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Get the most out of your lessons

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I know of a great professional who, mid-way in his career, decided to change his swing.  He wanted to be more consistent under pressure and win more major championships. His routine consisted of hitting 300-to-500 balls working with his teacher in the morning, lunch and then to the course. As soon as he would make one of the old swings, he and his teacher would head back to the practice tee. It took the better part of a year to make the change he wanted.

I often give lessons to golfers who leave a one-hour lesson and immediately go play with their regular group for a $5 Nassau or whatever it might be. Out of my own curiosity (and amusement I might add), I often get a golf cart and sneak around to watch things play out. It is enlightening and unbelievably predictable. In most cases, golfers can’t even go two holes without making the old mistakes. By the end of the lesson, the slice was gone– maybe it had even turned into a nice little draw. But almost IMMEDIATELY, the slice comes back for golfers on the course, time after time. Why can’t they take it to the course, they wonder?

There are several reasons, but we should begin with the most obvious: They shouldn’t have gone to the course in the first place! At least not that soon after a lesson! If golfers absolutely have to go to the course, they should go alone. Maybe they could go with a close friend of theirs, but they should NEVER go with their peers (unless they like them so much they want to donate to their beer money).

After most lessons, golfers should spend their majority of their time learning the new swing motion. It is foolish to think that they can make a swing change quickly enough to head straight to the course. Most golfers have been swinging the club a certain way for some 20+ years. They really think they can make a change in an hour? Seriously?

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But here is the really interesting part of the story: Most golfers are able to make positive changes very quickly under the guidance of the instructor. That means that they are certainly physically capable of doing it. But because many students have great success during a lesson, they assume (almost always incorrectly) that they have mastered the new move. But it just doesn’t work that way.

On the lesson tee, golfers get feedback on every swing as they are directed through a change. It’s like riding a bike with training wheels. But on the golf course, the training wheels aren’t allowed. Golfers are on their own, and at that point, their new swing can’t hold up without the teacher input. Very often, things get worse.

The reason for this conundrum is that contrary to what most golfers believe, they simply did not “get it” on the lesson tee. They were walked through it; and at that point, it is far too soon to be without the eyes of the teacher. This is why I advise my students to bundle their lessons, because I don’t believe that one lesson gets it done. Take your lessons in a more concentrated package, and keep them up over time.

In a lesson, golfers are fully concentrated on going through the process with their instructor, and they are not so worried about trying to produce a result. That’s the nature of proper practice for a swing change. It’s N.A.T.O. (not attached to outcome) golf, as I call it.  Golfers are simply thinking of the changes they’re trying to make and getting the body and/or the club into a new position. So what if it goes 30 yards off line?

As soon as golfers get to the course, however, their whole focus shifts to OUTCOME and getting a RESULT. And as soon as they do that, they have lost all sight of the process. For example, “Turn the shoulders more in the backswing,” as you were working on with your instructor, becomes “How can I save a bogey or NOT hit it in that bunker!” There goes that one-hour lesson right down the drain.

And of course there is our old friend, peer pressure, a golf virus that infects all of us. “I will look so silly if I top this ball into the lake in front of my buddies,” peer pressure tells us. Because who wants to be the worst golfer on the block or in the office? A golfer’s chances of making the new move in the early stages of a swing change are slim and none with peer pressre, and that slim didn’t have a tee time that day.

And then there’s the pencil, every golfers worst enemy. As soon a someone is standing there with that little lead stub with no eraser, counting all a golfer’s shots, all hell breaks loose.  Many golfers shy away from the pressure and say something like, “Oh I’m not keeping score today.” With that attitude, they play pretty well and go to the 19th hole saying, “Hey, If I’d have kept score today, I would have done really well.” Image that!

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Here’s the deal: If you are committed to changing some things and playing better down the road, spend way more time on the practice tee than the course after a lesson.  And if you do go to the course, go alone and at a time when you can drop a few balls on each hole and work on the change. Or you may even enjoy a late nine with your spouse in a very non-competitive atmosphere, and work on the new stuff there.

It is difficult to change any motion habit, let alone one as complicated as a golf swing. If you put your jacket on right sleeve first, just try left sleeve first for a week. See how often you catch yourself doing it the old way. You know you CAN do it, but your body is screaming, “But this is the way I’ve always done it.”

If you’d really like to get the most out of a golf lesson or golf school, walk the walk don’t just talk the talk. Take a month or even a season and commit to the change without reservation. A lifetime of better golf awaits if you do.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Pingback: Taking it to the golf course | Hacker to Single Figures

  2. Jesse

    Dec 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Old swing habits can creep back even years after you made a change. I was in college and simply was laying the club off on takeway, my instructor basically made me stay in certain positions until it actually started to hurt because i held it so long. Played great for about 5 yrs then i stopped working on it and took a couple months off and no more range. Only play 2-4 times and month now, guess what my swing is exactly the same as it was before my lessons again. Went from a 9, to +1 and now i struggle to break 80, as all the old habits have crept back.

  3. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    I never expect what works on the range to work on the course. And vice versa. The range and the course are two different games. The best stuff I’ve learned I learned on the course.

    • naflack

      Dec 20, 2013 at 2:39 am

      +1

    • P

      Dec 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Double Mocha Man,

      That is, IF you are already a good ball striker. Please don’t be telling that to beginners.

  4. Rich

    Dec 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    After committing to a series of lessons my instructor asked that I not play until the series was over, and since the lessons were full swing he recommended that I not practice the changes but use time away from instruction to practice putting instead. Two sessions of one hour a week for eight weeks made my putting improve WAY more than the full swing lessons. Best lesson I ever received.

    • naflack

      Dec 20, 2013 at 2:45 am

      so it wasnt enough that you committed to a series of lessons…?
      that instructor has some serious onions.

  5. Adam

    Dec 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    i agree 100% with this, i got a lesson that changed my whole swing in early august and spent the better part of a week straight hitting golf balls on the range, before my dad got bored and wanted to go play. take the time to let your lesson sink in and be able to do it by yourself repeatedly.

  6. paul

    Dec 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I had a lesson that changed everything for me. I folllwed it up by playing a round of virtual golf the next day (-40 degrees outside) and did 10 strokes better. now that i have had a year to work some mlre on what i learned i shot 80. Lucky i guess.

  7. Ian Bainbridge

    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:22 am

    If people felt a major improvement in their game from having a lesson then they may commit to the process, but not many feel they have that change. If teachers could keep it simple and get the basic fundamentals into a golfer then we would all improve. How many golfers turn up for a lesson, feel they don’t get much, and go back to the old swing fault?

    If people swung in and up on way back, and down and out on way through, most of us would have a nice baby draw instead of the fade/slice 80% of us have. That and not trying to knock the cover off the ball 😉

  8. naflack

    Dec 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Good stuff…
    Definitely take any opportunity to practice on the course.
    If its slow and you’re a single hit a couple extra shots here and there where time allows.
    Some of my best practice rounds haves come playing with my wife, she couldn’t care less about what I’m doing and how well I’m doing it.

  9. Andrew Adamonis

    Dec 17, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Boy this sounds like me. I never go right to the course after a lesson, but my swing changes do tend to fall apart after several holes. Makes me think that improvement in golf just takes too much time and money. Wish there was an easier way.

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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