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What Tiger taught us about hitting pitch shots

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Watching Tiger struggle around the greens at the Hero World Challenge was both astonishing and enlightening. It was astonishing because it was Tiger Woods, and enlightening because it was more proof that feel and technique are equally important in golf.

Touring professionals make the game look ridiculously simple at times. They make it look so easy that we often take their technique for granted. We assume that their form is so grooved that all they concern themselves with is feel. But when we see a player of Tiger’s caliber completely flub no less than seven greenside pitches in four rounds — a few of them flying 5 feet or less — it reminds us that technique is a big part of short shots, and that even the world’s best struggle when they lose form. Granted, Tiger was not the only player to struggle with the grainy lies on the greenside slopes around Isleworth Country Club during the event, but he did seem to have a serious case of the chipping yips, a rare occurrence for a player of his caliber.

Greenside pitches and chips are played from a variety of lies and slopes from a wide assortment of different grasses. That’s why the very first thing a player needs to do before they hit a pitch or chip is assess the lie of the golf ball. Golf club selection, setup and stroke are all based on the lie. My students often ask “what shot should I play from 35 yards,” or some other distance. The answer is based completely on what the course will allow — the lie, needed carry, room for the ball to roll out, etc.

Pitching over a hazard or to an elevated green from a tight lie is a completely different shot than one from deep grass. To complicate matters, a shot from the rough into the grain is a drastically different than a shot that is downgrain.

Let’s take a look at some things that might help make us more comfortable around the greens in sticky situations.

A pitch, which is a short, lofted shot played near the green, is all about attack angle and loft. When you’re in the rough and the golf ball is sitting DOWN, the attack angle needs to be sufficiently steep. To play the shot, you want to flex at the knees a bit more than usual, play the ball slightly forward-of-center in your stance and emphasize the weight on the lead foot with a slightly open face. I would be careful of placing the hands too much in front of the ball from deep rough, as it tends to take too much loft off the shot. Hands in front is a steepening technique, but in the rough the ball may not pop out sufficiently, so be careful.

The swing for a pitch should be wristy, elevating the club abruptly and being fairly aggressive through the hitting area. Deceleration is a killer on this shot, because it is played very similar to the blast shot from a greenside bunker. Once you’ve decided to go with this shot, HIT IT! Expect the ball to roll out a bit when it lands.

Conversely, if the ball is sitting UP in the rough consider not grounding the club at address. This will help guard from going under the ball and hitting it high on the face — it will also help avoid incurring a penalty stroke for moving the ball. Depending upon how high the ball is sitting and how far you have to carry the shot, a firm-wristed chipping motion is not a bad method here, but the ball needs to be hit with a very LEVEL attack angle for a clean, center-struck shot. Shots off the top of the face have reverse vertical gear effect, which makes them fly shorter. You can generate a little spin on this shot if it’s hit perfectly.

Pitching from tight lies is a bit different than shots from the rough, but again, attack angle is critical. Depending on the bounce of your wedge, which is the angle of the sole from the leading edge to the trail edge, you might need to employ a different entry into impact. If you have a wedge with a good amount of bounce, say 12 degrees or more, you will need a steep attack angle. A shallow, wide-bottom swing can cause the leading edge of the club to hit the belly of the ball instead of the bottom and the dreaded skull shot is predictable.

To ensure a steep angle of attack, narrow the stance, keep your weight on your lead leg with the ball slightly back in the stance and set your hands ahead of the ball. The setup here is similar to chipping, but you’re using a club with a lot of loft. Where the shot differs from a standard chip is the swing — it’s more UP, so set the wrists a little in the backswing. I also recommend a little turn though the ball with the body into impact. I see too many pitch shots hit fat from tight lies because players try to remain stationary with the body.

