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

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

Trackman Tuesday (Episode 2): Driver Loft

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Welcome to Episode 2 of Trackman Tuesday. In this weekly series, I will be using Trackman data to help you understand the game of golf in a little more detail and help you hit better shots and play better golf.

In this week’s episode, I look at driver loft. What effect does driver loft have on your shots and how important is it, really?

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How Far Away from the Ball Should You Be at Address?

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How far away from the ball should you be at address? This video is in response to a question from Tom McCord on Facebook.

In this video, I look at the setup position. I offer a simple way to check your distance from the ball at address with your driver, irons and wedges.

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Instruction

Tour Pros Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up

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You want to be better at golf, more consistent and longer off the tee. I am sure a lot of you would love to stop hurting. You would like these things with minimal work, if possible. You also want them yesterday. That about sum it up?

In the next 5 minutes, you’ll learn about the one thing that solves these problems for good. Before we dive in, though, I want to tee up three stats for you from my research.

  1. PGA Tour players can jump between 18-22 inches off the ground while LPGA Tour players can jump between 16-20 inches off the ground. Long drive competitors can often leap 30+ inches off the ground!
  2. Elite-level golfers who drive the ball 300+ yards can shot put a 6-pound ball more than 30 feet with less than a 5-percent difference in right-handed to left-handed throws.
  3. Elite golfers in the world can hurl a medicine ball with a seated chest pass just as far in feet as they can jump in inches (ie. a 20-inch vertical leap and a 20-foot seated chest pass).

What do these numbers have to do with you and your game? More importantly, what do these stats have to do with solving your problems? Let’s start by telling you what the solution is.   

Objective Assessment and Intelligent Exercise Prescription

Say that three times fast. It’s a mouth full… But seriously, read it two more times and think about what that means.

It means that before you act on anything to improve your health or your game, you need to objectively assess what the problem is and get to the root cause. You should use quality objective data to arrive at intelligent health and golf improvement decisions based on the long-term likelihood that they will be successful. We can’t just select exercises, swing changes or training aids based on what is hot in the market today or what the latest celebrity was paid big bucks to sell to us.

There is a reason why the infomercials you see today on Golf Channel will be different in 2 months. The same gimmicks run out of steam when enough people realize that is what they are… gimmicks. When looking to achieve your goals of playing better golf and/or having less pain, don’t just grab for the quick fix as so many golfers today do. 

We are in the information age. Information from quality data is power. Using this data intelligently, you can fix problems in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Hopefully, I am giving you the power to make a meaningful and lasting change in your game. I’m sorry to say that most amateurs will not be hitting 300+ yard drives despite what the latest marketing ploy will have you believe. But, if you know what tests you can do to measure the areas that affect your distance off the tee, you can at least gain insight into where your biggest return on your time investment will be. 

This is where working with a golf fitness expert can be so valuable to you. Not only can they help you interpret your results from the tests, but they will also be able to prescribe you the most effective means to move closer to 300 yards from where you are right now.  

If you have a problem with your car not accelerating as fast as you would like or not being able to reach top end speed on the highway, I hope you take it to the mechanic and don’t just look up quick fixes on YouTube to see what you can do on your own. The reason you pay the mechanic to fix your car is because that is what they do all day. They will get it done as quickly as possible. More importantly, they’ll get correctly so that the problem doesn’t pop up again in 2 weeks.

A golf fitness expert is no different. Use them for their expertise and knowledge. Once you have a diagnosis of what is holding you back and a plan to correct it, you are on your way and won’t have to waste any more time or money trying silly quick fixes that never stick.

The three statistics mentioned earlier represent numbers measured across the globe by industry leaders and at our facility 3-4 times per year on hundreds of golfers each time. Our facility has thousands of data points. With this much data comes the ability to draw conclusions from objective assessments. These conclusions drive the intelligent implementation of successful solutions directed at the root causes of problems for thousands of golfers around the globe.

The first three statistics have an R-value of over 0.85 in correlation to clubhead speed. Translation: if you perform well in the first three tests with high numbers, you are very likely to have a high club speed. Further, if you improve in any of those three tests relative to where you started, you are almost assured to have a higher club speed than when you began (assuming swing technique and equipment is relatively unchanged).  

Keep in mind that in statistics, correlation is not the same as cause and effect. But when the R-value is that close to 1 and anecdotally you have seen the results and changes we have, you put some weight behind these three tests. So:

  • See how high you can jump
  • See how far you can shot put a 6-pound medicine ball
  • See how far you can chest pass a 6-pound medicine ball from a seated position

Doing so will give you an idea of how much power you have in your lower body, total rotary system and upper body respectively. Train whichever one is the worst, or train them all if you want. Rest assured that if you improve one of them, you will more than likely increase your swing speed.  

By doing these assessments and addressing the one or two weak areas, you will improve with the least work possible. Sounds about what you were looking for, right? If you are able to identify where you need to improve BEFORE you buy whatever is claiming to fix your problems, you will save lots of money and time. You will actually start to improve with the least amount of work possible and in the least amount of time possible.  

What’s next? After completing the assessment tests, start working to improve them.

  • Coming Soon: Lower Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Upper Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Rotary Power for Golf
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