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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

Golfholics Course Review: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

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In this new course review series, Marko and Mike from Golfholics provide their takes on the golf courses they’ve played around the world. The first episode starts with the famed, yet often overlooked Spyglass Hill. Enjoy the video below, and don’t forget to check out more videos from Golfholics on their YouTube page!

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Redkacheek’s DFS Rundown: 2018 CJ Cup

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Wow, what a crazy start to this season! Not only has the cheat sheet and slack chat plays over at the Fantasy Golf Bag been on complete fire, but the new golf betting model has now hit on two outrights and one FRL in back-to-back weeks! We get a much better field this week so definitely plan to keep this heater going here at the CJ Cup this week. Brooks Koepka will be teeing it up for the first time since being named the 2018 POY, along with guys such as Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, and our new favorite Sungjae Im. As you can see, this will be a fairly exciting event for a setup as similar as last week’s tournament.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at this course and see if we can pinpoint some key stats to take us to another Big GPP win or at least a couple good choices for an outright win.

The CJ Cup will be played at the Club at Nine Bridges, a 7,196 yard par-72 golf course in South Korea. Although this may appear like a similar course to TPC Kuala Lumpur last week, this one will play quite significantly tougher. As you can see below, in 2017 there were more bogeys than birdies for the week which doesn’t happen much outside of majors. Justin Thomas won last year’s event after shooting 63 in the first round but failed to break 70 the following three days. JT finished at nine under, which tied Marc Leishman, who coincidentally won this last weekend (2019 Fall Swing narrative). So why so tough if it appears so short? Let’s take a look.

So first off, let’s get this out of the way first. These greens are brutal. No joke; these greens were the single most difficult greens to putt on all of last year. Everything from one-putt percentage to 3-putt avoidance, these ranked the No. 1 most difficult on Tour all year. But here’s the problem: We all know putting is the single most variable stat, so using SG:P will tend to lead to a very disappointing pool of players. For example, coming into last year the players ranked Top 10 in SG:P finished 11-33-47-40-28-64-36-26-71-36, respectively. There is a still a stat that helped fine-tune player pools last year that I will recommend this year: my first key stat to consider this week is 3-putt avoidance.

The next section here I will just briefly touch on the driving accuracy and GIR percentage for this course. It is very average for the PGA Tour…that is really all you need to know. Driving accuracy ranked 48th and GIR percentage ranked 38th in 2017. This course is not difficult tee-to-green, plain and simple. I will certainly add the usual SG:T2G this week along with GIR percentage, but this course will favor most guys this week.

So besides putting, why are these scores so poor considering the appearance of an easy course? Well besides putting on these greens, scrambling here is brutal. Scrambling also ranked No. 1 most difficult here last year but again, this is a stat that is extremely tough to see useful trends. I will, however, encourage you to use SG:ARG to help narrow down your player pool more efficiently.

Remember that this segment of the Fall Swing will not yield strokes-gained data, so we must only utilize the traditional stats the PGA Tour keeps. On top of all the micro-scoring stats mentioned above, let’s take a closer look at this course from a macro level. This will be fairly straightforward when building your model. The par 4s here are extremely difficult, so add SG:P4 Scoring to your research (par 3 scoring is also very difficult but sample sizes are usually too small to include each week). Par 5 scoring was difficult as well but there is a better stat we can use than the P4 scoring mentioned above. The final stat we will be using is simply bogey avoidance. This will do a fantastic job of incorporating T2G, scrambling and putting into our model/research.

Overall this course is really an amazing layout but will pose a difficult task for the players. Just like last week, I encourage you to ease into the season by playing light and also primarily playing GPPs.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into my core plays for this week…

Justin Thomas (DK $11,600)

Justin Thomas finally makes the core writeup. After a mediocre finish last week (5th place), he comes to Nine Bridges as the defending champion. Ironically, he beat out Marc Leishman, last week’s winner, in a playoff last year and I think he is going to be the guy to pay up for over $10k. JT won both CIMB Classic and The CJ Cup last year, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t leave this leg of the Fall Swing (Asia) without a win. There’s a lot going for him outside of his recent form and course history (if that wasn’t enough), he ranks first in both SG:T2G and SG:APP, second in par 4 scoring, eighth in bogey avoidance and finally, surprisingly, 11th in 3-putt avoidance. If you are building only a few lineups this week, I think JT should be in around two-thirds of them.

