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Answers to the 6 hottest debates in golf instruction

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Social media outlets such as Twitter provide an entire new channel to absorb a wide range of golf information, and offers a convenient place for teachers and golfers to argue, too.

As an active Twitter user, I try to read as much as I can regarding the trends and ideas teachers are touting on social media. Some deal with how to swing, others deal with swing positions that are better than others, and my favorite is the debate about technology from old-school and new-school teachers.

Covered in this article are a few of the most debated topics on social media, and my thoughts on the subjects (which are more than 140 characters).

Fitness or Not?

In case you missed it, Rory McIlroy and Brandel Chamblee have re-ignited the debate over golf fitness. How much is too much? Should all golfers be lifting weights to improve, or is it detrimental to longevity?
Back when he was winning majors and dominating golf, Tiger Woods helped professional golfers see the benefits of improved physical fitness. Truly, when an athlete of his caliber puts himself in top physical shape, he’s going to be difficult to beat.
I majored in exercised science in college, and while I firmly believe in the merits of exercise, you can take it too far. Case in point: Tiger. As Chamblee has said countless times, Tiger took his fitness to the Nth degree and wound up hurting himself, thus shortening his career (or so it appears).
So what’s the answer? Personally, I feel golfers should be in top physical shape if they want to compete at the highest levels. This includes ALL types of fitness work, including stretching, resistance training and cardio. As with anything in life, if you focus too much on one area you can get yourself into trouble. Ask Keith Clearwater or Tiger and you will hear stories of injury. On the flip side, ask Rory, Gary Player or Camilo Villegas and you will hear stories of success.
Listen to your body, and make sure your routine is well-rounded and you will have fewer injury problems.

Do swing models work?

One of the biggest arguments between teachers in the golf industry is the swing model concept. There are many people in the golf instruction world who believe their method is better than everything else out there today, and will fight to the grave to prove that it is.

Homer Kelley, in The Golfing Machine, figured out that there were more than 446 quadrillion ways to swing the club (thanks to Top-100 Teacher, Ron Gring for the math), so in my mind there are millions of ways to swing efficiently. I try not to teach the same swing model to everyone, but I will say that there are a few stroke patterns that I teach more often than others. So I don’t teach one model swing; I try and teach a few of them so I can work around the inefficiencies of each player without getting stuck.

The flexibility that comes with teaching multiple patterns is quite useful; it allows a person’s natural motion to stay reasonably intact as they work on their game. And secondly, trying to “re-build” a club golfer’s swing from ground zero tends to be too laborious. Too often they’re forced to play “in between patterns” because of the big change. And there’s no guarantee better scores are on the other side.

Is technology dangerous?

One of the most energized topics is the debate between the old school and new school teaching methods, with Trackman being at the center of the debate. Some experts say Trackman is bad and it’s ruining players because they are playing “golf swing,” not golf. I agree to a point. Other teachers (like me), will tell you that nothing has helped them on the lesson tee more than Trackman.

But let’s discuss the difference.

After all, this IS the information age for golf instruction, as there has never been more information readily available regarding how the body, club and ball react during the swing. While I will say that knowledge is power, I will also tell you that it comes with inherent danger; too much information can hamper a player’s development.

I don’t think technology is wholly bad, regardless of what type you use. But I will say technology used during a lesson is ONLY as good as the person who uses it. If I cannot insulate my players from the information they don’t need to know, then it’s not the technology’s fault, it’s mine!

Trackman is not the issue; it’s HOW it’s used that is the issue. You can use technology and Trackman to teach “feels” or you can tie students into knots. It’s entirely up to the teacher to properly use this amazing technology.

Do you play “golf” or “golf swing”

As briefly mentioned above, have we as a golf community become too focused on playing “golf swing” and not “golf?”

I whole-heartedly believe we have!

It’s not the fault of the players, however. With the advent of affordable technology, golfers can understand more than they ever have and many want this information at their fingertips. This is the age of instant gratification; information about anything is just a touch of a button away. If Teacher A won’t give it to them, then Teacher B will. It’s extremely difficult to make a student slow down enough to learn golf in the old school way with new school technology. So for a while, we may just have to accept that people will play “golf swing” until the masses understand that this is NOT the way to shoot lower scores. The golf world is full of great ball-strikers who can’t score. Why? Because they learned how to play “golf swing” instead of golf.

Figure out what is most important to you; a great swing or a great score. There isn’t a wrong answer, unless of course you’re trying to make a living from playing the game.

