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Why Every Golf Swing Tip Should Come With a Warning

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The internet has given birth to a plethora of golf swing advice, tips and how-to information. For average golfers, I think it has become a source of confusion rather than clarity… and with good reason. The information itself is all well and good, but the interpretation of the advice is a cause for concern. I know this because I teach golf every day to weekenders and people who play golf for enjoyment. Often, I hear them relate how they are attempting to incorporate a tip into their swing. And sometimes, in fact quite often, what they are trying to do is flat out wrong for them. The operative phrase here is for them.

Imagine for a minute that Jordan Spieth had read or heard about the importance of a straight left arm, or a full pronation and supination of his arms coming into impact. Those two pieces of advice have been widely discussed throughout the instruction community for years. And for some, perhaps many, they are relevant. Not so much for Jordan. His instructor was wise enough to know better in this case. That same teacher may very well have another student do those things; he just knew it was not in Jordan’s best interest.

How does a golfer know something they have read or heard is good for their swing when it’s likely the author or video creator has never seen them swing. Personally, I try to steer away from offering generalized swing tips. Rather, I focus on an approach that can best be described as, “If this, then that.” IF your golf ball is doing this, THEN you might try this.

I start every one of my lessons with a direct question: “What’s your miss and what poor shot do you, at times or often, hit?” That’s a loaded question for an instructor, because the answer contains a ton of information about a golfer’s pattern. For example, high upright swings create high slices; lower, flatter motions create low hooks; wide swings hit the heel; narrow ones hit the toe; steep swings hit fat shots; flatter ones miss thin. On and on.

I have had a lot of golfers come to my lesson tee trying their best to incorporate a move they’ve read or heard, and what they are attempting to do does not fit their puzzle. A recent example comes to mind about a player who was struggling with swaying off the ball and very wide takeaway. Consequently, he was hitting 2 inches behind most shots off the turf… even drop-kicking his driver. He told me how a Golf Channel segment had suggested that a wider arc creates more power. True enough, perhaps; it just happened to be terrible advice for him because he was already wide.

The very best swing advice you can get comes from your own instructor, but if you are going to attempt to employ a new pattern on your own, please be sure it can help correct your old one. In other words, be certain the prescription fits the condition.

Every swing tip should come with a warning: “Side effects can be hazardous to golf swing. Trying this can cause slices, hooks, shanks, pulls, pushes, thin and fat shots, skulls and pop ups. If any of these symptoms appear, please see your instructor right away!”

In deciding what information to incorporate, as I’ve said, a personal instructor is best, but if you are interested in trying a new tip from a friend, book, article or video, perhaps an online video review of your swing might reveal what is helpful and what could be harmful. In other words, buyer beware. I would hate to see any of you make your current swing problem worse. My new website will include a limited number of online students so I can work more directly with golfers through Skype and other platforms, but I have to know your history, your ball flight trends, and any physical limitations before offering assistance.

I know a lot us who write articles are accused of wanting more business. Personally, I do not want more business; I have all I can handle. If I were to get a rash of new students, I would need more time and/or a bigger staff-neither of which I care to do. I’m simply saying “swing-unseen” advice can be dangerous. Please know what you’re getting into.

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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

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Tom54

    Jul 26, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Please can we retire that picture of the body bug skin disorder looking thing once and for all??

  2. Tom54

    Jul 26, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    I am one that falls into trying all sorts of methods and tips. That’s what keeps us coming back for more isn’t it? As long as we see the pros struggle with their games and that’s their livelihood, than we can struggle with ours too. Arnie said it best when he said “swing your own swing”. Every day we go out there is a chance to play well. Nothing beats a good round

    it best when he said”swing your own swing”. The reason golf is so alluring is that every day out there is a chance to have

  3. Eric B.

    Jul 25, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    A lot of truth here. I am a beginner and initially started out with YouTube. I must say, I learned several good things initially such as grip and backswing form. I was hooked right away and signed up for a 3 lesson package from a local pro. In my first lesson, he really helped me and my friends couldn’t believe my improvement. I swore I wouldn’t watch any more videos and focus on what he was teaching. But, due to scheduling issues, it was a month before I could go back for my second lesson. The siren’s call of the internet was too much and I started watching them again. Soon I regressed and was all over the place. Too many conflicting opinions and my lack of experience prevented me from filtering out the noise. After my second my lesson, he righted the ship again and I started swinging much better once again. Thing is, I do enjoy the videos. They’re fun and interesting. But now I avoid anything related to the swing or grip or alignment, etc. I’m leaving that to my instructor. Instead, I watch the ones about golf course management, dealing with bunkers, green readingor anything related to strategy. I get my fix but also don’t pollute my head with conflicting info.

