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What is the ball doing? That’s the most important question in golf instruction

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I offer an online swing analysis program, and golfers from around the world have sent me their swings to analyze. I am always quick to mention that with the video they send, they must also send me a description of their typical ball flight. 

At the club where I teach, and actually everywhere I’ve ever taught, I’m known as the what’s-your-miss teacher. Students who have been referred by someone I coach come to me and say: “I know what you’re going to ask me. What’s my miss, right?” And it’s true, that is how I begin every session. The reason is simple; their entire lesson is based on their answer. Of course, I’m about to see what the ball does, but I want hear it from them first.

By contrast, those who have not been referred by someone I coach might start by saying, “I know I come over the top” or “I’ve always fought that flying right elbow.” Of course, I also hear the classic of all self diagnoses: “I know I swing too fast.” My response, even after all these years, is the same. “No, that’s what you think YOU do. I’m asking what your golf ball does.”

Which one of these swings is “correct?”

Which_of_these_swings_would_you_change

In the game of golf, we have a “swing.” It’s nothing more than a series of motions and positions designed for a specific purpose: to hit the golf ball correctly and consistently. A good swing is one that achieves that end, and a bad swing is one that does not. To evaluate a swing by any other criteria is an academic exercise at best.

For too long, golfers have concerned themselves with positions in their swing. The only relevant position is the position of the club face at impact with the golf ball. When we look in the golf Hall of Fame, we see a variety of swings, all of which have resulted in good, solid impact. Otherwise, those swings would not be in the Hall of Fame. It’s as simple as that! The great John Jacobs said it best.

“The purpose of the golf swing is to hit the golf ball solidly; the method employed is of no consequence as long as it can be repeated.”

I teach any number of golfers who are hooking/drawing the golf ball from an open face position at the top of their swing. And I teach an equal number of golfers who are slicing the ball from a closed club face position at the top of their swing. As a teacher, I would be doing my students a terrible disservice if I “corrected” the club face position at the top of the swing. Because if I see a player who is consistently drawing the ball from an open face position either at the top or in the transition, I know full well that this player has made the necessary adjustments going into impact, whatever that adjustment may be. They have achieved the desired end result. It matters not how they got there. In golf, two plus two always equals four.

The biggest problem for most golfers who are trying to self-correct their swing are the things they have heard about where the club or the player is “supposed” to be. I am always quick to point out to my students that impact is the only place where golfers are supposed to have a square club face, at a good angle and traveling in the correct direction, and that’s the only goal of my teaching: to get my students to repeat a good solid impact. Some of my golfers may do this with an earlier release of the clubhead, while some may do it a little later. It matters not how or when they do it as long as they do it.

The very first thing I look at in a golf lesson is the flight of the golf ball. The second thing I look at is the ground at impact. And the last thing I observe is the overall motion of the player, because it matters least. If someone were to send me a video of Jim Furyk’s golf swing without knowing the ball flight or who it is, if I were not an impact teacher, I might send it back with all kinds of corrections suggested. And of course, if he foolishly listened, he would be $60 million lighter in all-time income.

The next time you’re asked to make a change in a golf lesson, ask your teacher why. You might want to say something like, “OK, you have asked me to tuck my elbow into my side; are you saying that my current elbow position is causing me to shank the ball?” It very well may be, but you the student have the right to know. If you’re being asked do change your swing simply because the teacher thinks a new position “looks better,” then I would look for another teacher. However, if you find your teacher’s suggestions are resulting in better impact position, and therefore a better ball flight, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track.

For more about me and how I teach, visit www.dennisclarkgolf.com or go to 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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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Dennis Clark