With a low-bounce wedge, say 10 degrees or less, it’s best to keep the attack angle more shallow. The leading edge can dig into the turf behind the ball if the attack angle gets too steep. I’d recommend a little wider stance (never too wide with a pitch), your weight fairly evenly distributed and the hands above, not in front, of the golf ball. The swing secret with a low bounce wedge is to use little-to-NO wrists. Push the arms away on the backswing to ensure a wider swing bottom and a more shallow attack angle. Use little-to-no wrists on your takeaway to avoid having the leading edge stubbing the ground behind the golf ball.

This may sound overwhelming, but all I’m really suggesting here is a setup and swing technique to complement the shot at hand. Avoiding skulls or chili-dips can be simply a matter mental preparation. And remember to never fight the slope! The same spine angle you’d set for uphill and downhill shots from the fairway apply around the greens (shoulders parallel to slope, spine perpendicular).

Finally, if you play in Bermuda grass, be careful of the grain. An into-the-grain pitch is a really tough shot. Any slight miscue is magnified greatly. Again, do NOT set the hands too far ahead for fear that the leading edge will dig into the grain, which will cause you to hit the shot fat.  The ball can be back, but leaning too forward or de-lofting too much also runs the risk of hitting it fat. Set up over the ball with the hands above it, not in front, and weight fairly evenly distributed. I’d recommend more of an arm swing than a wristy one.

Remember my tips the next time you set up to a pitch shot that makes you uncomfortable, and remember to always read the slope and lie before you choose on your shot.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page and send me a message, or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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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

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Josh

    Dec 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm

  2. sixty7

    Dec 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I laughed when I saw this title. You’re reading way too much into fatting a couple chips. What did Tiger teach us about hitting pitch shots? He taught us the hitting pitch shots off grainy thin lies are hard when you’re rusty.

  3. Alan

    Dec 11, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I practice short shots with the Floppy ball in my living room. Its really, really great for getting over the yips and learning to strike down on the ball.

    Try them if you can find them. They are really good.

    • Pure

      Dec 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      My sons learned how to hit that shot using plastic balls in the basement and hitting them off carpet onto the pool table. You either have to clip it really well or open the face a bit and let the bounce take care of the shot.

  4. Billabong

    Dec 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Jeff, please!! We will not worry about you threatening to win a spelling bee. Looser? Really? Loser.

  5. Harvey Lonn

    Dec 11, 2014 at 6:33 am

    I wish that I could have read this article when I first started playing out of Bermuda rough! It would have saved me many years of frustration and lost opportunities.
    Better late than never.
    Thank you Mr. Clark!

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      you’re welcome harvey, hope it helps

  6. Happyday_J

    Dec 11, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Love your articls Dennis, very well written as well as insightful. I just finished college golf and will be hitting the mini tour circuit next season. CANT WAIT!!!

    I found, for myself the most difficult shot was into the grain and trying to hit it on a lower trajectory. Mid to high wasn’t a problem b.c I was able to open the face to expose more of the bounce to have more room for error, along with the ball more forward to further aid in solid contact.

    I finally had a UREKA moment. Maybe this might help others. What I started to do to bring the trajectory down was use less loft. Pitching wedge, 9 iron, but still open the club a fraction with the ball center to forward in my stance. The less loft helps bring down the flight and with the ball position and slightly open keeps the leading edge exposed.

    Hopes that helps….

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Very true. Less loft when possible from Bermuda rough is never a bad idea. Risky over hazards at times.

      • Happyday_J

        Dec 12, 2014 at 12:45 am

        Yes absolutely, risky over hazards. Thats why I resort to that when I am attempting to hit a lower trajectory shot. Over a hazard, you almost always need some sort of elevation.

        I just found using less loft, while still opening the face to expose the bounce is easier to hit it more solid when hitting a lower trajectory shot, rather than taking a wedge and delofting it, which exposes more of the leading edge.

  7. Pure

    Dec 10, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Tiger does not have enough bounce on his wedges.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:19 am

      I believe it’s the same bounce that won 100+ events around the world, no?

