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Golf Training Aids: Do They Ever Actually Work?

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Swing gadgets and training aids have been around in some form or another since… forever, I suppose. Some are really good, while others are really bad. Some serve a specific problem and some are more universal in their intent. Do they work? It’s a fair question.

If I had to choose the one thing that has amazed me more thing else over the years, it’s how ingenious and creative golfers are. Golfers are really adept at finding the golf ball. By hook or crook, if they play enough, they will find a way to put the club on the ball. This is a skill called “proprioception,” and it also plays a huge part in the inconsistency of golfers and their related inability to score better.

Here’s why: A compensatory move in the downswing that corrects a faulty position in the backswing is ingenious… but also costly. When the golf club gets to the top of the swing out of position, golfers — especially those who play often — will adjust the club coming down to find a way (any way) to get the golf club on the golf ball. This happens at all levels, of course, including the top players in the world.

Let’s consider some swing positions that have to be re-routed in the downswing:

  • A golf club that is “laid off” at the top of the swing is effectively outside the hands. It has to be brought back into line to avoid shanking and hitting the heel.
  •  A golf club that is across the line at the top is effectively inside the hands, and it has to be brought back into line to avoid hitting off the toe.
  • A golf clubface that is wide open at the top of the swing has to be closed coming into impact.
  • A golf clubface that is too closed at the top of the swing has to be opened on the way down to square it.

And in transition…

  • A golf club that starts down too steeply has to be flattened to get it into a better incline to come down into the golf ball.
  • A hand path that goes out to start the downswing requires a fall back inside to get the bottom of the arc to the ball.
  • A hand path that is vertical or tight coming down requires a club head that is swinging more out than down to avoid hitting the toe.

Swing trainers are designed for a specific purpose often miss the cause of the swing flaw and attempt to re-train the fault itself. Consider the example of getting way ahead of the ball. Most of the time, golfers who run ahead of the ball do so because they release the club far too early. The movement ahead is to avoid hitting the ground behind the ball. Well, if you find a device that helps you stay behind the ball better and you still release too early, guess what happens? Fat shots, of course. Conversely, if you find a device that helps you hold the angle a little longer and you continue to run ahead of it… well, you guessed it. Skulls and late tops.

Another: Let’s say you find a device that helps you get off the rear foot into impact. It’s one designed to help you get “through the ball” better. Well, if you were “hanging back” because the golf club is coming down far too steeply and you simply improve the “turn-through” motion, you will hit the ball fat, late, and sometimes shank it. Why? Because the steep transition was not corrected. So you’re off your back foot, that’s alright, but if your club face is wide open and you’re steep into impact, you’ll likely also be really late. That means a lot of thin shots and some shanks.

And Another: You find a device that helps you stop coming over the top, and you’re able to get the club more inside coming down. Great… but a lot of over-the-toppers shift their weight to the back foot in order to get the bottom of the swing arc near the ball. In fact, many single-digit handicaps have this move! You see, if you’re over the top, you’re moving the bottom of the arc forward. Many more experienced golfers feel this, and instinctively they shift their weight back to get the golf club to bottom out a little earlier.

See the point?

If the root cause of your swing issue is not corrected, the device that’s designed to correct the reaction is not enough. The bottom line is you have to correct the core swing issue to eventually avoid the reaction. Work with an instructor to help you identify the root cause and go from there.

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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

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. anthony aguilar

    Oct 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    A great training club will instantly give you correct feel and feedback every time you use it. A great training aid will show your flaws and showing you make a pure stroke.It will give you great Rhythm and timing so you can repeat itself and shoot your lowest score ever. Putting alone is almost half your score! see flexputter.com

  2. Dennis clark

    Sep 27, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Moguls , simple mounds of dirt are some of the very best training aids one can use. And there is always one available.

  3. chinchbugs

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:22 am

    I gave this a like and didn’t even read it purely based on the excellent photo choice used for the cover. Well done!

  4. larrybud

    Sep 27, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Absolutely spot on, and I was a training aid collector (some bought, some home built) before I understood that if you don’t fix the root cause, you’ll just revert back to your old habits.

