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Know what’s right for you: The dangers of unsolicited swing advice

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Golfers, in their never-ending quest to improve, will listen to almost anything if it means knocking strokes off their score. They should be aware that this practice can be really dangerous for their game, because not all swing advice applies to everyone. Even a good suggestion may not be good for them. 

I come across these scenarios all too often. Let’s say that Golfer A, a well-meaning friend or playing partner, passes along a tip that helped him improve to Golfer B. Golfer B tries it and suddenly can’t get the ball on the clubface. The very thing that was great for Golfer A was the worst thing for Golfer B’s game, and this happens more often than you might think it does.

Let’s look at a few situations. As you will see, good swing advice can often make things worse if the audience is wrong.

Swing Fault No. 1: “Rocking”

Throughout my years as a golfer and instructor, one of the most common swing flaws I see is the “reverse pivot,” or what the great John Jacobs more aptly described as “rocking.” Rocking is when a golfer’s weight shifts to their front foot, or towards the target, during the backswing. The golfer then falls away from the target in the downswing, moving weight to the back foot. This causes a very shallow attack angle into the golf ball and leads to a number of problems.

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Photo by J.D. Cuban: Image from Golf Digest.

Most golfers who cannot take a divot are rockers. When the body backs up to the rear foot, this causes the golf club to ascend, or hit UP on the ball. Golfers can get away with this on a tee shot since the ball is elevated on a tee, but they rarely hit clean shots from the turf.

Here’s where good swing advice from a friend can kill your game. A well-meaning friend points out that you are “rocking” and suggests that you “get more weight on the rear foot in the backswing.” He/she heard Mr. Analyst talking about it on TV or heard it said at the 19th hole.

It sounds good enough, so you shift your weight to the right foot as you take the club away. Great. Now you have placed yourself in a perfectly good position to miss the golf ball entirely. Why? Because you have corrected only one part of the problem.

A rocker’s body is very in tune with falling away on the downswing, because you rocked to your front foot in order to keep your balance. The trouble is that if you fall away from the new position at the top of the backswing you will hit UP more than ever. You went from shallow to MORE shallow, which can be a killer.

The original downswing move was somewhat compatible with a reverse pivot, but now it’s the WORST thing you can do. You will most likely miss the golf ball altogether if you shift your weight toward the back foot. This is a perfect example of good advice falling on the wrong ears and it can destroy a golfer’s progress. There will come a time to work on a better backswing. It’s just not the FIRST thing this golfer should do in this case.

Good teachers understand this dynamic and handle it with care. When to introduce a change and who should make that change is every bit as important as the change itself. Nothing happens in a vacuum in a golf swing; every single part of the swing is closely related to every other part. You cannot isolate a new move and simply try it on its own.

In the example I just discussed, the player would have been much better served to turn through the ball (as much as possible) until the attack angle actually gets steep. THEN he can work on turning AWAY from the ball.

A few more scenarios will help show that good advice in the wrong ears can hinder progress.

Swing Fault No. 2: “Over the top”

The dreaded outside-in swing path, usually accompanied by a steep plane, is a move that about 75 percent of golfers are guilty of to a certain degree. It usually results in a “fade,” which is just a nice word for a slice (the only golfers truly “fading” the ball are playing for a living).

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Again, when you are informed about this age old problem, your buddy tells you to “hit more from the inside.” However, until you’re able to correct the cause of the over-the-top move in the first place — a majorly open face — the dreaded outside-in path will be unaffected by his/her advice. So, the observation that you’re coming over the top is accurate, but you’ll need to learn to square the clubface if there is any chance to correct the path.

Swing Fault No. 3: Early Release

Golfers who release the club too early tend to slide in front of the ball. They MUST or they will hit well behind it. Are you going to:

  1. Learn to stay behind the ball first?
  2. Learn to delay your release first?

Here’s why it matters: You need positive reinforcement as soon as possible.

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Let’s say your buddy tells you to “stay more behind the ball.” If you do so before you correct the early release, you’ve made the problem much worse. In other words, getting in front of the ball complements an early release. It is not optimal, but it can be functional. By changing only one part of the problem, you are no longer functional at all.

Swing Fault No. 4: Flat backswing

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Matt Kuchar has one of the PGA Tour’s flattest swings, but his position at the top of his backswing matches the rest of his swing. That’s part of the reason why he’s one of the Tour’s most consistent ball strikers. 

Golfers with flatter backswings tend to turn their body into the shot from the top, which is done out of necessity so they don’t get too far underneath the ball. If he/she first learns a more upright takeaway before the “turning into it” move is corrected, most of the shots will be skulled or topped to the left. While the flat backswing MAY have to be corrected at some point, the order of the correction is all important to avoid that dreadful first shot negative feedback.

Good advice with bad timing is bad advice!

There are many scenarios that illustrate the moral of this story, but one thing is certain; the early days of changing your swing can be frustrating, often tempting you to dismiss the whole idea of making improvements. Find a teacher you can trust, however, and he/she will guide you on how to get the entire swing ready for the golf course. If you are a regular reader of my GolfWRX articles or one of my regular students, you know that I warn golfers all the time about the action/reaction dynamic in golf instruction.