What’s a better swing position?

On Twitter, I see threads about this position or that position being better than the other because “X” player did it or “Y” player did it. Two of the most contested positions right now are locking the right knee at the top (versus keeping it flexed) and bowing the left wrist during the transition. And next week it will be something different.

While I have explained my stance on the swing models above, comparing the positions that pros get into and what amateurs should get into isn’t necessarily beneficial. The guys at the top levels of their game could have been great players and tournament winners with ANY swing you put them into. Let’s take Tiger Woods for example. He’s won with many different swings. Why? Because he is a highly skilled golfer and athlete, and was able to understand and monitor those swings. Most club golfers just cannot do this.

Just because someone pulls a bunch of photos off the internet and shows you that player X,Y, and Z is in a certain position does NOT make it the correct position for YOU.

Who is the “best teacher” in golf today? 

Simple, the best teacher for you is the one who helps you shoot the lowest scores. Period. I don’t care if you use very little technology or a bunch, the goal is to shoot lower scores and that’s all that matters.

Sometimes for Tour Players it takes a teacher like Butch Harmon who says, “Man you are hitting it like Tiger and Norman did in their prime.” This can give them the confidence to go out and win. Or sometimes they need to listen to the science and psychology of a teacher like Sean Foley who says, “You are swinging the best you ever have and I have the data to prove it to you right here.”

There are different teachers for different players. Find the one who is best for you and your game, and they can be the best teacher in the world for you.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. pete the pro

    Mar 8, 2016 at 4:20 am

    Excellent article. If we are after answers and the truth, read on. The vast majority of golfers are playing for fun. To try to improve and have great times whilst playing and practising. However, top pro’s, club pro’s and elite amateurs apart, golfers are not improving. Lots of effort going in, not much result coming out. I know, I know, we hate this fact. There is no poor equipment out there any longer, so it’s not that. It’s so obvious, but rarely discussed. Look, the vast majority of golfers have little idea about what they are trying to achieve. They’re going to the next ball with often a hotchpotch of ideas. Sometimes insanity intervenes, where golf instructors are ratyed “best in the world” and “top 100 instructor”. Measured by whom exactly? If you want results, a clear understanding what to do, consider this…. the best golf instructor I worked with you have never heard of. Superb communicator, the fewest words for the clearest description, perfectly demonstrated. Technically spot on. Best results from newcomers also from instructors you have never heard of – 2 hours instruction, set-up routine, good grip, posture maintained during swing till impact, decent body turn, control over weight to create ball then turf contact, control over swing radius, backside of ball struck, clubface control, on plane on path. That’s 2 hours, a no-name golf instructor, not a launch monitor in sight, the golfer was nothing special but the instructor was brilliant. Most importantly, the player was having fun and was not being taken for a ride. Pass me a soapbox, I could go on for hours on this subject.

  2. RAT

    Feb 20, 2016 at 9:08 am

    I just want to hit the ball further without back pain later.. I have lost 10 to 15 yards in the last 2 years. I worry that if I swing harder it will hurt my back. But enough with that . I find that some get stuck on wanting to look like a pro in their swing while their distance and direction suffers. I think video helps in ways to cross check along with swing tech data. But each should take things that shows a performance improvement without getting too much into tech by forcing it . Confidence , health and expectations
    are always something to figure into your golf swing .

    • McGruff

      Mar 8, 2016 at 10:28 pm

      I did a lot of core exercises and now my back pain is gone and the distance is back.

  3. Carl Spackler

    Feb 19, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Pro — (par / birdie) score for coming at the subject from a neutral standpoint. ( double bogey / snowman) score for providing factually incorrect information regarding the information stated from one-half (aka one camp) of the two-sided disagreement regarding Right Leg/Knee (action/position) on the backswing. Obviously you either did not pay attention or you’re not understanding the concept. Based on their standpoint and concept at no time did they ever communicate locking the right leg / knee on the backswing. I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. They DO NOT want you lock right leg/knee. What they are saying is that there is a change in Flex of the right leg/knee. There is a huge difference between a change in flax and locking. Personally I think you owe your readers a clarification on that important fact.

  4. mikee

    Feb 19, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Excellent article Tom! As a “golf newbie” I enjoy all the info…..it is the information age and once a golfer understands and is able produce an optimal “club path” and “face angle” (with the aid of a decent instructor +/- a Trackman) they’re off to the races. If they can’t do that for whatever reason, then get a set of SGI clubs,do the “home swing” ,accept you won’t have a scratch handicap(play a bogey as “par”) and have fun.

