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What Works for Whom? The Pragmatic Approach to Golf Instruction

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The very first thing a golf instructor should do, in my opinion, is ask the student her/his short-term and long-term goals. When and only when that has been determined can the collective effort commence.

The next thing is to assess is the student’s skill level to determine if the goals are realistic. If they are, the lesson can proceed; if they are not, the lesson should stop immediately, and a reassessment is in order. I’m not going to waste my time or a student’s money telling a 15-handicap he can get to scratch. Blowing smoke is what teachers who have no work do. But the 35+ years I’ve spent teaching people to play golf has revealed that unrealistic golf goals are the exception, not the rule.

The vast majority of people I’ve taught are very realistic in their goals. The 15-handicapper who just went to a 20 does not desire to be scratch; he simply wants to get back to being a 15.

No one comes to see me or any teacher if they are playing well, so we get down to the real work, which is: What’s the problem? Their very presence on my lesson tee indicates some sort of trouble, so I have to determine what that trouble is and find the source of it.

Where to begin? Well, how about with the obvious? What is the golf ball doing?

In golf, there is no other trouble: never has been and can never be. If a golfer spins around, stumbles and finishes with the club in one hand but the ball flies consistently straight at the target that golfer by definition has a good swing.

A flying elbow is not a problem. A spin out is not a problem. Quick is not a problem. Unless they affect impact.

So we come to the most critical part of the lesson: the diagnosis. I’ve seen the golf ball in flight and know from experience that the only thing that made it do what it did is the golf club at impact. Closed, open, shallow, steep, in-to-out, out-to-in, toe, heel? The answer is right there in that four ten-thousandths of a second.

Now when I find that out, then and only then can I proceed to what caused the club to move as it did. Things like flying elbows, aim, grip, spinning out, casting, losing balance, falling — back, blah, blah, blah — may need to be discussed, but only in the context of how these movements affected the golf club at impact.

For all of you who have used my online swing analysis program, what is the first question I asked? What is your ball flight? I cannot even begin to offer a correction in the absence of that knowledge. If anyone offers you a tip without seeing your ball flight, leave immediately. They are guessing, and about to spout some meaningless phrase they have seen on the Golf Channel, read in Golf Digest or heard somewhere else. They may be right, but it would be a blind squirrel finding a nut if they didn’t know your ball flight problem.

We could go right down the list of greats: Jack Nicklaus’ flying elbow, Lee Trevino’s loop, Tom Watson’s quick swing, Walter Hagen’s lunge, Bobby Jones’ narrow stance, Arnold Palmer’s in-and-over, Byron Nelson’s dip, Ben Hogan’s weak grip, Gary Player’s flat swing… Modern day, let’s talk about Jordan Spieth’s bent arm, Rickie Fowler’s laid-off position, Fred Couple’s outside takeaway, Jim Furyk’s everything, Ryan Moore’s loop, Hideki Matsuyama’s pause… and on and on and on.

My personal assessment of those swings? All GREAT! I wouldn’t know any of them (and you wouldn’t either) if they weren’t. What do they have in common other than great impact? They put all their pieces together. Each player’s swing has compatible moves, and that’s all a good teacher is trying to do; put your various pieces together. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, I don’t need lessons. I picked up this or that tip and it worked for me.” Great! Stay with it.

I am the most pragmatic instructor you’ll find. But remember that offering a personal improvement story as proof something is “right” in the golf swing is really only saying, “It worked for me.” What separates a good, experienced instructor from the myriad of also-rans who call themselves teachers is the knowledge of what works for whom. 

To finish I’ll give one classic example about “casting” and “over the top,” although there are many. Casting is a necessary ingredient in an over-the-top move. It MUST complement it. It is not optimal, but is very functional. Try coming over the top and lagging the club. You won’t even make contact. Now, tell someone who is over the top to hit from the inside. I’m giving you 10-1 odds they lay sod over it, because casting does NOT complement an inside path even though it was an essential element of an outside one.

Looking at the swing in this way offers real answers to golf swing problems, not stabs in the dark. Everyone of you reading this has the ability to solve your golf equation; you just gotta know the formula. And that’s what good golf instructors try to provide.