    Jun 13, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    😉

  2. Brian

    Jun 12, 2016 at 11:47 am

    The concept is a good starting point but over simplifies the golf swing. Golf Tec tries to match up a tour model swing to your body type which is sound science if done correctly. The reason I say this is simple; if your swing is not biomechanically efficient it will lead to injury or/or power loss. Ball flight is not the only goal, longevity and lack of injury is more important for most amateurs and tour pros most of whom have game stopping injuries during their careers. If a client doesn’t want to do the work required for a swing change I would go with what this author says or not teach them. But if they want the best swing for their body type I would base the changes based on their body type and what biomechanics says about the golf swing.
    BTW Kuchar and Furyk are two of the shortest drivers of the ball on tour and yet are big strong athletic men so could they be better if they changed : absolutely. But both have made lots of money being short knockers of the ball and not swinging too hard keeps them healthier. Second rule of golf instruction the article should have emphasized more: what is the client’s goals?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 13, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      One of my very favorite golf swings, and people BTW on the tour is John Daly. I played a good amount of golf with at a course called Mystic Rock over the 11 years I was the director there. One night we played that golf course from the very back of the back tees at 7500 yards. He put on the best driving clinc I have ever seen in 55 years of playing or teaching. Every tee shot was 320 yards dead in the geometric center of every fairway. Best use of ground reaction forces, shaft load and lean that I’ve ever been up close and personal with still to this day. Super long, super steep in transition, lead arm stall and full release on every wedge. You had to be there. Of course if you saw from three fairways away you’d think he was a 15 cap.

  3. Philip

    Jun 12, 2016 at 12:33 am

    Great article – I recently came to the conclusion that that only two things matter – impact and swinging within myself, which is just respecting the restrictions my setup and posture put on the length of backswing that is possible without coming out of my posture or losing balance. If I swing within myself and pay attention to where impact will occur and the direction of my club face and swing path – I can control ball flight pretty well, regardless of what my swing looks like.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Jun 11, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Author’s clarification: Don’t mistake ball flight correction as a “non-body movement” concept. The ball flies as a result of the club at impact, the golf club is directed by the body, that’s simple physics. But the point of my article is this: We make corrections BASED on the the player’s miss. A flying elbow, for example is not a problem IN AND OF ITSELF! If it causes a steep downswing that opens the face it IS A PROBLEM! Positions in and of the themselves mean very little if not related to impact on a regular basis. If Kuch had Furyk’s downswing he’d hit six inches behind every shot and wouldn’t be Kuch…

  5. Todd H

    Jun 10, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    I have friends who teach for golf tec and they are mainly body position instructors or method instructors. The main concern for any instructor should be ball flight and Impact conditions.

  6. Mike Barnett

    Jun 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    In your recent analysis of my golf swing you stressed the importance of knowing what my ball flight was before administering any advice. This article certainly explains why and I only wish Mr. Clark was in my area for personal instruction.

  7. Desmond

    Jun 9, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Have heard this for 20 years from Jacobs, Haney, Harmon, etc., and now Clark. It’s a good reminder to look at ball flight.

  8. Christosterone

    Jun 9, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Wow that was awesome….

    PS: I knew Kuchar was flat but wow, he is in a crazy position…love his tempo and he proves there is more than one way to swing at the highest level..

    Great article!!!

    -Christosterone

  9. Kevin

    Jun 9, 2016 at 10:32 am

    This is excellent. This article should stay on the front page of this website forever.

  10. Mike S

    Jun 9, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Might be the single best instruction article I’ve ever read. Every player has their own unique body type and strengths so it only makes sense every swing should be different. The side by side of Kuchar, Day and Furyk is perfect. I’ve noticed in my own game that trying to swing like Adam Scott or anyone else with a “perfect” golf swing only leads to problems. Arnold Palmer was another great example. No one would teach that corkscrew swing, but it worked for him.

    • alfriday

      Jun 9, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Interesting. I took lessons at Golftec and the first two questions the instructor asked was if I had any physical limitations and what was my standard ball flight/miss.

      • Jay

        Jun 9, 2016 at 2:07 pm

        I gotta go with MSiz on this one – my GolfTec experience was all about body positions – if I could turn/bend like a tour player I probably would not have gone to them to begin with.

        • Big Kid

          Jun 10, 2016 at 10:09 am

          I’ve been going to GTec. For me it’s about positions, but it’s getting into better positions to limit my misses and become more consistent. I had a swing path that made DeChambeau look flat. I was playing at a 4 handicap, but in pressure situations, I wasn’t consistent. Getting my swing flatter has gotten me down to scratch. It’s all about impact, as the article says, but for me, being in proper positions makes it easier to have a more consistent impact position.

      • bcmintx

        Jun 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm

        I am just beginning a series of lessons at Golftec, and what the ball does was a primary question and the answer to that question (the “why does it do that?”) was then evident once the swing was analyzed.

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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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Instruction

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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Instruction

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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