Most golfers think of practice as hitting balls on the range, and for the majority of golfers that’s their only practice. Any practice is better than no practice, of course, but when most golfers practice they’re not actually improving their golf swings. They’re repeating their old swings over and over, trying to make compensations so that their swings become more functional.

Unfortunately, that kind of practice is quite different from what golf practice should be. A better kind of practice has golfers repeating a new move in their golf swing that addresses their core swing fault so they don’t have to make so many compensations. And if they do that, their results will not only be better, but much more consistent.

In the attached video, I have included a few examples of golfers finding ways to try the hit the golf ball by fitting the club in into their existing swing.

I have always said that golfers are the most ingenious people I know. They will do whatever it takes to put the club on the ball. Whatever it takes usually includes a series of compensations for a core fault. This vicious cycle usually starts with a poor grip or posture, which in turn affects the club face and leads to a series of compensating moves. So instead of trying to correct the core problem, golfers practice ways of compensating. Go to any driving range and see this process up close and personal.

Have you ever gone to the range to hit, say, 100 balls, and somewhere in the middle of the bucket you started striping it?  Ball after ball comes off the middle of the face and flies at the intended target at a good trajectory. Then you leave, and go the course or the range the next day and you can’t hit it in the ocean from the beach?

There’s a good reason why. If golfers hit enough balls, they can start to time their compensations perfectly.

The swing fault called over the top is a classic example. The club is swung well outside the target line, and then on the downswing it is pulled back in just in time to at least hit the ball. The shot may be pulled or sliced, but at least it’s hit in the air, and if the (right-handed) golfer aims far enough left, he or she can play it.

Then, out of nowhere, comes the shank! “Where did that come from?” they say. “I’ve never done that!”

Well, the shank may be a less frequent result of the over-the-top move, but it is clearly in that family of shots. It can happen when the club is still well outside the ball and not pulled inside. This cycle all started with an over-the-top move that may have been the result of a grip that was too weak or a club face that was open at the top.

The lesson here is that in order for practice to really help, golfers need to know the root cause of their bad shots. If they know that, they are on their way to making progress. Until then, most golf practice is nothing more than enjoying the fresh air, sunshine and getting some exercise, perhaps. It’s not helping most golfers’ games like they think it is.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. This summer, he's teaching out of Southpointe Golf Club in Pittsburgh

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

35 COMMENTS

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  1. I hit a few balls (30) 3/4 times a week. That’s the longest span I can concentrate and work on 1 thing in my swing. I care about my swing.

    I have a friend who plays awful golf and is always complaining but has never taken a lesson for a few years. You tell him something and he hits the range on his own trying to change his swing. The final result, you can imagine: he always gets back to his old superhacker swing.

    Useless practice is the most common thing you see at the club practice tee.

    • Exactly.

      Always tough to know how to respond to a friend who’s always talking about how hard the game is, getting mad about his bad shots or bad scores, etc., but won’t make any actual changes.

      I had a friend years ago, a guy who had some potential — 80-84 on an average day, but lots of length, and could shoot 76-78 sometimes. Good short putter. Just way over the top with a shoulder-dominated downswing. We got him to slow down that wrenching-twisting over-the-top action, and pretty soon he was hitting it a little from the inside, and hitting it better than he’d ever hit it. He went out two or three times to play after that and was just elated at how he was hitting it. I went about three weeks without seeing him, then saw him at the range again, and he was right back to his old habits. “What the hell, man?” I asked him. He says, “Yeah, I know. But it just wasn’t comfortable.” Love the guy, but I just wanted to pull my hair out. I’ve run across that kind of thing more often than I care to think about. What’s wrong, inefficient, ineffective, etc., is “comfortable,” so they prefer comfort and continuing in what they’re doing rather than making any changes for the long term. Maybe some people, like your friend, actually kind of like the cycle of “try, get aggravated, let off steam, have a beer and talk about how hard the game is” more than they’d like to be uncomfortable during a period of actual improvement.

  2. Geez, the article title alone makes an average Joe hack like myself and I’m sure many others feel like trying to improve is a waste of time. I understand where you’re coming from, I really do, but a large percentage of amateur golfers don’t have the time, money, or access to instructors like yourself. If we did I’m sure we’d be constantly improving. So, for now, I’ll keep working at this great game to the best of my ability and enjoy the times on the range when I’m feeling the flow. Here’s hoping for the best (fingers crossed)!