Questions? Concerns? Post your comments below. If you’re interested in my online swing analysis program you can contact me at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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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

41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Bobalu

    Dec 18, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    More teachers need to do what is illustrated in the article’s accompanying photo. A golf teacher needs to put his hands on a student and show them correct positions. Words often just confuse a lot of students, even better golfers because of preconceived ideas and repetition of bad moves. Top golf coach Dana Dahlquist not infrequently makes a complete video lesson (using Trackman) for a non-local golfer to review at home over and over, emphasizing the key things that need to be changed, and how to get the proper feel for the new move. Zero old-school band-aids and goofy drills like the ‘Flamingo’ drill. LOL. A student can make his own range videos and use mirror work for followup. In contrast, most golf instructors teach using an ineffective “slow drip” method. One lesson to strengthen grip with specific drills, one lesson for impact with specific drills, etc, etc. You get the picture…painful and actually a very poor way to get it done. Here is an example of a better way- a well-communicated lesson summarized on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzEhFvYmoLE. IMO, the more logical way for better golfers to make solid improvements- a total video template!

  2. Eric Fugate

    Dec 16, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    I like the article. I think Mr. Clark’s opinion is well on point. Every golfer is different and every swing is different and each lesson plan for the golfer should be to different and not cookie cutter, the same for every person, but the goal is the same, square club face at impact and to enjoy the game.

  3. PineStreetGolf

    Dec 16, 2016 at 10:14 am

    I don’t understand the “if he doesn’t know your ballflight, leave immediately”. That would probably be good advice if the point of every single golf lesson was to hit the ball straighter. But there is much more in play (fat, thin, clubhead speed, etc…). Seems silly to me to demand that from a pro.

    It took me about two years to go from a 12 to a 2. I’ve had the same pro the whole time, once a month. The entire first six months we worked on nothing but increasing clubhead speed and didn’t care a whit for where the ball went. I realize thats the exception (we built a two year plan) but there is a whole lot more to getting better at golf than making the ball go straighter.

    If you are a “resort instructor” (i.e. you see people once or twice and thats it) then this is a fantastic article. If you are more of a “coach” (getting someone a great swing over years and years) then this advice seems awful.

    PSG

    • PineStreetGolf

      Dec 16, 2016 at 10:18 am

      As an aside, after reading some of the comments, this article is too negative on what students can achieve. Alot of golf work (working out, doing mirror work with tape, swinging with a medicine ball,e tc..) can be done at home, off the range. I guess I have much more faith that a 15 who really wants to get to scratch can do it, and that that isn’t silly. In 2008 i was about a 23. Now I’m a 2 and falling. Its not easy, but there are people out there who do it and who can do it, and this article saying immediately that 15->scratch is just ludicrious and should be written off is not only wrong but borderline offensive.

    • Dennis clark

      Dec 16, 2016 at 2:38 pm

      Ewe I teach at a resort with 600 members, and I have coached many top players to collegiate careers, PGA Tour, web.com, so…Thin, fat,toe, heel, shank, are all forms of “ball flight” or in this case LACK of it, they are under the general category of IMPACT. I have two players with over 120 MPH club head speed and several in the 80 category. The instruction does not change…I’m either working on club face, attack angle or swing path/plane. Without knowing those I’m teaching golf, not teaching THAT person to play golf. Thx DC

      • PSG

        Dec 16, 2016 at 2:48 pm

        Just so I understand, you ask people what their ball flight is, and if they tend to hit it fat they say “my ballflight tends to be fat” ?!??! I find that hard to believe.

        I think its odd that you preach the “every golfer is different and should be taught differently” philosophy (which I agree with) and then speak in absolutes (“15 cap can’t become scratch”, “must ask what ballfight is or run”, etc…) If everyone is different, why do you have these hard and fast rules?

        I’m not doubting your credentials, I’m doubting you actually do what you say in this article. I’m also not doubting that you are a good coach.

