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6 signs that golf lessons won’t help your game

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So you’re thinking about taking golf lessons, but there are many things to consider before you do. Most importantly, will lessons actually help you get better at golf?

I’m a PGA Master Professional with more than 30 years of experience, and have coached many champion golfers of all levels. It’s a beautiful thing to watch a 20-handicapper finally learn how to hit a draw, or help someone win their club championship. I also can’t express how satisfying it is to coach golfers all the way to the professional ranks and see them succeed.

Related: A PGA Master Professional’s Guide to Taking Golf Lessons

Mixed in with that magic, however, has been the realization that some golfers may not be cut out for lessons for one reason or another. Here are 6 signs lessons may not be a good idea for you… at least right now.

If you’re a self-taught, accomplished player

If you’re someone who has eschewed the lesson route — you’ve “dug it out of the dirt,” as they say — and you have built a game and swing that is acceptable to you, I would think twice about taking a professional lesson. The idea of instruction is to get better, not to get a prettier swing. I never recommend that a golfer fix what isn’t broken, especially if he or she is self taught.

You’re playing well

Even if you have worked with an instructor in the past, it’s a good idea to stay away from the lesson tee if you’re shooting the best scores of your life and your handicap is dropping like a stone. The thought, “If I’m this good on my own, how good could I be with lessons?” can be a sure fire way to lose the roll you’re on. The smart teacher here says, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Golf is an equation; the parts in the swing have to balance. When you’re playing well, your parts are in sync.

To please someone else

If you’re trying to learn golf for any reason other than you love it, and want badly to get better at it, lessons might not be for you. Spouses who take the game up simply to please their mate often make poor students… for both the teacher AND learner.

On the other hand, if that same person is fascinated with the idea of this wonderful game, they are an absolute joy to work with and often see great improvement. Fascination has so much to do with learning anything, as I see it.

You have a big event coming up

Unless you are shanking almost every shot you hit, DO NOT seek guidance before you play in an event where your results are important to you. Inevitably, you will be thinking too much and perform worse instead of better. Even a “tune up” can confuse you at times.

You are averse to change

There’s an old story about a 40-handicapper who went for a lesson. When he arrived home, his wife asked him how he did. He said: “I’m never going back; the pro tried to change my swing.”

You don’t have time or willingness to practice

Recently I had a gal who came to me shanking almost every shot she hit. Within 45 minutes, she was hitting all her shots on the face of the club. She returned two weeks later shanking again. I asked her how much she had practiced what we worked on. She said “none.”

If none of the six things above apply to you, you can advantage of my online swing analysis program. Send your swing to my Facebook page or email me at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com.

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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

56 Comments

56 Comments

  1. Mike

    Dec 21, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Perhaps you should consider renaming this article “Six Types of Students I Don’t Want to Teach”.

    • Dennis clark

      Dec 21, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Actually I don’t mind teaching them. In fact at $125 an hour I can be a great listener.

  2. James G

    Dec 11, 2015 at 9:09 am

    I had lessons when I was younger from a terrific teaching pro. He didn’t try to teach one swing fits all and his philosophy was that at some point you have to become your own coach. When you reach that point, it is less about instruction and more about tweaking things within your swing. I was also taught short game is the most important aspect. 120 yards and in a player needs to be deadly accurate and control the distance very well. Everyone, no matter how good, will have off days with their swing but they make up for it with very very good short games. This is what I was taught way back when and how I still approach golf today.

  3. pete the pro

    Dec 6, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Excellent article by Dennis. Yes, some golfers would do best by not taking lessons. Particularly those who are naturally talented and the most direct route is by maximising on that ability without the distractions that come with coaching. The history of golf is full of players who have reached the top without going near an instructor. Everyone has missed a vital point; there is a massive difference between pro’s! Some are excellent at teaching the game, whatever your ability. Some are shockingly bad. I know, I have worked with plenty of them. We measure results in two ways – 1. Is the golfer improving or has been concepts that are destined to offer improvement? 2. Is the player having fun? Not entertainment fun, necessarily, but enjoyment and and satisfaction because he/she understands what to do. It’s made logical, simple, even. The trick is to match yourself with the correct instructor – to find the best instructor for you, how you see the game played. The best are often not the most expensive. I run a golf shop so I am neutral, but I work at a facility where even chipping is instructed so poorly by one or two pro’s, there is a guarantee the golfer WILL hit the ground before the ball. Or thin it, or top it. A few cliches for the swing and you are suddenly a golf instructor, it seems. But the golfer still pays and knows no different. Sad, but true.

