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In golf, what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing

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One of the most perplexing aspects of the game we all love is this: What we feel we are doing and what we are actually doing are generally not even close to the same thing in golf.

I can’t tell you how many golfers over the years I have seen and/or worked with who think they are doing something, but are actually doing something else. It’s not unique to average golfers, either; it’s the same for the best golfers, too.

This is where video and launch monitors are so effective.

Unless you can actually see your movements and read the impact and flight measurements, you cannot ever actually know what you’re doing. You, me or Tiger, it doesn’t matter.

Here are some of the reasons why what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing.

  1. Ball flight is misleading. Anytime you can swing a club to the left and have the ball go to the right… or swing the club to the right and have the ball go left, we are in for a world of deception. The flight of the golf ball is such a powerful feedback that it will dictate our every motion.
  2. Motion habits are deeply entrenched. Once the golf swing develops, it is very hard to change it.
  3. Path of least resistance. Lets face it; it’s a human trait to choose the easiest, most comfortable way to do something. Most times, that means accepting their current swing errors because it’s easier to do so than make change.
  4. Pre-conceived notions. Many golfers come for their first lesson with an innate conceptualization of their flaws or what’s wrong with their game — but they’re often wrong, making those pre-conceived notions detrimental to their swing.

The best… actually the ONLY way I have seen golfers combat this phenomenon is to practice doing entirely opposite of what they THINK they’re doing. Let’s say you look at the video and it shows you are raising up on you take away, coming out of your posture. I suggest you actually try to feel as though you’re going down on the backswing; feel as though you are lowering your posture going back. Then check again to see if you actually made a change. If not, try again and this time dip a LOT in the backswing until you can internalize a feeling of actually not raising up.

To start this process, you need video. Luckily, most of us have a phone with a camera. You don’t need any sophisticated software, a simple iPhone will do. Have someone stand behind you and film a swing. It will take maybe 5 seconds. Watch it in slow motion and see if you have changed the motion. DO NOT be surprised if you do not see a change at first!

Of course, this type of exercise is based on knowledge of what you should be doing. Staying with our example, Paul Azinger actually raised up and out of his posture when he went back, but it worked pretty well for him. That’s why I never advise trying to do something simply because someone thought it was correct, or “fundamental.” Golfers only need to change the motions that are affecting the golf club into impact.

There are a lot of “so whats” in a golf swing: “I raise my left heel in the backswing,” “I don’t turn my shoulders,” “I sway,” etc. These CAN BE all ‘”so whats,” which means that these motions may or may not affect how you’re moving the golf club. If they’re affecting impact, then yes, they need changing; and you will need to closely monitor the changes you’re trying to make.

We all know the classic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Never is it more true than in a golf swing. Spending one more week, or even one more swing with the old motion is going to make change even harder. Remember, it’s not the old swing if you’re still making it.

So try to work on those thing affecting club face, swing path and attack angle, and observe the changes to see if they are really taking place. The very best way to improve, of course, is with an instructor with access to slow-motion video and and an accurate launch monitor. Even with the advantage of an instructor, however, you need to pay close attention to the new move between your sessions. And again don’t be shocked if you do not see change right away.

Remember this: We only learn through our struggles; there are no mistakes– only lessons.

I hope this helps, and as always, send me an email or message me on my Facebook page with any questions!

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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

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. A

    Jan 22, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Nothing necessarily wrong with the “left heel coming off the ground” or a little bit of “rise” in the take away (unless you don’t ever come back down). See: Nicklaus, Bubba, etc.

    I still do accept the thrust of your point, that sometimes you have to experiment with trying to go to the opposite extreme to feel the difference, in whatever it is you’re trying to change.

  2. Richard Grime

    Nov 6, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    The problem with these old books and I’m afraid the PGA in the U.K. are still teaching as they have for the last forty years. No new instruction on the data that trackman has provided. So, the information has messed up quite a few golfers swings over the years, mine included!

  3. Christestrogen

    Oct 29, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    This is why former tennis players(like myself) transition easy to golf….slice across the tennis ball to the left and the ball spins right…
    -Christosterone

    • Christestrogen

      Oct 29, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Mom wouldn’t let me play a real sport like football…
      Christestrogen

  4. Dennis Clark

    Oct 28, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Glad y’all enjoy the help. I appreciate the following and hope you get something out of each one of these. One thing I eschew is teaching theories or methods. All my articles and lessons are “empirical”. That is they are things I have seen work for years and years. So I share them here with the readers of this forum. Thx

  5. possum

    Oct 28, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    “Feel is not real”. Not a new concept – but a good reminder of a valid concept for sure.

