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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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TXG: 8 handicap fairway wood & hybrid fitting

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Finishing the full bag fitting for our Mizuno contest winner by dialing in a fairway wood and hybrid!

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 2

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

Following on from Part 1 of this article, we examine reasons 4, 5 and 6 for why golfers suffer from low back pain.

Reason 4: Weak Core Muscles

Before we make start making exercise recommendations for this complicated area of the body, it’s worth asking—what is the core exactly? There is considerable debate about this often misunderstood region. Back pain expert Professor Stuart McGill, explains it as follows:

‘The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators’

In a golf context, there is a common myth that the core muscles are our main source of power in the swing. In reality, the main role of the core is to provide stiffness and stable support for force/power transfer from our legs to our upper body

If we can create stiffness and stability in our core, we can help protect our spine and surrounding structures from unnecessary strain whilst also improving swing efficiency—pretty sweet combo!

Due to a combination of perpetual sitting, poor posture and other detrimental lifestyle factors, our cores tend to lose this ability to provide stiffness and stability. We can combat and correct this with a solid core conditioning program. Below are examples of some of our favorite exercises.

Dead Bug with Fitball – the combination of squeezing the fitball whilst extending arm and leg delivers all sorts of great stimulus for the core muscles.

Bird Dog – great for glute, core and back strength

Pallof Press – fantastic anti-rotation exercise. Good for strengthening the core whilst using the ground efficiently

Reason 5 – Not Warming up Properly/Not Warming up at All!

As we’ve explained above, mechanical back pain arises from too much stress and strain placed on the back. During the game of golf, we treat our spines terribly—expecting them to twist, turn and contort with the aim of producing decent golf shots!

If we don’t prepare our bodies for an activity like golf and just go out cold, we significantly increase the chances for strain and stress being placed on the lumbar area.

I’m sure many of you have had the experience of throwing a ball or a stick hard without warming up, and received a nasty sharp pain in your shoulder. Now, if you were to warm up before doing that; stretching your shoulder, making a few practice throws etc, you’d likely avoid strain altogether. Same goes for the low back and the golf swing – without a decent warm-up, there’s every possibility of a strain when trying to rip driver down the first!

By incorporating a warm-up into your pre-golf routine, you can significantly reduce the risk for injury AND help avoid that card wrecking double-double start! As a side bonus, warming up regularly can help your general health, fitness, and wellbeing too.

We know that most amateurs don’t warm up; a study done by Fradkin et. al showed that around 70 percent of amateur golfers seldom warm-up, with only 3.8% reporting warming up on every occasion!

A decent warm isn’t hard and doesn’t have to take ages to complete; research shows that a warm-up of 10-20 minutes is sufficient. In the video below, Marnus gives a thorough guide to a solid warm up sequence.

Reason 6 – Swing Faults

Let’s not forget the golf swing. One of the most common reasons I see golfers struggle with low back pain is that they are unable to “get to their lead side” and “get stuck” on the downswing. This causes the aforementioned excessive side bend and rotation from the low back, which we need to avoid! 

“Getting stuck” on the trail side

Now we aren’t golf coaches and therefore don’t deliver swing advice. However, there are some fundamental movement patterns that most golfers could benefit from practicing. In the videos below, one of our favorite body orientated swing coaches, Richard Woodhouse, is using one of our favorite training tools, the GravityFit TPro, to help teach an efficient movement pattern. The aim is to develop a strong connection between arms and body, using the hips and thorax to rotate, thereby helping to avoid “getting stuck.”

Summary

The absolute best practice for a healthy golfing lower back is working with a golf swing instructor and also a health/fitness professional that understands the body and swing connection. As a team, they would be able to identify and improve your individual swing faults, movement pattern dysfunctions, range of motion deficiencies, muscle weakness, imbalances, and alignment issues.

If you don’t have access to such expertise locally, you may want to check out the online services offered by Marnus and Nick here:

Marnus – https://www.marnusmarais.com

Nick – https://www.golffitpro.net/

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50 Second Fix: Chunking your pitch shots

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Want to fix your chunked pitch shots? Watch this!

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