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Instruction

Clark: Head for the hills

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Golf is a game of the earth. It is played on fields that were there long before any architect laid a golf course on them. It is, of all games, the one that uses that very feature as one of its primary challenges. The golf ball bounces, rolls and much of time comes to rest on slopes that are not exactly level with where we’re standing (at least for me it does).

The ball always seems to be below our feet, above them, or on a downhill or uphill lie — everywhere but on level ground. That’s golf, and of course,we play the ball as it lies. But if we want to learn to play the game, we have to learn to play from these hills. In doing so, we can also learn a lot about our swing and even come to appreciate the fact that practicing from uneven lies can actually help us. Almost any swing problem you’re having. Whether you’re struggling with plane, path, or swing shape, hitting balls on certain moguls can help you work it out.

There are four uneven lies: sidehill above the feet, sidehill below the feet, uphill and downhill. Every one of them requires a distinct posture and dictates a different swing plane and shape to play them; so we can and should train on these slopes. Here’s how to do it:

Uphill: Let’s start with the easy one, uphill. Uphill lies are a great place for new players to begin golf for one simple reason: they make it easier to get the golf ball airborne. Additionally, anyone who is too steep coming into the ball can benefit from practicing on this lie. The shot requires a stance where the shoulders have to be parallel to the slope, so the right shoulder is significantly lower than the left allowing the player to swing more up, which creates a more shallow angle into impact. It also helps those of you getting well ahead of the ball to feel what’s its like to stay behind the ball with your upper body. So if you’re just starting out, or you’re really steep, try hitting some balls on an uphill lie. Swing down the hill going back and up the hill coming through to get more shallow. Always allow for this shot to go a club or so less because of the highest trajectory uphill lies create.

Downhill: Downhill lies are the most difficult lie of all, and just the opposite of the uphill lies. To play these shots you have to set your shoulders with the slope, so the left shoulder is lower. It’s hard to imagine this lie actually helping anyone, but it can. If you are really shallow into impact, or early with your release, this lie can be a great help. I have worked with some really high level players on this slope. It helps you learn to lag the club, delay your release a bit and hit DOWN with a steeper angle. Swing up the hill going back, and down the hill coming down to get steeper. Allow for this shot to come out low and “hot” because of the lower trajectory downhill lies create. If there is nothing in front of you or the green, no problem. By the way, don’t practice off of downhill lies if you’re new at the game!

Sidehill above the feet: I use this a lot in teaching average golfers. If your swing plane is too upright or if your transition is too steep, this lie can really help.  It helps flatten the plane, and can help you swing more from the inside on the downswing if you have a tendency to come over the top. Remember to keep your posture more upright with a lot less bend at the waist. You will feel taller which helps your shoulder turn and can flatten your downswing. Allow for this shot to go left because of the lie angle of the golf club coming into impact more upright, and the flatter plane which will cause the face to close more closing coming into impact.

Sidehill below the feet: A sidehill lie is another difficult shot for most golfers. You have to bend more at the waist so balance is an issue, but it can help you feel more upright and it creates a steeper downswing. It is also a great trainer for those who tend to “chicken wing” or shorten their left arm radius on the downswing. You have to completely extend your arms to reach the golf ball, so a downhill helps you feel this. Allow for this shot to go right because of the lie angle of the golf club coming in flatter and the upright plane that will open the face coming into impact.

The best part of using moguls as training aids is they’re free and readily available. Your swing has a shape and a plane, and if you want to change it, head for the hills!

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., and Marriott Marco Island Resort in Naples, Fla. He has been a professional for over 25 years. You can learn more about Dennis on his website, http://www.dennisclarkgolf.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

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Denny

    Oct 19, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Remember this shot will curve in the direction of the down slope so aim to compensate. Then be aggressive through the shot for best results.

  2. James Lythgoe

    Aug 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    You have written a very good article here. As a teenager, I used to practice in a cow pasture. This is a perfect place to play or practice golf – the cows chew the grass to a very good length from which to hit golf shots from.