  4. cgasucks

    Dec 5, 2015 at 10:53 am

    If one doesn’t want to take lessons he/she should at least record his own swing on video and really take a good long look at it. The camera doesn’t lie.

    • pete the pro

      Dec 6, 2015 at 8:19 am

      A fair point, but the golfer doesn’t know what to look for once the filming has taken place. A bit like asking the hospital to take an X-ray, then they put it into an envelope and take it home with you to analyse. It’s knowing where to look which is the skill. I my experience, looking at a swing visually is not golf instruction. You HAVE to see the flight of the ball otherwise you can only teach style.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 7, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      C,
      Actually the camera CAN lie…for example true path cannot be seen on 2D video…But it is better than not seeing it all. The problem, as someone mentioned, is knowing what to look for VIS A VIS your individual action. IOW, what is compatible and what isn’t? Often the untrained eye sees a model and compares their swing to IT…. not knowing how impact factors into the picture. If someone looked at Jim Furyk without knowing it’s Jim, they might suggest massive changes…to a guy who has won 65 million playing golf! So self analysis can be risky. A lesson from an experienced professional will start you on your INDIVIDUAL path, really the only way. Thx for reading. DC

  5. Alex

    Dec 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    IMHO, unless you come up with the few ones who learned to play as kids and never took lessons, self-taught golfers, especially if they took up the game as adults, play bad golf.

    It’s true many people play bad and refuse to take lessons for a number of reasons. I play since I was 11 and was self-taught, but in my 20’s I took up lessons with my current coach. We’ve been together for 15 years, and I drop by to have my game checked twice a year. And if I’m in a slump, I go see him.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 4, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      agreed Alex; stay tuned for part II

    • Cliff

      Dec 4, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      When I was a teenager I thought golf was the stupidest game on the planet! Work gave me the opportunity to pay for free twice a year so I started when I was 25. First time out one guy was making fun of me because I was hitting 3w to a 180yrd par 3. Pissed me off!

      I’m 37 now and shoot low-mid 70’s. Was a decent ball striker after 4-5 years but could putt worth a damn. Anyway, there aren’t many days where I don’t touch a club. You just have to want it bad enough to put the time and effort into it.

      “Every day that I missed practicing takes me one day longer to be good.” – Ben Hogan

      • Dennis Clark

        Dec 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm

        Here a classic Jack Nicklaus quote: “The next natural golfer I meet will be the first; don’t be afraid to take a lesson; I’m not”

    • Cliff

      Dec 4, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Self taught by the way 🙂

    • Cliff

      Dec 4, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Forgot to mention…self taught 🙂

      • Double Mocha Man

        Dec 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm

        Cliff, were you self taught by any chance?

  6. Dennis Clark

    Dec 3, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    A centipede was happy quite,
    until a toad, in fun,
    said “which leg comes after which”?

    That worked his mind to such a pitch
    he laid distracted in a ditch,

    considering how to run.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Dec 4, 2015 at 11:29 am

      Good one! Sometimes my game lays in a ditch. I am known among friends for using 3 to 4 different swing keys per round. Selected from among my 157,638 swing keys I’ve used over the course of my golf career. And somehow I manage a 3.5 GHIN.

  7. Bob

    Dec 3, 2015 at 11:19 am

    All good points. I always like a lesson or two in the spring coming off a winter layoff. It always seems to help and is a lot cheaper than new clubs.

  8. marinir seo

    Dec 3, 2015 at 2:49 am

    Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this site before but after going through a few of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m certainly pleased I stumbled upon it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!|

  9. Shiny

    Dec 3, 2015 at 1:39 am

    But that shiny new set of very expensive clubs will sure to be of help!

    • Steve

      Dec 3, 2015 at 2:24 am

      Take advice from movie “Bridge on the River Kwai” “Be happy in your Work” “Be happy in your Game”, take lessons, buy new clubs, invest in Pro V ones…just keep moving……

  10. Andy Saunders

    Dec 2, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Can’t comment for others, but I am a full 4+ months into a major swing overhaul to get rid of early extension. Gym work specific to the proper move, practice, garage net now in winter. Was a 4 cap, was at 1.5 at my personal low. Struggled with hitting repeated good shots under real pressure. For the first 6 weeks, averaged 85. After 2 months, could start to feel my body change. Finished the year 74, 74, 74, 70, 75, 74, 74. Best streak of rounds in my life, and I have a goal of the change being done(as in automatic) of late May 2016. Goal is to make my provincial amateur tourney- who knows if I will, but I’ll give it a damn good try. Wouldn’t be doing this well if not for my PGA pro…but you have to fully commit!

