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My buddy tells me that my golf swing is…

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Recently, one of my students said this to me:

I have a friend who is a pretty good golfer and he said I shouldn’t lift my heel on the backswing. His daughter plays college golf, and her coach told her it’s a bad idea.”

This random tip-taking is the epitome of foolishness in golf instruction, and says more about the gullibility of the one taking the tip as it does about the one giving it.

Why? Because the advisor never saw the person swing!

This is something every teaching pro in the world has encountered at one time or another; well-meaning friends or family members pass on things they’ve heard in hopes it will help. It’s said that golf is the only game in the world with more teachers than players, and despite their good intentions, golf-tip givers generally do more harm than good.

Another frequent comment I get from my students: “I heard Johnny Miller say…” I’m always quick to ask: “Did Johnny Miller ever see your swing?

You’ve heard me say this before: A golf swing is an equation; it has to balance. By randomly tossing this and that into the mix, you may very well be upsetting the balance, and, in many cases, making things worse.

Furthermore, when you are trying something new, how can you be sure you are really accomplishing what you’ve set out to do? Answer: Without the aid of video or a trained eye, you cannot tell if you’ve changed anything at all.

I can’t begin to tell you how many golfers are shocked when they see themselves on video. “Is that me?” is a pretty common reaction. Or, “I’m still doing that?”

And I don’t mean just average golfers; some very accomplished players react the same way. You need to see the new attempt to be sure it is what you’re trying to do — if in fact what you’re trying is the right thing, of course.

Next, you also have to consider what I call “leftover behavior” in the downswing. Take a golfer who used to transition very steeply, for example. To make that move functional, the golfer raised the handle of the club into impact. This is certainly not optimal, but it may be somewhat functional. Now let’s say that golfer tries shallowing out the the transition and this one time the golfer actually accomplishes it. The handle-raise motion is so habitual, however, that it’s still there and with the new flatter arc coming down, voila… the golfer can’t find the bottom of the golf ball on a bet!

The golfer in this case might think the new move (if they have really made a “new” move) is totally wrong, but what really caused the problem is leftover behavior from the old swing.

Note: Your “old swing” is not old if you’re still making it.

The bottom line is that golfers need to consider a few things when incorporating a golf tip:

  1.  Take advice from someone who is actually watching you hit balls, and who understands the whole dynamic. Did the person writing the magazine article ever see you swing? Does he/she know your tendencies and/or swing faults? If not, you’re on shaky ground at best with that advice.
  2.  You need to see (video, for example) if you’re actually executing a new move.
  3.  Finally, remember that there may be leftover behavior from your “old” swing causing some unwanted outcomes.

May I suggest a trained professional who sees the big picture, and not simply some isolated move or position you are “supposed” to be in. And believe me, this is not an ad for business; I’ve got more than I can handle!

If I can be of help to your game visit my Facebook page.

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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. Brodie Hock

    Jan 18, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Even as a past Golf Pro I would generally refrain from offering any advice when playing golf with members unless they ask. I just know how annoying it is when people offer unsolicited advice and I never want to be that person.
    My favorite now is in the gym. When someone wants to critique everything in your form without giving them the open door to do so.
    Here’s your swing fix, lift this way, etc… “What was your name again??” 😛

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 18, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      “the only game with more teachers than players” 🙂

  2. cgasucks

    Jan 16, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    If someone came up to me for swing advice and I never saw it…I tell them to record their own swing and compare it to the pros…9 times out of 10 they will nitpick their swing to death and do something about it..

    You are your own worst critic…

  3. Christestrogen

    Jan 16, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    This guy did ok with a “dynamic” pair of feet:
    http://youtu.be/5ocMJecgW2w

    So did he:
    http://youtu.be/NS9XLWggQzo

    So did he:
    http://youtu.be/DisSQ8bFS0U

    He does pretty well still:
    http://youtu.be/zEFLbehtP5k

    -Christosterone

    • Dennis clark

      Jan 16, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      It’s a good thing we don’t kick the ball around the course huh

      • Christestrogen

        Jan 16, 2016 at 5:46 pm

        Lol…great article btw…
        I never offer advice on the course or range so am always happy to see someone reinforce that notion…if asked I am happy to give my opinion but never will I offer it unsolicited…
        Especially since I have always emulated Colin Montgomerie(Nicklaus acolyte) whose reverse C swing/finish is so belittled by modern swing theory which is all distance, distance, distance….whereas I prefer straight, straight, straight…

        -Christosterone

  4. Other Paul

    Jan 16, 2016 at 1:00 am

    But i love helping people at the range ????. I have cured peoples slice just by showing them their swing in slow motion so they can see the club path. Voila, they see the path is wrong and they fix it. One friend of mine played golf his whole life and hit a 50 yard slice the whole time. Watched him hit draws for a half hour on the range. He loved it. Some of us can help people because we had our swings built from scratch. Your article wont change me. I would be happy to record my swing and send it in for your audit some time ???? -30 right now though…

    • Dennis clark

      Jan 16, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      The article is not trying to change people who get help the article suggests that those people who are listening may not want to… Unless the tip truly applies to them

  5. Philip

    Jan 15, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    I have an easy way to quite those who must impart their latest “can’t miss” tip – I ask them to show me – whether on the range or course it stops the tips immediately as most cannot come close to executing it. I get a chuckle though, out of those who cannot keep a drive in play, but just cannot resist to give advice when I’m struggling to keep my drives in the fairway.

