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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

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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Instruction

PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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