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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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