  8. RG

    Dec 10, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    If it happens once, it’s a fluke. Twice and its an issue, seven times and there’s a bona fide problem. Tiger is dealing with mental issues and its not pretty. Four coaches? back to my old swing? So you admit it was a mistake to change in the first place, and you’ve wasted the last 12 yrs. doing the wrong thing. So you can make mistakes, you are fallable. I nwas at Isleworh this weekend and I believe Tiger has lost his nerve. Old Tiger was infalable and fearless. This Tiger knows what can go wrong and plays with that fear. SEVEN (7)! greensiode chunks!he’s scared.

    • Kyle

      Dec 10, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      He is not scared. He could fix it in a week’s work, maybe less. It’s not yips. It’s bad form.

      • RG

        Dec 11, 2014 at 7:27 pm

        You mean he doesn’t know how to hit a chip and needs to take a lesson?
        You’re saying that the 37 years he’s been playing is not enough, he just needs 1 more week to learn how to properly hit a chip of of Bermuda?
        Isleworth used to be Tiger’s home course, he’s literally, and I mean literally, played thousands of rounds there. He shot 59 on that course in a practice round. He hit 7 chunks in competition because he accelerated and was totally calm. Or not.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:17 am

      Interesting. He was fearless once; not so now. But he’s still Tiger…don’t count him out quite yet. It was strange though! Thx

      • RG

        Dec 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm

        When Tiger hit bad shots he knew they were a fluke. He knew his talent and that he could pull off anything. Think about it, it wasn’t the shots he would hit, it was that he was brave enough to even try it. Now he has spent 12 years of what he now admits was a futile effort to change his swing. Now he knows failure, now he’s tasted fear, now if he hits a bad shot it’s not a fluke, it’s and issue.
        I was there and he decelerated on all those chips. He was scared, he hesitated and he chunked them. I’ve played Isleworth and those shots and that turf isn’t as difficult as it has been made out to be. Seven times he did this in competition Dennis, Seven times. He’s eyes and his body language told me everything, he’s bound up inside. His make-up is centered around being the best, and he’s not. He’s experiencing emotions he’s never felt before and he has no frame of reference to cope.
        The game is better when he’s in it.No one moves the meter like he does, but if he keeps fighting himself all the swing coaching in the world isn’t going to help.

        • Dennis Clark

          Dec 11, 2014 at 9:56 pm

          Again, this was not meant to be a Tiger debate, simply using him as an example. But since that’s what it us…I agree. His inner self belief was the very pillar of his monumental athletic accomplishments. He never allowed doubt to enter his consciousness before, during, or after a round. But it seems to more present at this point in his career. And doubt in golf is every players worst nightmare. I also believe it’s why great champions in our game have such a shirt time at the top. They sit on a powder keg day in and day out, and the smallest explosion can shake them to the point of no return. I DO NOT think TW is there but he’s certainly closer to there than ever he has been. Thx RG

  9. Dennis Clark

    Dec 10, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Let’s remember I only used Tiger as an example of someone who had a tough weekend. This is not by any means an anti-Tiger piece. He’s the best. Period. And I do think he’ll have a great 2015 including a major.

  10. Putt

    Dec 10, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    There’s a reason why all great players say that you should putt whenever you can around the greens.

    Of course, coming out of the thicker stuff you would chip – but it’s also slightly easier to chip from the rough. When it’s tight, it’s easy to blade it or chunk it, so why not just putt it and get it rolling, eh Eldrick??? Would have save half of the shots then.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Putt whenever you can, chip if you can’t putt and pitch only when you must. Thx

  11. Al385

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Very useful article. I appreciate it came at the right time after chipping like Tiger Woods on the last weekend.

  12. DG Jei

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Thank Mr. Clark for this timely, thoughtful article.

