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The Enlightenment of Golf Instruction

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There is an ancient adage that says, “May you live in interesting times.” In golf instruction, these are the most interesting times, “The Enlightenment” as I like to call it. The reference is of course to that great age of scientific discovery that followed the Dark Ages. Our golf enlightenment is here, right now, and those of us in this field are the benefactors of all the science that is available to us.

The scientific breakthroughs are the result of the myriad of new technologies at our disposal. No longer are we in the dark ages of conjecture, estimation and “seems like.” We have the ability to know precisely what happened on every swing and every shot. And the real truth is available to anyone curious enough to seek it.

Having been at my craft for some time, it is truly exciting to be a part of this enlightenment. For the first 400 years or so of golf instruction, teachers used nothing but their eyes and experience to estimate how the golf ball behaved and what caused it to do what it did. The “Ball Flight Laws,” as we called them, were our one and only guide. It worked fairly well, but I think down deep we all knew something was missing.

Then came the advent of video, the ability to observe motion with high-speed, stop-action cameras that provided far more detail than we had with the naked eye. We could better observe the swing by slowing it down and stopping it, and even comparing it to the greats of the game.

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Above: A Golf Digest swing sequence of Rory McIlroy (left) and Tiger Woods. 

With video, we could actually show the student what they were doing; they no longer simply heard us instructors, they could see in vivid detail what the video captured. Again, it worked well, but real truth seekers still knew something was missing.

What was missing, we now know, was this: The real golf swing is a 3D motion (the backswing is up, in and back; the downswing is down, out and forward). It has forces, torques and a planar quality that cannot be captured completely by 2D video. The flat screen depiction lacks the depth dimension that is so critical to understanding actual motion.

How could we get better? Along came the latest in our quest to gather, store and analyze data: 3D motion analysis systems and Doppler radar launch monitors that can track the golf club and golf ball along their entire journey. Eureka! The holy grail! At least for now.

I am not here to demean video teaching. I use it, my students love it and it has merit; particularly observing the body motion of the player. But to capture and quantify the extent and true range of motion, forces and torques, a 3D system is needed.  I have a very trained eye for a golf swing, but I cannot see what the radar sees no matter how closely or carefully I look. And even if I could, it is nice to know how much of what I’m seeing is germane to a student’s problems.

I use Flightscope, which measures and/or calculates 24 variables of golf club and golf ball in swing or flight. Do you know how far you hit every club in your bag? Do you know your optimal launch conditions for every drive you hit? How about the TRUE path on which you’re swinging?  These things are vital to understanding and improving your swing and are discovered by radar only.

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I love learning as much as anything I do in life. It is exhilarating staying up past the point of fatigue just to gather a little more insight into a subject. I’ve been this way my whole life, and I feel that any committed teacher should be a dedicated, lifetime learner. Could I “get by” on things I knew years ago? Sure. Could I make a living teaching golf without the investment I’ve made in technology? Probably. But those who cease to learn should cease to teach.

It might be comfortable to stick my head in the sand and regurgitate popular adages about the golf swing, but that would never satisfy my insatiable appetite for learning the truth about what is going on right before my eyes. This quest is challenging and, at times, frustrating. It is never easy to abandon long-held beliefs when confronted with new insights. We see this dynamic in all walks of life. But when science proves something beyond all doubt, it is incumbent upon the teacher to pass these truths on to their students.  If there is an art to this craft, it involves the humility of saying I don’t know it all, I have much to learn, but I do know where to find it. Once the truth has been discovered, the teacher continually works on new ways of presenting these findings to the student. There are an infinite variety of learning styles, and instructors are constantly working on ways of several ways to present the same information.

Here’s an example: 80 percent of the initial direction of a golf shot (the horizontal launch) is the result of the clubface at impact. I believed otherwise for many years. Radar proved my theory wrong, so I now teach what science knows to be true. If there is an art to golf instruction, it has to do with this humility.

This knowledge quest also keeps my work from getting stale and recharges my teaching battery every day. It is my job to know the subject in all of its complexity and teach it in all simplicity. Staying aware of the science of golf instruction allows me to do just that. Last week, I helped a guy conquer a serious case of the shanks. There is nothing quite so rewarding as the smile in a student’s eyes when they hit better shots. It keeps me grounded and reminds me how uncommonly lucky I am to do what I do.

If you like science as well as golf, please enjoy these enlightening and entertaining facts.

