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Three golf swing myths that can hurt your game

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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 by 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 is far too tight, thereby limiting your ability to turn your shoulders in the backswing. Try keeping the left arm relaxed and softer, even if it 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. 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

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Pingback: Can I Play Dragon City On Mobile Vs Active Now Golf How To Swing | RMS

  2. Pingback: Golf Swing Myths | Golf Swing Tips

  3. matt

    Aug 26, 2014 at 2:52 am

    I’ve only played golf a few times on a course (4 rounds or so) and hit balls at a driving range a few times, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the back yard trying to get my swing down by hitting wiffle balls. I had started to feel good about my swing and then I went and stepped up to a real course as opposed to the all short par 3 “challenge” course I was used to. I started out miss-hitting everything as I was swinging as hard as I could given the first few holes were primarily par 4 and 5’s so I naturally was just swinging my hardest. Later in the round I started to steady my swing instead of “swinging for the fence” and things straightened out quite a bit while still having decent distance. I don’t really feel that swinging your hardest is good advice at all for beginners. Maybe if you’ve been playing for a few years and have a decent swing already formed, then yeah you should work on speeding it up as much as possible, but it’s a lot like throwing a football or hitting a baseball. If you try and throw your hardest you’ll likely throw a duck, or if you try and swing for the fence everytime you’ll likely pop out/strike out quite a bit more often. Consistency is key. If you’re on the PGA tournament you better drive the ball 300+. But for those of us struggling to hit over 200 consistently while keeping it even remotely straight, I say back off a bit to keep it more consistent.
    Just one uninformed golfer’s opinion.

  4. Jason

    Jul 13, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Good advice…What I think it comes down to is: you can look at a hundred PGA tour players and they have a hundred different swings, from the extremely unorthodox and jerky looking Jim Furyk to the perfectly angled and polished Adam Scott yet both are very successful.

    • Dave S

      Apr 17, 2015 at 10:38 am

      True, but they all look nearly identical at impact. That is the key… it doesn’t matter what your backswing or follow through look like so long as they play a role in getting you to the proper position at impact. That said, you will have more trouble reaching that proper impact position with poor swing mechanics. Even the “odd” swingers on Tour (Furyk, Ryan Moore, Spieth, Bubba, etc.) have great mechanics underlying their unorthodox swings.

  5. Rich Linkemer

    Mar 19, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Dennis is a TERRIFIC GOLF INSTRUCTOR. I am in Naples in the process of concluding 3 sets of 5 lessons from Dennis.
    His patience, knowledge of the game, and his teaching abilities are absolutely fantastic. This is coming from a guy who has been teaching for the past 30 years. In my opinion, the Marriott Rookery is fortunate to have such a wonderful person running a quality school.
    Rich Linkemer
    314-614-1348

  6. patty

    Mar 18, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I agree with this article except for the speed aspect. Sometimes faster doesn’t always transition into a better golf shot. Hard outr of control powerful swings run a jhigher risk of left and right dispersion because it is more difficult to get your timming. However over time you can learn to swing really hard and eventually get consistent and accurate. However I think teaching someone to swing as hard as they can is hurting them more so than helping in the short run. Im a 2 handicap and my driver swign speed is 114. Which is on the higher end of the spectrum, but I swing with extreme smooth tempo. If I wanted to swing the club at 125…I wouldn’t be surprised if I could get that number on the monitor…however its uncomfortable and I don’t feel confident swinging that fast. ITS ALL ABOUT TEMPO

  7. Joe

    Mar 17, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Great article and I would, as a golf professional, totally agree. I’m not sure what planet Nick P is on he sounds like one of the pseudo coaches that thinks people lift their heads. Funny.

  8. Steven R. Yagoda

    Oct 14, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Could not agree more, I work with beginners and see how this can be so misinterpreted. They can’t make a turn because they are so focused on keeping their head down. Their backs are often rounded as well. Instead explaining the premise of ground up and proper rotation “tips” are given in an effort to give the quick fix. A repeatable swing can only come about from proper sequence and being able to feel it.

    Steve Y.

  9. Larksley Fortenbrass

    Jun 10, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I must confess to trying to swing slowly in order to maintain my balance when what I should be doing is smoothing out the transition into the downswing and trying to “swish” through the ball. I find some of my longest shots are achieve that way and I am surprised by just how much carry I can achieve even when I get a nice high ball flight.

