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Getting to know instructor Dennis Clark

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GolfWRX Featured Writer Dennis Clark has written nearly 100 articles since April of 2012, and his work has been read more than 5 million times.

Clark achieved the elite PGA Master Professional designation in 2002 and is routinely listed among the top teachers in the country. He’s been a pro for more than 25 years, and currently runs the Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.

The Philadelphia native was voted the 1996 PGA Teacher of the Year (Philadelphia section), the 2002 Top Teacher (Mid-Atlantic Region, Golf Magazine), the 2008 Golf Professional of the Year (Tri-State Section), and the 2010 Junior Golf Leader (Tri-State Section).

I spoke with him about his background in the game, teaching philosophy, and writing for GolfWRX.

Here’s Dennis Clark in his own words.

How he got started…

I started out as an education major in college. I have two degrees in education. I was originally going to teach, but I’ve always loved golf, and I ended up in this direction. I became a club pro…been a PGA pro for many years.

I was a middle of the road club pro as a player. I knew I would never play golf for a living, and I loved teaching. I started out with the goal of establishing myself as a teacher. A lot of guys start out with the goal of playing golf for a living. I knew I could break par on a good day and shoot 75 on a bad day. I wanted to help people who were curious about the hows and the whys of things. Even when I was playing in tournaments, I’d be looking at other pros and working with them. I was always very curious about the swing.

I worked with the John Jacobs schools for years, then the Golf Digest schools…I was the director of instruction at a couple of clubs. Now, [at my academy] I do everything from clinics, to corporate outings, to three-day schools, to private lessons. I work with everyone from professionals to beginners.

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Clark’s academy is located at The Rookery (pictured), part of the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.

It’s a comprehensive, well-rounded instruction program. My big season is November through the better part of May, then we keep the academy open through the summer, but it’s a little bit lighter. We run about 750 people a year through here.

How writing for GolfWRX has helped…

GolfWRX exposes your instructional style to the multitudes. 5 million people have read the articles I’ve written on there. It gives you international exposure. Now you don’t capitalize on that being a local instructor; in other words, we’re limited to a facility. So I’m in South Florida. Someone in Norway can read the article and really like it, but they’re probably not going to come here for a lesson. But the people who like your style and the way that you present your material and are within driving distance or come here on vacation [will come].

I do online analysis with people that don’t live in the area, but who can relate to my style. They’ll send me golf swings. Through the V1 system, I can send them back and suggest corrections.

His approach to writing instruction articles…

You try to write as generally you can, but still make specific points; I think that’s part of the challenge. If you read my articles they’re always “if this, then that.” I’ve developed a reputation as a very individual teacher. There are a million ways to skin this cat. If you look in the golf hall of fame, you’ll see a myriad of swings. I’m all about trying to find the right combination to solve your golf equation. Like: If you take it back this way, that’s fine, but then you’ve got to bring it down this way…

Why he’s not a “method” teacher…

I completely eschew methodology. I think method teachers only help some people, but they’re not going to help everybody. The joy of my work is that every hour, every day, I have different puzzles to solve. Every golfer that I work with, they have a core move…it’s almost built into their golfing DNA. You have to work around that move. You may be like a Raymond Floyd, who takes the club way inside, or a Jim Furyk, who takes the club way outside…we’re not going to beat our head against the wall trying to change that. Let’s try to find something that’s compatible with that. I think that people relate to that style…thinking that they don’t have to do it one particular way.

People come to me saying, “I know I should do this…” There’s no should! There’s what you do do. Let’s go ahead and fix that up. I learned that from John Jacobs…he had a very practical style of teaching.

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Clark teaching a golf school at his academy.

Think about this: Name me one thing that every great player does… except get the club back to impact squarely. Every one of them is different. You say, “You have to swing the club upright?” Well, how the hell did Trevino make all his money swinging the club around his back?

How a golf instructor establishes a good reputation…

At the end of the day, my reputation is based on word of mouth. If people hit the golf ball better they’re going to tell other people. The marketing that I have is the person that’s right in front of me.

People ask me, “Do you ever get tired of teaching golf?” I don’t teach golf. I teach people to play golf. It’s a completely different approach, and every learning style is different.

Favorite piece he’s written…

In one of the first pieces…I said, “I want to write about some of the myths about golf.” Keep you head down, keep your left arm straight and slow your swing down. They’re going to help some people, but they’re not set in stone, and they’ve ruined a lot of golf swings. If somebody keeps their head down, they can ruin their posture. If they try to keep their left arm straight, they can get too stiff. I think that article got me started and it kind of grew from there.