  11. Tyler

    Dec 2, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    I’ve been a semi-serious golfer for the past 7 years. I never took a lesson, but rather I took it upon myself to learn all that I could (videos, books, articles) about the swing and put in the time to “dig it out of the dirt”. I developed a good swing and I could play very well, albeit inconsistently. In the early stages I could record myself and diagnose my flaws fairly easily. However, about 1 year ago it got to the point where I knew I could be more consistent, but I couldn’t find anything wrong in my eye with my swing so I decided to go to a pro. I chose the best pro I could find, Corey Badger in Utah, knowing that you get what you pay for. The session was only 2 hours, but it was great to pick his brain and check my swing thoughts against his. He identified a few things with my swing that I wasn’t able to see with my untrained eye. The two that really stuck with me were getting my left arm straighter at address and keeping my shoulders from rotating too soon. I have been working on both of those things for almost one year and I’m just now feeling like they’re part of my swing and it has done wonders for my consistency. I think I’ll probably go to him about once per year. That seems like a good plan. I think people that meet too regularly for lessons end up fixing too many things. Moderation in all things I guess. Let me emphasize though how valuable a lesson with a good (read expensive) pro can be even for an hour or two every year.

    • JP K

      Dec 3, 2015 at 3:39 am

      I agree with you. BTW, what does “shoulders rotating too soon” actually mean?

  12. Scott

    Dec 2, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Being over sixty and still shy I have always leaned toward reading books verse lessons (which if not good for the game does make a nice hobby because there are hundreds to thousands of golf books to collect and about 2 out of every 100 will say something similar) Two years ago or so I said I would pick out a swing and just stick with it….went to Todd Graves “Moe Norman” type swing….read book, watched dvd’s worked a little on that swing it worked enough to shoot the same scores but mostly cut back on lost balls.. Then I took a live lesson from a guy that teaches this swing and with one lesson and only one little change my game improved very noticeably…I would say if your close maybe a good teacher can put you there….(like grabbing your downswing and showing you what hitting from the inside really is and feels like, 10 more yards on the irons maybe).

    • Jack

      Dec 3, 2015 at 11:48 pm

      It’s no doubt part of the game: looking good on the golf course. You also want a picture perfect swing no matter if the ball flies straight or not.

      But honestly I just recently took a lesson, and if you find a good teacher, they’ll tell you what your main flaw is (if there is one) that you didn’t think you had. I had a problem with not really rotating my shoulder (rather more just moving my arms back with my left shoulder ending up not turning past my chin. It’s a easy fix and my swing just flows more smoothly.

  13. DatSliceDoe

    Dec 2, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Great points, a lot of truth here. You have to PUT IN PRACTICE to get anything out of this game. People who think they can pay to play are dead wrong.

  14. Dennis Clark

    Dec 2, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    One thing to keep in mind: You DO NOT have to get worse before you get better; in fact if you hear that I might consider another instructor. So changes take a little more time, but you should feel better impact straight away.

    • JR

      Dec 4, 2015 at 9:36 am

      I could believe that if all I ever taught were elite athletes. 90% of students cannot make a wildly different change in motor patterns in a single lesson. If I am trying to learn something new, say, hand or wrist flexion through impact. I am probably going to play pretty bad for a couple weeks while I learn a new motor pattern and timing. Saying you should feel better impact straight away is pretty bold for most people.

  15. Brodie Hock

    Dec 2, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    dang….that’s me…

  16. birdeez

    Dec 2, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    often people are unwilling to get worse to get better. they won’t make a change that is uncomfortable. uncomfortable leads to some bad shots, but often once this change is ingrained you’re better off because of it. too many either expect instant results. if the change doesn’t feel a little uncomfortable you probably aren’t doing anything different.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 2, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      True, Bird..For those uncomfortable with change, I usually start by suggesting a “change”…of mind!

  17. vjswing

    Dec 2, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    How many tour pros fall into the trap of #5? I’m thinking particularly of relative young players who have not been on the big stage very long. They’ve made the progression from amateur level (collegiate play) to professional, from the mini-tours to Web.com to the PGA Tour, perhaps have even won on tour, but suddenly feel they need instruction to “take it to the next level” and allow them to compete for a major championship.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 2, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      VJ, Sure Bubba just should never seek swing advise! He plays by feel alone, and ere it should be!

