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Clark: Golf is a reaction game

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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.

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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

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Greg

    Jul 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

    Jul 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

    Jul 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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Instruction

How to fix the root cause of hitting your golf shots fat

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Of all the shots golfers fear, hitting the ball FAT has to be right up at the top of the list. At least it heads the list of commonly hit poor shots (let’s leave the shank and the whiff out for now). After fat, I’d list topping, followed by slicing and then hooking. They are all round-killers, although the order of the list is an individual thing based on ability. Professionals despise a hook, but club golfers by and large fear FAT. Why?

First of all, it’s embarrassing. Secondly, it goes nowhere — at least compared to thin — and it can be physically painful! So to avoid this dreaded miss, golfers do any number of things (consciously or subconsciously) to avoid it. The pattern develops very early in one’s golf life. It does not take very many fat shots for golfers to realize that they need to do something differently. But rather than correct the problem with the correct move(s), golfers often correct a fault with a fault.

Shortening the radius (chicken-winging), raising the swing center, early lower-body extension, holding on through impact (saving it), running the upper body ahead of the golf ball and even coming over the top are all ways of avoiding fat shots. No matter how many drills I may offer for correcting any of those mistakes, none will work if the root cause of fat is not addressed.

So what causes fat? We have to start with posture. Some players simply do not have enough room to deliver the golf club on a good plane from inside to inside. Next on the list of causes is a wide, early cast of the club head. This move is invariably followed by a break down in the lead arm, holding on for dear life into impact, or any of the others…

“Swaying” (getting the swing center too far off the golf ball) is another cause of fat, as well as falling to the rear foot or “reversing the weight.” Both of these moves can cause one to bottom out well behind the ball. Finally, an excessive inside-out swing path (usually the fault of those who hook the ball) also causes an early bottom or fat shot, particularly if the release is even remotely early. 

Here are 4 things to try if you’re hitting fat shots

  1. Better Posture: Bend forward from the hips so that arms hang from the shoulders and directly over the tips of the toes, knees slightly flexed over the shoelaces, seat out for balance and chin off the chest!
  2. Maintaining the Angles: Casting, the natural urge to throw the clubhead at the golf ball, is a very difficult habit to break if one is not trained from the start. The real correction is maintaining the angle of the trail wrist (lag) a little longer so that the downswing is considerably more narrow than the backswing. But as I said, if you have been playing for some time, this is risky business. Talk to your instructor before working on this!
  3. Maintaining the Swing Center Over the Golf Ball: In your backswing, focus on keeping your sternum more directly over the golf ball (turning in a barrel, as Ernest Jones recommended). For many, this may feel like a “reverse pivot,” but if you are actually swaying off the ball it’s not likely you will suddenly get stuck with too much weight on your lead foot.
  4. Setting Up a Little More Open: If your swing direction is too much in-to-out, you may need to align your body more open (or feel that way). You could also work with a teaching aid that helps you feel the golf club is being swung more out in front of you and more left (for right-handers) coming through — something as simple as a head cover inside the golf ball. You’ll hit the headcover if you are stuck too far inside coming down.

The point is that most players do what they have to do to avoid their disastrous result. Slicers swing way left, players who fight a hook swing inside out and anybody who has ever laid sod over the golf ball will find a way to avoid doing it again. This, in my opinion, is the evolution of most swing faults, and trying to correct a fault with a fault almost never ends up well.

Get with an instructor, get some good videos (and perhaps even some radar numbers) to see what you are actually doing. Then work on the real corrections, not ones that will cause more trouble.

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Instruction

Right Knee Bend: The Difference Between PGA Tour Players and Amateurs

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The knees play an especially important role in the golf swing, helping to transfer the forces golfers generate through our connection with the ground. When we look closer at the right knee bend in the golf swing, we’re able to get a better sense of how PGA Tour players generate power compared to most amateur golfers.

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Instruction

How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location

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One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:

Observations

  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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