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Ben Hogan was right, golf is a sidearm game

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“What is the secret of the golf swing?” That’s one of the eternal debates in our game, and as with anything as dynamic as the golf swing, I don’t think there is ONE secret. There are similarities to be noticed among the greats of the game however, despite their variety.

That sounds like a contradiction in terms, but if you think about it, we can notice certain motions that most elite level players have in their swing. Not all, but most. GolfWRX readers know me as a teacher who places more emphasis on impact and not how to, but today I want to discuss something that most amateurs get wrong and almost all pros get right. In a very general sense, I’ll state it like this: the golf swing has two components, a vertical one and a horizontal one. Better players get both, but most amateurs get only the vertical part.

The vertical is necessary because the ball is on the ground. The horizontal is required because the ball is aside the player. The VAST majority of mistakes I see club golfers make is that they get too vertical, and not sufficiently horizontal. Golf is very clearly a sidearm game, and the great Ben Hogan may have illustrated it the best.

Most boys growing up, at least in my era, learned to play baseball pretty much before anything else. If they were fortune enough to play infield, I think they had a head start in the game of golf. In the cover image, Hogan is clearly demonstrating how an infielder might throw to first base. This almost completely mimics the motion of a golf swing. Notice I say almost. It is not entirely the same, because remember, the golf ball is on the ground. There is still some up-and-down motion required, but we deal with most of that simply by bending correctly at the hips when we address the golf ball. So to complete the analogy, I think it’s safe to say that golf is baseball with the torso tilted forward.

“It has always seemed to me that, in its general character, this motion is quite similar to the one an infielder makes when he throws to first base after scooping up a ground ball,” Ben Hogan said.

Of course, there is nothing new in this information. Many instructors have written about it, and Ben Hogan’s 5 Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf was published some 60 years ago. But I will say this: If you have a junior learning to play golf, you would be wise to START with this horizontal orientation FIRST!

I have had many of my juniors begin learning golf on side-hill lies with the golf ball well above their feet before we ever hit a ball on the ground, because once your motion gets too vertical is VERY difficult to change. So assuming you’re in the too-vertical camp, as probably 80 percent of golfers are, let’s discuss what you might do about it.

First, you have to address the motion of your rear elbow (which is the right elbow for right-handed golfers). If it gets too high or stays too far behind your rib cage, the golf club almost always transitions too steeply. Watch Hogan’s motion closely; his right elbow moves well forward in his transition, which “lays the club down,” that is, drops it into a hit position. But — and here’s the key to this motion — notice also that as Hogan pushed the elbow in front of him, he also rotates the LEAD ARM (left for him) counter-clockwise. If he had a secret, I think that was a big part of it. If you pull the elbow in and forward, you can drastically open the face, but by forearm rotation Hogan offset that problem.

The other key to this move when trying to incorporate it is to be sure your hand path stays in! It is easy to send the hand path out when you’re trying it, and that can lead to a severe case of the shanks if you’re not careful.

If you’re one who is and has been too steep, I suggest you try two things:

  1. Hit a LOT of balls with the ball well above your feet on a sidehill lie.
  2. Hit shots off a very tall tee and be sure you don’t ground the club; keep it up as high as the ball itself even with irons. This simulates the hill drill I was just describing.

Once you get the feeling of more around and less up-and-down, you’re on your way. Your attack angle will shallow, and you’ll experience much greater club face consistency from the new arc you are developing.

Final note: My own personal swing flaw for too many years has been this steep transition, and I have always been in search of “the feeling.” Like anyone else, once in a while I get the feeling and it is GREAT!

If you’re interested in my online swing analysis program, click here for more info, or contact me on Facebook.

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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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46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. Jim

    Aug 15, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Best biomechanics of all time. NORMAN. A spine tilt and left side turn into a right leg that ‘accepted’ his slight lateral head & tailbone moving to truly shift his weight and ‘load’ the right leg. He made the left side turn & let the ‘weight in motion’ (club head) go where it wanted. Left shoulder hit his chin & that was it. – ‘his plane’ – based on a good set up and a good left sided turn for his physique.
    He was in the middle of the ‘keep your head still, one piece take away’ BS that created more bad backs & slices than any other two tips in golf history.

    Tiger circa 2003 – before he bought all those new muscles compare down the line view to Norman and it’s identical.

    Tiger’s unnecessarily violent ‘squatting’ and late left knee
    snap into hyperextension tore his body up – just like Butch told him it would.

    Norman swung hard & in the book of all crazy stats kept (other than winning majors) he is second only to Woods -with no surgeries.

    • Jim

      Aug 15, 2016 at 10:11 pm

      I have an extensive video library in my teaching computer couple hundred pros over 4000 swings including Hogan.

      10,000 plus hrs of lessons taughtn hundreds of all types of students from PGA / LPGA, Hogan Tour, Nike Tour State Open winners to profoundly disabled & super senior beginners. There’s 16 swings I show everyone.