  4. Joe D

    Jul 25, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I’m a new golfer, still exploring my swing. I’ve been obsessed with videos. Meandmygolf. Crossfield. Shiels. Clement. Alistair Davies. Paul Wilson. I had a decent driver swing, bad wood swing, decent iron swing.

    After obsessing over all of the videos, I’d try each tip at the range and the results were far from good. I eventually developed a better iron swing, and a better wood swing. But my driver went to shat. That was my best club and I couldn’t hit it at all. Saw this article, last night, off to the range today. Forget all of the damn advice. Just swing the damn thing. So far everything came back.

    • acemandrake

      Jul 25, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      Yes. The tough part is keeping this approach: Swing thoughts are seductive.

  5. Philip

    Jul 25, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Totally agree – baby steps, tiny tweaks, taking it slow and allowing time (weeks or months) before deciding to stop something or to give it more time is the only way. Of course in saying that I am expecting that things haven’t gone sideways with a tweak – in that case one has to slam on the brakes and step back as obviously something was misunderstood or misapplied. Having someone you trust looking at your swing is great. The only caveat with an external point of view (whether instructor or video) is that one still has to internalize the swing and any tweaks – thinking that if one physical part of your swing is off and all one has to do is make the direct change is a recipe for a fools errand – and the endless going in circles. What may be required to change the location of an arm in the swing may have nothing to do with the arms. Hence the reason for drills – to encourage change in a better direction without trying to force it immediately via thoughts.

  6. CB

    Jul 25, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Excellent piece. This is why I enjoy visiting the instructor that I see. He takes what i bring to the table and incorporates ideas/mechanics/thoughts to make what I have better. His whole goal was to get me to the best impact position that my middle age amateur ability could. With his guidance, I went from a bogey golfer to shooting in the 70s with ease (with a personal best of 74). I see him once or twice a year for checkups.

    • acemandrake

      Jul 25, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      Your experience confirms what I believe works best for learning this game. I’m a combination of formal instruction and self-learning while still young and able to practice a lot.

      If asked, I tell anyone to find an instructor they like, work with them, and ignore all other golf swing info from other sources (web, Golf Channel, golf magazines).

      “Happy with ball flight & a swing that repeats” may be all that most golfers need.

      BTW, nice playing, CB!

  7. AceW7Iron

    Jul 25, 2017 at 7:50 am

    It surely comes down to each individual and finding a swing that fits their body and abilities. The internet can certainly hurt some seekers but it can also help some tremendously. I recently started slumping (9 hc) after weeks of really good ball striking. I didnt feel like I changed a thing but all of the sudden I could only pull hook a ball…period. After about 4 rounds I was so frustrated it seemed taking 3 weeks off and quitting was the best thing I could do. Then I started searching for videos on how to hit a fade…No, I didn’t really find the magic bullet there in plain sight but hidden among all the hours of youtube video I found a gem called the “Coat Hanger Drill”. I figured what did I have to lose by going to the closet and swinging a few times in the living room with a coat hanger. Turns out the sensation was immediately different than the way I was swinging and I knew I had to stay more connected with the club handle & my wrist. My 1st drive after that was really a slice…my eyes lit up…I can tame a slice. My next drive split the fairway and my approach shot covered the pin. I was back and all because I had a great tool at my fingertips that I didnt have to leave my home to use.

    • dennis clark

      Jul 25, 2017 at 9:09 am

      No doubt it can be a huge help, I like to think some of the things I’ve written have helped folks but the secret is knowing which tip to employ. Thx

      • dapadre

        Jul 26, 2017 at 7:39 am

        Yes you have most certainly sir. Your look on golf is so insightful and I always look forward to your write ups. I actually print some out for later references. My favorite was where you spoke about how your grip has to match your swing dynamics, GOLDEN!

    • dapadre

      Jul 25, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Totally agree. Hence Im just love that Speith is doing so well, why? If we never heard of him and saw his swing, I can guarantee you that there would be comments on how bad it was ( ie his chicken wing and that crazy grip where the v’s dont even align) but it works for him. As its been said its all about the impact. Look at greats like Nicklaus on the backswing his club is actually vertical. I read a book recently that changed my whole look on golf, The L.A.W.S. of the Golfswing by Mike Adams. In short he states and I agree totally, that since we are all different builds and flexibility etc, its impossible to try and teach ONE way to swing. Since reading the book ive dropped strokes and my impact is more solid then ever. Im a club longer and my carry distances on my drives have gone up 20 yards. Since I have stopped fighting my natural swing and have adopted that which suits my body, ive only seen progress.

