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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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On Spec

On Spec: Interview with GOLFTEC VP of Instruction Nick Clearwater

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In this episode of On Spec brought to you by Golf Pride Grips, Ryan talks with GOLFTEC’s Vice President of Instruction Nick Clearwater about his history with golf, teaching, and how he and his team at GolfTec help golfers play better.

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

From the GolfWRX Vault: The day I met Ben Hogan

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In addition to continuing to look forward to new content that will serve and engage our readership, we also want to showcase standout pieces that remain relevant from years past. In particular, articles with a club building or instruction focus continue to deliver value and convey useful information well after their publish dates.

We want to make sure that once an article falls off the front page as new content is covered it isn’t relegated to the back pages of our website.

We hope that you’ll appreciate and find value in this effort.

Industry veteran (and one heckuva writer) Tom Stites, who served as the Director of Product Development at Nike’s Oven, tells the story of how he landed a job as an engineer at the Ben Hogan Company and what his first meeting with Mr. Hogan was like.

Get a taste for Stites’ excellent piece from 2015 below.

Getting near my boy was the real reason I wanted to get to Texas, but the golf was a sweet attraction, too. With a perfect touch and timing, the Good Lord prompted the Hogan Company to advertise for a new product development engineer. On just the right day, I was changing flights at DFW and bought a copy of the Fort Worth paper. In the want ads I saw something like, ”Ben Hogan will pay you cash money to engineer and work on golf clubs.” So I applied.

My product development experience at Kohler got me the interview, but the Good Lord got me the job. It was truly a real miracle, because in 1986 I knew zero about club design and manufacturing. I was quickly made the boss of the model shop, and was to manage the master club maker Gene Sheeley and his incredible team of long-time club artisans.

Me as their boss? That was a joke.

I knew a few things about physics at that time, but these guys were the real deal in club design. I knew immediately that I was in over my head, so I went to Gene and professed my ignorance. I pleaded with him to teach me how to do the job right. At that, I guess he considered me harmless and over the next number of years he became my Yoda. His voice was even a bit like Yoda.

Read the full piece here.

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Opinion & Analysis

Why do Tour players prefer fades over draws from the tee box?

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There is a growing trend on the PGA Tour and other professional golf tours where some of the game’s best players favor a fade from the tee box. Amateur golfers often struggle with golf shots that slice away from their target. These shots can lead them out of play and have them eagerly chasing a more neutral or drawing shot shapes. Additionally, a large fraction of low handicap and professional golfers play a golf shot that draws repeatedly onto their target. These thoughts can leave you wondering why anyone would choose to play a fade rather than a draw with their driver.

The debate over whether players should fade or draw their golf shots has been intensely lobbied on either side. While this is highly player specific, each particular shot shape comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. In order to discuss why elite golfers are choosing to play a fade and why you might as well, we must first explore how each shot shape is created and the unintended effects within each delivery combination. This article explores the ideas that lead some of the most outstanding players in the world to choose a fade as their go-to shot shape for their driver.

Before examining what makes each shot unique, golfers should be familiar with some common club fitting and golf swing terminology. Club path, clubface angle, impact location, spin-axis or axis tilt, and spin loft are all detailed below.

The curvature of a golf ball through the air is dependent on the backspin and sidespin of each shot. These spin rates are directly linked with each players golf swing and delivery characteristics. During every shot, each golfer will deliver the golf club back to the golf ball in a specific orientation. The relationship between the golf club face and the path of that club will determine much of how the golf ball will travel. A golf clubface that is closed to a club path will result in golf shots that either draw or hook. A clubface more open to the club’s path with create a shot that fades or slices. It is important that face angle measurements are taken in reference to the club path as terms like “out-to-in” or “in-to-out” can results in either of these two curvatures depending on face angle and impact location measurements.

Impact location should not be overlooked during this exchange and is a vital component of creating predictable golf shots that find the fairway and reach their maximum distances. As strikes move across the clubface of a driver gear effect begins to influence how the golf ball travels. In its simplest form, gear effect will help turn the golf ball back to the center of the golf club head. Impact locations in the heel will curve towards the middle and lead to golf shots with a more pronounced fading shape. Toe strikes lead to the opposite reaction and produce more draw or hook spin. Striking a golf ball from the upper half of the driver clubface produce higher launches and less spin, while strikes from the bottom create lower launches with higher backspin rates.

Spin-axis tilt or simply axis tilt is a result of the amalgamation of face angle, club path and strike locations. A golf shot will curve in the direction that its axis tilts during flight. Golfers familiar with launch monitors like Trackman and GCQuad, can reference axis tilt and spin-axis tilt measures for this measurement. Shots that curve to the left will have a leftward tilted axis, and shots to the right a rightward axis tilt. Golf shots tilting to the left and to the right are given names depending on which hand is dominant for that golfer. A draw or hook is a golf shot that curves in the air away from the golfers dominate hand. Right-handed players will see a golf ball hit with a draw spin from right to left in the air. Left-handed golfers see their draw shots spin from left to right. Fades and slices have the opposite shapes.

Spin loft is another critical component of creating and maintaining the flight of a golf ball. In concert with the spin-axis tilt of the golf ball, the spin loft influences the amount of backspin a golf ball possesses and will determine much of how stable that golf ball’s flight becomes. Golf shots hit with more backspin curve less violently than golf shots hit with too little spin especially in the wind. Spin loft is exemplified as golfers find themselves much more accurate with their wedges than their driver. More spin equals more stability, and this leads us to why professional players opt for their fade.

Modern drivers can be built to maximize the performance of each golfer on their best swings, but what about their misses? Golfers often lose confidence standing over their golf shots if they see the ball overdrawing or hooking too often. Overdraws and hooks create golf ball flight conditions that are unpredictable and lead to directional and distance detriments that can cause dropped shots and penalties. Because of this, elite right-handed players do not often like to see the golf ball going left from the tee box. By reducing their chances of hitting hooking tee shots, golfers often feel more freedom to swing the golf club freely and make smooth, powerful motions. This is never more evident than when watching Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit their drivers. While both players hit the golf ball both ways, their go-to shot from the tee is a left-to-right curving fade.

But wait, doesn’t a draw go further than a fade? While it is not inevitable that a draw will fly further or roll out more than a fade, the clubface and club path conditions needed at impact to produce each shape often lead to differences in spin rates and launch angles that affect distance. Less dynamic loft created by a closed clubface can lead to lower launch, less spin, and more distance. The drawback of these conditions is the reduced spin loft and decreased stability. So how much distance is worth losing to find more fairways? As we continue to see some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour win tournaments and major championships distance is the premium.

Luckily, modern drivers and club fitting techniques have given players a perfect blend of distance and accuracy. By manipulating the center of gravity of each driver, golfers can create longer shots from their best strikes without giving up protection from their mishits. Pushing the weights more near the clubface of drivers has given players the ability to present more loft at impact without increasing backspin. The ability to swing freely and know that if you miss your intended strike pattern your shot will lose distance but not end up in the most dangerous hazards have given players better, more repeatable results.

While it can be advantageous for casual golfers and weekend players to chase as many yards as possible, players that routinely hit the golf ball beyond 300 yards can afford their misses to fall back if they will remain in play and give them a chance to find the green in two shots. More stability when things do not go as planned thanks to increased spin lofts and less violent curvature has allowed elite level golfers to perform consistently even under the most demanding situations and it is why we continue to see a growing number of players favor a fade from their tee shots.

 

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