    • dennis clark

      Jan 15, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      They are well intended, just not well informed. Thx

  6. Random

    Jan 15, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    This article says nothing new, typical WRX

  7. Greg V

    Jan 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I bet there were a lot of bad golfers who would have “fixed” Eamon Darcy’s swing.

    • dennis clark

      Jan 15, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Or Jim Furyk, Jim Thorpe, Alan Doyle, Chi Chi, Miller Barber, Walter hagen, and on and on…

  8. rockflightxl1000

    Jan 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    I would like to add one more to the bottom line:

    4. You can teach/ get taught on the course as long as you aren’t slowing down pace of play!

    Dropping a couple balls for errant shots is something everyone is entitled too but if its becoming a trend every hole b/c you’re working out swing issues… pick it up and drop it closer please!

  9. cb

    Jan 15, 2016 at 11:07 am

    great article and so true. for example, i saw where martin hall was giving power tips and said one is to have your head turned in like jack did to make a bigger shoulder turn but the reason jack did it wasn’t because of shoulder turn it was because he was left eye dominant (he even says so in his book) and wanted to keep his dominant eye on the ball

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jan 15, 2016 at 11:57 am

      … and Jack lifted his left heel off the ground. Too bad the guy couldn’t have put together a better golf swing… he might have won a few majors.

      • dennis clark

        Jan 15, 2016 at 8:53 pm

        His book “Golf MY way” influenced a lot of folks back in my day. He could have won majors left-handed he was so far ahead of everyone else! Thx for reading Mocha…

    • dennis clark

      Jan 15, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      well the point is simply that everyone doesn’t have to tilt their head; even those left-eyed dominant. I’d never advise anyone stuck under plane or hitting too much from inside to take that look.Thx

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Instruction

Golf 101: 3 fundamentals to straighter shots

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Editor’s Note: This article was written by Kyla Carlson (Alaska), Hayley Mortensen (Oregon), Garret Howell (Arizona) and Seth Abrahamson (Guam), four students in New Mexico State University’s PGA Golf Management Program.

It is our belief that the majority of golfers are looking to achieve a straighter ball flight at a more normal trajectory. To accomplish this, we put together three fundamentals to help golfers improve. They are:

  1. Contact the Ball with the Center of the Club Face
  2. Contact the Ball when the Club Face is Square to the Target Line
  3. Swing the Club along the Target Line

Below, we take a step-by-step approach to helping golfers achieve these fundamentals so they can hit straighter shots.

Fundamental #1: Contact the Ball with the Center of the Club Face

In the photo above, Hayley demonstrates the circular nature of the swing as she maintains her balance.

Setup: A balanced setup is one where your weight is evenly distributed between your feet (50 percent on your right foot, and 50 percent on your left foot) and evenly distributed from heel to toe. The reason for the balanced setup is that it creates a radius between you and the ball. By maintaining your balance, you maintain the radius of the swing. Therefore, the center of the club face will return to the ball.

Swing: It is important to remain balanced throughout the swing. Be sure not to slide the weight of your body from left to right, as we want a balanced, circular rotation, not a swaying motion.

Fundamental #2: Contact the Ball when the Club Face is Square to the Target

In the photo above, Garret demonstrates holding the club with the grooves vertical. In addition, he demonstrates holding the club face “open” and “closed.” respectively.

Setup: To confirm that you’re holding the club with a square club face, stand up and hold the club out in front of you so that the shaft is parallel to the ground. From this position, the grooves of the club should be vertical.

A neutral grip gives the player the best chance to return to the point of impact with a square club face. A neutral grip is one where your palms are facing each other. In addition, the palm of the right-handed golfer will face the target. The club should be positioned behind the ball so that the club face is square to the target. Then, set your body so that you’re square with the grooves of the club face and so your club is in the center of your stance.

Grip Check: With your normal grip, stand upright with the club out in front of you and allow a friend to hold the club head with his or her index and middle fingers. Once he or she has a hold on the club head, relax your joints and lean back. This will mimic the centrifugal pull that is created by the swing. Depending on the position of your hands, the club head may twist one way or the other. If it does, adjust your hands (clockwise or counter-clockwise) until the club doesn’t twist. A neutral grip will not twist.

In the photo above, Henry does the grip check to confirm that Garret is holding the club with a neutral grip.

In the photos above, Garret and Henry also demonstrate the effects of holding the club with a “strong” and “weak” grip, respectively.

Swing: The club face should maintain its relationship to the player as it swings. The player should make no attempt to twist the club face. Holding the club face with a neutral grip will allow centrifugal force to square the club face at impact (as long as the player started the swing with the club in the middle of his stance and maintained balance throughout the swing).

Fundamental #3: Swing the Club Along the Target Line

In the photo above, Kyla demonstrates swinging the club along the target line. Notice how the shaft of the golf club tracks the target line as it swings around her body.

Setup: Set the club face so that it is perpendicular to the target line (Orange Line). The shaft of the golf club should also be perpendicular to the target line. Then set the feet and shoulders so they are parallel to the target line.

Swing: The shaft of the club should track the target line and point directly at the target just prior to 9 o’clock in the forward swing. Thinking of the shaft as a fire hose or telescope can be a helpful visualization for a player to understand this concept. A drill that may be helpful is to swing a short pool noodle along the target line, stopping before 9 o’clock to look through the hole and confirm that its pointing at the target.

By understanding and practicing these fundamentals, you will experience straighter shots and have more fun playing this wonderful game.

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Instruction

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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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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