      • dennis clark

        Jul 25, 2017 at 9:27 am

        Yes if we put a wig on Jordan and some baggy jeans, everyone would be finding fault. IMPACT!

        • Double Mocha Man

          Jul 25, 2017 at 10:05 am

          … and take away his shiny Titleist clubs… and remove his caddy. Those are givaways. 🙂

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Instruction

Champ or choker? 5 ways to keep from being the latter

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Golf can be a lonely game. Rarely in sports are you more on an island while battling fears, doubts, and inner demons in the effort not to choke — especially on the biggest stages. But even if we’ve never been a champ, or played in a major championship, we’ve all been there, battling those same demons, and that’s why most of us can relate so well with some of golf’s most infamous chokes.

The pinnacle of these ignoble events was likely on the final hole at Carnoustie, in the ‘99 British Open, when Jean Van de Velde gave up a three-shot lead in a tragic comedy of bad shots (and even worse judgment), a scene that saw him take off his shoes and socks and wade deep into the Barry Burn before finally coming to his senses. Van de Velde ultimately lost in a playoff to Paul Lawrie, earning his place in golfing infamy, but when it comes to choking away victory on the biggest stage, he certainly wasn’t alone.

In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper on the final nine holes. Ed Sneed blew a five-shot lead on the final day of the ’79 Masters that was a three-shot lead with three to play by missing very short putts on each of the last three holes. Greg Norman’s infamous collapse at the 1996 Masters should be counted as well, when he threw away a six-shot lead with an atrocious 78 on the final day, allowing Nick Faldo to win.

And the champions of this generation haven’t proven immune either. Rory McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta in the 2011 Masters, ultimately carding an 80. And Dustin Johnson has a hat trick of tight-collar escapades in majors, losing the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by shooting a final-round 78 after starting with a three-shot lead, and the 2010 PGA by committing a rules violation when he had the lead on the final hole, and the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth when he three-putted the final hole from just 15 feet. And speaking of Spieth, his final round collapse at Amen Corner on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, when he gave up a five-shot lead by going bogey-bogey-quadruple-bogey after putting two balls in the water at the dreaded 12th, is how that year’s event will forever be remembered.

Now golfers aren’t alone when it comes to choking. Athletes in nearly every sport fear it, suffer from it, and work their entire careers to avoid being associated with it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that a large percentage of athletes would rather be known as a cheat, a thief, and a liar before being known as a choker. Our sports culture reveres the clutch athlete, the player who can handle the biggest moments on the biggest stage and rise to the occasion time and again. And possibly because most of us can’t, we look up to those who can handle those pressure-packed situations like almost no other. And we cast aspersions upon those who can’t, labeling some who’ve done it even once as chokers, and those who have a habit of self-sabotage as choke artists. We are fascinated by those who can succeed in the spotlight, and, as sports fans, frustrated by those who wither when the lights are brightest. And the awareness of this is so pervasive that avoiding having to wear the choker label can arguably be in and of itself the greatest pressure.

As a result of this preoccupation with choking, scientists have studied it quite a bit. And some are finally beginning to identify its causes and how to avoid it. And while it sounds like a gross oversimplification, much of this study seems to conclude that choking ultimately comes down to simply this… Thinking too much. When athletes get nervous about their performance they stop doing whatever it is they do instinctively and essentially fall into the trap of trying not to make mistakes. They begin to desperately try and control whatever the necessary motions they need to make to a higher degree than normal and, in the process, the fluidity of those motions is lost along with their grace and talent.

Now that’s a layman’s description of what happens, but let’s use putting to explain what’s going on a little more scientifically. When people first learn to putt, they have numerous things to consider. They need to assess the break of the green, what line they will use, and at what speed they will need to roll the ball in order for it follow their intended path. They must also ensure their stroke is not only straight enough to send the ball upon the intended line, but the right size so that it rolls it at the intended speed. For a new golfer, this is more than challenging enough to require the majority of their focus and attention, and at first this necessary. By focusing on their stroke mechanics, as well as the other necessary elements they are trying accomplish, they can avoid mistakes and make better putts.