  13. Ian

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    TW shows no sign of the yips. Unless you have a different definition of yips than I’ve ever heard. I do appreciate the article I think it’s excellent. I think it’ll be a short term correction for TW to shore up the short game. As you know he’s considered the best “small ball” player ever. From the looks of the now Haney like swing…I expect him to win many more times.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      He’s the best. Period. That was a temporary bump in the road. That’s it.

  14. tom stickney

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Wonder if the “chunks” will get in his mind as it would if he shanked nine shots over two days? Be interesting to watch…

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      It will. He has the strongest mind of any player I’ve ever seen but that many HAS to bother him a bit.

      • M.

        Dec 11, 2014 at 1:29 am

        …all it takes is one good one under pressure to get that confidence flowing again;)

  15. BamBam

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    The game is much more simple if you just KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL until after you hit it, which Tiger was not doing. Most bad shots are simply that.

    • Steve

      Dec 10, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Rubbish… You can hit it with your eyes closed if your set up and technique are good… Eyes on the ball stops the body motion at impact for most Amateurs…

  16. Greg

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Most golfers coming back after an injury tend to “ease ”
    their way back with chipping and putting while paying attention to what their body is telling them. I would have thought Tiger would have put in many “reps” this very same way and would have been sharp. Time will certainly dictate the future. As for Spieth, the freight train has left the station. Wonder if the kid was in HIS head.

  17. lef

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    commit to the shot! tiger looks like he bailed on the flubs. i won’t get down on myself for an overly aggressive chip. at least it means I went for it, fully committed, and I accelerated thru the ball

  18. tom

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Good article as usual, Dennis. Thanks!

  19. Pat

    Dec 10, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Tiger is obviously rusty and his putting still sucks. He’s not winning another major until his putting improves dramatically. Don’t care what you slurpers think.

  20. Daniel Bailey

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

    *I think you meant loser?…. What a looser doesn’t make much sense

  21. Bill

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:37 am

    What an insightful and well thought out point Jeff! If Tiger is a “loser”, what would that make someone with a small fraction of his skill and accomplishments such as yourself?

  22. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I will email this to Tiger, directly. That was painful to watch.

  23. JEFF

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Who cares about the scum bag! What a looser!!!!

    • Jason

      Dec 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

      Why did you read it then?

    • louis

      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      yeah…why did you read it? I mean you obviously care enough to read it, AND THEN COMMENT!!! Must have had too many double mochas. And Tiger is not a “looser” he’s a winner, 2nd most of all time. Your turn buddy.

      • Double Mocha Man

        Dec 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

        Louis… I was commiserating with him. We have all done this before…

        • Forsbrand

          Dec 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm

          Absolutely let’s not get branded TIGER haters for goodness sakes…….but there is no way he’s winning another major until he sorts his short game out.meanwhile planet mcilroy is still turning. Rory May just win all four next year!

    • OzoneRaiders

      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks Jeff for your self evaluation. Tiger should have been a littler looser when he played but he had not played competitively in a couple months.

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Instruction

6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 1

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

 

Back pain is by far the most common complaint among regular golfers. It is estimated that up to 35 percent of amateur golfers endure lower back injuries. And in our experience working with tour players, the prevalence is even higher in the professional ranks! 

Back pain can affect our ball striking and short game, diminish our enjoyment of the game, or even stop us playing altogether. It can make us feel anxious about playing (and making the pain worse) and just generally disappointed with current performance falling way short of our expectations. 

There is certainly no shortage of information on the topic of back pain, and with myriad back pain products and supplement options available, confusion about the best path to pain-free golf is one of the main reasons we don’t actually do anything effective to alleviate our suffering! 

We aim to present in this article an easy-to-digest explanation of the common causes of back pain, alongside some simple and practical ways to address the underlying issues. 

The recommendations we make in this article are generic in nature but effective in many of the low back pain cases we have worked with. However, pain can be complex and very specific to the individual. You should seek the personalized advice of a medical or exercise professional before undertaking any form of remedial exercise.