  3. So true that it’s not about just taking lessons. It’s about taking lessons from an instructor who is the right person for you. I had dabbled in taking lessons in the past. I was a decent player, 8 handicap and self taught. Grew up playing hockey, football and baseball so I had a good base to draw from. As we all know though, golf is a different animal in that what happens one day doesn’t happen the next.

    I’ve seen 5 different instructors and all of them were the same in that they wanted to to teach me their method. One instructor told me there was nothing he could do for me that my swing was that good (not true). Two others tried teaching me right out of the Ben Hogan manual even giving me photo copies of a portion of his book. Obviously in all cases I never went back to these people. I continued to try and self diagnose and fix with expected results (i.e. Still inconsistent).

    In 2014 I had a round where I shot 108 that included 10 balls OB and I didn’t ever want to have a round like that ever again. So I started researching other teaching pros in the area and asking people for suggestions. Long story short I stumbled on an instructor who finally did not want to build me from the ground up but to tweak what I already have. I gave him my standard speech that I want to be more consistent, no more rounds in the 100’s and know I can play the game fairly well at times but when I’m bad, I’m really bad.

    Before he even asked me for a dime we spoke for maybe two hours over a few week period and I knew his philosophy fit well with mine. I kept an open mind and said I would gladly pay for a package of 8 lessons and do whatever he wanted but feel as though I don’t need to start from scratch. He completely agreed and what we wound up fixing is my shoulders at address (I was too open), take away (not pulling inside) and tempo. None of the “technical” items I thought were the problem all along. The results were amazing and my handicap dropped from an 8 to a 4 with multiple rounds between lost balls. My worst round was an 86 and the 70s were a common occurrence. That’s realistically the best I can do with a set of young twins and a full time job as the rest of the strokes are short game.

    I played sports and some at a high level my whole life. I always had coaches for these sports and it made no sense that I never had a golf coach. I desperately wanted one but it just is not easy to find one. I highly recommend if you play twice a week to keep searching until you find the right coach. You should know what type of coach you want if you’ve played other sports. Keep going until you find one because your enjoyment of the game goes up 10x when you do. The initial cost may be a little high but once you get to a certain point it can be just maintenance from that point forward.

  4. Launch monitors must have really helped Jack, Arnie, and Bobby Jones!!! If you need a monitor to tell you what your eyes can tell you, especially when you use range balls, go ahead!!! This article is spot on, most golfers don’t even take or want to take lessons. This has nothing to do with instructors, I’m in my 50’s and have never been or taken a lesson with a launch monitor. My instructor is and always has been my dad!

  5. So what do you do when you start striping shot after shot in the middle of your practice session? How do you know if you’re correctly implementing the move you’re trying to make, or just compensating for your faults?

    • Start changing up club selection, skipping a few clubs. Take an additional pause between shots and move to different areas on the grass. At least that is what I do when I start striping shots. What I should really do though if I have a round to play is immediately stop hitting balls on the range and go to the putting green until I tee off, instead of what I did in the past, which is to continue to hit balls until I lose whatever was clicking and then end up bringing a messed up swing and thoughts to the tee as I usually can’t reconnect my swing.

    • As I said in the article, you DON’T…video, launch monitor numbers are the ONLY way. The phenomenon you’re describing is very common. And it does not always help give proper feedback, that’s the problem. The ball can lie to us. Find a good pair of eyes and keep them on your efforts. If you’re serious about improvement, which it sounds like you are.

      • The ball can lie to us has been a mantra of mine for years, so thank you Dennis for some positive reinforcement. I know in my game the way I corrected mechanical issues is without the ball, because of this phenomena. If your honest with yourself, you know whether you’ve made a good swing or not.

    • you have to move from mechanical to target. start by aiming at a target and lay down a rod (at your heels) and see where you are aiming. Get good at alignment which is easy on mat but not on the course. Then, try to fade and draw at targets (success is not slicing right of the target or hooking left of the target). this will help you forget about mechanics and focuses on execution. Then, play your round.