  5. Jim Horn

    Feb 19, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Value systems can affect the “golf swing” vs “golf” tendencies. For example, a person with a high “aesthetic value” will tend towards the “golf swing”; whereas, a person with a high “results oriented value” will tend towards “golf”. Be nice to have both.

  6. Other Paul

    Feb 19, 2016 at 10:07 am

    I am looking forward to reading chamblees book. Its basicaly going to rehash what Lucas Wald teaches as well as what Kelvin Miyahira teaches, but in a differnet words then what they used. As someone who has tried to conform to the drive/hold method (And seen massive distance gains), i certainly believe in using a designed method. Its tough to argue with a 20MPH improvement in club head speed. And straighter drives. And less back pain.

    • McDuff

      Mar 8, 2016 at 11:07 pm

      Agreed. I took a lesson from Kelvin 2 years ago (after devouring his content) and dropped from high single digits to nothing and now competing with aspiring pros and “professional amateurs” in local compes. Not bad for a 50 year old. Plus, no pain! Brandel has definitely picked up on this teaching…

  7. Eugene Marchetti

    Feb 19, 2016 at 9:34 am

    I have been a professional tennis instructor for forty years and have played golf for the last twenty. The parallels between the two sports are undeniable: follow basic fundamentals and then build a swing that works for you!!!!! If you aren’t 100 percent confident with your swing then doubts arise, fear sets in and bad results occur. The object of both sports are the same; hit in the court one more time than your opponent and get it in the hole one stroke sooner than the field. It doesn’t matter how pretty your swing looks if it produces good results. Remember, golf is a game of misses. Find a swing that limits your bad strikes and you will enjoy this great game for a lifetime!!!!

  8. DaveT

    Feb 19, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Great article, Tom! Most of your points hit the nail on the head. I’d like to take issue with a couple of details, but I agree with you on almost everything. Now the details:

    *** “Swing model” does not mean the same thing as “model swing”. Your discussion refers to the “model swing” concept, but not to the “swing model”. (FYI, the term “swing model” refers to the mathematical models that biomechanics specialists use to analyze any golfer’s swing.)

    *** As to “golf vs golf swing”, most serious golfers should indeed be less focused on golf swing and more on golf. But the majority of people I see out on the course NEED enough of a golf swing to have some idea where the ball is going to go. You can’t worry about golf until you have at least a somewhat competent golf swing. The golf vs golf swing debate assumes a level of competence that simply isn’t there for the novice golfers that we need in order to grow the game.

    Thanks again for a great article.

  9. Putty

    Feb 19, 2016 at 2:47 am

    Who cares. The question really should be, “Can you putt?”

    Because any tournament player who can get to any Tour can hit the ball somehow, any which way they choose to swing. But can he putt?

    • Putty

      Feb 19, 2016 at 2:51 am

      Because nobody’s going to tell me how I shouldn’t swing or play like Zach Johnson. Why not? Yeah, exactly. Or Jim Furyk. Or Jordan Spieth. And even Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer. All these funny, and funky, unique swings that have won Majors. Those are the swings that should be looked at, and not just their swings, but their overall game and course management and club choices and how and why.
      That’s what’s wrong with all these pompous instructors and commentators on TV spouting garbage for the sake of filling the silence on TV.

  10. RoGar

    Feb 18, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Hey everyone, it’s golf!!! In this day and age people are trying to reinvent the wheel on a daily basis. Find yoursel a top instructor, exercise, and go play with what works… I golf, therefore I am!

  11. alan

    Feb 18, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    good read. thanks for writing, i have a buddy that plays a golf swing and is his own worst enemy.

  12. M-Herd4

    Feb 18, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Great article Tom. Any tip/drill for a 10 handicap trying to get better at ball then turf contact? Thanks!

    • prime21

      Feb 18, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Put a towel on the ground & pretend the front edge of the towel is a golf ball. Make a swing that misses the towel, but hits the ground after the towel. If you hit the towel or nothing at all, you better figure out how to get more weight on your front foot to start your downswing.

      • M-Herd4

        Feb 18, 2016 at 5:46 pm

        Excellent! Thanks! I’ll give it a try.

  13. Alex

    Feb 18, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    After many years, I still believe in fundamentals Nicklaus style. I’m not sure that methods work per se, they are more like a hair tonic. A swing like Sam Snead’s is timeless. If you want to copy Rory, you’d better be young, strong and flexible, otherwise, you’ll whiff it.