    So to those training aids which “force” your body into a certain position, those don’t work. But I have had aids, such as a putting mirror, which gives me feedback which I then fix myself (such as poor shoulder alignment at setup), which lasts a long time. To expand on that:

    My problem was I would cut across the ball. I tried a device which would control the path of my putter, and it worked when I used the device. But take me off of it, and in 4 or 5 strokes I would revert back. Why? Because I didn’t fix the root cause of the issue, which was poor shoulder alignment. The device was just artificially creating the proper path of the putter rather than fixing why that putter had a bad path to begin with.

    • Gearhead

      Sep 27, 2017 at 11:25 am

      The root cause is that you’re human, and just not very good at the game, no matter what you try. lol

      • LD

        Sep 27, 2017 at 12:22 pm

        Your first sentence was spot-on, and then you had to needlessly throw in an insult.

        • Gearhead

          Sep 28, 2017 at 3:05 am

          Idiot, it’s human to thrown in insults. Where would we be without it

  5. OB

    Sep 26, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Before you can utilize any golf training aid that attempts to help you hit the ball you must first prepare your body with general conditioning. If your body is not properly conditioned any sport-specific training aid will not work… plain and simple.
    Golfers want to cheat and go directly into sport-specific training and avoid general conditioning which takes a lot of time and consistent effort for physical preparation. Golfers who want to believe some training contraption will fix their swing are gullible. They buy the gizmo, try it a few times and then run to the golf course/range to see what will happen. Squat happens because their body is not conditioned for proprioceptive activity. IOW, they are too decrepit to swing consistently after training with these gizmos.

  6. Caroline

    Sep 26, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    do they work, yes they do, for the better not always…I played to a 11 15 years ago playing from a open stance and hitting every club with a little fade…then on vacation I saw an add for a “swing Magic club”, did it work, well yes and no after practicing with it at home for hours because it just felt neat I went out for my first round with this neat feeling I had gained…first shot a nine iron on a short par 3, first hook I had seen in years, right out of bounds…ok no more open stance, second 9 iron hooked right out of bounds…finished the day loosing 8 golf balls where I never loose any…15 years later still cannot find that fade I had and cannot get down from a 16…..

  7. HeineyLite

    Sep 26, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    When used for feedback and working slowly on your swing…

  8. JE

    Sep 26, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Do you have a golf watch?

  9. WFWP

    Sep 26, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Hello Dennis,
    Your reasoning for the limited application of swing aids can be applied to swing drills, too. Drills and swing aids need to be used with understanding and technique to create positive changes. There are many skills to develop to produce a reliable swing. Calling “proprioception” a skill is a stretch since it is simplification of the bodies dynamic mental and physical system of coordinating movement (https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2008/proprioception-the-3-d-map-of-the-body, retrieved 2017). Developing awareness of the movement of the hands arms, torso, core, feet and legs are skills, which improve proprioception. In my opinion, having awareness of the clubhead (14 clubs) in golf is the challenge for the proprioceptive system as the club is an external component. I agree: equilibrium, safety and pain avoidance create adaptive moves in golf as well as other sports activities, so seeking guidance from a skilled individual is important to obtaining safety, efficiency and performance potential. However, certain swing aids and drills have wide reaching benefits and have stood the test of time.
    Jon

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 26, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      No question Jon; some training aids are very effective and work across a wide spectrum. Particularly those that assist in getting to the player to the top of the swing effectively. In my experience compensating moves are the result of a poor club face, poor plane or direction or a misdirected center of pressure. The training aids that help us to the top are great for reducing the amount of compensation coming down. Golfer are VERY creative, VERY creative in avoiding the horrible shot! Thx for reading…

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: The 2018 Open Championship

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The 147th Open Championship gets underway this week as 156 players launch their quest to capture the Claret Jug. The oldest and for many, most prestigious event returns to Scotland, where Carnoustie will host the tournament for the eighth time in its history.

The last time Carnoustie hosted The Open was 10 years ago when Padraig Harrington finished tied with Sergio Garcia at 7-under par after 72 holes. Harrington went on to outlast Garcia in a dramatic playoff to capture his first of two-straight Open Championships.

The weather is expected to be kind this year and the rough will less penal than it was in 2007, which should offer more birdies than it did in 2007. Carnoustie will measure just over 7,400 yards. With the course playing fast and firm, however, distance is not going to be an issue.

