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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

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Anon

    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:17 am

    Never swing as fast as you can. Any pro will tell you that.

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  3. Pingback: Golf Swing Myths | Golf Swing Tips

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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  12. Peter G

    Dec 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm

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

  13. 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”!!!

  14. 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

  15. 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……..!

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

  17. 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

  18. 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.

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

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. 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.

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

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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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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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