    Downhill lies are very strange. You don’t want to spend much time practising from a downhill. It can be extremely destructive to your golf swing. You also don’t want to practice with a tail wind either.

    Practicing from a level or slightly uphill lie is best with a slight head breeze is perfect.

  3. dennis clark

    Aug 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    If you can’t find hills, try tees. You can simulate a sidehill lie above your feet but getting some really tall tees and addressing the golf ball with the club in the air, as high as the ball. This will help you swing flatter and learn what a more horizontal shaft plane into the golf ball will feel like.

  4. Vincent Dice

    Aug 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I tried it! I’ve been a golfer for 15 years and more of a weekend warrior than a true golfer but passionate nonetheless. I tend to get fast and release too soon but working the hills today and then heading out to golf immediately afterwards shaved 4 strokes off my 9 hole round. My swing just made sense afterwards. Thank you, Dennis! Great post.

  5. Troy Vayanos

    Aug 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Nice Post,

    That’s the problem with practicing a lot at the golf driving range. The area is flat and you are hitting of a hard lying artificial grass area.

    The biggest challenge with this type of practice is finding the right area to be able to do it in.

    Cheers

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Instruction

How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location

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One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:

Observations

  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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Instruction

Master your takeaway with force and torques

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Most golf swings last less than 2 seconds, so it’s difficult to recover from any errors in the takeaway. Time is obviously limited. What most golfers fail to realize is that the force and torque they apply to the club in the initial stages of the swing can have major effects on how they are able to leverage the club with their arms and wrists.

Our research has shown that it is best to see the golfer as a series of connected links with the most consistent golfers transferring motion smoothly from one link to another and finally to the club. Approximately 19-25 percent of all the energy created in a golf swing actually makes its way into the motion of the club. That means the remaining 75-80 percent is used up in moving the body segments. This emphasizes the fact that a smooth takeaway is your best chance sequence the body links and become more efficient with your energy transfers.

In the video above, I give a very important lesson on how the forces and torques applied by the golfer in the takeaway shape the rest of the swing. There will be more to come on the subject in future articles.

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Instruction

Learn from the Legends: Introduction

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There is a better way to swing the golf club. I’d prefer to write that there is a correct way to swing the club, but I know that really freaks people out. People love to talk about how everyone’s swing is different. “There are lots of ways to get it done,” they say. “Look at Jim Furyk’s swing – it’s not what you’d teach, but it works for him.”

To some extent, they’re right. Elite swings do have different looks. Some take it back inside (Ray Floyd). Some cross the line (Tom Watson). Some swings are long (Bubba Watson). Some are short (young Tiger). But these differences are superficial and largely irrelevant. When it comes to the engine – the core of the swing – the greatest players throughout the history of the game are all very similar.

Don’t believe me? Well, let me prove it to you. In this series of articles, I will do my best to show you – with pictures and videos and data – that the legends all move a specific way. Focusing on these elements (while ignoring others) and practicing a certain way is the surest path to improving your golf swing and lowering your scores.

So, let’s get into it. There are a number of important elements that all the legends have, but the biggest and most important of these elements is rotation. Every great player throughout the history of the game has had elite rotation. It’s the most important thing they do, and it’s easy to see. When you’re looking down the line at all the great players at impact, you’ll see hips and torso open.

This is what the legends look like at impact:

1Hips open
2Torso open
3Both butt cheeks visible
4Left leg extended and visible

And here’s what some very good players with less good rotation look like at impact:

These are very successful players (one of them is a major champion!), but they don’t move like the legends of the game.
1Hips and shoulders not open
2Left leg not totally visible
3Can’t see both butt cheeks

Now, there are plenty of nuances to how great players rotate. They do it while keeping spine flexion, for example, and they do it with very little (or no) lateral movement toward the target (lateral movement impedes rotation). I will discuss these things in detail. My hope is that at the end of this series you will have a much better understanding of what separates the legends from the very good… and from the rest of us.

You will understand their “engine,” and hopefully this understanding will help you begin to create your own legendary swing!

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