        I’m doubting two things: first, that a coach who doesn’t immediately ask what your ballflight is is by definition bad and, second, that you “can’t” go from a 15 handicap to scratch, as though that is a ridiculous thing like growing a third arm.

        Both of those things seem really silly.

        • Dennis Clark

          Dec 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm

          I don’t take your comments as an affront to my credentials at all. You have every right to raise these points. And since you have done so politely, I’ll take a minute to respond…

          I saw a lesson a range recently where the instructor asked the student to set up to hit a golf ball. BEFORE the ball was hit, the “teacher” said “first your stance is too wide and your grip is too strong”. This is the type of approach I am objecting to in this article. “Wide” or “strong” mean nothing in and of themselves. That would be like seeing Jim Furyk’s backswing and saying it is WAY too vertical. Hence my point about watching some impact, seeing path, plane and angle BEFORE i make a suggestion. I have been doing this work for near 40 years, and have seen FAR too many people offer suggestions simply based on a book, a theory, a recent TV comment etc. The teacher MUST see it in action, and internalize the entire dynamic (which is ball flight as a result of impact) before he/she suggests a correction. If a teacher suggested to Furyk, that he get his takeaway “on plane” and he then dropped the club well back under as he tends to do, he would be a club golfer. He’s one of the best in the world because he and his dad put together a sequence that works for JIM.

          Now about the realistic goals comment…You are correct in saying a 15 may be able to get to scratch; technically there is no question. That’s why I begin by asking “what are your goals”? There are two distinctly different lessons: One I call correction and the other creation. If a student says, I’m 15, I wanna be scratch, I have to assess the situation, and inform him/her how REALISTIC this aim actually is. If the physical ability is there, as apparently yours is, AND if the student can afford the time and investment, then we set out to do a “creation lesson”, by that I mean we begin by rebuilding the swing from “scratch”- no pun intended. But when I said I’m not going to kid the student, I’m referring the guy who plays on the weekend, hits balls only to warm up, has no speed etc. If HE says I’d like to be scratch I’m not about to say “OK no problem I’m your guy”– JUST to get work. Too many instructors mislead students with wild flights of fancy. I’m not demeaning or insulting ANYONE, I handle the conversation with courtesy and professionalism but I make it clear that more realism might be a better way to enjoy the game.

          Thank you for your interest and I hope this explains my article a little better.

          • PSG

            Dec 16, 2016 at 8:14 pm

            That was a very good response. Thank you.

            You make good points here. I would really enjoy a future article from you on how to determine if goals are realistic. I set out to just ‘get better’ but it has taken a whole lot more than I thought. As an instructor who has seen improvement, I’d love to read what you “look for” in a student in terms of who can and can’t’ rapidly improve so that even if a reader isn’t taking lessons he can gravitate toward becoming more “teachable”.

            Thanks for replying to each point. Makes sense.

  4. Jalan

    Dec 16, 2016 at 10:08 am

    This is common sense. Who are the morons ‘Shanking’ this article?
    Well, I see one of them.

  5. Dennis Clark

    Dec 16, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I can have anyone hitting the golf better in an hour, and won’t change your whole swing to do it either…or there is no charge for my time! Match the parts, get the club face, attack angle and path/plane right and don’t worry about the method of application-I’m sure that every experienced teacher would tell you the same.

  6. Noel

    Dec 15, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Dennis-
    You are spot on in your article- Almost all things we see in a swing are results and not causes- attempts by athletes golfing brains to take the club face and square the face through impact with a reasonable angle of approach-
    Owning what you do is just as important in tournament golf as anything else- and it’s certainly more important than being correct to some “scientific standard” – just ask a long list of hall of famers

  7. Ron

    Dec 15, 2016 at 9:45 am

    “I’m not going to waste my time or a student’s money telling a 15-handicap he can get to scratch.”