  18. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Kudos to you Dennis! It takes balls (Titleist?) to turn down a revenue stream when you know that person can’t improve. I am impressed.

    Wondering about one more category. The non-athletic who take up golf. They’ve never thrown a baseball, tossed a football, or shot a free throw. They have no sense of fluidity, little athletic strength and the concept of physicality is foreign to them. I play with that guy on occasion… good guy, attorney, conversational, good company but it’s painful to watch him swing. 🙂

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 2, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      Mocha, I think non-athletic types can still improve but rarely on their own. There is also the way some people internalize what they hear and see. Some more athletic people seem better at emulating those on TV…

      • other paul

        Dec 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm

        I have done athletic things my entire life (hockey, baseball, martial arts), and when I took up golf I just tried to look like a pro swinging. It was a good start. I went for a lesson and the pro taught me about grip, stance, alignment. Got down to shooting in the high 80s but it hurt my back. Started reading Kelvin Miyahiras articles and back pain is gone and scores are coming down fast. Can’t wait for spring, Vgolf is definitely less fun in Canada then real golf. I recommend lessons twice a year to tune up the swing (helps if your swing instructor knows about kelvins stuff to)

  19. JT

    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    As always, great article. There should be a definition to the term “accomplished” used in #6. I would define it as an index below 5. People like me with high single digit or double digit indexes can definitely benefit from some golf instruction, be it, full swing mechanics or just course management.

    • TR1PTIK

      Dec 2, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      I think the term “accomplished” depends on the individual and their goals. If you’re a 15-handicap and are one of the better players in your circle of friends with no aspirations to get to single digits, you might feel like an accomplished player. Another golfer could shoot in the mid or low 70’s, but has never won a tournament so they feel like they need to get better.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 2, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      JT, if you define accomplished on a national average, breaking 90 might the answer. If you’re group is all single digits and you’re just beating the national average, it may seem as accomplished.

  20. Keith

    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    This is a great article, I see a lot of what I deal with in two of the points made here. #6 is exactly where I stand, I am a weekend warrior in the sense of the most I play is 3 times a week averaging about 1.5 (if you count 9 holes) I have a good looking swing with lots of speed and power and have the ability to change it and feel my mistakes but am stuck in the high 80s low 90s, I know I have the ability to get low my best round was an 80 with 2 shots keeping me from a 78 but I just can’t keep it there which brings me to point #1 I’m a broke biochemistry student who works weekends that answers most of my problems lol

    • EdGk

      Dec 2, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      Not really. Playing up to 3 times a week with a 1.5x average is a decent amount of play and is enough to be lower than a 15-17 hdcp. You should be breaking 80 occasionally. I suggest taking 20 minutes after your round and practicing one thing. (Lag putting, the driver, short irons, etc)

      • Keith

        Dec 2, 2015 at 11:54 pm

        The driver is where it all starts and ends for me, days I drive it well I get a good round in but it I hit the driver poorly look out

  21. JJVas

    Dec 2, 2015 at 11:50 am

    AMEN! I’m a big believer that most people are way better off with $400 worth of lessons than they are with the shiny new driver, but sometimes you have to know when to say when. There are also a lot of young players with beautiful swings that get totally frozen on the course when they hit two shots offline. A trusted eye is a wonderful thing, but you have to be able to fix yourself on the fly… especially under the gun.

  22. Sean

    Dec 2, 2015 at 11:04 am

    For #6, what would you consider “accomplished”? I’m self-taught and currently around a 15 handicap. I’m happy with my swing but my overall game could use improvement. Part of the fun of golf to me is going out on the range and grinding. Fixing something that has been going wrong by experimentation. I enjoy the practice. I find I take more from figuring it out on my own than I do from being told how I should fix it. What they say is true, you learn more from your mistakes. I can also take pride in knowing everything I did was my own work. But after every fix there is that little voice asking “was that the right fix? was that a symptom, or the cause?” Any help would be appreciated on the matter. I tend to go back and forth, debating lessons or continuing to see on my own. I would love to get to single digits and my best round ever was an 80 so I’m right on the doorstep.