  10. Pingback: GolfWRX.com – What fundamentals?

  11. Peter G

    Dec 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Oh and I have problems compressing the ball, sometimes I do, sometimes I dont.

  12. Peter G

    Dec 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Hi, Great post. I have had these (all of them!) drummed into me since I started golf 14 years ago. I tried to do them all but it just didn’t make any difference (seems I was barking up the wrong tree). My biggest problem is my approach shots, inaccurate and usually fading to the right, any ideas?

    Should rename myelf “Desperately seeking greens in reg”!!!

  13. cody

    Nov 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    ive been told to keep my head down dont understand it and to swing slower but when i swing fast i feel like i hit the ball better

  14. E

    Jul 15, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Nick P –
    you must be one of those teachers that this column is talking about, huh? LMFAO……..!

  15. Pingback: Play Better Golf By Ignoring These 3 Destructive Golf Myths | | Golf Leisure MagazineGolf Leisure Magazine

  16. dennis clark

    Jul 14, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Picking the head up, defined as increasing the distance from the chin to the sternum, is a movement, as measured by all the motion analysis systems, that is minimal to non-existent in every golf swing. it has nothing to do with posture loss or the movement of any other proximal parts

  17. Nick P

    Jul 14, 2012 at 7:21 am

    “Edwardo July 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm –
    Hmmmm! Your quote “I have NEVER, I repeat never, seen anyone pick up their head at impact”
    I don’t know the standard off golfers you teach, but from what I have seen the vast majority of golfers above an 18 handicap lift their heads not only at impact but well before impact.
    After spending several years studying the golf swing I would suggest the worst and most common fault in the amateur golfers game is excessive movement (swaying, dipping, pulling out of the shot etc) all of which are reduced by simply concentrating on keeping your head still through the shot.”

    The head is a movement relative to posture. Your head is connected to your spine thus if the spine angle changes the head will to. Swaying has nothing to do with keeping the head down. “Dipping/Pulling out of the shot” is caused by again a change in posture or spine angle which without looking closely at the student you will only see one side of the story.

  18. Pingback: Play Better Golf By Ignoring These 3 Destructive Golf Myths | Talking Golf Online | Insider Golf Tips I Learned From The Pros & More ...

  19. Troy Vayanos

    Jul 9, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Nice post,

    I agree totally. I have been told repeatedly whenever I hit a poor shot that I was swinging too fast. This is a lot of rubbish. I’ve never heard anyone tell Tiger Woods or Bubba Watson etc. that they swing too fast and yet their clubhead speeds are much faster than mine.

    I’ve never seen a great player with a slow swing speed. In fact they only look slower because their golf swings are so fluid and it gives the assumption that they are swing slower then they really are.

    Cheers

  20. Edwardo

    Jul 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Hmmmm! Your quote “I have NEVER, I repeat never, seen anyone pick up their head at impact”

    I don’t know the standard off golfers you teach, but from what I have seen the vast majority of golfers above an 18 handicap lift their heads not only at impact but well before impact.

    After spending several years studying the golf swing I would suggest the worst and most common fault in the amateur golfers game is excessive movement (swaying, dipping, pulling out of the shot etc) all of which are reduced by simply concentrating on keeping your head still through the shot.

  21. Greg

    May 15, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    One thing I would caution on is fact #2 to swing the arms as fast as you can. I am getting closer to finally getting rid of casting the club, aka throwing the club from the top. However, this has been a long path of hard work, studying golf, watching pro swings, and lessons. I feel that I now have a great amount of knowledge on the golf swing; but, if 6 months ago someone would tell me to swing the arms as fast as I can I would cast even worse and probably cause damage to my shoulder or something else through the use of incorrect excessive force. I don’t think everyone understands the concept of “swinging the arms” and it would be good to point out those things in the article to caution people.

  22. Goober

    Apr 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    None of these things will matter, if you don’t have a good pivot with shoulder turn.

  23. Nathan

    Apr 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    This MYTH column is great. I would now like to see the column add DRILL section to fix the problem.

  24. Mark

    Apr 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Could you please do a regular column on “myths.” The stuff I hear coming out of the mouths of golfers (and some teachers for that matter) that’s pure nonsense could fill several columns, heck volumes.