      Never a single one from Ben. Probably more BS, confusion & flat out misinterpretations about this dude, what he actually did vs what he thought he was doin vs how it was even illustrated with more pronounced angles to be sure the people reading and looking at drawings ‘got it’

  2. Barry S.

    Aug 14, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    A lot of instructors, so called swing experts don’t understand that Hogan had a huge over swing taking the club way past parallel in his younger days which created lots of big hooks. He knew he had to shorten his swing so he basically tied his upper arms to his body. Jack Nicklaus came out of tour and was criticized for his “flying right elbow”. Hogan wasn’t a long hitter but he learned to control the ball with his short arm swing.

    • Chris

      Aug 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Ben Hogan was not a long hitter? Yeah ok, some experts estimate his swing speed in the 120 mph range ..

  3. stephenf

    Aug 12, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Never understood the logic in allowing every twit to comment, but they still do.

    In what way does this article have anything to do with “glorifying people in general” or “glorifying a person from long ago,” as opposed to “observing qualities that work well in anybody’s swing, and are exemplified to a large extent in Hogan’s swing”?

    And anyway, if you have a problem with somebody “glorifying” one of the guys on the list of the three or four greatest players in history, and widely acknowledged as the player who had the modern golf swing mostly figured out before other people did, that’s really your problem. The burden of proof is on you, and no, your opinion isn’t as valid as anybody else’s just because you breathe air and take up space. There is such a thing as an established principle, and if you want to defeat it or disprove it, you start from zero and make a case. The usual internet mode of “I declare my opinion” is worthless here, as it is in most matters, actually.

  4. AE

    Aug 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Hope to see an article about people -the minority – who are more horizontal than vertical, which is my main issue.
    no divots, shallow angle of attack, main miss is either a pull dead left of the target line or pull hook.

    • Dennis clark

      Aug 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      I doubt it, It’s so rare…most people who are flat steepen it coming down. I’d like to see your video.

    • Matt

      Aug 28, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      You should read his newest post. It’s most likely that you are shallowing the club late in the downswing, which doesn’t mean at all that you are too horizontal. Most people that are too vertical do something later in the downswing to flatten it out. I have a very shallow angle of attack and still am too vertical coming down.

  5. Jim Losito

    Aug 11, 2016 at 8:26 am

    I played short stop for many years. I never threw sidearm, I came directly over the top to first base.

  6. Regis

    Aug 10, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Dennis. Thanks. I had to rebuild my swing after a protracted illness a few years ago. I took a lesson last week and my fundamentals were all in good shape. Still I thought something was missing and it rears its ugly head too often on the course. Coming down 17 yesterday I realized I wasn’t getting through the shot properly. I pictured the example of skipping a stone. Today your article is in my inbox . As to the detractors here , if they can take issue with the Modern Fundamentals you’re in good company

  7. ta

    Aug 10, 2016 at 11:26 am

    So, this article quotes Hogan before he had to change his swing from the hook to the cut, right? Otherwise this whole sidehill lies and swinging around thing is all completely wrong. The article should have talked about how to block everything out so as to never hook, which is what Hogan did to start winning, instead of his massive pull hooks with which he struggled for the first 10 years of his career.

  8. 4pillars

    Aug 10, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Without 3D data and kinematic sequence this is meaningless.

    In any event Golf was here first.

    Better to say that baseball is easy golf played on the horizontal.

  9. Hogan

    Aug 10, 2016 at 2:05 am

    Now, if you don’t mind….

  10. Bal oney

    Aug 10, 2016 at 1:20 am

    WhatEV! IF this were true, why did he work so hard to fade the ball and not just play the mega-hook that he got from doing exactly this sidearm move? He could easily have figured out a different way to hit the ball than build mega-heavy clubs with ultra-flat lies and open faces. He could have just aimed dead left, with a strong left hand grip and an open stance and come over the top and played a giant slice, but instead fought to hit it with the sidearm the whole time. If he couldn’t manipulate and bend and weigh his clubs his way, he would never have been able to have his swing that he built.
    So it’s not all about the sidearm move.
    Sometimes the short stop is able to scoop the ball up in this way but has to flip it sidearm AND fling it quick left with a hooking motion because his body is heading towards home plate, instead of leading with his shoulders open and throwing a cutter fade.
    Don’t pay any mind to this baloney article

    • Matt

      Aug 28, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      This has nothing to do with drawing or fading the ball. Look at guys like Dustin Johnson and Sergio that both have this shallowing move to start their downswing (along with damn near every player on tour) and hit fades. Just because someone is “shallowing” or “flattening” their downswing does not ever mean that they will draw it.

  11. Jamie Jones

    Aug 9, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Two words…Shawn Clement. 24 million viewers can’t be wrong.

  12. Simplton

    Aug 9, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    Want to get the side arm thing down….just buy (Or build yourself one out of pc pipe) The Inside Approach, a training gimmick from about 15 years ago…hell even Jack Nicklaus endorsed it..also very good to help get rid of slice with the driver…..