Strategy will be vitally important, and we’ve heard that players will be able to lay up on some of the holes by taking short irons off the tee. The likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy have all stated that they will be taking driver off the tee to eliminate many of the pot bunkers on the course. The reason for this comes down to the fact that the rough is playable this year, which allows for attacking golf. As with any Open Championship, players will need to have every single part of their game in shape for the difficult challenge that links golf always provides.

Last year, Jordan Spieth won the Claret Jug by playing his final five holes in 5-under to post 12-under and beat runner-up Matt Kuchar by three strokes.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 12/1
  • Justin Rose 16/1
  • Rickie Fowler 18/1
  • Rory McIlroy 18/1
  • Jon Rahm 20/1
  • Jordan Spieth 20/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 22/1

Considerably cheaper in salary than both Spieth and Mcilroy, and only marginally more expensive than Fowler, Jon Rahm (20/1, DK Price $9,800) looks to offer excellent value this week at the top of the board. The Spaniard has shown he can play links golf very well, as he once again performed excellently in Ireland, posting a top-5 finish two weeks ago. Rahm now turns his attention to Carnoustie where he’ll be gunning for his first major championship victory.

Rahm comes into this event with a clear strategy. He’s going to play as aggressive as always and hit driver off the tee at every opportunity. Rahm believes the course layout and conditions will suit his explosive game. When you listen to his assessment of Carnoustie this year, it’s difficult to disagree with him. Speaking to the media this week, Rahm said:

“If you hit a good one with a driver, you’re going to have nothing to the green. If you hit the rough this year, it’s not as thick as other years. You actually get a lot of good lies, so you can still hit the green with confidence.”

With playable rough, Rahm should feel every bit as confident as he sounds about his chances this week, as the only thing that prevented him from winning in Ireland was the odd blow-up hole. But with his power allowing him to take the pot bunkers almost entirely out of play, combined with light rough, Carnoustie should be an excellent fit for him. Rahm’s experience in contention at Augusta earlier in the year should put him in good shape mentally as he attempts to win his first major championship, and if he can keep his volatile temperament in check, then Rahm has every chance of claiming the Claret Jug.

From the middle of the range prices this week, Francesco Molinari (33/1, DK Price $8,600) may be the safest man to add to your lineups. The Italian has been in imperious form lately, winning twice and finishing runner-up twice in his last five events. Molinari leads the field in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his previous 24 rounds and sits third in ball striking over the same period.

Molinari’s Open Championship record has been solid, making the cut in five of his last six appearances at this event. His best finish at this event is a T9 back in 2013 at Muirfield, where the conditions were also dry. Molinari enters this event in the form of his life, and the way he is hitting the ball right now, he looks primed for his best Open Championship performance yet.

A links specialist, Marc Leishman (50/1, DK Price $8,000) has performed excellently at this event in recent years. Leishman has recorded three top-10 finishes at the Open Championship in his last four appearances, and he looks reasonably priced to go well once again this week. An excellent wind player, Leishman will relish any wind that may descend on Carnoustie. With him being so adept at playing links golf, taking an expert at $8,000 seems a prudent play.

Leishman’s immediate form hasn’t been spectacular, but he has made five cuts from his last six events, including a runner-up finish at the Byron Nelson where he shot a brilliant 61 in the opening round. The Australian finished T13 at his previous outing at the Quicken Loans National, which shows his game is in solid shape. With his expertise on links courses, Leishman may well be able to conquer Carnoustie and finally get his hands on the Claret Jug.

Emiliano Grillo (200/1, DK Price $6,800) is undervalued this week. On DraftKings, with the books, everywhere. Grillo has been playing terrific golf lately, and Carnoustie should suit the Argentine’s clinical ball striking. Over his previous 24 rounds, Grillo sits 15th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, fifth in Strokes Gained-Putting, 17th in ball striking and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. Grillo has three top-25 finishes in his last four events, and he has shown he can produce his best golf at this event in the past, finishing T12 at Royal Troon back in 2016. At 200/1 and $6,800 on DraftKings, Emiliano Grillo looks the value play of the week.

Recommended Plays

  • Jon Rahm 20/1, DK Price $9,800
  • Francesco Molinari 33/1, DK Price $8,600
  • Marc Leishman 50/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Emiliano Grillo 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

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

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