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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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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

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Instruction

Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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