Once they’ve played for a while, though, and possess the requisite skill to putt, everything changes. Analyzing the stroke at this point is wasted mental energy as the brain almost automatically computes the necessary break and speed needed for a successful putt. Complex learned motor skills like putting are controlled by the cerebellum, and trying to consciously control these skills shifts control to the slower, more deliberate prefrontal cortex, causing a performance drop. If you look at the brain waves of athletes during performance, those of beginners tend to have erratic dips and spikes as well as wildly inconsistent rhythm, the neural signature of a mind engaging in conscious thought. By contrast, expert athletes’ minds look almost eerily serene, showcasing a mental tranquility that ignores disruption or interruption from the outside world, highlighting the fact that in optimal performance those who succeed essentially don’t think, they just do.

This is why studies show that experienced golfers who are forced to think about technique hit significantly worse shots. Once our technique is embedded we instead want to rely on the automatic brain. Conscious thought essentially erases years of practice, and this is what often happens when athletes start to choke. They begin to second-guess their skill, and the part of the brain that monitors their behavior begins to interfere with the types of actions that are normally made without thinking. Before long, performance spirals, as failures mount and increasing doubt about the ability to perform begin to rise.

So why are golfers so much more apt to choke than other athletes? Well, unlike most reactionary sports, we’ve unfortunately got a lot of available time to engage in all that unnecessary thinking. This means we have a proverbial minefield of potential mind-traps out there waiting for us to step on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take cues from the available research, we can devise habits, routines, and strategies to help short-circuit the choking phenomenon, and potentially avoid becoming another Van de Velde the next time the chips are down.

  1. Practice Desired Outcome Focus – It’s essentially impossible (and a bad habit) to try and not do something. Telling yourself not to hit it left in the hazard, or to stay away from the bunker right is a really bad idea, and there are studies backing that up. Shift your focus instead to what your desired outcome is.
  2. Practice Positive Visualization – Positive visualization is a great tactic to use to avoid choking. Get in the habit of mentally rehearsing a positive image of the skill you want to perform, or better yet, a successful image of the shot you want to make like a high fade towards the tallest pine at the corner of the dogleg.
  3. Practice Implicit Learning – This is learning through observation, rather than the step-by-step instruction manual approach, and its practitioners have been observed in studies to be much less susceptible to choking than their overly analytical counterparts.
  4. Practice a Pre-Shot Routine – Players who have a disciplined performance routine that allows them to become engrossed in the process, shifting their mind away from too much outcome thinking, have also proven to be much less susceptible to choking.
  5. Embrace Distraction – Athletes asked to listen to sounds or words unrelated to the actions they are performing rarely show the type of drop-off in performance in high pressure situations than those who are actually focused on what they are doing. So, next time listen close to all those birds chirping, partners yakking, or clubs jangling with a welcoming ear, instead of an instinctive complaint.

While these practices can really help you start understanding what to do if you want to become an actual champ, learning a few lessons from the foibles of some of those would-be champs can be helpful as well. When Palmer melted down in ’66, it was because he got over-confident and began firing at pins in an attempt to break Ben Hogan’s Open scoring record. As things started to unravel, though, he got tight, surly, and uncharacteristically dour in the effort to get things under control.

When Norman’s bid for his first green jacket began to fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit, he too got tight, making one uncharacteristically poor decision (and swing) after another in attempt to get things under control. When Rory McIlroy collapsed, he approached the entire day of the final round differently then he did typically, thinking he needed to be more serious and stoic in his quest to nail down his first ever major and it backfired.

And for Van de Velde, the succession of agonizingly poor decisions, beginning essentially on the 18th tee of the final hole, was actually his attempt to not do anything different when common sense dictated he should have. When asked about it in an interview fifteen years later he said,

“What do you want me to say? I should have played it differently? I believe that…with what I do and the way that I do it, day in, day out… that I played it correctly. I hope that people learned that it’s a game and there’s bigger things in life. Winning with grace is pretty easy. Losing with it is a lot harder.”

Quite a profound statement form someone nearly unequally qualified in the game to make it. Bravo Jean. You may not have ended up a champ, but you certainly won’t find me calling you a choker.

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WATCH: How slow-motion training can lead to more power and consistency

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Eddie Fernandes has made big changes to his swing (and his power and consistency have gone up) by mastering the key moves in slow motion before he speeds them up. Everyone should use this kind of slow motion training to make real changes to their swing!

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WATCH: What you really need to know to control the direction of your shots

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In this video, Top-100 Teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to better control the direction of your shots by understanding how both the club face and swing path determine where your ball goes.

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