  6. Ol deadeye

    Oct 28, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    I have a shelf full of books and videos on how to hit a golf ball. Some directly contradict each other. Kind of like articles in golf publications. The best I have found in 45 plus years is Ross Duplessis. His method has brought me accuracy, consistency and lower scores. Check out duplessigolf.com. His methods are simple and well thought out. The ball completely understands ball flight laws so you don’t have to. Hit it correctly and it does what it should.

  7. Ver

    Oct 28, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    It’s not just in Golf – this is a fact for everybody who’s ever dreamed of achieving something unattainable to them in the world of any coordinated activity with their bodies. So when you try to explain to somebody who is picking up the game who had never participated in any kind of sports activity of any kind until they became adults, it’s not going to be easy. True, true.

  8. Stretch

    Oct 28, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I admire Dennis’ ability to take the individual and not make wholesale changes to create a perfect move. Too many instructors are stuck on a style that works for some and is a disaster for others.

  9. Philip

    Oct 27, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    I learned a few years ago that when I feel I am going in circles to automatically do the opposite of what I think I should do – works like a charm. Just wish each time I did it sooner. I am generally better at making changes if I visualize what it is I want the club head to do and work backwards from a good impact position rather than working forward from my set up position. Old habits die hard though. My process is to first visualize the changes at home and practice without a ball (besides I don’t think hitting a golf ball in a living room is too brilliant), go to the range try the changes with golf balls, and then test it on the course.

  10. Dennis Clark

    Oct 27, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    You mean impact laws, not ball flight laws. And the problem is not that we don’t teach ball flight it’s that for many years we DID. An they were wrong.

    • Robert

      Oct 27, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I think ball flight laws is the correct term. Here’s a good article about it from Golfwrx.

      http://www.golfwrx.com/107406/understanding-the-new-ball-flight-laws/

      • Dennis Clark

        Oct 27, 2015 at 3:42 pm

        take this example; an out-to-in path with an open face can hook. If it struck on the toe. Ever hit a double cross? Thats generally the reason. As soon as we miss the center of the club face, all bets are off on face to path relationship. Thats what is misleading. We see open face hooks and closed faced slices all the time…

        • TR1PTIK

          Oct 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm

          Excellent distinction Dennis! Thanks for the helpful tips!

          • Dennis Clark

            Oct 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm

            You’re welcome; thx for reading.

            • other paul

              Oct 27, 2015 at 6:36 pm

              Throw in closure rate and all hell breaks loose to.

        • Robert

          Oct 28, 2015 at 1:10 pm

          i appreciate your comments and interaction with everybody here but i still think the point is missed. “ball flight laws” is the most appropriate description. any experienced golfer can quickly assess what they did or are doing wrong based on the ball flight. Fixing it is another issue. Your double cross point….i’d say the vast majority of times that a double cross occurs is because the face either closes too much when trying to fade it or opens too much when trying the draw it. i can’t recall the last time i toed it on a double cross while trying to fade it. there is a very distinct feel when you toe the ball. i can’t believe that i’m the exception to your rule. Toeing the ball is also far from guaranteeing a right to left ball flight. i’ve had toeing issues in the past (irons) and it was always a crap-shoot as to where the ball would go. i would be shocked if the ball ever went left while toeing the ball with an open clubface. I know it’s possible but I’m saying it’s unlikely. that’s just my 2 cents. correctly learning the ball flight laws has been one of the most beneficial things to happen to my golf game in the last 5 years. i appreciate your columns and look forward to reading your next one.

  11. alfriday

    Oct 27, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Ball flight is not “misleading.” Your ball flight tells you exactly what is happening with your swing path and clubface at impact. The problem is that instructors don’t teach the ball flight laws. Once a player learns the laws, self diagnosis on the range is simple.

    Video and ball flight monitors are great learning tools. But most of us don’t have accessw to them daily on the range or on the course. We all have access to the immediate feed back of ball flight.

    • other paul

      Oct 27, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      You can’t perfectly diagnose from ball flight alone. Feel also comes into play. If you know the laws bit you hit the ball on the toe with a high closure rate then you get a massive toe hook. If you hit it on the toe with a very low closure rate then a push draw follows instead. So you have to be able to know where you hit on the face and know if you have a high or low closure rate.

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Happy Father’s Day weekend and U.S. Open weekend at none other than Pebble Beach weekend! Whoa, cannot wait to see the golf action today!

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