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Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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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

81 Comments

81 Comments

  1. OB

    Dec 18, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    There is no quick fix for the dynamic part of the golfswing because conscious attempts to adjust and compensate within one second of time is problematic for your non-conscious part of the golfswing.
    You might experience a quick fix in the static part of your swing address or stance providing it doesn’t upset the rest of your swing mechanics. Even that is risky.
    ———–
    No golf tip… no quick fix… no new clubs… only learning and practice for 90 days minimum … believe it.

  2. Dennis

    Dec 18, 2017 at 3:48 am

    I’m trying to cure my sudden hooks or sudden slices for years. I had a lot of training sessions and six different teaching pros. Some told me my grip is wrong, some told me my grip is just fine. One told me there is too much weight shifting, another one wanted me to shift more weight. I do not rotate enough, my downswing starts to early, I’m coming over my shoulder, I’m swinging outside in, I’m swinging inside out, I’m to step, I’m to flat and so on…

    It took me over a 1,5 years and a lot of videotaping myself to discover, that I’m making not every day the same mistakes: Some days I come from the outside, some days I’m on plane and some times I’m coming too much from the inside. And in addition to that my club face is too close or too open.

    One coach gave me the drill to hit pushes and pulls at the range in order to get a feeling for the plane and face direction. Now I can play a heavy push or heavy pull – no problem. But I’m still struggling with Pull/Push Hooks & Pull/Push Slices when I’m trying to shot straight.

    There was this other coach who always said, my main problem is, that I don’t finish my backswing and I got to much weight shifting. He send me on a hill at the range to train uphill shots and suddenly all shots where straight. But only when I’m standing uphill.

    A few months later I got back to him and he told me, that I did not improve at all. We had another session at one of those days where I’m coming only from the outside. Suddenly he told me to make a small move at the end of my backswing and voila: my plane was between 4 and 8 degrees from the inside: Heavy Push Hooks. So he corrected my grip to a very neutral position and there was the draw. For the next two weeks I was every day on the range to practice, sometimes twice a day and it finally I got a feeling for the new move at the end of my backswing and the new grip: My ball flight was always starting to the right and curving to the left. Sometimes a perfect draw, most times a hook.

    But then there was this party where I drank too much beer and the day after the feeling for the new swing was gone. So I had to start all over.

    What I’m trying to say: Unless you can afford your personal golf coach, you have to be your own coach. A training lesson could help you either a lot or nothing at all. To understand what your are doing wrong doesn’t help, if you get no cure for it. And there must be a system after the training lesson to ensure you’re practicing the wright way. It would help a lot, do have a video system with instant replays at the range. Or the teaching pro taking a look at you at range occasionally.

    And also: Don’t drink & practice 😉

    • OB

      Dec 18, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      Your problem is you are attempting to consciously apply a swing fix… and then something else goes haywire within your non-conscious swing mechanics because your brain gets confused at the non-conscious level. Do you understand?
      If you are attempting to make a conscious change to your swing mechanics you must practice that change, and not on the golf course, for at least 90 days before that fix is permanent in your non-conscious mind and everything flows automatically.
      You must actually grow into the change at the neural level as explained by others on this topic thread. If you try to mix conscious and non-conscious performance you will continuously fail, as you have informed us. Good luck if you continue on your failure path.

    • Ian B

      Feb 12, 2018 at 3:53 pm

      Or you could use one of the many swing trainers on your club and linked to phone. Which would have been cheaper than those lessons ;-).
      That combined with videos would result in steady repeatable swing.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Dec 17, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Thx to all for your comments. As for my replies, any LOLs were made in response to the those who offered humorous criticism of the sarcastic comments. I will always answer a comment, regardless if it is critical or not, as I always have, as LONG AS THE COMMENTS WERE COURTEOUS. There are ways to conduct a civil dialogue even for differing opinions. To all the professionals who responded, thank you for your support and empathy. I write this blog to offer help to those who seek it. My experiences over many years on the lesson tee have demonstrated patterns that I try to point out, so that they may offer guidance to others. Thx again

    • FaQ

      Dec 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      Bloody excuses like these are what makes students stay away from you like the plague as you clearly don’t have the answers to help people’s golf swings

      • Dennis Clark

        Dec 19, 2017 at 8:45 am

        I have a two week wait in my lesson book and have had for many years. FAR more business than I can handle; I have take at least two dozen kids from juniors to college scholarships. and on and on…

  4. Todd Dugan

    Dec 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Spot on, Dennis. I could write a book about about my thoughts and experiences on this topic as a golf instructor. But let me offer just one suggestion;
    For teachers: Offer a money-back guarantee.
    For students: Bring a notebook.