  25. Mike

    Apr 25, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I am guilty of always trying to keep my head down that I am left unbalanced and I do not have the best shot. Great read!

  26. Dave T

    Apr 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I was out playing golf with my wife and she was hitting it terribly due to being off balance. I made her play the next 3 holes, every shot, with her feet together. She hit the ball great. That is a great drill.

  27. Pingback: 5 golf swing “myths” that can hurt your game | Augusta Blog

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Instruction

Master your takeaway with force and torques

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Most golf swings last less than 2 seconds, so it’s difficult to recover from any errors in the takeaway. Time is obviously limited. What most golfers fail to realize is that the force and torque they apply to the club in the initial stages of the swing can have major effects on how they are able to leverage the club with their arms and wrists.

Our research has shown that it is best to see the golfer as a series of connected links with the most consistent golfers transferring motion smoothly from one link to another and finally to the club. Approximately 19-25 percent of all the energy created in a golf swing actually makes its way into the motion of the club. That means the remaining 75-80 percent is used up in moving the body segments. This emphasizes the fact that a smooth takeaway is your best chance sequence the body links and become more efficient with your energy transfers.

In the video above, I give a very important lesson on how the forces and torques applied by the golfer in the takeaway shape the rest of the swing. There will be more to come on the subject in future articles.

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Learn from the Legends: Introduction

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There is a better way to swing the golf club. I’d prefer to write that there is a correct way to swing the club, but I know that really freaks people out. People love to talk about how everyone’s swing is different. “There are lots of ways to get it done,” they say. “Look at Jim Furyk’s swing – it’s not what you’d teach, but it works for him.”

To some extent, they’re right. Elite swings do have different looks. Some take it back inside (Ray Floyd). Some cross the line (Tom Watson). Some swings are long (Bubba Watson). Some are short (young Tiger). But these differences are superficial and largely irrelevant. When it comes to the engine – the core of the swing – the greatest players throughout the history of the game are all very similar.

Don’t believe me? Well, let me prove it to you. In this series of articles, I will do my best to show you – with pictures and videos and data – that the legends all move a specific way. Focusing on these elements (while ignoring others) and practicing a certain way is the surest path to improving your golf swing and lowering your scores.

So, let’s get into it. There are a number of important elements that all the legends have, but the biggest and most important of these elements is rotation. Every great player throughout the history of the game has had elite rotation. It’s the most important thing they do, and it’s easy to see. When you’re looking down the line at all the great players at impact, you’ll see hips and torso open.

This is what the legends look like at impact:

1Hips open
2Torso open
3Both butt cheeks visible
4Left leg extended and visible

And here’s what some very good players with less good rotation look like at impact:

These are very successful players (one of them is a major champion!), but they don’t move like the legends of the game.
1Hips and shoulders not open
2Left leg not totally visible
3Can’t see both butt cheeks

Now, there are plenty of nuances to how great players rotate. They do it while keeping spine flexion, for example, and they do it with very little (or no) lateral movement toward the target (lateral movement impedes rotation). I will discuss these things in detail. My hope is that at the end of this series you will have a much better understanding of what separates the legends from the very good… and from the rest of us.

You will understand their “engine,” and hopefully this understanding will help you begin to create your own legendary swing!

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10 reasons your golf game isn’t improving (even if you’re practicing a lot)

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One of the things I hate to see is when you watch someone come to the practice facility day after day, week after week, truly doing what they think is best for their games and they continue to get worse. In fact, you can actually do more harm than good by “practicing” if you are not careful. So in this article I want to give you my top-10 reasons your game is not improving, even if you’re practicing more than ever.

1) You’re not practicing, you’re just getting exercise

We all know the guy who walks into the grill room and boasts that he has hit five pyramids of balls that day. The problem is, at least 90 percent of those shots were a complete waste of time! This guy is only getting exercise, not doing himself any good whatsoever. As a matter of fact, this is my number one pet-peeve for my clients who have retired and are looking for something to fill their day. When you hit this many balls, you have no chance to get better as you are only ingraining poor swing flaws or improper motions from getting tired.

Please limit yourself to one hour per range session, and use this time wisely with slow motion swings, proper feedback, and mirror work; this way, you just might improve. Anything past that hour mark (unless you’re a trained professional athlete or top-level amateur), and you are spinning your wheels, in my opinion.

