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Clark: The Mind That Created Your Swing Issues Cannot Correct Them

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There is a plethora, maybe an overabundance, of golf information available online these days. While some of this information can be extremely useful, it can also be a source of confusion and may, unwittingly, lead a golfer down the wrong path. Here are a few things one might consider when searching for online help.

Golf forums have, to a large extent, become platforms for discussing the golf swing. One author or teacher suggests a system; another believes and teaches something quite different. Even when they are in agreement with how to produce a better result (impact), they are at odds on how to get there. And herein lies the source of confusion for the reader. It is often the interpretation of the suggestion that leads to the confusion.

In most cases, a teacher’s message is all well and good, but it cannot take into account the mindset of the reader because the teacher has never met the golfer or seen the golfer’s swing. It’s also important to keep in mind that the lens through which a tip is seen is vastly different for every single reader. I know this because I ask my students regularly this very question: Did you watch so and so on the XYZ channel last night? What did you get out of that segment? The answers vary so greatly one might think they watched completely different programs.

Dennis_Clark_Mind_Full

The swing issues my students confront are a result of the mind that created them, and the mind that created them cannot correct them. My lessons have more to do with changing minds than changing swings. I cannot help a student with simple swing issues by explaining the scientific principles underlying the biomechanics of them. I am far more effective when I get into their mind than their swing; I try to understand how the words I’m offering, or the swings I’m demonstrating, are being internalized or understood by the student. For example, I might ask some of the following questions:

  • Tell me what you think you are doing?
  • What are you trying to do here… and why?
  • What, in your understanding, gets the golf ball airborne?
  • How can I help you do it better?

It is more helpful to create individual opportunities to learn than to instruct how to do something. The corrections are finite, and the presentation of them is infinite. We cannot afford to allow the technical to eclipse the personal. It is critical to leave the lesson tee with a different mental image than you came with. DO NOT fake understanding if you really don’t get it  Speak up! Your teacher wants to know what you’re thinking and the perceptions you have.

Take the simple act of turning the shoulders in the backswing. The lesson begins by discovering that the player is under-turned. We all agree that this is important, but Player A might have to think one thing, while Player B something completely different to accomplish this task. The teacher’s role is helping students find the keys to unlock their personal puzzle. Learning is a mind game, and direction has to be given in very personal ways. Those ways have to be practical and enjoyable enough to continue exploring, or we usually have little to no learning. This cannot be done with generic tips to mass audiences.

That said, communicating with your individual instructor online, and sending him/her regular videos and ball flight information can be very helpful. Keep in mind, however, that there is NO substitute for live lessons. When that is not possible, this form of communicating with your personal teacher can be quite effective. It’s imperative, however, that the teacher not only understand your physical habits, but also your knowledge of the golf swing and your learning style. Without that balance, I see this kind of instruction doing harm more harm than good.

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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

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Heich

    Aug 20, 2017 at 3:03 am

    You know, according to Hypnosis Motivation, you can un-do some of the programming in the mind and correct the bad stuff and make it better

  2. Dennis Clark

    Aug 19, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    The next big frontier is learning…our job is to know a thousand ways to say a few things! I would refer all who are interested to Michael Hebron’s work.

    • Stephen Finley

      Sep 13, 2017 at 12:35 am

      Amen to that. You have to stick with it and make an effort to meet it where it is, but it’s worthwhile.

  3. Tapin

    Aug 19, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Your question was answered. Your next questions were rude and insensitive. Everyone’s game can be helped. Playing better is a noble goal. Regardless of physical ability the attempt to gain knowledge should never be discouraged.
    If you are going to nasty don’t post!

  4. Speedy

    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    24 swing components is all you need.

    • Walt

      Aug 19, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      You mean like Homer’s 24 swing components, duh?

  5. Rors

    Aug 18, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Where are the Harvey Penicks’ of today. Most golf instructors think they are engineers at NASA… Freaking ridiculous where instructors are going these days…

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 18, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      That’s the point of the article. We are learning a TON about the science and biomechanics of the golf swing, but what are we learning about HOW they learn what we are discovering? How do we present this? How do they take it all in? MY answer is: as simply as possible. If I cant put what I need to say on the head of a pin, it ain’t worth saying. Thx

      • Rors

        Aug 18, 2017 at 7:50 pm

        Thanks for the retort, really enjoy your point of views. Plus you don’t get your underwear in a knot when someone comments… Thanks DC

      • Walt

        Aug 19, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Call it the K.I.S.S. principle or else you lose your confused hopeful student.

    • stephenf

      Aug 31, 2017 at 1:23 am

      So true. Dissectional analysis is great for lots of words, lots of discussion, and frankly a lot of money. I’m not sure it helps many people hit it better and enjoy the game more, or be more competitive if they play tournaments. If we learned to walk down a flight of stairs the way most people try to learn to play golf, and the way a lot of teachers teach it, we’d all be walking around in casts or rolling around in wheelchairs. Think about the complexity of driving a car through traffic repeatedly, day in and day out, for a year without an accident. It’s far beyond anything that happens in golf. If we were to try to do that the way so many people learn golf and teach golf, it would endanger lives every single day.

  6. Tapin

    Aug 18, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    That can’t really be your question. How silly!

  7. Double Mocha Man

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    That diagram showing swing keys is all wrong! There are not enough. I have at least 25 more swing keys in my 1.5 seconds of the golf swing.

  8. Teacher2

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

    What do you tell a new student they are physically out of shape to swing a golf club correctly even if they practice a lot? Do you tell them the truth or do you string them along to satisfy their delusions? Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 18, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Good question and not an uncommon occurrence as you might imagine. Professionally and politely I may come around to discussing how physical conditioning plays a role in the swing. But I will say this; MOST out of shape people are very aware of their condition and almost always bring it up before I do. PHEW! The first thing any teacher has to remember is to respect the humanity of the person they are instructing. The person in front of me is far more important than anything I’m telling them!!

      • Teacher2

        Aug 19, 2017 at 12:16 am

        Why would somebody with physical problems want to come to you for instruction when they may know they are burdened with physical shortcomings?
        Desperation? Reassurance? Learning? Friendship? Or just naivete?
        Some/many shouldn’t attempt to play golf properly because they can’t make a commitment to physical conditioning.
        A good golf swing is athletic and most are not athletic. What do they want in a lesson?

        • Clark G

          Aug 19, 2017 at 3:23 pm

          I think you answered your own questions: all of the above.

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 19, 2017 at 7:54 pm

          I think they want a little hope, maybe some direction to see if there is any little tips that may help them within their limitations. They are not looking for “good golf” per se. Short game particularly.

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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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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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PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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