    • EdGk

      Dec 2, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      Rest assured that being a 15 hdcp is not what he is referring to as accomplished. If you golf 20-30 times a year, in my opinion to be an average golfer, you’d have to be closer to a 10 or 11. 15 is not a great result for a guy who practices. You are closer to being the guy in #2. I would stop and ask myself “if I went into a lesson would i actually listen”. If you decide yes and you want to get to single digits, I recommend shopping around for an instructor that makes a point to say that he prefers to work with the swing their client brings to the lesson. There are plenty of them that take this approach and will often say so in their mission statement.. However, with that being said, once I picked the instructor, if the says you have to change your grip if you ever want to improve, I’d be all-in without any push back because there are certain things that you can’t do and be a single digit handicap. I speak from experience. Find your guy but then be all-in. I doubt you will improve from 15 hdcp at this point learning on you own.

      • Jafar

        Dec 2, 2015 at 1:37 pm

        He can still improve it will just continue to take more time as opposed to an instructor who may or may not be able to find flaws in his swing.

        To me, the one thing an instructor can’t teach as well is self awareness. That can only be taught through trial and error with oneself, in my opinion.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 2, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      Sean,
      yes, you’re correct ‘accomplished” is a relative term, but one I chose to be as comprehensive as possible. Actually “content” might be more accurate. If you feel that a 15 is as good as you are going to get at golf, Id advise you keep doing what you’re doing. But in general, I’d say a 15 is not accomplished. If I had to quantify, maybe breaking 80 is a good definition. If you enjoy self discovery, keep at it, but you might consider some guidance…

      • Sean

        Dec 2, 2015 at 2:30 pm

        Thank you all for the great feedback.
        If someone knowledgeable gave advice, I’d be all ears and commit. I think a lesson could help in that regard.
        I think my issue so far isn’t that I’m unwilling to listen, it’s that the trial and error has just been fun for me so far but I did not realize how detrimental it was to my progress. I figured hard practice would always help but I guess if I’m not addressing any real issues, or the “right” issue, it isn’t as impactful as it could be.
        I’d say I hit the range/putting green a couple times a week but only get out to the course maybe 10-20 times a year, which also could be my issue. Hitting off perfect lies and range conditions all the time may be hurting.
        Great food for thought, thanks again everyone!

  23. redneckrooster

    Dec 2, 2015 at 11:01 am

    Many start by playing with friends and think lessons are too expensive.
    It would be nice to see some free clinics now and then to bring in those who might start playing if they only new some basics . I’m competitive and playing my brothers is what got me going, got to a 5 handicap and have been ill for about 18 months and my game has suffered. It’s like starting over , I need to make it simple and get a few lessons to get back in the groove because I feel I have lost the touch and feel of the game. There is a PGA qualified instructor near by and I’m going to get back into playing shape. This article has spawned me to get-r-done.

    • Tom

      Dec 2, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Geterrr done my friend.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 2, 2015 at 1:59 pm

      good idea, might remind you of what you used to do when you were playing well.

    • pete the pro

      Dec 6, 2015 at 8:40 am

      It’s not fair and resonable that the golf instructor give his skills away for free. My dentist, doctor, taxi driver, etc. don’t seem to work for free. It rarely brings in new golfers – it brings in golfers who see an opportunity to save money. Free is a golf lesson on u-tube – it’s full of them. Good instruction need not be expensive – save money by getting a group of friends together for your own clinic. Be fair to the golf instructor too – he/she is often struggling to make a living.

  24. Dennis clark

    Dec 2, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Glad it helped.

  25. Philip

    Dec 2, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Great points – see them often around the course and within myself
    #6 – I’m a self-taught, semi-accomplished player – but I often go for lessons when I get in a rut or am taking too long to grasp something. I am guilty of #5 often and especially #4 which cost me a very strong chance to win my division at my club championship this year, as well as damage my chances in prior years. I already made a decision earlier this week to slow things down and just start having fun next season and progress with changes very gradually. Points #4 and #2 do not apply to me and #1 is the opposite of my approach. So as long as I can keep #4 and #5 in check I should be good next season – I am going to print this article and look at it whenever I feel the need to tweak to keep things in perspective.

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Me and My Golf: The difference between long and short irons

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Long irons vs. short irons. In this week’s Impact Show, we discuss the differences between long irons and short irons. We talk through the different ball positions, postures, and techniques for both irons and give you some golfing drills to help you differentiate both irons!

 

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Walters: Avoid these 3 big chipping mistakes!

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Chipping causes nightmares for so many amateur golfers. This s mainly due to three core mistakes. In this video, I talk about what those mistakes are, and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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