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

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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

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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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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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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