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Jeffcb

    Jun 1, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Certainly seems like to me that Jacobs is the foundation for many of the best teachers in the game. Is in my case too. Anyone from philly has got to be ok in my book as well!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 1, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      Practical Golf he called it! Still best application. Of course we’ve expanded, modified and learned some new truths but the approach is still quite similar for me.

  2. other paul

    May 31, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Best articles on WRX come from Dennis, Tom, and Barney. Just praying you guys could land Kelvin Miyahira and I would never need another golf website.

  3. Notbright

    May 28, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Dennis,

    Yours and Barney’s are the ONLY two blogs I look for daily on this site.

    Mr. Jacobs said and wrote things that always made sense to me and so do you. I’m a Left Coaster and will never make it out and down your way but will always consider you one of the few voices of reason re: the golf swing and the dynamics involved. Thanks for being “available”.

    • Dennis Clark

      May 28, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Thx. You belie your user name; you sound pretty bright to me. ????

  4. TR1PTIK

    May 28, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    I’ve read a lot of his articles and from what I can tell: he’s a great person but couldn’t teach a fish to swim

    • Dennis clark

      May 28, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      Actually it’s the other way around; I’m really repulsive but I CAN teach. Thx though.

    • Dennis clark

      May 28, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      Thx M. Glad it helps!

  5. Robert Rohanna

    May 28, 2015 at 11:35 am

    The Rookery facility is great and so is the golf school! Dennis is a great teacher and has helped take my game to the next level. 10+ years working together!!!

    • MHendon

      May 29, 2015 at 12:20 am

      Robert Rohanna, from big break?

      • Dennis Clark

        May 29, 2015 at 6:52 am

        Yes it is. And from the PGA Latin America tour. Been my student since high school.

        • MHendon

          May 29, 2015 at 9:59 pm

          Cool, Fellas got a great athletic swing. I was surprised when he didn’t win the big break.

  6. juststeve

    May 28, 2015 at 11:33 am

    John Jacobs alums are all over the place, and usually damn fine teachers. You can trust almost any of them, including Dennis.

    Steve

  7. Tom Stickney

    May 28, 2015 at 9:30 am

    If you’re around Marco Island go see Dennis!!!! It will be well worth your time.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Golf Hall of Fame resumes—what does it take?

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We are back from last week, and Knudson is finally a father! Steve asks what it takes to get into the Golf Hall of Fame, how much do majors count? Knudson talks about his last round and how much fun he had. Finally, we talk about the Rory and Keopka beef that is starting to play out.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Getting more out of your wedges

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When I started SCOR Golf in 2011 and completely re-engineered the short end of the set, I took on “the establishment” and referred to our line of clubs not as “wedges” but as “scoring clubs”—I felt like the term “wedge” had become over-applied to clubs that really weren’t. While I’ve tempered my “respectful irreverence” a bit since then, I still think we are shackled by the terms applied to those high-loft clubs at the short end of our sets.

Think about this for a moment.

It all started with the invention of the sand wedge back in the late 1930s. This invention is generally credited to Gene Sarazen, who famously had metal welded onto the bottom of a niblick to give it bounce, and introduced the basic “explosion” sand shot. Over the next few decades, the sand wedge “matured” to a loft of 55-56 degrees and was a go-to staple in any serious golfer’s bag. In his 1949 book, “Power Golf”, Ben Hogan described the sand wedge as a very versatile tool “for certain shots” around the greens, and listed his maximum distance with a sand wedge as 55 yards.

Even into the 1970s, the pitching wedge was considered the ‘go-to’ club for short recovery shots around the greens. And because the typical pitching wedge was 50-52 degrees in loft, it was very versatile for that purpose. I remember that even as a scratch player in the 60s and early 70s, I would go days or weeks without pulling the “sand wedge” out of my bag—we didn’t have bunkers on that little 9-hole course so I didn’t feel like I needed one very often.

Fast forward into the 1980s and 1990s, people were hitting sand wedges from everywhere and the wedge makers began to add “lob wedges” in the 60-degree range and then “gap wedges” of 48 degrees or so to fill in for the evolutional strengthening of iron lofts to a point where the set match pitching wedge (or P-club as I call it) was 44-45 degrees typically. Along the way, the designation “G”, “S”, “L” and “P” were dropped and almost all wedges carried the actual loft number of the club. I think this was a positive development, but it seems we cannot get away from the pigeon-holing our wedges into “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” nomenclature.

So that history lesson was a set-up for suggesting that you look at all your wedges as just “wedges” with no further limitations as to their use. I think that will free you up to use your creativity with each club to increase your repertoire of shots you have in your bag…more arrows in your quiver, so to speak.

