’t perform a full deep squat. That is a high percentage and is not a coincidence. The same physical limitations that stop you from doing a deep overhead squat will cause you to early extend.

Lower Quarter Rotation Test

Rotation of the hip is crucial in allowing the lower body to rotate completely around the spine at the address angle.

If the hips don’t rotate the typical compensation is to stand up out of your address position to gain more rotation, this brings your body closer to the ball.

Hip rotation is best evaluated using the lower quarter rotation test.

Pelvic – Torso – Seated Truck Rotation Tests

Being able to separate rotation on the upper & lower body is essential to maintaining swing posture.

Picture your golf posture from the down-the-line view. Imagine drawing a line from the middle of your head to the middle of your waist. Then another line from the middle of your waist to the center of your knee. The lines form an angle; it doesn’t matter what this angle is for this visualization, only that it exists, and you want to keep the angle the same when you swing.

If you can’t turn the upper body on that axis the only way to get rotation is to force the torso upright and rotate the lower back and hips in the same direction. This pushes the hips closer to the ball.

The pelvic rotation and torso rotation tests will check for this limitation.

Pelvic Tilt & Bridge Extension Tests

Being able to stabilize your lower body is key in keeping the hips in one place while they rotate.

If you can’t tilt your pelvis or keep the legs stable during the swing, the result may be early extension.

The pelvic tilt and single leg bridge with leg extension tests can be used to determine if you can stabilize the lower body.

Possible Non-physical Causes of Early Extension

There are some non-physical causes that may create early extension. If you don’t have any of physical limitations previously discussed you should see if any of these possible causes below are responsible for your early extension. 

  • Clubs are too long;
  • You are standing too far from the ball;
  • Your weight is too much on your heels at address;
  • Postural issues.

I have created a FREE guide listing exercises that will help you eliminate early extension. Download it below!

Click to Download the Guide


More on Early Extension

I have written another article on the early extension swing characteristic. 

It was written several months after the photographs above were taken.

I did my mobility correction exercises gaining more mobility in my hips and T-spine as well as increased the stability in my core and shoulders. 

You will see a significant improvement in my swing by only doing mobility corrections. 

You can read the article here: Best Way to Fix Early Extension in the Golf Swing.

I hoped this article has shown you that swing faults can be caused by the lack of mobility and stability. 

Don’t get me wrong; swing instruction is good, but if you can’t get the body into the positions that the swing instructor wants it is going to be hard for you to improve. 

The swing instructor can work around your limitations, but most likely you won’t be happy with the results. Fix your physical limitations by having yourself screened or taking one of my courses or programs to improve your mobility before you see a swing instructor. 

At that point, he or she will have more to work with and you would not only move better but will be happier with your golf swing.

Remember, you can’t swing like Adam Scott until you can move like Adam Scott. 


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