Clark: Golf is a reaction game

by   (Senior Writer I)   |   July 6, 2012
Golf is a reaction game

To most of us golf seems like a deliberate, planned exercise where we act on the ball or we initiate the motion upon it.  But unlike baseball, where we react to the ball hit our way or the pitch thrown at us; or tennis where we react to the serve of the opponent, in golf it seems there is no need to REACT simply because the ball is just sitting there. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

If you go to a driving range and watch new players trying to hit the ball, it is a most instructive exercise. I enjoy it immensely because I learn so much from it.  Typically the progression is something like this. Swing, miss, swing, hit ground, swing, shank, etc. But sooner or later, by hook or crook, new players swing and put the club on the back of the ball, and voila! The ball goes in the air and somewhat in the direction of the target! At that moment, something magical happens in their life:  THEY BECOME A GOLFER!

They were not a golfer when they missed the ball or laid sod over it, but they joined the fold when the golf ball did some version of what it was supposed to do. Now, and here’s what is important for us to understand, the series of motions they executed to produce that ball flight tells them that they must have done SOMETHING right to make the golf ball behave that way. And they spend a good part of their golfing life trying to repeat that motion. The positive reinforcement is so powerful, it becomes the very foundation of their future swing and stays with them for quite a long while.  They are reacting to the first great shot of their lives! They saw the golf ball behave, marveled at its flight and wondered, sometimes aloud, what they did to produce that magical shot.

The most recurring theme in golfdom is simply this: golfers REACT. They react to one of two things: the shot they just hit or the one they usually hit. Right or wrong they habitually swing AWAY from their predictable ball flight.  Slicers come over the top, hookers (no, not them) drop too far inside. It is as inevitable as Monday after Sunday. The instinct to aim or swing left for a slicer is as strong as the batter hitting the dirt after a high hard one was thrown at their head. How do I know? I have watched it for many, many years. It would be insane to do otherwise. So if you think the golf ball is sitting innocently on the ground waiting for you to put your beautiful swing on it, think again. It is resting rather maliciously on the ground directing you to steer it AWAY from its predictable flight pattern.  I could threaten a slicer with bodily harm if they swing left and it would be no deterrent whatsoever to over-the-top! You program your next swing at impact of your last. The golf ball only reacts to the club face and path of your swing and YOU only react to the flight it produces!

What can be done for this seemingly chronic malady?  Can you do any drills; can you use any training aids?  Is there a swing thought to change the pattern? Answer:  NO!  I know all my friends who design the training aids will tell you I’m crazy, and they are entitled to their view.  I have just never seen anything effective until: THE BALL FLIGHT CHANGES!  Yep, the correction for a slice is a hook — the correction for a pull is a push and so on. Something has to be done to change the pattern of your shots so that you can REACT in a totally different way. So when I’m working with someone who hits the big banana, I’m working to get them to hook it, NOT HIT IT STRAIGHT!  Why? Well, because of everything I’ve just written.

Let’s say I have a student five degrees outside/in on my Trackman reading. I can assure you that they are not going to read three degrees inside/out anytime soon.  So let’s use this example. What to do? Try any or all of the following:  A much stronger grip, a very early roll over release, take the club face away more shut, swing your arms down early, hit balls with your back to the target, etc. ANYTHING that will produce a right-to-left ball flight, a draw, or better yet a HOOK. When this ball flight becomes the pattern, the norm, then and only then can we start building a new move designed to swing more from the inside.  I have used this technique for many years, and it is most effective.  Some call this a band aid, to which I would proclaim, “Then buy a whole a box.”  It is a training aid intended to change your habits. And it works. The problem is most folks see the golf ball going the other way and try to moderate it TOO SOON.  They wean themselves off the drill and new ball flight well before they are ready to affect any real change in their golf swing.

Finally, when should you stop doing the exaggerated drill? When you can actually produce a hook, a true inside/out shallow hook with the golf ball starting right and curving TOO MUCH to the left; then you are ready to step on to the “broad sunlit uplands” as Churchill once so famously described it; That special place of higher learning reserved for the select few who really want to change.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

About

Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional and advanced certified instructor, a distinction held by fewer than 2 percent of all PGA Professionals. He is recognized as one of the top instructors in the country, and holds no less than seven PGA awards including "Teacher of the Year" and "Golf Professional of the Year." Dennis directs his own academy in Naples, FL. He can reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

Dennis holds two degrees in education and has worked with golfers of all levels for over 30 years. A native of Philadelphia, Dennis currently directs the Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.

GolfWRX Writer of the Month: April 2014, May 2014


4 Comments

  1. Greg

    July 27, 2012 at 7:40 am

    You have a valid point here. But the difference especially with natural movement is still huge compared to other sports.
    Because the golf ball isn’t moving people are more inclined to repeat mistakes much more often because they don’t have the natural varience they have with other sports like soccer or tennis.
    Without instruction you won’t stumble upon the right path as easily.

  2. Pingback: GolfWRX.com – Clark: Golf is a reaction game | Golf Driving Hints

  3. joe the pro

    July 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

    this makes more sense than anyhting I’ve read. I can’t get my students to change their move if they keep hitting the same shot! Perfect sense. Where do you teach?

  4. adamyounggolf

    July 7, 2012 at 2:48 am

    I am a golf coach and would agree with this completely. I see in almost every case where the player is reacting to their normal pattern of shots by swinging the opposite direction – any attempt to correct this through forcing body positions is not hitting the real cause and is more of a band aid than the ‘better’ approach you describe. it’s the same problem with lag for example, people lose their lag as they want to see a high flying shot in many cases. Any attempt to force lag is not going to be long lasting

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