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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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Instruction

Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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Golf 101: What is a strong grip?

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What is a strong grip? Before we answer that, consider this: How you grip it might be the first thing you learn, and arguably the first foundation you adapt—and it can form the DNA for your whole golf swing.

The proper way to hold a golf club has many variables: hand size, finger size, sports you play, where you feel strength, etc. It’s not an exact science. However, when you begin, you will get introduced to the common terminology for describing a grip—strong, weak, and neutral.

Let’s focus on the strong grip as it is, in my opinion, the best way to hold a club when you are young as it puts the clubface in a stronger position at the top and instinctively encourages a fair bit of rotation to not only hit it solid but straight.

The list of players on tour with strong grips is long: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, David Duval, and Bernhard Langer all play with a strong grip.

But what is a strong grip? Well like my first teacher Mike Montgomery (Director of Golf at Glendale CC in Seattle) used to say to me, “it looks like you are revving up a Harley with that grip”. Point is the knuckles on my left hand were pointing to the sky and my right palm was facing the same way.

Something like this:

Of course, there are variations to it, but that is your run of the mill, monkey wrench strong grip. Players typically will start there when they are young and tweak as they gain more experience. The right hand might make it’s way more on top, left-hand knuckles might show two instead of three, and the club may move its way out of the palms and further down into the fingers.

Good golf can be played from any position you find comfortable, especially when you find the body matchup to go with it.

Watch this great vid from @JakeHuttGolf

In very simple terms, here are 3 pros and 3 cons of a strong grip.

Pros

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and helps you hit further
  2. It’s an athletic position which encourages rotation
  3. Players with strong grips tend to strike it solidly

Cons

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and can cause you to hit it low and left
  2. If you don’t learn to rotate you could be in for a long career of ducks and trees
  3. Players with strong grips tend to fight a hook and getting the ball in the air

 

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