    • OB

      Dec 17, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      Guarantee? Only if the student makes a long term commitment to lessons and practice.
      Notebook? The only things the student brings to a lesson is their golf clubs.
      Please explain what a ‘guarantee’ and a ‘notebook’ will achieve in your opinion as a golf instructor!

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      Thx Todd…I have the money back guarantee in place right now. The notebook works well too. Thx for reading and comment. Best,

      • OB

        Dec 18, 2017 at 7:01 pm

        What conditions apply for your “money back guarantee”? Thanks.

  5. Matt Schulze

    Dec 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    I think you’re overanalyzing this. There’s a much simpler explanation: your students are idiots.

    • OB

      Dec 16, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      … and a simple comment by a simpleton …. lol

      • Matt Schulze

        Dec 17, 2017 at 12:12 am

        Care to comment on why my analysis is incorrect?

        I mean, the examples given couldn’t even remember what he’d said to them after a month or two. A dog has better recall than that.

        • OB

          Dec 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm

          Your comment is not an ‘analysis’; it’s a just a dumb twitter blurt with no substance other than insult.
          Your followup comment is equally dumb and those who can’t remember what is taught to them are dumb too. You are claiming that ignorance is your excuse for not learning. Perhaps you are revealing your own shortcomings.

          • Matt Schulze

            Dec 17, 2017 at 3:50 pm

            I don’t think I ever referred to myself (or my own learning capacity) in my post at all, so not sure where you extrapolated that from. Also I don’t use Twitter, or any other social media – good call on that one, too.

            The whole premise of the article is sound – that people should really strive to understand the “why” rather than just the “how”- but it applies to everything, so there’s nothing particularly original there.

            You still haven’t addressed how either of the students weren’t dumber than a bag of hammers for not remembering what they paid somebody to tell them.

  6. Nack Jicklaus

    Dec 16, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Looks like a lot of people commenting did not read or understand the article…

  7. OB

    Dec 16, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Dennis… thank you for responding so openly and forthrightly to the many comments on this topic thread. You didn’t cut and run.
    The fact that you took the time to respond to most comments is a credit to your professionalism. If I was close by I would most certainly take a lesson(s) with you with full confidence. Thank you again.

    • mM

      Dec 16, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      Nah. He definitely did not cut and run, but he’s laughing at some serious comments at which he shouldn’t, but as classless as Dennis and his cohorts are, all they can do is lash out and prove to the world they’re not good teachers

      • OB

        Dec 17, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        “… some serious comments…”? Where are these comments; be specific in your asinine accusations? Your emotional feeelings are worthless on this fine public forum provided for us by the good folks at GolfWRX.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 17, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Thx for reading.

  8. Joro

    Dec 16, 2017 at 10:41 am

    When I was Teaching over a 40yr. period I know that 90% if what most people were taught went ZIPPOOO right over their Head, Why? because they weren’t really focused about what you are telling them but thinking other thoughts and hearing but not absorbing. I is a difficult job because what they do reflects on you and your reputation as a teacher when you are giving them great info. but they are not learning. I had a guy who came every Wed. for a lesson and we would spend the first 15 mins. going over how to hit the Ball, again, and then try to advance, but it was impossible because he did nothing to help himself so every Wed. was a repeat. His playing Pals were alway asking me why and saying it was what I was doing to his game, not he was doing.

    So I got a Camera when it came into vogue and started taping the lesson. I had a nice Canon Video mounted on a cart with a small TV so I could show the student right away what was going on and taped the lesson and had them take it with them and watch it when they started having problems. I got more positive feedback from those that did that than I could believe, others didn’t care and continued to fail. It has been 5 years since I retired and still have people tell me they still look at the Tapes and remember my suggestions. It was a good way to go, although many pay no attention, the ones that do can fix themselves. I never could figure out why a person would spend good money for a lesson they pay no attention too.

    • OB

      Dec 16, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      Most who play at golf are either clowns or dementia-ridden. Only a small percentage of golfers can break 100 and avoid slicing too. As long as they pay the green fees …..

  9. SV

    Dec 16, 2017 at 9:22 am

    A very good article. I keep a small notebook in my golf bag that I keep lesson and practice notes in. After a lesson I write down what the instructor told me along with any clarifications. The next time the (*#@^) shots show up I at least have a reference, starting point, for correcting it. The note may not provide the solution this time, but it is better than being clueless.

  10. Bob Castelline

    Dec 16, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Lessons don’t work for everyone, but it’s inappropriate to say that lessons never work for anyone. Just because one person can’t grasp what’s being taught, or doesn’t practice, or doesn’t practice properly, or can’t find a good teacher — doesn’t make it impossible. For me, it took finding the right teacher. The other teachers were good, but I wasn’t grasping what they were teaching me. Once I found the right teacher, my game moved past the plateau I’d been stuck at for years — but only after an entire season of work on my part. Lessons aren’t a magic bullet, and they aren’t supposed to be a quick fix. They’re simply a starting point. It’s up to each individual player to actually get better.

