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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

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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Instruction

How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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