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Is golf instruction different for better golfers?

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I have been fortunate during my many decades as a golf instructor to have worked with some very good golfers: collegiate golfers, state open champions, mini-tour players and even a few players who have competed on the golf’s grandest stage, the PGA Tour.

[quote_box_center]It must be different teaching golfers who have won tournaments at the highest level… way different than teaching average golfers, right?[/quote_box_center]

I’m often asked that question, and my is always, “No, it’s not.” There really is no difference, other than the respective skills sets of better players. That’s because the way the best teachers approach their students doesn’t hinge on their skills, but rather their personality and learning style.

There’s really only three things I’m focused on as a golf instructor:

  1. The club face has to be relatively square.
  2. The attack angle has to be sufficiently steep or shallow, depending on the club and the shot.
  3. The club path needs to correspond to the club face angle.

There are million different ways teachers can help golfers achieve those things, but those three things are all there is in golf.

I read so many comments that suggest certain tips are for the pros, and others are for beginners. For those of you who believe that, try coming with me to the lesson tee where you’ll see me teach students with handicaps that can range from +4 to 24. With each of them, you’ll find me working to correct the club face angle, the club path and the angle of attack. How I do it is of no consequence as long as the student understands what I’m asking them to do.

Last week, I taught a club champion and a 28-handicap golfer in back-to-back lessons. Both suffered from what I call a “hang back,” which occurs when the weight stays too much on the rear foot into impact and creates a shallow attack angle. Yes, the two golfers had different degrees of the problem, and there was a vast difference in how much the two golfers “hung back” and how shallow they were at impact. Their problems were essentially the same, however, and to help them I had to move the bottom of their swing arcs forward while getting more of their weight over the ball with some degree of forward tilt to the shaft at impact.

As I stated earlier, the method or style of delivery of the correction to these students will vary greatly, not by skill level, but by learning style and personalty. That’s because the actual information, while potentially complicated and detailed, is ultimately finite. It is quantifiable.

My job as a golf instructor is to take all the information I have learned in my 50 years as a golfer and 32 years as a golf instructor and deliver it as simply as possible in a way golfers will understand. To paraphrase a famous quote, every golf instructor should “strive to know golf in its complexity, and teach it in its simplicity.”

If I’m giving a lesson to an engineer at 9 a.m. and an artist at 10 a.m., I better change my approach to best deliver the requisite info. It doesn’t matter if one of my students is a scratch and the other is a 10 handicap. I have to solve their problem the same way I solve all golfers’ problems by asking myself:

  1. What is the ball doing?
  2. What is the club doing to the ball?
  3. What is the golfer doing to the club?

I would never suggest a change in setup or swing to a student based on a theory, a method, a system or, worst of all, because something “doesn’t look right.” My instruction is empirical and practical, whether I’m working with a pro or a beginner. Clearly, better athletes and more skilled golfers may be able to execute swing changes more easily, but that does not change the information itself.

Technical information is somehow perceived as a “higher level” of teaching. In this, the 3-D radar era, we are surely more capable of verifying what we see and how we may go about correcting it. Don’t think for even for a minute, however, that a highly skilled golfer is getting a better lesson or a more dedicated one than the newbie. And believe me, they suffer from the same problems.

Where’s Dennis now? Usually I give lessons at my academy in Naples, Fla., but for the next six weeks I’m teaching at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Penn. To book a lesson, contact me on my Facebook page or through my website

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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

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Andrew Cooper

    Sep 23, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Great stuff Dennis. Ultimately it’s just applying the club to the ball to achieve a desired result- the best players are very good at that, lesser players less so. The pros aren’t super human or have “the secret”-simply a lot of work mixed with athletic ability/sense. There’s no great mystery to it. The ultimate judge of the swing is the flight of the ball.

  2. christian

    Sep 23, 2015 at 5:25 am

    I’d say the average PGA tour pro doesn’t need to be taught how to grip a club, correct posture, how to stay balanced, how to move your weight during the swing, how to turn…Plus a number of other things a beginner needs to be taught. So I’d say there must be a pretty damn HUGE difference in teaching a beginner and a tour/Major winner. With a pro I would guess it’s mostly fine tuning details, with a beginner it starts with “here is how to hold a club”. Yeah, no real difference at all, clearly

    • Gary Gutful

      Sep 23, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      He is talking about the process that he goes through and how that process remains the same irrespective of handicap. That process might lead to a change in grip, posture etc in some players while in others it might not. #Process

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Have you taught many pros or amateurs?

  3. jdub

    Sep 18, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    I think the best time for a student to take lessons is the second they decide to start playing golf. All the things mentioned above are great and those 3 keys that Dennis mentioned are absolutely vital to swinging the club correctly. BUT in my opinion if every golfer got a few basic lessons early on these things would be so much easier to teach. I think a lot of problems that poor golfers face start with the basic fundamentals of the golf swing such as grip, posture, setup, stance which move into backswing and downswing which finish with impact. All three keys Denis mentioned happen during the downswing or at impact and beyond.