    • dennis Clark

      Dec 16, 2017 at 9:56 am

      It does not say “lessons don not help anyone”. It says they DO help if you participate. If I thought lessons helped no one I’d have given this job up 30 years ago. I simply try to get my students in a learning mode, not a “How to” mode. Thx

      • Bob Castelline

        Dec 16, 2017 at 5:20 pm

        Dennis, I was supporting your points, not arguing them. Sorry I wasn’t more clear about that. I was speaking in response to what others were saying about your article, not anything you wrote in your article. We, the students, must have a stake in this. Your job is to teach us. Our job is to WORK at what you teach. That’s the only way we improve. We’ve got to have a heavy investment, not just expect magic from our teachers.

  11. dennis Clark

    Dec 16, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Long Term is relative; Right now I teach in an area where many folks are wary of buying green So is practice time. And relaxing time. And reading time etc… Many of us are closer to the 18th green than the first tee. As I approach 70 years, I wonder sometimes how many good drives and 7-irons are left. So I ENJOY the ones that I occasionally hit now.

  12. Dan Jones, PGA

    Dec 15, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    What Dennis said is exactly correct. As an instructor myself I have been through exactly what he explained. Students often expect instant results, and won’t practice what they have been taught, neither of which is realistic if you want to improve. Most of us golf instructors truly want you to succeed after you take a lesson, granted there are a few that just want you to keep coming back every week for the money, but the majority I know want their students to improve.

    Now, here is the science behind improvement.

    We learn motor movement through repetitive practice. There is no such thing as muscle memory per se, all muscle action comes from the brain except for “some” reflex actions to keep you from danger, some of those are processed in the spinal cord. As we repeat movements the brain builds new neurons, and with repetition the Myelin Sheath around those neurons becomes bigger and bigger, and this helps electrical conductivity within that neuron. If you practice a new movement everyday, in about 2-3 weeks the newly developed neuron will have gained enough myelin to over ride the previous neurons responsible for your old motor movement, and you won’t have to think about the movement very much to improve. Here is the kicker folks, in order to improve and develop that new neuron, you have to think about, and practice, new movements in order to create those new neurons. I was lucky enough to date a gal for a year and a half who was a leading researcher in this field, and I have two degrees in exercise science myself. Interestingly enough, in the PGA’s new certification program for coaching and teaching, they cover this material. I had about a 15 year head start on it. By the way, not all PGA Professionals have this certification for teaching, only a handful of us do. Being PGA does not mean certified, that is extra training the PGA offers its members. That said, we do learn a lot about teaching in order to become a PGA member, so you are way ahead of the game looking for a PGA member when seeking lessons.

    Anyway….Understand this, it is important: You must PRACTICE and THINK ABOUT new movement to build the neurons that most people refer to as muscle memory. Learning it and doing it are two very different things.

    If I remember correctly, I think it was Nick Price who once stated something to the effect of, “it isn’t what I learned this morning that helped me win the tournament, it’s what I learned a few weeks ago”.

    That pretty much sums up how motor movement is learned.

    As Dennis pointed out, getting a lesson then going out and playing with your buddies and expecting to be improved is always a lesson for failure. Your best bet is to spend several days at the range practicing what you learned. If you are not one for hitting the range but want to improve, go out in the afternoon when the course isn’t crowded, preferably by yourself or with someone else working on their swing, and think about incorporating what you learned in a lesson into your shots out on the golf course.

    Bottom line, science says if you don’t build new neurons for the new movements we teach you, then you have zero chance of a lesson being successful.

    • OB

      Dec 16, 2017 at 6:34 pm

      Thank you for confirming what I posted below earlier in the day. I call it my 90 Day Rule… three months of training and practice to rebuild my body for a swing change that is nearly dependable but not guaranteed. It took Leadbetter and Faldo all of 2 years to rebuild his swing and his tour results came afterwards.
      Most who attempt to play golf are either older mature men and/or non-athletic geeks who never had to practice anything physical such as other sports and even music lessons. Most give up on their decrepit bodies and then seek help from teachers and expect verbal miracles… “what’s wrong and tell me what to do”! Most will never practice and train because they are physical/mental failures. Only a very small fraction of ‘golfers’ can break 100.

      • Ian B

        Feb 12, 2018 at 4:09 pm

        Loads of golfers can break 100. Breaking 80 is where it gets hard.
        If you are shown basics of grip, weight shift, using core, and posting on lead side you are more than half way there. If you then practice slowly and build up you will ingrain right techniques.
        If you just given a part fix it will disappear.