    Just a question – wasn’t every scratch golfer a 15 at some point? Or is it more that people with innate skill can get to single digits on their own before they seek out a coach? Because I used to be a 6, then medical problems made me quit the game for 7 years. And now I’m back, but I’m a 15. I want to be a 6 again. Actually, I want to be a 4, but I’d settle for a 6. And as bad as I’ve been off the tee recently, I know there’s 9 shots right there. 🙂

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 15, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      Was every scratch player a 15 once? Maybe a week, month, no ore than half a season probably when they 12 yrs old? of course I’m talking about the guy who has been a 15 most of his career, or at least for a good long while. In your case, if you were actually a 6, and not TOO long ago (age factor) you likely have the ability to get back there. I could have you hitting the ball better in an hour, but rest of that climb would be the time and work you put in. Thx.

      • Ron

        Dec 16, 2016 at 11:14 am

        I’ll be back to single digits by spring. I only started playing again in July. Then I’ll come see you.

  8. Frank McChrystal

    Dec 15, 2016 at 9:23 am

    “We in the PGA do not do a good job at training teachers. Many are permitted to hang out their shingles well before they are ready to do so.” Congrats Dennis, that is a good start. Step one.

  9. HeineyLite

    Dec 15, 2016 at 1:22 am

    My question Dennis with the advent of technology over the past few years, hasn’t that made instruction from the past obsolete? I’m confused by Nick Faldo, Peter Kostis, and even Michael Breed, to name a few, when they make a swing analysis of what they think is going on. And I’ll see other swing analysis of the same players by younger more recent instructors debunking what the old guard has said… Confused…

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 15, 2016 at 11:49 am

      Old or new, if they are dealing with truth, I.E. impact, they are on the right track. HOW the player got there matters not one bit IF they can repeat it. Technology is a big help no doubt, but radar for example Trackman, measures impact numbers but it ignores how the player got there. THE best tech is GEARS but I doubt they guys are allowed to suit up the GEARS outfit while playing! Tiger has been squatting into impact his whole life, or at least since Stanford, right? How come the commentators only thought it was a problem when he went sour? He lowered into impact for every one of his 14 majors to some degree. So do most great players, but when he stopped winning , now its a a swing fault? Something like Tiger has a “tendency” or a propensity to get the golf club too far behind him, and that MIGHT cause this or that would be a more fair and accurate assessment, no?

      • HeineyLite

        Dec 15, 2016 at 3:01 pm

        Thanks Dennis… Also what’s your assessment on Chamblee’s rants on Tiger of today. Especially his right elbow in the downswing?

        • Dennis Clark

          Dec 15, 2016 at 6:28 pm

          HL,Here’s what I think about the right elbow…

          https://youtu.be/cTuTrpWCZhU

          Now according to Chamblee, Jim Furyk cant play at all.

          • Double Mocha Man

            Dec 15, 2016 at 8:16 pm

            … nor can Fred Couples…

            • McPickens

              Dec 15, 2016 at 9:21 pm

              wrong, Chamblee stated on GC not long ago that Fred Couples was the envy of all tour pros back in the late ’80s and ’90s because they didn’t think he tried very hard but was still an elite world class pro. Chamblee also stated that Freddie was probably the most naturally talented golfer of all time.

              • Dennis clark

                Dec 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm

                Mocha is talking about Couples’ RIGHT elbow, not his ability which Chamble or no one else questions.

            • Dennis Clark

              Dec 16, 2016 at 5:40 am

              Exactly!

          • HeineyLite

            Dec 15, 2016 at 10:46 pm

            Thanks for your time… I’ve always thought Chamblee was an A hole…

          • Double Mocha Man

            Dec 16, 2016 at 11:52 am

            I was being facetious regarding Chamblee. But some pro out there had better correct Freddie’s flying elbow!

  10. Mike Barnett

    Dec 14, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    You can also add the cookie cutter approach that many instructors dispense on a regular basis. It’s tiresome and frustrating to hear them say the same things to different people without giving effort to the one individual they have in front of them. Like a broken record, with the same old same old. You sir appear to be one that treats the individual.

