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A PGA Master Professional’s Guide to Taking Golf Lessons

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So you’ve decided to take a golf lesson… congratulations! There is no more-proven path to getting better at this game than working with a trained professional.

As a PGA Master Professional with more than 30 years of experience, I’ve helped countless golfers make rapid improvement and achieve their golfing goals. Of course, that has meant different things to different students over the years.

Getting the ball airborne or beating their buddies is a big moment for many golfers; for others, the goal is to win their club championship or make it on tour. Whatever your golf goals are, lessons with a trained professional can help you get there. And trust me, it’s just as exciting for a teaching professional to watch one of their students hit their first draw as it is to watch one of them win a professional event.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the hidden reward in the golf instruction process, which attracted me to the field in the first place. If golfers put their best foot forward and take the time to identify the right teacher for them, they’ll learn things about golf and their swings that will cause them to fall even deeper in love with this great game. Maybe even more important? They almost always learn something valuable about themselves, which is usually applicable to another area of their life.

Throughout the years, however, I have noticed similar traits in the small percentage of golfers who don’t do as well as others with golf lessons. You can learn about those (mostly fixable) traits in my story, 6 signs golf lessons won’t help your game.

Before we get into my guide, which should answer most of your questions about taking golf lessons, let me remind golfers that they should always take lesson with a SPECIFIC GOAL in mind. As you work with your new coach, remember to evaluate your progress based on that goal.

Searching for a teacher

The instructor you choose should be someone you feel can help you. Ask around about teachers in your area. Don’t feel compelled to take a lesson at your club if the pro does not meet your criteria. You have to decide the “type” of teacher that’s best for you.

Is he or she a method teacher? Does he/she espouse a particular swing style, or work with a golfer’s existing motion? Do you feel more comfortable with a man or woman? How much experience does the teacher have? What kind of reputation? Has this teacher helped other golfers you know? What about technology? Is it important to you and your learning style that your teacher have all the latest technology?

Even after an exhaustive search, you may still have to try a few instructors in your area before you find one with whom you feel comfortable. Finally, NEVER sign up for a series of lessons the first time you work with a teacher. “Try it before you buy it.”

Set a realistic goal

What do you want from the lesson? Talk with your teacher and tell her or him exactly what your goals are for this lesson and beyond. Set short and long-term goals for yourself, and ask the teacher if he or she feels your goals are realistic. If you’re a 15-handicap expecting to play in the U.S. Open next year, the teacher should be the first to inform you that your goals are unrealistic. If you were a 10 handicapper six months ago and you’ve shot up to a 16, you’d have every right to expect that you can get your handicap back. How long it might take is a matter of how much time you have to practice what you’ve learned.

Decide what kind of lesson you’re after

Read my article on the two types of lessons. It is important that you know what you’re after when you begin the process of improving your game. You may be thinking about breaking your whole swing down and starting over. Or you may want to stay with the swing you have and tweak it a bit. That is a conversation you and the perspective teacher should have right at the outset.

My advice: Depending on how long you’ve been playing and how often you play, breaking down your whole swing and starting over is usually not productive.

Seek help with the weaker areas of your game

If you hit 12-13 fairways a round but miss most greens, it should be obvious what you need to work on. From experience, however, I can tell you that’s not always the case. I have my students keep track of their rounds, and the patterns that emerge are very revealing. Weaknesses are not as obvious as one might think. But it is imperative that you seek help with the areas of the game at which you are less adept.

When to take a lesson?

As I mentioned in my article, 6 signs that golf lessons won’t help your game, there are times to take a lesson and times when golfers should stay away from the lesson tee. But in general, if the problem you’re having is not URGENT, wait until your big match or the member-guest is over. Or even more immediately, always consider taking a lesson AFTER a round, not before it. You also need to consider time of year in your decision to take a lesson. Going into your golf season is a better time than near the end of it.

I also do NOT recommend taking lessons outside in inclement weather, such as when it’s really cold or raining. You don’t need to add external distractions to your internal ones.

Where to take a lesson?

Simple answer: In as private of a setting as possible, and NEVER at a crowded range. Again, external distractions are not conducive to optimal learning. Golfers should also arrive early to their lessons, if possible, so they can hit a few balls to warm up.

How to take a lesson

So many golfers are nervous about taking lessons simply because they are embarrassed to hit poor shots in front of a professional. Many golfers think they have “the worst swing in the world.” Or worse, the teacher will ask them to do something they’re incapable of doing. Adult fear of failure is very stressful.

Here’s what I tell my students: “You are not going to show me anything I haven’t seen many times before.” So relax, and DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR RESULTS. The minute any golfer becomes overly concerned about results, they cannot focus on the process of making changes. Golfers take lessons to learn, not to show the teacher what they can do.