No matter what your major swing flaw is, make sure to seek professional teaching advice and not just accept a band-aid fix from a playing partner. Often times, these quick fixes can cause more swing problems than you had in the first place, hindering your scores and enjoyment of the game in the process.

Before making any changes, think about their cause/effect on YOUR swing and whether that change will help or hurt YOUR game. If you don’t know what those causes and effects are, it’s often best to seek the advice of a professional.

As always, feel free to send a swing to my Facebook page. 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

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Dennis Clark

    Jul 10, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    AGAIN…this article deals with knowing what advice is right for you. It says nothing about who is dispensing the advice. If you are given a tip and it helps your ball striking regardless of who it’s from, USE IT! The article states that more than superficial advice is needed to correct the ROOT, the CAUSE of the problem. It suggests that the reader be wary of superficial advice that is given on a generic basis. Golf instruction is highly individual and whats good for the goose might terrible for the gander. If that’s not clear, PM me and Ill explain further. THX DC

  2. Pingback: Know what’s right for you: The dangers of unsolicited swing advice | Spacetimeandi.com

  3. Rich

    Jul 9, 2014 at 2:17 am

    Dennis,
    Yourself and Tom Stickney seem to be pretty switched on and enjoy your work as teaching professionals. It’s hard to find that. Do you guys possibly know any teachers in Sydney, Australia that are any good? I’ve tried a few but haven’t really had any luck finding someone that I would like to work with. Cheers.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 9, 2014 at 7:34 am

      I personally do not; Australia is a bucket list trip for my wife and me. Hoping to make it down there!

      • Rich

        Jul 10, 2014 at 9:39 am

        No worries. Thanks for the reply anyway. I’ll keep searching. Cheers

    • Pumper

      Jul 17, 2014 at 12:37 am

      Rich, have a look at lorienscott.com.au teaches out at NSW and Pure Performance Golf labs in Alexandria at night, uses trackman there. I have found him very helpful.

  4. tom stickney

    Jul 8, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Dennis…is the guy in the lead photo in the glasses Bill Carter?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 8, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      Not sure Tom, the editors chose that photo for me. I’ll ask do you know him? I was hoping it was a “buddy at the driving range” type pic…

  5. Dave

    Jul 8, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Dennis,
    I’m confused on one point here, did you really mean to say that an over-the-top move is caused by an open club face? I have always understood that an open face was typically symptomatic of an being over the top but not the cause.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Yes, the OTT move is caused by an open face. Players with square face or closed face do not come over. The open face cause is something else, possibly grip, plane, cupped wrist, no release etc, but when the face gets open it CAUSES OTT. Thx dave

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Lots of good feedback here. I always enjoy interacting with students or readers to get the feedback in terms of HOW you interpreted the article. Instructors are too often guilty of “golfspeak” that leaves students in the dark.. No question or comment is too inane because I get inside your thoughts and am better able to communicate through clarification. DC

  6. Putting Pro

    Jul 8, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Harvey Penick would never let his students watch each others lesson. For example: If you showed up early with Harvey you couldn’t wait by watching the current lesson.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      Exactly. Every swing is different. So every lesson should be as well.

  7. Dennis Clark

    Jul 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Actually just so I’m not misunderstood here, free advice MAY very well help you IF you know what advice applies to YOU!

  8. Tom Stickney

    Jul 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Great article! Free tips always seem to alert you to the effects of poor fundamentals; seldom the cause of the problem itself.

  9. David Smith

    Jul 8, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Now wait a minute here, Dennis Clark is offering dangerous free swing tips in an article titled “The danger of free swing tips”…. why should I trust this?!?!?

    Just kidding of course.

    Good article. I’ve been given a few swing “tips” on the course when I played as a single a few times. The odd thing is, when I was paired up I would warn them that I am working on some specific things in my swing that my instructor has given me to work on yet the unsolicited advice still pours in shortly after my announcement. Thankfully I have been doing this long enough to make sure I respectively smile and thank them but carry on with my own business.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 8, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      LOL…Actually i offer these thoughts free of charge. But my up close and personal advice is quite expensive 🙂

      • David Smith

        Jul 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm

        If I were anywhere to close to you I’d be making an appointment!

  10. CJ

    Jul 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I feel bad because you just enumerated every single thing that I’m working on in my swing now: my weight shifting, very steep attack angle, very flat backswing, and occasionally scooping my shots because I release early at times. I just managed to develop these habits as my swing was basically home made because I hadn’t had a pro in 9 years but now I just got a proper coach my swing and scores have gotten better. Great Article there.

  11. Jason Hawk

    Jul 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Great article, wish I could pass this along to more people. A few years ago I started taking lessons from a PGA pro, and will not take information given from anyone else. Best decision I’ve ever made!

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Instruction

Why you must practice under pressure if you want to play better golf

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Practice, as most of us employ it, is borderline worthless. This is because most of the practices, if you will, typically employed during practice sessions have little chance of improving our performance under pressure.

