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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

Stickney: Sit on it (for a better backswing)

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As we know golf, is a very tough sport and one that involves many moving pieces. Whenever something overreacts or moves too much on the way back, you end up playing catch-up on the way down. One of my favorite things to watch is how the head moves or doesn’t move on the backswing. Sure, you can have some movement, but you can’t have too much or you put yourself behind the eight ball.

I have charted the head position of a tour player at address and we can see that this is a very normal set up position. It is one that looks positioned to do great things.

However, en route to the top, you can see that this player has put himself into a position where his rear knee straightened too rapidly off the start of his backswing. When this occurs the pelvis “runs out from under” the upper body on the backswing the hips will react and begin to slant downward. (You can see a -10 degree tilt versus 3 degrees the opposite way at address for you number people.)

This causes the head to move out in front of where it was at address. This is not a bad position for the irons but for a driver we have a pending issue. If you don’t make a compensation from here then the player will have an angle of attack that is too much downward through impact with their driver.

As the player moves into his transition, the hips have leveled as the rear shoulder lowers the club into delivery but the head and pelvis are still too far out in front of the ball. The only thing you can do from here is fire the lead side upwards and hope that your head falls back into the correct position. If so, you will have the correct angle of attack, if not, you will chop down on the ball causing your launch conditions to be faulty.

And as we see here that this is precisely what this player did at the very last minute…not the easiest way to swing the club but it is functional IF you make the right correction. So, now that you understand how simple things like the action of the lower body can cause your head to move and your angle of attack to become faulty, what is the secret to controlling your lower body?


Just “sit” on the rear knee flex slightly longer during the backswing as you see here. This will slow down the tilting of the pelvis on backswing and thus your head will stay more in position en route to the top.

Personally, I teach both flexion and extension of the rear knee to the top, depending on what the player is wanting to do, so it really does not matter. However, what does matter is the rate at which it begins to straighten for those of you who do allow it to lengthen. I try to make most of my students hold the most of their address flex until the club moves between belt and chest high, any sooner and you risk the faulty pivot we saw above.

Therefore, take it from me and “sit on it” slightly longer for more quiet head motions as well as a more balanced backswing—your angle of attack will thank you!

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Davies: Training the trail elbow in the golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get the correct trail arm and elbow action in the downswing. He shares some great drills that can be done at the range or at home to help lower your scores.Get the correct training for the trail arm here today!

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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