Golf is the only game with more teachers than players. Go to a driving range and you will  find any number of well intentioned (but not always well informed) folks ready to help you with your game.

“Hey I saw you top that shot, try keeping your head down,” or “I think you’re swinging way too hard; try slowing it down and you’ll get rid of that slice!”  And of course there’s the time honored, “You took your eye off that one.”

It just so happens that these tips, and others like them, do not help golfers and can in fact HURT their game. So let’s take a minute to separate fact from fiction and sort through some very common myths about the golf swing.

Myth No. 1: Keep your head down

In all my years of teaching and video taping golf swings, I have NEVER, I repeat never, seen anyone pick up their head at impact. Yet it remains the No. 1 self diagnosis of most golfers. One of the things I hear most often when people come to my lesson tee is, “I know what I do, if I could just learn to stop picking up my head.” The thought is so all consuming sometimes I ask if they are trying to smell the golf ball or hit it. The excessive attempt golf golfers to keep their heads down ruins their posture and therefore their ability to move in balance.

Fact: Keep your head up

In order to have balance, a golfer’s head must be up. Yes, golfers maintain eye contact with the golf ball, but if their head is down to the point where the chin is buried in the chest, this is a sure fire way to restrict the turning motion that is so critical in the swing. This is why bifocals become a bit of a problem; just to be able to see the golf ball, golfers have keep their head down too much. Most reverse pivots start with a golfer’s head too far down. Most “chicken wings”  (bent left arm at and through impact) are the result of a poor pivot caused by the head being too far down. Your head weighs between 8 and 12 pounds and is the heaviest part of the human anatomy. Keeping it down can make golfers top heavy and ruin their motion. Remember, heads up at set up!

Myth No. 2: Slow your swing down

The second most common thing students tell me is something like, “If I could just slow down, I’d be fine.” “See there I go again… too quick,” or “I rushed that one.”  I tell them something like, “You fight a slice. A slice is hit because the club face is open relative to the path of the swing. So if you slow your swing down and still hit the golf ball with an open face, all you are going to achieve is hitting a SLOW SLICE. It has nothing to do with squaring the face in and of itself!”

Fact: Learn to swing your arms as fast as you can

Almost everyone wants and needs to hit the golf ball farther. The No. 1 contributor to distance is speed. Lots of it. The more the merrier. With that in mind, why would a golfer want to swing slower? Most people I teach lack distance due to lack of arm speed. In fact, I can hear their practice swings, but rarely hear their real swing. That lovely “swish” sound we hear on television is from speed. If you can make that sound on your practice swing, you can make it on your real swing.

Try this: Put your feet together and see how much speed you can create by swinging your arms.  You’ll probably hit it farther than ever! Find the maximum speed at which you can swing without losing your balance and have a go at it. Swish your way to better golf!

Myth No. 3: The straight left arm

Forever it has been taught that the left arm should remain ramrod straight throughout the golf swing.  While this position, which is a preference and not a principle, is the chosen method of some great players, trying to make it the foundation of your golf swing causes any number of problems.

Fact: Soften your left arm

A high percentage of people I have taught over the years have too much tension in their swing, particularly in their upper bodies. This can be the result of holding the club too tightly or hunching the shoulders, but it is ALWAYS the case when golfers try to keep your left arm straight. Straight begets stiff, stiff begets tense and tense far too tight, thereby limiting your ability to turn your shoulders in the backswing. Try keeping the left arm relaxed and softer, even if means a slight bend in it at the top of your swing. The natural momentum of your downswing will extend it sufficiently into the impact position.  The benefits of a relaxed left arm will outweigh any advantage you get from keeping it stiff. And remember that Calvin Peete, who won the The Players Championship and 11 other PGA Tour events, was one of the straightest drivers ever and had a permanently bent left arm!

While these tips, and many others like them may help some people some of the time, misinterpreting them can be disastrous. Most of them fall into the “old wives tale” category, folklore that does not hold up in the age of enlightenment. Remember that there is no silver bullet, no magic tip or piece of advice that applies to all of us.  When you hear one passed on, you can bet it did not come from a knowledgeable teacher. One student’s medicine is another’s poison. Be sure to understand the meaning of these “tips” before incorporating them, and be doubly sure they apply to your swing.

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 and advanced certified instructor, a distinction held by fewer than 2 percent of all PGA Professionals. He is recognized as one of the top instructors in the country, and holds no less than seven PGA awards including "Teacher of the Year" and "Golf Professional of the Year." Dennis directs his own academy in Naples, FL. He can reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

Dennis holds two degrees in education and has worked with golfers of all levels for over 30 years. A native of Philadelphia, Dennis currently directs the Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.

GolfWRX Writer of the Month: April 2014, May 2014

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