The type of practice that improves performance is, for the most part, rarely engaged in because practicing under typical “practice” conditions does very little to simulate the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we deal with once our performance actually means something. If we want to really improve our performance when it matters, we need to put ourselves in situations, often and repeatedly, that simulate the pressure we experience during competition. And nowhere is this statement more true than on the putting green.

The art and skill of putting is a funny thing. No element of the game requires less inherent hand-eye coordination or athletic talent. Putting’s simplicity makes it golf’s great equalizer. You roll a ball along the ground with a flat-faced stick in the general direction of a hole nearly three times its size. Sure, green speeds vary wildly, and there are those diabolical breaks to deal with, but despite that, putting is truly golf’s most level playing field; it’s the one element of the game where even the highest handicappers can potentially compete straight up with the game’s most skilled. At the same time, there are few other situations (other than maybe the first tee) when we feel as much pressure as we do on the putting green.

Ben Hogan, during the latter part of his career — years that were marred by poor putting — claimed that putting shouldn’t even be a part of the game because, in his words, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air, and the other on the ground.”

Now, Hogan suffered a serious case of the yips later in his career, and while this statement was likely uttered following a frustrating round of missed three-footers, it serves to highlight not only the differences between putting and the rest of the game, but how taxing on the nerves it can be for even the game’s greats.

Its inherent simplicity, the slow pace of the stroke, and how much time we are given to contemplate it, are in truth what sets us up. It’s golf’s free throw. We very often know exactly what to do, and how to do it, like when we’re faced with one of those straight three-footers, but with more time to think, it opens the door wide for the type of second-guessing that arises during those moments we feel a bit of pressure. And that’s the biggest part of the problem.

The self-sabotage that leads to missing relatively short easy putts, the reasons behind it, and practices to overcome it is something for a different article. What I really want to get into at the moment is a practice that I think can help ensure you never end up in that desperate place to begin with.

Most of us rarely practice our putting, and when we do, it’s in about the most useless way we can. We’ve all done it. You grab a sleeve of balls just prior to the round, head to the practice green, and begin rolling them from hole to hole around the typical nine-hole route. Now I could go into a whole host of reasons why this isn’t very helpful, but the No. 1 reason it’s such a pitifully poor practice is this: there is no pressure.

Early in my career, I worked at a club where there was at least one money game on the putting green every day, and many nights too. The members (and staff) putted aces, 5 for $5, rabbits, and many other games for hours on end, and when the sun went down they often switched on the clubhouse roof-mounted floodlights and continued into the wee hours. Many days (and nights) I witnessed hundreds of dollars change hands on that putting green, occasionally from my own, but in my younger days, that was fortunately an infrequent occurrence.

Those money games were a cherished part of the culture of that club and an incredibly good arena in which to learn to practice under pressure. To this day, I’ve never seen as many really good pressure putters (many of very average handicaps) as I did during that period, and when I think back, it’s no small wonder either.

The problem with practicing golf, or just about any other sport for that matter, is that it’s difficult to practice under the types of pressure we compete in. In 4 or 5 hours on the golf course we might only have a half dozen putts that really mean something, and maybe only 2 or 3 of those knee-knocking 3 footers with the match on the line or the chance to win a bet.

When I was younger and playing in those money games on the putting green, I had a meaningful putt every minute or two, for hours on end, and you either learned to handle that pressure pretty quickly or your hard-earned paycheck was being signed over to someone else. Now I’m not bringing this up to encourage gambling, as I know for some people that can become a serious issue, but rather to point out how the opportunity to practice repeatedly under pressure helped me learn to deal with those situations. And with how infrequently we even get the opportunity to face that same pressure when we actually play, it’s important to try do our best to simulate it as often as we can during practice.

So when it comes to my own students these days, I don’t necessarily encourage gambling (I don’t discourage a little bit of it either), but I do encourage putting and practicing for something. I’ll get three of my students together on the putting green and say “look, you guys putt for 30 minutes and the loser has to do 100 push-ups” or something similar. I’ll tell students to putt against a parent for who has to mow the lawn, do the dishes, or some other mundane household chore neither of them really wants to do. The point is to have something on the line, something that will make it really hurt to lose.

You can even do it by yourself. Wait to practice putting right before lunch or dinner and make a pact with yourself that you can’t eat until you make 15 three-footers in a row. Until you find a way to practice under pressure all that practice is really just that: practice. You shouldn’t be surprised if, when the chips are down, mindless practice doesn’t translate to improved performance. Hopefully, by learning to simulate pressure during practice, you’ll play better when the heat is really on.

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WATCH: How to execute the “Y-style” chipping technique

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney of Punta Mita Golf Academy shows an easier way of chipping around the greens to get the ball rolling faster and ensure ball-first contact. Enjoy the video below, and hope this helps!

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WATCH: Try the “battering ram” drill to achieve ball-first contact

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Yes, you heard me, one of the best drills we have is the battering ram drill. It is awesome for getting the relationship between body turn and arm swing correct, and improving your impact conditions. Enjoy the video, and hope this helps!

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