  11. Dennis Clark

    Dec 14, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Look this is not a swipe at good, qualified instructors, it is a word of caution to those who takes lessons. Buyer beware! The truthof the matter is this: We in the PGA do not do a great job at training teachers. Many are permitted to hang out their shingles well before they are ready to do so. And this demeans the industry as a whole…I’m telling the lesson takers of the world to be careful. There are warning signs out there and I’ve offered a few here. No one, pro or a, should be offering tips without seeing you hit balls or at least knowing your ball flight. I’d be very wary of that instructor. That’s ALL I’m saying

    • BC

      Dec 14, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      Well, it’s interesting that you think “No one, pro or a (sic), should be offering tips without seeing you hit balls or at least knowing your ball flight. I’d be very wary of that instructor.”

      What do you think of teachers giving golf swing advice over the internet without as much as a video of the person’s golf swing? Tell the truth now Dennis!

      • Dennis Clark

        Dec 14, 2016 at 10:16 pm

        IF this, THEN try this…the IF is the operative word…IF you slice, try this or these things…or this CAN cause, the CAN is the operative word. When “giving advice” in that context it is alluding to some possibility of BALL FLIGHT…very different animal than “this is right or wrong”. in terms of absolutes there is only one one: impact

  12. Jack Conger

    Dec 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Dennis, loved the article. The number problem I see with 99.9% of all golfers is alignment. Always to the right. ( right handed player) This as you know causes an outside to in path all day long. Pretty hard to be consistent trying to hit a ball at a target that you aren’t aimed at. Makes sense to me. Jack

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 14, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      You’re saying that aiming to the right causes an out to in path, why? I don’t see that many people aiming right- in fact i see more aiming left. As far as aim is concerned, golfers typically aim AWAY from their BAD shot. That is, slicers aim left, hookers aim right etc. It’s a reflex. Thx

    • Jack

      Dec 14, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      You talking about alignment of the body or the clubface? If the alignment of the body is to the right but the clubface is to the right as well but less it’s a draw. What’s wrong with that? I’m not sure you understand what you are saying. And yeah it causing an outside in? That’d be a double cross, which is highly unnatural since it could be all arms. At which point the legs don’t matter as much.

      • Dennis Clark

        Dec 14, 2016 at 10:32 pm

        I’m not sure what he’s saying here either. He MAY mean that if one is aligned right, he reacts by swinging swing left of his aim point– an attempt to pull the ball back to the target? Just a guess though…

        • Jack

          Dec 15, 2016 at 10:06 pm

          I don’t understand honestly why so many people are having problems with your article. Perhaps you are stirring the pot too much but IMO that’s a good thing. Different golfers want different things, and instructors can offer that or tell them to go somewhere else. Some people are perhaps a little sadistic (like me) and want to make their swing look as textbook as possible. Some just want to get a quick fix or two and be able to hit the ball straight (not to mention just focus on scoring better).

          A pretty swing doesn’t equal a good score anyway is what I’ve learned playing with random people lol. A guy I’ve played with who has been a scratch golfer most of his life doesn’t have a perfect looking swing but it sure is consistent and his short game and putting is just right on.

  13. Monte Scheinblum a.k.a. The Mad Bomber

    Dec 14, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    I can’t believe people pay me money to give them lessons! I don’t know how to teach.
    MY RATES:
    $150 per hour
    $600 for a five lesson package (5 one hour lessons)
    MY PLAYING LESSONS:
    $250 for 9 holes (fee includes greens fee and cart)
    $400 for 18 holes (fee includes greens fee and cart)
    MY CLINIC FEES:
    $350/$450 for 2/3 days.
    Range and green fees are always around $50 per day.

  14. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 14, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Wow Dennis… loved it. You just took a lot of teaching pros out behind the woodshed. The guilty ones will know who they are… if they read your article.

  15. Tom

    Dec 14, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    I liked it. The opening statement ( four paragraphs) sets the tone for the rest of the article. Comprehension plays a big part in what one gets out of reading an article. Much like a golf swing.

  16. Markallister

    Dec 14, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    i did not like this article, because it was self-promoting, but not very insightful. everyone knows that pragmatism trumps.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Dec 14, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      Maybe a bit self-promoting. But until you take a video lesson from Mr. Clark you won’t know what you’re missing. You won’t see what you need to see.

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Instruction

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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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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Instruction

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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