    The great golfers of the past didn’t hit the gym, they had a different motion, they used their hips a lot, and they did rotate going back unlike the best players of today. I believe Snead’s or Tom Watson’s are swings to imitate for beginners or older golfers.

  14. juststeve

    Feb 18, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    There are a lot of ways to swing a golf club but there is only one optimal way for the club to swing. All teachers should teach students to make the club move in that optimal fashion. If that constitutes a “Method” put me down as an advocate of method teaching.

    Steve

    • prime21

      Feb 18, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      1 optimal way for the club to swing? Well, let’s see, you could swing it inside/out, outside/in, or neutral, so that would make 3. I’m pretty sure someone on tour has won at least once hitting a fade, a draw, & straight. Though, the latter would certainly be the least used or even attempted for that matter. Just out of curiosity though, what is this magical method that optimizes the way the club is swung??? Can you explain this to those of us who are obviously lacking the secret to golf, or will it remain a secret available to only those whom are part of The Optimal Swingers Club?????

      • Stretch

        Feb 19, 2016 at 11:50 am

        prime, the optimal way to swing a club is shown by the Iron Byron machine. That said there a lot of different styles that get the club head on the ball in an on the line square and solid strike.

  15. DC

    Feb 18, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    If the goal is to get more players to play “golf” and not “golf swing,” then teachers should really build the swing around the player’s current level of athleticism and coordination, rather than trying to fit them into a model. Trackman should be used to illustrate what the “home” swing looks and feels like, then give them the feels to correct ball flight and contact issues on the course. After that, give the most forgiving set of clubs they can use (even SGI clubs) and tell them see your shot, hit your shot, and accept the results.

    I know its anecdotal, but I spent years wasting away trying to build a swing that can handle forged Players Irons. It got to the point where on the course, all I thought was of swing positions. Maintenance of the swing was too time consuming. After internalizing “new ball flight laws” with Trackman findings and began using SGI’s and hybrids, I don’t have to worry about swing maintenance anymore. I hit the ball with my “home swing” and it goes. If it goes wrong, I rely on a “ball flight law” feel to fix it and use my short game to bail me out. My thoughts on the course are just seeing the ball flights and not swing position. Only now am I actually playing “golf” on the course. It took me a lot of years to get to this point, but it could be done a lot quicker for others if we emphasize the correct things.

    • prime21

      Feb 18, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you for…….NOTHING. What happens if a player is not athletic nor coordinated, do we simply not teach them, or do we tell them to take up fishing? You built a swing that could handle forged players irons? I have read really poor comments on here before, but this one is now the all time worst! Congrats! Whether a blade or a cavity back, isn’t the goal to always hit the center of the face? Or were you so good that you decided to hit it a little off the toe to draw it & a little off the heel to fade it? In the future, please resist the urge to post. I can never get those 15 seconds of my life back & not only did you waste my time, I am now officially dumbed for having read it. Tanks for nuttin Danny! Good luck with your home swing and Big Bertha irons!

      • Andrew

        Feb 18, 2016 at 7:03 pm

        Wow – relax!!

      • Bruce

        Feb 19, 2016 at 8:27 am

        Actually DC made several good points. I think you’ve shown us that you were “dumbed” before reading the comment or are just unable to comprehend words.

      • Other Paul

        Feb 19, 2016 at 10:02 am

        Chill dude. You commented enough times on what everyone thought of this article. Move on.

      • IhaveNoDoubtPrime21HasHighBloodPressure

        Feb 19, 2016 at 6:04 pm

        Judging by your repeated negative comments on all matter of posts, you are, 1). One of the great trolls of all time or, 2). The most miserable c*nt of all time.
        Either way, congrats for excelling in your field.

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Instruction

Golf 101: How to play golf (with Jake Hutt)

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Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about how to play golf. We at GolfWRX pride ourselves in not only supplying info to the golf junkies out there but to also help along the new golfers that just want to get started.

No, we won’t be discussing “tour issue” head weights or “shallowing” the club in transition. This is a BASIC look into how to play golf—how a new golfer would walk to the first tee, for the first time, and have some fun. If you dig deep that is the spirit to GolfWRX.com as a whole. Enjoying the game.