Reason 1 – Lack of mobility in 2 key areas

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected. 

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Area 1 – Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercises – Hip Mobility

Foam roll glutes, you can also use a spiky ball

90 90 hip mobility drills, fantastic for taking the hips through that all important internal rotation range

90 90 Glute Stretch – great for tight glutes / hips

Area 2 – Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

Foam rolling mid / upper back

 

Cat / Camel – working the T-Spine through flexion and extension

 

Reach backs – working that all important T-Spine rotation

Reason 2 – Alignment and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right and back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and/or below.

For example, if we have short/tight/overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knee to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain. This would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance

Reason 3 – Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

 

The 3 major spinal curves – 1-Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures. 

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

Fortunately, re-establishing good posture is really simple and you can combine the information and exercises featured in the videos below with the mobility exercises featured in the Reason 1 section above. The equipment used in the videos is the GravityFit TPro – a favorite of ours for teaching and training posture with both elite and recreational players.

 

In the next installment of this article, we will cover reasons 4, 5 and 6 why golfers suffer from back pain – 4) Warming Up (or lack thereof!), 5) Core Strength and 6) Swing Faults.

 

If you would like to see how either Nick or Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

Nick Randall – golffitpro.net

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Instruction

Stickney: The dangers of technology on the lesson tee

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One of the best things about golf instruction is the advent of technology to help teacher to better understand what is really happening during the swing. As we know, the swing takes but a blink of the eye, and it’s hard to see, much less, feel, what is going on when you hit the ball.

Therefore, teachers have employed different technologies in order to help them (and you) understand what is really going on…but the key is still the communication of the data output.

One of my biggest complaints in the industry is the teacher who uses technology and consistently ties their students up in knots mentally. Of course, you can have a simple misunderstanding between the teacher and student from time to time- we all fight this, but I’m talking about the teacher who would make a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering confused leading to paralysis through over-analysis.

In fact, take a look around your club, we all know a guy who has taken lessons and has become so over-consumed with the minutia of their mechanics that they can’t even draw it back! Where did this over-technical approach come from? Usually the teacher they have been working with.

My job is to insulate my players from all the crap that they don’t need to be concerned with while using technology and provide them the simplest way to improve.

Therefore the message from the teacher MUST be tailored to the level of the player and the player’s learning style. As players, we learn either verbally, visually, and/or kinesthetically and the teacher must have a working knowledge of the differences. Using technology makes this easer on the student—you can do it without technology, but it’s much harder.

Golf instruction does NOT have to be complicated when using technology, as many people falsely believe. In fact, the more complex it becomes when using these tools, the LESS proficient the teacher is in his level of understanding of what is truly going on, not to mention his skill in communicating with the student!

As it pertains to golf instructional technology you will find three basic types, and if you’ve taken a lesson lately, you have probably used technology like this….

  • 3-D Motion analysis systems like GEARS gives us the ability to measure and understand everything that happens to your body and club in real-time
  • Launch monitors like Trackman show the interaction between the club and the ball during the impact interval
  • Digital video analysis systems like V1 allow the swing to be viewed at different speeds and compared to your other swing files or even Tour Players

In my opinion, the key to golf instruction at the highest (technological) levels is the ability to combine these systems into a useful conglomeration that defines the student’s problem. From there, the teacher is left to explain the data output in a way (using the proper learning style) that ANY level of golfer can understand.

But that responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of the INSTRUCTOR, not the student. The most successful teachers in the world give the player in front of them exactly what they need in order to improve and nothing more and nothing less. It’s a learned art and skill, one that takes thousands and thousands of lessons to accomplish proficiently.

Therefore if your instructor possesses high tech instructional tools make sure that their communicational skill are as impressive as their technology if not, find someone else or you’ll find yourself in mechanical purgatory!

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50 Second Fix: Course management

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Want to fix your tee shots?… Stop falling into old habits, and start standing on the correct side of the tee box!

 

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