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Opinion & Analysis

Honoring John Jacobs, the Best Golf Instructor I Ever Saw

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The passing of John Jacobs at the age of 91 last week was noted by too few, and a great loss for those of us who teach the game of golf. Jacobs was the best golf instructor I ever saw, and clearly the one I learned more from than any other. He revolutionized the way the game is taught and showed an entire generation of his proteges that golf is “what the ball does.”

“The purpose of the golf swing is to apply the golf club correctly to the ball,” Jacobs said. “The method employed is of no consequence if it can be repeated.”

That simple thought was a such an eye-opener to the teaching community who were still immersed deeply in the old-school style of teaching, which placed an emphasis on certain “classic” positions. In it, the club was held a certain way, the player set up a certain way and he or she went through a series of motions deemed correct by the swing experts of the day.

During my training as a golf professional, I can recall vividly observing a lesson from a Class A Professional (we were required to apprentice under a PGA member) during which the teacher asked the student to set up to hit a ball. Before one shot had been struck the teacher said, “Get your elbows a little closer to your body and move the ball further back in your stance.”

I was still a tyro in the trade, but I remember having the common sense to ask myself, “WHY?” I had watched Moe Norman hit balls for a few hours the week before and his arms were a MILE from his body… and he started with his club a MILE behind the golf ball. But the old-school style of teaching said this setup was incorrect, so the instructor changed the student before the ball was struck.

It’s just one example of many; in fact, this was the adopted style of teaching for many years, especially in the time when the game was predominantly taught by players and former players. Jacobs came along and asked a very basic, albeit almost rebellious question: What is the ball doing? He thought that should be the starting point of a lesson.

That point of departure not only made sense; it rendered the old approach obsolete and exposed it as simply wrong… or at least far too limited. All anyone had to do was look in the golf hall of fame to see the myriad styles and the great variety of grips, backswings and other positions to understand there are many ways to set up and swing the golf club. Even the fabled “impact position” has more variety than the standard square-face, in-to-in path and correct attack angle that everyone heralded. Some great players impact their shots with a slightly open or closed face; some are steeper than others and some even swing from slightly outside the line. The commonality is they all learned to make the ball behave.

Jacobs has been the single greatest influence on golf instruction in the modern game, and some of the biggest names in the trade often give a nod to him as the man who most directly influenced their teaching. They include Butch Harmon, Hank Haney, Jim Hardy and even Jim Flick, who confided that to me personally. Flick, of course, was one of the great teachers responsible for the early Golf Digest Schools, which was a huge step in the transition from former tour players teaching the game to full-time professional teachers.

To observe John Jacobs doing a golf lesson was a study of a man totally in command of the subject matter in front of him. He could get students to impact the golf ball better and more quickly than anyone ever; it was a joy to watch. And those of us who learned from him and his proteges are all the better for it. I taught golf before Jacobs, but it wasn’t until meeting him and learning his style that I really got in stride as a teacher. What I learned from him made me confident I could help ANYONE, and helped me more directly to the source of any golfer’s problem.

Jacobs, of course, achieved so much more than teaching the game of golf. His influence on European golf, his Ryder Cup Captaincy, as well as his own fine play are also a part of his legacy and life devoted to our game. But as one who followed the path of instruction, I will be eternally indebted to John Jacobs for making an illogical game more logical, and a counter-intuitive one more intuitive. The teaching community stands as one in admiration and respect to the best of the best.

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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

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. stephenf

    Feb 15, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    A true giant of the game, and a true gentleman.

    Also, if you get into his books and interviews, and if you’re open to the idea that the hypertechnical approach to teaching in the current age isn’t necessarily the best way, you’re going to find specific things that are just brilliant. His assertion that the synch between the turning of the shoulders and the swinging of the arms is the single most important technical aspect of the swing is one of the best observations anybody ever made. When you think about the perpetual disagreement about “body” versus “hands and arms” and see it in terms of that simple truth articulated by Jacobs, you see a more expansive view that resolves the problem. He always insisted that some people are going to feel the swing more in the arms and hands and some will feel it more in the turn. Probably this has to do with one’s own natural inclination, even in a ironic way: If you naturally swing your arms well and freely, maybe you need to think about turn, and vice versa. But that doesn’t mean the next guy will need to think about the same thing to produce the same result — a coordination between the elements. Jacobs understood it and taught it that way.

  2. tucsonsean

    Jan 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I probably own most of the golf books ever published, from Bobby Jones and Ernest Jones to Dave Stockton and Stan Utley. But the one volume that changed and advanced my game more than any other is John Jacobs “Practical Golf,” and it’s the first one I consult when a problem arises. There’s more down-to-earth, practical, USEFUL wisdom in those 144 pages than in the rest of my collection combined. Thank you, Mr. Clark, for marking this humble giant’s passing.

    • energymatt

      Jan 22, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      Ditto to that, I own a lot, and it is probably my favourite golf book

  3. doesnotno

    Jan 18, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Lovely article, thank you Dennis. Practical Golf was the first golf book I ever read and I could make an easy case for it being the most relevant even today.

  4. Andy

    Jan 18, 2017 at 4:02 am

    Nice tribute to a great teacher. RIP Sir.

  5. Chuck

    Jan 17, 2017 at 11:55 pm

    Thank you so much, Dennis and GolfWRX for this remembrance. Which are the essential Jacobs books?

    “The most valuable new equipment is… lessons.”

  6. The Real Swanson

    Jan 17, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    “Two turns and a swish.”

    Thanks for the article.

  7. Walter Doyle

    Jan 17, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    I was walking down a hallway in the PGA Training Academy in the Belfry a few years ago and this elderly man approached on a walking aid/stick. He was very hunched over but as I passed he lifted his head and asked “have you no razors where you are from”? I informed him in my best Irish accent that it was called ‘Designer stubble’ and that there was a power cut at home that morning. While laughing at my response he further added; “able to take a joke and Irish”. I then told him that I had read his book the previous night – Practical Golf; and was gutted that I had left it at home. I returned to my group and asked if anyone knew who I was talking with and no one had a clue. I told the group that for every assignment for Golf Coaching in the future, we will all be quoting him, as he, John Jacobs had written the ‘Bible’ for golf coaching. RIP.

    while in training in the

  8. John Mule'

    Jan 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Dennis- What a great tribute to Mr. Jacobs. I once wrote a letter to him (care of Ken Bowden…) in the late 70’s expressing my gratitude to him for “saving” my game and making it more enjoyable. He had Ken reply to me and sent me an autographed copy of one of his books that I did not have (wasn’t published in the U.S.).

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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Opinion & Analysis

What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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Podcasts

TG2: What is this new Callaway iron? A deep investigation…

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Photos of a new Callaway iron popped up in the GolfWRX Forums, and equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what exactly the new iron could be; new Apex pros, new Legacy irons, or maybe even a new X Forged? Also, the guys discuss Phil’s U.S. Open antics and apology, DJ’s driver shaft change, new Srixon drivers and utility irons, and a new Raw iron offering from Wilson. Enjoy the golf equipment packed show!

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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