Byeong-Hun An (DK $8,700)

Mr. Ben An makes the list again! Byeong-Hun An received a lot of praise from both Jacob and myself on the FGB Podcast last week and he did not disappoint with a 13th place finish, and really a strong chance to win going into the weekend. As part of a common theme you will see here, Ben An is the kind of consistent ball-striker to rely on each and every week. On the PGA Tour in the last 50 rounds, he ranks third along with a strong ranking in bogey avoidance (third) and GIR percentage (also third). He did play this event last year, finishing 11th at 4-under par, and if it weren’t for a final round 73 he had a realistic chance for the win! The price on Ben An is getting a little steep but I think we can still get some value out of it this week.

Kyle Stanley (DK $8,200)

Kyle Stanley should be considered a core play almost every week he is under $9K on DraftKings. One of the most elite ball strikers on Tour, ranking ninth in SG:T2G, 11th in SG:APP, sixth in GIR percentage and 14th in par 4 scoring, he sets up for another solid top 20. Last week Kyle finished 13th in Kuala Lumpur and now comes to Nine Bridges where he ended the tournament in 19th place last year. Kyle tends to be very “mediocre” so upside for a top 3 always seems to come sparingly during the season, but you still cannot ignore his skills at this price.

Charles Howell III (DK $7,700)

Charles Howell III is a lock for me this week. Coming off a strong showing last week (T5) but also an 11th-place finish at this event last year, he grades out as one of the strongest values this week at only $7,700. CH3 hadn’t played on the PGA Tour for over a month before appearing at Kuala Lumpur, causing him to fly well under the radar on his way to a solid top five finish. Always known as a superb ball-striker, Howell actually rates out 16th in bogey avoidance and 10th in 3-putt avoidance, both key stats for this golf course. Additionally, CH3 ranks inside the top 20 of both par 4 scoring and GIR percentage. In a no-cut event on a difficult ARG golf course, count on CH3 to gain enough placement points to pay off this solid price tag.

Ian Poulter (DK $7,600)

Ian Poulter may be extremely sneaky this week. We haven’t seen him since the Ryder Cup and most people that play DFS have severe recency bias. Poulter is a grinder, and considering the winning score should only be around 12-under par with lots of opportunities for bogeys, he should keep the wheels on all four days and have a chance on Sunday. One of the most surprising stats for me in my research on Poulter is that he ranks first in 3-putt avoidance, along with some impressive tee-to-green stats where he ranks inside the top 25 of all of my key stats mentioned above. Why is the 3-putt avoidance stat so important? As I noted in the course preview, these were the single most difficult greens to putt on last year with the worst 3-putt percentage. Outside of the key stats, it does seem like this course fits his eye as he finished 15th here last year. Ian Poulter will be another core play but I think he may come in quite under owned from where he probably should.

Joel Dahmen (DK $6,900)

Chalk Dahmen week is upon us and I am going to bite. Dahmen has been a DFS darling this year and last week was no different. Dahmen ended up finishing 26th which was largely due to a poor final round 71, which dropped him 11 spots. Even with that poor finish he was able to pay off his sub-$7K price tag, which is where we find him again this week. Dahmen ranks top 10 in this field in several key stats, including: SG:T2G, SG:APP, and bogey avoidance. If you need some salary savings but unsure about anyone under $7K, Dahmen should be your first look this week.

Also consider

Brooks Koepka
Jason Day
Marc Leishman
Paul Casey
Ryan Moore
Sungjae Im
Kevin Tway

Good luck this week everyone!

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Mondays Off: Bermuda vs. Bent grass, How to chip when into the grain

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How do you chip into the grain off of Bermuda grass without chunking the ball? Club pro Steve Westphal explains how to best handle the situation. Also, Westphal and Editor Andrew Tursky give advice on how to play in qualifiers or PAT (players assessment test) events, and they tell a few stories of their own.

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

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