  • The golf ball is in contact with the club face 0.0004 seconds. That is 800 times faster than one can blink an eye.
  • The average touring professional has the golf ball on the face of the club about 3 seconds for a full season on tour.
  • The toe of the golf club travels some 14-to-15 mph faster than the heel, and 7 mph faster than the sweet spot.
  • The highest ball speed ever recorded is 226 mph. The average ball speed on the PGA Tour is a mere 168 mph.
  • The fastest club head speed ever recorded is 151 mph . The PGA Tour average is 113 mph.
  • Bubba Watson led the PGA Tour last year with an average ball speed of 185 mph.
  • Every mile per hour you can increase your swing speed will net you about 2-to-3 yards of extra distance
  • Elite level ball strikers hit every club (driver to wedge) the same height. For PGA Tour players, the average is 30 yards (90 feet).
  • At impact, the force of the golf club on the ball is more than 1600 pounds.
  • A golf ball struck 1 inch toward the toe OPENS the face some 5 degrees.
  • A golf ball struck 1 inch toward the heel CLOSES the face some 5 degrees.
  • The average drive by a PGA Tour player is in the air 6.5 seconds. The average RE-MAX Long driver contestant hits a drive with a hang time of 8.5 seconds!
  • The average driver attack angle on PGA Tour is 1.3 degrees DOWN.  The average attack angle in Long Drive Competitions is 5 degrees UP! One 2010 contestant recorded an angle of attack that was 13 degree up (+13).
  • A ball struck as little as ONE DIMPLE toward the toe or heel of the club can open or close the face enough to affect the shot.
  • On a driver with 10 degrees of loft, the bottom of the face will have about 7 degrees of loft; the top of the face will have about 13 degrees of loft!

There are many of these “fun facts” on various sites on the web; people such Dave Tutleman, Sasho Mackenzie, Steven Nesbit and others conduct vital research on an ongoing basis. I am a teacher, not a scientist, and as such, have benefited from the “R&D” of the many golf engineers and scientists who take the time to study this area and provide us all with great research. As instructors, it is our job to take it to the golfer, and the golfer’s job to take it to the course.

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

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Jason Sutton

    Jan 10, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    Well written and thought out Dennis. This is the attitude that I feel like our profession is heading. Thanks for sharing
    Jason

  2. duckjr78

    Jan 2, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    A fantastic article. I agree with everything you have written. I especially believe that we should all be willing to admit that what we once held as dogma, is often incorrect. Kudos to you.

  3. Marty Strumpf

    Dec 31, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Great article. As a PGA Teaching Professional with almost 30 years of experience I have to agree with you that we should NEVER stop learning. The new technology provides us with valuable information that we can interpret for our students to help coach them to future success. The true art of teaching is having the ability to communicate effectively. It makes each lesson unique and to me it is part of the fun of our jobs! There is nothing like the look on someone’s face when they “get it”

  4. KC

    Dec 30, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Solid writing, solid science.
    Best thought: “Those who cease to learn should cease to teach”.

  5. No one method

    Dec 30, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    I really like this artical! Just reading pure facts was so refreshing when golf media is so full of “i have a method that is best (and even backed by science)” instructors.

    No more Edel sales please. More facts like this write up please.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm

      That’s the beauty of teaching with technology. We craft a swing around the numbers we see, not around a “theory”. Thx glad you enjoyed it

  6. paul

    Dec 30, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    I love golf number facts. I am not an instructor at all but have learned enough to help people that have the same problems as me. So i know what you mean about helping someone and feeling rewarded. Most of what i picked up came from your great articles. Thanks for brining me from a 36 to a 15ish in two years. And my friends thank you as well.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 30, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      You’re welcome, glad I could help! Stay tuned, more good stuff to come

  7. Sean

    Dec 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Dennis, I believe the adage, “may you live in interesting times” is actually a Chinese curse.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm

      OH noooo 🙂 I cursed all my readers!

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 30, 2013 at 6:56 pm

      I don’t believe any Chinese source was ever found for that BTW. Blame it on Confucius!

  8. mifty

    Dec 30, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Nice article. Although, newer Wishon drivers use roll/bulge to keep the loft the same on any part of the face (except the very bottom).

  9. Dennis Clark

    Dec 30, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Really! can you even imagine anyone calling it work! Here’s another little nugget: In a round of golf we are in the act of swinging the club maybe 3 minutes (about 2 seconds per shot). So comparatively top touring pros don’t work a lot!! Just their whole life getting there!

    • John Iaciofano

      Dec 30, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      I always enjoy your articles, Dennis. Fascinating, helpful stuff.

  10. Ian

    Dec 30, 2013 at 11:35 am

    “The average touring professional has the golf ball on the face of the club about 3 seconds for a full season on tour.”
    Those pros! Get a bloody real job!!!

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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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Instruction

Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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