[quote_center]I want to see your problem shots, not your good ones.[/quote_center]

Having done this work for 30+ years I can tell you this: I have NEVER expected a student to know what they’re doing when they arrive. I know all too well the internal distractions from which they currently suffer, and it is MY JOB to help them relax and learn.

I’ve never made a student feel worse, uncomfortable, or intimidated, and no teacher worth their weight in salt would. Any experienced teacher has multiple ways of getting a message across, so if something you’re hearing isn’t registering, it’s OK to ask the teacher to say it another way. If you can’t perform a drill you’ve been given, ask for another.

Remember: Be ACTIVE in your learning; participate! DO NOT stand there and say nothing. The teacher needs your feedback to proceed or change course.

Establish a dialogue that you can internalize

If you don’t understand so much as ONE WORD the teacher says, stop him and ask a question right then and there.

  • What do you mean, “Over the top?”
  • Why are asking me to do that?
  • What’s a “stronger grip?”

I always want my students to understand what I’m saying and why I’m asking them to do something in a lesson. Don’t ever feel that you’re being slow to understand or just “not getting it.” Remember, you’re not supposed to get it… until you do.

If you leave the lesson unsure of something, it will not become clear later… believe me. If you feel intimidated or inept, look for another teacher. I work my students pretty hard, but they know they can always back off when they feel pressed. It’s all about timing, establishing a flow and comfort level, and participating in the process.

Follow up

You need something to take home with you. You are NOT going to remember all you’ve learned. I email all my students a video of their lessons. It runs for 10 minutes or so, shows the beginning, middle and end of the lesson, and covers the main things we worked on. They can watch the video on their phone or tablet, which allows them to reference it as they go to practice. If taking notes helps you, do it.

Although my videos cover everything — club recommendations, drills, specific changes and general encouragement — V1 Golf has a great app that allows golfers to send swings to their teacher when they have further questions. You can do the same thing through text messaging and email now, too. Most transient guests in my schools use this this feature. Follow up is crucial as swing changes take time!

Have more questions? Contact me on my Facebook page or email me at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com.

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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

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Dave C

    Jan 8, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you. Very helpful with the points to consider.

  2. Magnus

    Jan 8, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Yeah, I would love to have a teacher like Dennis nearby. I learn something new everytime I read his articles. And its important things that I learn.

  3. Stretch

    Dec 23, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    What device do you use to record the lesson? Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 23, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      V1 video. Flightscope radar. Boditrak. And a very trained eye ????

  4. Fran

    Dec 23, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Very informative information. I can see why he was teacher of the year.

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Clement: Short game consistency for chipping and pitching

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There is simply no excuse left for poor chipping and pitching. The techniques, focus, and task implementation you will get out of this video will be simply fantastic and is the surest way to bring your scores down and your fun factor way up! This is the way Steve Stricker does it too! Enjoy!

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Faults & Fixes: Losing height in your swing

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In this week’s Fault and Fixes Series, we are going to examine the issues that come with losing your height during the swing and its effect on your low point as well as your extension through and beyond impact.

When a professional player swings, there is usually very little downward motion through the ball. Some is OK, but if you look at this amateur player you will see too much. When the head drops downward too much something, has to give and it’s usually the shortening of the swing arc. This will cause issues with the release of the club.

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Dangers of overspeed training revealed: What to do and what not to do

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Speed: a key factor to more money on tour. The key component sought after by many amateur golfers to lower their scores. The focus of many infographics on social media this past PGA Tour season. A lot of people say speed matters more than putting when it comes to keeping your tour card and making millions.  

Overspeed Training: the focus on tons of training aids as a result of the buzz the pursuit of speed has created. The “holy grail” for the aging senior golfer to extend their years on the course. The “must do” training thousands of junior golfers think will bring them closer to playing college golf and beyond.  

Unfortunately, overspeed training is the most misunderstood and improperly implemented training tool I see used for speed in the industry. Based on the over 50 phone calls I’ve fielded from golfers around the world who have injured themselves trying it, it is leading to more overuse injuries in a sport where we certainly don’t need any help creating more than we already have. Luckily, these injuries are 100 percent preventable if you follow the few steps outlined below.

Don’t let your rush to swing faster get you hurt. Take five minutes to read on and see what the industry has not been forthcoming with until now.  

Understanding how to increase your speed safely and with as little work possible is the path to longevity without injury. If you could train 75 percent less (to the tune of about 8,000 fewer reps a year) and still see statistically comparable results, would you rather that? 

I would.

Would it make sense to you that swinging 8,000 times fewer (low volume protocols versus high volume protocols) would probably decrease your risk of overuse injuries (the most common injury for golfers)?  