For example, long bunker shots are much easier if you open the face of your 50- 54-degree wedge so you don’t have to swing as hard to get the ball to fly further. You’ll still get plenty of spin, but your results will become much more consistent. Likewise, that super-short delicate bunker shot can be hit more easily with your higher lofted wedge of 58-60 degrees.

When you get out further, and are facing mid-range shots of 40-75 yards, don’t automatically reach for your “sand wedge” out of habit, but think about the trajectory and spin needs for that shot. Very often a softened swing with your “gap” wedge will deliver much more consistent results. You’ll reduce the likelihood of making contact high on the face and coming up short, and you can even open the face a bit to impart additional spin if you need it.

Around the greens, your lower-lofted wedges will allow you to achieve more balance between carry and roll, as almost all instructors encourage you to get the ball on the ground more quickly to improve greenside scoring. For the vast majority of recreational/weekend golfers, simply changing clubs is a lot easier than trying to manipulate technique to hit low shots with clubs designed to hit the ball high.

Finally, on any shots into the wind, you are almost always better off “lofting down” and swinging easier to help make more solid contact and reduce spin that will cause the ball to up-shoot and come up short. Too often I watch my friends try to hit hard full wedge shots into our all-too-common 12-20 mph winds and continually come up short. My preference is to loft down even as much as two clubs, grip down a bit and swing much more easily, which ensures a lower trajectory with less spin…and much more consistent outcomes. It is not uncommon for me to choose a 45-degree wedge for a shot as short as 75-80 yards into a breeze, when my stock distance for that club is about 115. I get consistently positive results doing that.

So, if you can wean yourself from referring to your wedges by their names and zero in on what each can do because of their numbers, you will expand your arsenal of shots you can call on when you are in prime scoring range and hit it close to the flag much more often. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

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Opinion & Analysis

Autumn golf is the best golf

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For many, golf euphoria occurs the second weekend of April when the flowers start to bloom, courses begin to open, and the biggest tournament of the year is on television. But I believe the absolute best season for golf is the fall.

Let me explain.

SPRING

Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, and for most golfers, it’s the first opportunity to break out new clubs or take the game you’ve been working on all winter to the course for the first time in many months. Depending on where you are in North America or around the world, golf courses are just opening up and the ground is drying out from a winter filled with snow and ice.

Yes, spring is fantastic, you can shrug off the occasional mud ball since it’s probably your first round in four months and you’re willing to cut “the super” some slack for the slow greens, because you’re just happy to be out on terra firma chasing around a little white ball. Your game is rusty. Courses aren’t quite there yet, but it’s golf outside, and you couldn’t be happier.

SUMMER

The dog days. This time of year is when golf courses are the most busy thanks to the beautiful weather. But high temperatures and humidity can be a real deal-breaker, especially for walkers—throw in the weekly possibility for afternoon “out of the blue” thunderstorms, and now you’re sweating and drenched.

Unless you are a diehard and prefer the dew-sweeping pre-7 a.m. tee time when the sun breaks on the horizon, rounds tend to get longer in the summer as courses get busier. And you’ll often find more corporate outings and casual fairweather golfers out for an afternoon of fun—not a bad thing for the game, but not great for pace of play. Summer makes for fantastic course conditions, and with the sun not setting until after 9 p.m. for almost two months, the after-dinner 9 holes are a treat and you take them while you can.

FALL

As much I love nine holes after dinner with eight clubs in a Sunday bag and a few adult beverages in June, nothing compares to the perfect fall day for golf.

The sun’s orbit, paired with Mother Nature, allows you to stay in your warm bed just that little extra, since you can’t play golf when it’s still dark at 6:30 a.m. The warm, but not too warm, temperatures allow you to pull out your favorite classic cotton golf shirts without fear of the uncomfortable sweaty pits. We can’t forget that it’s also the season for every golfer’s favorite piece of apparel: the quarter zip  (#1/4zipSZN).

Courses in the fall are often in the best shape (or at least they should be), since player traffic and corporate tournaments are done for the season. As long as warm afternoons are still the norm, firm and fast conditions can be expected.

Last but not least, the colors—reds, oranges, and yellows—frame the green fairways and dark sand to make them pop in the landscape. Fall is the final chance to get in those last few rounds and create happy thoughts and mental images before the clubs go away for the inevitably cold, dark days of winter.

Fall is meant for golf! So take pictures, smell the smells, and make great swings, because golf season is quickly coming to a close, and now is the time to savor each moment on the course.

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