I’ve brought in some help on this one: A coach who I think has whittled down the basics to their core. Jake Hutt., look him up on IG, it’s “golf for dummies” for basically every type of player out there. Jake, like George Gankas and some others, has what I would call the “voice of the new generation.” It’s the fun, laidback, non-traditional style that my kids will be learning from in years to come. So why not introduce him to the WRX community now?

More bio: Class A PGA Professional Jake Hutt teaches out of The Stanford University Golf Course and currently lives in San Carlos, California. He can be found on Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube under @Jakehuttgolf.

We are doing this breakdown of how to play golf in a very simple way. Yes, people will chime in about what we missed and explained incorrectly but hey, it wouldn’t be a real post without it.

We will do a checklist of the basics: Posture, grip, and an ABC of the motion for a full swing, chip, and a putt.

How to play golf

Posture

Stand straight up, put your arms on your legs, and tilt forward until your fingertips touch just above your knee caps. Let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders. This will feel similar to the posture when shooting a free throw in basketball.

Grip

How would you pick up a suitcase with your left hand? Now replace the suitcase with a golf club. That’s how your left hand goes on the club. To figure out where to put the right hand get in you golf posture and clap your hands together. Now without moving your left shoulder and letting your right arm bend move your hands so they’re just to the right of your right pant pocket. The left arm should be parallel to the ground. Now look at the position of your hand. The palm will either face the ground, the horizon, or the sky. Where the palm points here is where the palm should face when holding a golf club.

Swing

All a golf swing is is throwing the club around your body without letting go of it. If you hear it swoosh, it’s a swing. Once you learn to swoosh the club the next step is learning to hit the middle. To train this spray foot powder on the your clubface and observe where impact is after your attempt to hit the ball. If the ball mark shows up on the toe of the club try and hit the opposite part of the clubface (the heel) on the next shot—repeat the same process for the opposite miss (mark shows up on heel of club). Over time, you’ll need less exaggeration to hit the middle of the clubface. With enough training, this skill will become learned and will require no conscious thought.

Chipping

Stand with your feet close together, the ball off your trail foot, and the handle off the left leg. Lift the heel of the club slightly off the ground so the handle of the club is more vertical. Now make a longer, faster feeling putting stroke. The ball should pop in the air land on the green and roll. The less lofted the club the lower the ball will go and the more it will run. The more lofted the club the higher the ball will launch and less it will roll.

Putting

The most important part of putting is hitting the middle of the clubface. The faster you swing the putter the further the ball rolls. The slower you swing the putter the shorter the ball rolls.

how to play golf putting

How to play golf: Putting. Hitting the center of the putter face is the most most important thing.

The ball starts where the putter face is pointing whether it be straight right or left. To get a feel for speed imagine the effort it would take to roll a ball to the hole. Use that feel to create a putting stroke. Putting greens are not flat the ball will curve left or right. To help figure out which way a green rolls stand halfway between the ball and hole. Ask yourself which foot has more pressure on it. If you feel more pressure on your left foot the putt will break left and more pressure on the right foot means the putt will break right. If the putt breaks right the putter face should point left of the hole at impact. If the putt breaks left the putter face should point somewhere right of the hole at impact.

We’ll be back with more of this entry-level discussion of how to play golf. Let us know in the comments if there are any areas you’d like Jake to dive into!

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Clement: The best video for beginner golfers ever

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One of the deep expertise we have is knowing what side you need to be swinging from to enjoy your best golf. Sometimes it’s both sides like me! So many professionals on tour are including left-handed swings (for the right-handed player) in their warm-up routines and practice routines as a great way to create muscle confusion. Our fabulous kinesiologist, Munashe Masawi, confirms this through his studies and personal training for his grueling sport of football.

But there is always one side that fires better, feels smoother, and has the potential for a lot more than the other for many golfers. Which one are you?

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Clement: Important video on grip! (dare we say “historic!”)

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We so much love being historically correct! Back when I started teaching 35 years ago, when I looked at what the top 5 coaches were teaching, I knew I had to forge my own way. Not only did it not make sense anatomically, it did not make any sense neurologically either! Fast forward to today and we talk about ground forces and how to let the hips turn in the backswing and grip? WHOA, DID THEY MISS THE BOAT THERE!!

This video really takes the cake and REMOVES ALL QUESTIONS AND DOUBT ABOUT GRIP; where to hold it, grip pressure and IN OUR OPINION, THE FIRST TIME IT HAS BEEN REVEALED IN IT’S FULL ANATOMICAL FUNCTIONALITY.

This will end all debates about the “weak grip vs strong grip” argument!

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