I think so.

But I’ll let you draw your own conclusions after you finish reading.   

Your Challenge

Your biggest challenge is that the answer to more speed for you is not the same as it is for your friends. It differs depending on many factors, but there are four main ones that you can start with. Those four are 

  1. Your equipment
  2. Your technical prowess
  3. Your joint mobility at your rotary centers (neck, shoulders, spine, and hips) 
  4. Your ability to physically produce power  

If you are not totally clear on these, I’d recommend checking out the earlier article I wrote for GolfWRX titled Swing speed: How do you compare? Go through the testing as outlined and you’ll know the answer to these four areas in five minutes.

Basically, you have the potential to pick up speed by optimizing your equipment (ie. find the right shaft, etc), optimizing the technical element of your swing for optimal performance (ie. launch angles, etc) or by optimizing your body for the golf swing. Understanding how to best gain speed without putting your body at risk both in the short and long term is what 95 percent of golfers have no idea about. It is the single biggest opportunity golfers have to make lasting improvements to not only their golf game but their overall health.

Are You a Ticking Time Bomb?

In my earlier article (link above), I described three main categories when it came to physical factors. Step one is to determine what category you are in.

The first option is that you might be swinging faster than your body is able to control. In this case, you are a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode in injury. We all know that friend who just has a year-round membership to the local physio or chiro because they are always hurt. If this is you, DO NOT try overspeed training, it will only make your visits to the physio or chiro more frequent. There are much better areas to spend your time on.

The second situation might be the rare, sought-after balanced golfer. You might have great mobility in the four main rotary centers (hips, spine, shoulders, and neck) and your swing speed matches your physical power output abilities. It should be noted that based on our mobility research of almost 1,000 golfers, 75 percent of golfers over the age of 40 don’t have full rotary mobility in at least one of the four centers. When you age past 50, that 75 percent now applies to at least two rotary centers. Hence why “the balanced golfer” category is elusive to most golfers.

The final option is the sexy, exciting one; the “more RPMs under the hood” golfer. This is the one where overspeed training is your fountain of youth and you can pick up 10, 15, even 20 yards in a matter of weeks. You might have more RPM’s under your hood right now. Being in this category means you physically are able to produce way more power athletically than you are doing in your golf swing currently.  

The Good News

The “more RPMs under the hood” golfer describes over 50 percent of amateur golfers. Most of you sit at work and don’t train your body to move at maximal speeds outside of when you swing the golf club. The number of adults and senior golfers who train maximal speed at the gym, run sprints and train with plyometrics (correctly) is under five percent.

Why is this good news?

Because if you don’t move fast at any point in your life other than on the golf course right now, doing pretty much anything fast repetitively will make you faster. For instance, you can jump up and down three times before you hit a drive and your speed will increase by 2-3 mph (6-9 yards) just from that according to a research study.

This means that for the average amateur, adult golfer in this category, picking up 5-8 mph (12- 20-plus yards) almost immediately (it won’t stick unless you keep training in though) is incredibly simple.

The Bad News & The Fine Print

Remember earlier when I mentioned you needed to “also have full mobility in the four main rotary centers” and that “75 percent of adults over the age of 50 lack mobility in at least two rotary centers?” 

That’s the bad news.

Most golfers will get faster by simply swinging as hard as they can. Unfortunately, most golfers also will get hurt swinging maximally repeatedly because they have to compensate for the lack of rotational mobility in those rotary centers. 

This should be a big bold disclaimer, but is often not. This is the fine print no one tells you about. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sexiness of overspeed training crashes and burns into the traffic jam of joints that don’t move well for most amateur golfers.  

Your Solution

The first step to your solution is to make sure you have full rotational mobility and figure out what category of golfer your body puts you in. As a thanks for being a WRX reader, here is a special link to the entire assessment tool for free. 

After you determine if you have the mobility to do overspeed training safely and you know if you are even in the category that would make it worthwhile, the second and final step is to figure out how many swings you need to do.

How Many Swings are too Many?

Concisely, you don’t need more than 30 swings two times per week. Anything more than that is unnecessary based on the available research.  

As you digest all of the research on overspeed training, it is clear that the fastest swing speeds tend to occur with the stronger and more powerful players. This means that first, you need to become strong and be able to generate power through intelligent workout plans to maximize performance, longevity and reduce injury likelihood. From here, overspeed training can become an amazing tool to layer on top of a strong foundation and implement at different times during the year.

To be clear, based on the two randomized overspeed studies that Par4Success completed and my experience of training thousands of golfers, it is my opinion that overspeed training works in both high volume (100s of swings per session) and low volume protocol (30 swings per session) formats exactly the same. With this being the case, why would you want to swing 8,000 more times if you don’t have to? 