  13. Anti-Smizzle

    Aug 9, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    If only the ‘hardcore’ flippers had a clue!!!

  14. Nolanski

    Aug 9, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve read Mr. Hogan’s book 3 times now and it’s seriously a must own book for any golfer. This video is the cherry on top though!

  15. anyone notice

    Aug 9, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    The Great Hogan didn’t really lift his front heel off the ground? Wonder if Chamblee would suggest a little heel lift to Hogan?

  16. Dennis clark

    Aug 9, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Authors note: this is NOT an article about Hogans swing. It means to say that if you’re too steep the images and advice he offered can help you. No model swing is perfect for everyone!

  17. Roger

    Aug 9, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Great article. I would LOVE some advice on the opposite problem: I’m much too horizontal (both in backswing and downswing), and not enough vertical. I know its off topic, but would greatly appreciate any suggestions!

  18. acemandrake

    Aug 9, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Swing “through” NOT “at” or “down” (& get your body out of the way)
    Feel loose & athletic

  19. Sometimes a Smizzle

    Aug 9, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    I honestly prefer some of the modern swings like Bubba, young tiger woods, and jb holmes. I swing most like jb. Not a lot of hinge and lots of speed.
    I am sure you know that people worship at the altar of Hogans swing, so why kick the hornets nest Smizzle?

    • ooffa

      Aug 9, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      Kolfpro must be Hogan’s mother. Very supportive of her little boy. Why couldn’t you buy a color camera for your boy so we would not have to look at black and white photos of that goofy swing.

    • stepehenf

      Aug 12, 2016 at 8:10 am

      “Prefer” them for what? Early retirement? Inconsistency? Underachievement?

    • Sometimes a Smizzle

      Aug 12, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      still working on that 58 ???? Got to crack par first. I have almost shot par a few times on 9 holes. If i ever do it, i will finally move back a set of tees. I average 305 off the tee and 1.9 putrs per hole. I hope to crack par this season at least once.

  20. kolfpro

    Aug 9, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    OK with that statement you are now officially and imbecile!

  21. Marty Mosse

    Aug 9, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Hogan had one of the worst looking swings ever. It’s clear he had the work ethic of a dead Ethiopian

  22. forgedforever

    Aug 9, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    This makes a lot of sense to me, especially when I see Mr. Clark’s estimation that 80 percent of golfers are in the “too steep camp.” I learn visually, and it is easy to see golfers having problems because their swings are too steep. I have always felt that I need to have a shallower angle of attack myself. Another thing that caught my attention in the article was the recommendation that those of us who are too steep practice hitting from sidehill lies with the ball above our feet. I am always more comfortable hitting this shot that when the ball is below my feet. Now I know why! Thanks for the information!

  23. mr b

    Aug 9, 2016 at 11:38 am

    great article. this echos other instructors lessons to “lead with the right elbow.” The forearm rotation is definately key here so you don’t leave the clubface wide open. would like to see some more videos here to give more visual explanations…

  24. JW

    Aug 9, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Dennis, does rotating the lead arm counter-clockwise accomplish anything else besides offsetting the trail elbow action? For example, is proper rotation of the lead arm a prerequisite for proper rotation of the lead shoulder? And/or will it help someone who has a hand path that works too vertically?

    • dennis clark

      Aug 9, 2016 at 6:16 pm

      it counteracts the opening of the face if one “lags” by pulling on the handle. If you just do a horizontal tug the face will be open, so rotate the lead forearm to square the face.

  25. juststeve

    Aug 9, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Is Ben Hogan really a universal model applicable to everyone, particularly the recreational golfer who spend far more time earning a living than practicing golf, and whose main problem is slicing the ball, not hooking the ball?

    • Loz

      Aug 9, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Especially as his body was a bit freakish, so I saw mentioned in a video recently. Very long reach for a fairly small man. For most of us it’s not physically possible to get into many of his swing positions due to not having the same body dimensions.

    • Justin

      Aug 9, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      Too vertical often equates to an over the top move, which translates into a pull or a slice every time. Until you can eliminate coming over the top, you should never watch an instructional video that tries to teach you something else. To me, coming over the top is the ONE THING you cannot do if you want to have fun playing golf. The vast majority of amateurs have an over the top move and it’s much harder to eliminate than it seems and this is because of the “vertical” focus. Baseball players often make fairly good golfers because a true golf swing is only slightly more vertical than a baseball swing.

      • Dennis clark

        Aug 9, 2016 at 4:59 pm

        You can get too steep from inside too. But working on more around from inside covers it all.

    • Dennis clark

      Aug 9, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      No he’s only a model for those too steep. Like the article says. There is no universal model.

  26. Loz

    Aug 9, 2016 at 10:22 am

    I’m 6′ 4″ and have always been a good long iron player and generally poor wedge player. I typically hit better shots from a side hill lie as you mention. Trackman Maestro (Joseph Mayo, I think) did a great video about throwing a frisbee which might be worth taking a look at.

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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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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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