  6. Took lessons for years. From supposed top teachers. Very limited success. Been using a launch monitor lately and its been a god send. I’ve gotten to know my swing and the basic numbers it produces. I also know by the numbers what is my good swing and can equate it to things I’m doing. Just looking at a video is about half of what is necessary. Don’t see many teachers using launch monitors along with the video’s. Why not. The numbers don’t lie. What I’ve found is that if I don’t slow down coil properly my numbers will be down and conversely. I’m not paying big money if it doesn’t produce results and just looking at a video will not tell you this. Same thing with the instruction. How many teachers keep track of their students progress as a gauge for them as teachers as well as progress for their students. They don’t even know how far their clients hit their clubs nor their dispersion! I’m not saying that instruction is a fraud especially for the money paid. I’m saying its unprofessional. Until you teachers wake up to this fact there will be limited progress. I also don’t want to hear their out. Which is “You didn’t listen to me”.

  7. What’s more pointless is telling people who have no sports or athletic ability, the kind of people with whom you grew up in high school who used to be the geek who never did any sports or any kind of physical activity, who’ve spent more of their life indoors than outdoors sitting on their butts, that they can and should pick up this fun game called golf because it’s good for their health and they can have some camaraderie with new playing partners and friends and opponents and that it’s the game for a lifetime.
    Because those are the people you see struggle year after year whether they have spent millions of dollars in lessons or not, because they just don’t have any athletic ability at all.
    And if this article is an attempt to convince some of those people who may read this article to get out more on the golf course so that courses make more money that they desperately need right now as the number of players have decreased over the years instead of having them spend money on range balls, you are very much mistaken about the game of golf altogether.

    • Good point about athleticism. My theory is that anyone with a 5 handicap or better grew up playing sports, naturally improving their hand/eye coordination, their full-body coordination. Ask a 5 handicapper to fling a football, sling a frisbee, shoot a 3 pointer, field a grounder or throw a pitch and they can do it… and look good doing it.

    • i know plenty of crap golfers who have questionable swings who love to play and celebrate a par like a birdie and who have no disillusion about their skills. it’s really only the ones who have mismatched self-perception that you need to worry about. e.g. play from the wrong tees, get pissed off…i had a guy quit after nine yesterday and go back to the range but at least he knows he’s terrible. unless you are rowgr #1 no one has any business saying someone should not play, there’s always someone better than you.

  8. All it takes is a good look at the big picture, cause and effect. Most have no clue without proper feedback on full swing. Short game, a whole other ball game…

  9. Every range session is a learning experience full of trial and errors…the result? 2 clubs in distance gained with more accuracy…I wouldn’t have gotten those results if I never experimented and kept using my old swing…

    • Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent, so if you practice and suck you will permanently suck. It’s always funny to me when guys that think 85 is a good round like to talk smack to a teaching pro.

  10. So true Dennis,

    I was at the golf driving range yesterday and I saw the same golfers practicing the same old poor golf swings and looking frustrated at the results.

    There’s really no point in them keep on turning up to the range until they change something.

    Cheers

    • The other issue is finding competent instruction altogether. I live in an urban area and can’t tell you how many “Instructors” are out here trying to tailor their “students” to their methods instead of vice versa. No two people are the same so why should the swings be the same? There isn’t a Yelp for teachers that i’m aware of and if you aren’t receiving the right instruction then you aren’t setting yourself up for success and only wasting money while perpetuating a broken cycle.

  11. The last paragraph also sums up most people’s sentiment toward range time. It is fun. It relieves stress (or transfers it to something more healthy). It can also help with confidence on the course if you keep an understanding that you are not going to make a perfect shot every time, but you do have the potential to get lucky. If you practice well, expect to play well, but if you prefer to enjoy going to the range, by all means enjoy it. Set your expectations to amount of time you have available and then go have fun.

  12. This why most golfer’s don’t improve with lessons, they get fed up with the process and go back to their flawed swing. A teacher might show them they are coming over the top, for example and show them a way to improve their clubpath. They try and try the new way and see no improvement, so they go back to the old swing. Problem is all the old swing compensations are still there and must go away to support the new swing. Which is a process most dont have time or patience to deal with

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