The research shows statistically no difference in speed gained by golfers between high-volume overspeed protocols compared to low volume ones. Because of this, in my opinion, high volume protocols are unnecessary and place golfers at unnecessary risk for overuse injury. This is especially true when they are carried out in the absence of a customized strength and conditioning program for golf.     

Rest Matters

In order to combat low-quality reps and maximize results with fewer swings, it is necessary to take rest breaks of 2-3 minutes after every 10 swings. Anything less is not enough to allow the energy systems to recover and diminishes your returns on your effort. If these rests are not adhered to, you will fatigue quickly, negatively impacting quality and increasing your risk of injury.  

Rest time is another reason why low volume protocols are preferable to high volume ones. To take the necessary rests, a high volume protocol would take more than an hour to complete. With the lower volume protocols you can still keep the work time to 10 minutes.   

The Low Volume Overspeed Protocol

You can see the full protocol in the full study reports here. It is critical you pass the first step first, however before implementing either protocol, and it is strongly recommended not to do the overspeed protocol without a solid golf performance plan in place as well in order to maximize results and reduce risk of injury.

This is just the first version of this protocol as we are currently looking at the possibility of eliminating kneeling as well as some other variables that are showing promising in our ongoing research. Be sure to check back often for updates!

Commonly asked questions about overspeed training…

Once initial adaptations have occurred, is there any merit to overspeed training long term?  

None of the studies that I was able to find discussed longitudinal improvements or causation of those improvements. This is the hardest type of research to do which speaks to the lack of evidence. No one actually knows the answer to these questions. Anyone saying they do is guessing.

Do the initial gains of overspeed training outperform those of traditional strength and conditioning?  

There appears to be a bigger jump with the addition of overspeed training than solely strength and conditioning, by almost threefold.  In 6 and 8 weeks respectively, the average gain was just around 3 mph, which is three times the average gain for adult golfers over a 12 weeks period with just traditional strength and conditioning. 

Can we use overspeed training as a substitute for traditional strength and conditioning?

No. Emphatically no. It would be irresponsible to use overspeed in isolation to train golfers for increased speed. First off, increasing how fast someone can swing without making sure they have the strength to control that speed is a means to set someone up for injury and failure. Secondly, if they are appropriate and you increase someone’s speed, you also need to increase their strength as well so that it keeps up with the demands the new speed is putting on their body.   

Are long term results (1 year+) optimized if overspeed training is combined with traditional strength and conditioning vs in isolation or not at all?  

It would appear, based off our longitudinal programs that using overspeed training periodized in conjunction with an athlete-specific strength and conditioning program and sport-specific training (ie. technical lessons, equipment, etc—not medicine ball throws or cable chops) in a periodized yearly plan maximizes results year to year.  

In order to keep decreases in club speed to no more than three-to-five percent during the competitive season (as is the normal amount in our data), it is imperative to keep golfers engaged in an in-season strength and conditioning program focused on maximal force and power outputs. By minimizing this in-season loss, it assures that we see gains year over year.  

It is unclear if overspeed training in conjunction with strength and conditioning during the season further decreases this standard loss due to nervous system fatigue, but this would be a great area for future research.  

What sort of frequency, protocols or volume should one utilize for maximal benefit and minimal risk of injury?  

Most of the studies that I was able to find specifically on swinging looked at about 100 swings three times per (baseball). The Superspeed protocols which are the most popular in the golf world, follow a similar volume recommendation after an initial ramp up period. It is a concern, especially with untrained individuals, that adding more than 11,000 maximal effort swings over the course of year might increase risk for injury due to the incredible increase in load. Especially for the amatuer golfer who only plays on the weekends and does not engage in a strength and conditioning program, this is a significant volume increase from their baseline.

The Par4Success studies in 2018-19 found no significant difference in swing speed gains between high volume protocols and a lower volume protocol which required only 30 swings, 2x/week but required a 2 minute rest between every 10 swings.

More studies beyond these two need to be done looking at this, but it would be my recommendation, specifically in golf, not to engage in the high volume protocols as it does not appear to increase speed gains while also increasing load on the athlete significantly.  

Do any potential gains of overspeed training outperform the traditional methods that are proven to transfer to sport?

It does not appear that overspeed training is superior to any one training method, but rather a tool to use in conjunction with other proven methods. The key here is to assess yourself and look to implement this type of training when mobility is not an issue and the physical ability to produce power is higher than the ability to generate club speed. In the right scenario, overspeed training can be a game-changing tool. In the wrong scenario, it can be a nail in a golfer’s coffin.

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