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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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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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Instruction

PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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