    How many players do you see that simply cannot and will not ever be able to get into good positions on the way down, at impact and do so with consistency and repeatability simply because they are in such poor positions are setup with a bad grip.

    If all brand new golfers were taught a neutral grip and a solid athletic posture as well as how to align themselves and the club face these 3 keys Dennis mentions would be much, much easier. So many golfers spend years doing all these basic things incorrectly and have beaten bad habits into their natural move that it takes so long for them to get comfortable doing things correctly.

    Teaching a brand new golfer a neutral grip is simple because there is no expectation that early so they have nothing to revert back to just to hit decent shots and the same thing can be said for posture, stance, setup and alignment.

    Instructors– think about how much easier your job would be if all golfers were taught these basics before they spent 2 years at a driving range by themselves with poor fundamentals. Dennis, think how much easier controlling someones face, path, the relationship between the two AND the angle of attack if their natural alignment was actually solid and they had a neutral grip. Those things become so hard to teach that 24 handicap when he’s spent 10 years slicing the ball so he naturally reverts back to aiming left or producing a grip thats so strong you can’t even see his right thumb.

    Lessons are for for beginners!!!

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 24, 2015 at 6:36 pm

      Very true. Hitting balls for most people is exercise. It is not practicing golf. They are simply grooving bad habits

  4. Pete

    Sep 18, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Good read!

    I heard the same from an ET players’ coach. The pros practice and fight the same problems as we high or low handicappers do.

    What I think would make a huge difference, is that golf teaching shouldn’t be so golf spesific. Some people have been playing racket games, hockey or baseball since childhood. They know how to swing a club sometimes even better than the golf instructor. The same fundamentals apply in throwing. Actually the motion in tennis serve is exactly the same as in golf swing. The direction, where the club is going is the only difference in the big picture.

  5. Steve

    Sep 18, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Ugg

  6. Dennis Clark

    Sep 18, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Steve, Thx for your interest in my work. I appreciate the following. The point I am making here is this: Shallow is shallow, steep is steep etc…The problems are no different, just the degree varies greatly with the skill level. For example, IMO, Tiger does not turn through the golf ball like he once did causing him to get under and stuck. I had a fella this morning with the SAME problem, but of course had to go about the correction quite differently. Of course I’ll never get the level of Turn through of an professional, but I do need to go in that SAME direction. Thx again DC

  7. juststeve

    Sep 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Dennis:
    I follow your posts with great interest and usually agree with what you write. This time however I think you have shanked it. There is no question that all golfers, from the best to the worst need to strike the ball with a proper angle of attack, a path toward the target and a club face square to path. That’s a matter of physics and geometry. How to achieve that impact is what the student wants from the teacher. To try to get a 12 handicap middle age fellow who sits behind the desk all day to swing the club like Tiger in his prime is folly. They are different in almost all relevant respects, and need to be taught different things. That at least is my opinion.

    Steve

    • devilsadvocate

      Sep 18, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      Spoken like someone who doesn’t teach golf for a living…. Not that there is anything wrong with that other than ignorance . I’m sure u are a good guy and all but if your reading comprehension is up to par i believe you shanked your comment…. Fore!

    • alexdub

      Sep 18, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      x2 devilsadvocate… Steve shanked it.

      The article said the exact opposite of what you commented. I believe Dennis is saying that there are universal principles that overlap all golfers, but they must be applied in a unique way to each individual golfer.

      • juststeve

        Sep 18, 2015 at 5:21 pm

        If that is what Dennis was saying then we are in complete agreement.

      • Dennis Clark

        Sep 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm

        Spot on that’s exactly what Dennis is saying.

    • other paul

      Sep 18, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      Hey Steve, I am a middle age guy trying to do tigers swing from his prime. Or at least some thing between woods, bubba, and sadlowski. And it isn’t that hard. Once you know the body movements. Swing speed has gone up from 97 to 114 (measured last night).

  8. other paul

    Sep 17, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    My last golf lesson involves the instructor telling me my face was shut at impact. He gave me the video and let me figure it out. I tinkered all summer and eventually figured out that my upper body was staying to closed at impact. When I opened my body more the face opened as well. Voila. Straight shots. Thank the Lord. I fought with that for a while. Now I have a push draw. And love it.

    • Gary Gutful

      Sep 23, 2015 at 1:30 pm

      Lazy sod of an instructor. Did you ask for your money back?

  9. Alex

    Sep 17, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Cool article Dennis.

    Great idea of checking on the student’s personality for better teaching. I’ve played golf since I was a kid and I like teachers who don’t go with a lot of theory when correcting the swing. I like “feeling” and positions. But some guys I know want to know almost the physics of the swing while taking their lesson. I guess a good teacher should cater for both types of students.

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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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