2) You don’t understand “feel vs real”

Feel and real are two different things, and if you don’t know the difference, you’ll have to practice twice as hard for twice as long to get any better. Remember the feeling of making that “new” move? How weird it feels and how similar it actually looks on camera? Don’t be afraid to exaggerate a new move in order to make the change you want; if you don’t exaggerate it, then you may have to put in much more time in order to eradicate yourself of whatever move you’re trying to eliminate.

Use video feedback to remind yourself of what is actually happening when you’re making a swing change. Huge changes in our mind often translate to very small changes in real life; the camera will remind you what needs to be done.

3) You only practice the fun things

How many times have you gone to the range and worked on smashing your driver versus working on hitting trouble shots around trees, or your super-long lag putting? In fact, we are all guilty of working on things that we are already good at or enjoy doing with the excuse that “we don’t want to lose it.” Personally, I hate practicing my long irons and seldom did when I was playing, and because of this fact, I am not too stellar from outside 200 yards still today. Why? Because that was in the days of small bladed forged irons and whenever you missed them they felt terrible and therefore I avoided them. Not a smart idea. Hone your strengths, but work hard on your problem areas to really improve.

4) You’re not making practice uncomfortable and pressure filled

Another one of the things I constantly see is where a player can hit the ball like a champ on the range, but the moment they walk on the course, things change for the worse. Why? Because they become too outcome focused. If they could reverse the mental process — making practice pressure filled and the course worry-free — they would be a world beater. My favorite drill is to set a goal during a practice session, such as making 100 3-footers in a row; and if you don’t reach that goal, open up your wallet and throw $20 on the ground for someone to find. If you do this, I promise you will focus and feel pressure. These are the type of things that one must do in order to simulate game-like conditions.

5) You’re not testing your changes on the golf course

Ok, you’ve worked on it, and you feel that you have mastered the “new” move that will cure your snap hook… now take it to the course and test it out! There is no better way to see if your no-double-cross swing is working by aiming down the line of trouble and trying to work it away from it. The course is the only place for you to see if you truly have a grasp of the new move, and under pressure on the course is the only way to actually know for sure!

6) Your equipment isn’t truly fit to what you’re trying to do as a player

If you have faulty equipment, then how can you actually know you have eliminated a faulty move or funky shot? Maybe those super-slick grips are causing your grip pressure to increase at address and this is the reason why you tend to swing the club too much to the inside on the way back? Or is it a faulty motion of the forward arm and wrist? If your clubs are not correct, then you will always fight something that might not actually be your issue.

Think about the buddy of yours who has irons that have an incorrect lie angle… how much easier could the game be if they were correct?

7) You don’t have any… goals, practice, evaluation or feedback

I’m sorry, but just swatting balls daily is not the best way to get any better! Have you ever asked yourself “what is today’s goal?” and then “what is the best way to work toward achieving that goal?” Next time you’re at the range, ask yourself those two questions, and then ask yourself how you will measure this and understand the feedback you’re given. Most people do not even think of these things, nor do they have factors in place in order to do so.

To be a better player, like in life, you have to have clear-cut goals in mind, or else you are being sloppy. Remember to take into account the four things above, or you will not improve as rapidly as you’d like!

8) You’re working on mechanics only, not how to score

Yes, you can do either or both in your practice, but don’t get them confused! What is your first objective in a given practice session — making a more consistent motion or lowering your score? Most of the time, they don’t have anything to do with one another.

9) You’re overly focused on the “look,” not the function

Are you too focused on making a perfect swing instead of one that is functionally correct and repetitive? Yes, we’d all like to look as pretty as Adam Scott, but understand that Furyk has a better record — it’s not about beauty, it’s about function at the end of the day.

10) You’re working on your swing with a non-professional

This is one that hits close to home, as I HATE to see people working on the incorrect things on the range, or from their buddy who can’t break 90. It kills me to watch someone working on their exit pattern when their grip or transition is the fault. Please make sure you at least consult with someone who knows more about the game and the swing than you do, and if your thoughts check out, then by all means go at it alone. I’m a big fan of players being self-sufficient, but for every Watson or Trevino who figured it out on their own, there are millions of golfers who screwed themselves up royally doing this.

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