    • @@

      Dec 16, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      But you don’t have to be a condescending w@nker about it though, ya know?

      • OB

        Dec 17, 2017 at 1:11 pm

        … and we don’t need your twitter blurt immature feeelings, ya know?!!

        • @@

          Dec 18, 2017 at 10:24 am

          …. says the guys who says this: “Most who play at golf are either clowns or dementia-ridden”
          Tell us how you really feel, why don’t you, because you’re still not as funny as Dennis the menace here

  13. CB

    Dec 15, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    I will never a send anybody to take a lesson with you. You’re the most clueless teacher there is.

    • Potkan

      Dec 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      I had a lesson with Dennis and he is just excellent.

    • Donald

      Dec 15, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      He’s a lot better clued in than you… and your pea-brain twitter blurt confirms that too!

    • KSig

      Dec 15, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      I agree with CB. If any teacher said these things, I would stay far far away from him, as he would give me no confidence in what he says as he doesn’t nor wouldn’t have any solutions to fix my swing faults nor has any idea to.

    • Dan Jones, PGA

      Dec 16, 2017 at 12:02 am

      Maybe you are right, but without any information as to why, your comment has zero validity. Do you think he is under educated? Are you prejudiced against PGA members? Do you not like the name Dennis? Your comment leaves such an open ended question that makes the rest of us wonder why Dennis doesn’t have a clue.

      Maybe you would be so kind as to explain for us why Dennis has no clue?

      Our every breath is truly awaiting your explanation……well, not really, because you probably don’t have a clue why you made that comment.

      • Dennis Clark

        Dec 16, 2017 at 7:48 am

        LOL…

      • KSig

        Dec 16, 2017 at 10:35 am

        People are allowed to make choices. And so are you. And you obviously have made a choice to make light of the situation, that is the kind of horrible teacher you are as well. Who else would you like to add to your list?

        • Joro

          Dec 16, 2017 at 10:55 am

          SIG, Dennis is commenting on the light side. As far a teaching goes I am sure he is just fine and should not be put down by anyone who doesn’t know him. On the other hand during my hours on the Range and at other facilities I have seen many PGA Pros teaching that never should be doing any of that. They are stealing yet they are allowed to continue taking the money by the Head Pro, or Director of Instruction or whoever.

          That is sad cause it reflects on others and gives the whole place a bad rap. and it is too common.

      • @@

        Dec 16, 2017 at 8:28 pm

        Don’t worry about these condescending w@nkers, Sig. They’ll be finished before you know it, as disrespectful as they are, they’ll have it coming

  14. Dennis Clark

    Dec 15, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    The great Ben Hogan said the answer is in the dirt. All a teacher is doing is helping you find it in YOUR dirt. I cant recall the last time I gave two identical lessons. How is that even possible? Every song ever written is in the 88 keys on a piano; YA just gotta find it.

    • Donald

      Dec 15, 2017 at 10:02 pm

      Have you ever told a struggling golfer seeking your help that they should not play golf because of physical decrepitude or inability to think? Have you turned anybody down?!!

      • Dennis Clark

        Dec 16, 2017 at 8:00 am

        None that were realistic in their expectations…If the physical and mental barriers you describe are impediments to their optimal performance, we seek a FUNCTIONAL goal within their limitations. Who am I to crush hopes? The best part of having a reputation and good following is it affords one the virtue of HONESTY.

    • david

      Dec 16, 2017 at 9:38 am

      d
      Dennis just wondering if you are honest with your students and tell them that it might take over a year of practice and playing before the new swing takes hold? Perhaps 18 months. I’m guessing over 95% of the human cattle cannot accept that truth! Alas the reasons lessons help less than 5%

  15. Dennis Clark

    Dec 15, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    EVERY lesson I do gets a tape of the lesson mailed directly to the student the day of the lesson. This reminds them of what THEY DISCOVERED when they were hitting it well during the lesson I have followed this rule foe many years. The tape includes my voice, illustrations and most importantly a discussion of what we DISCOVERED during the lesson.

  16. Donald Trump Rules

    Dec 15, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Lessons are a waste. Old habits die hard. The minute you quit with the lessons, you will go back to your old swing. The best you can do is just swing your swing, play single length irons to get better consistency and practice short game.

    • Milton Gombo

      Dec 15, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      The most moronic comment ever posted on this website.
      Congratulations

    • Dan Jones, PGA

      Dec 15, 2017 at 11:19 pm

      For you they are a waste of time. You obviously are not motivated enough, or not bright enough, to use all the information available to you. If lessons don’t help you it is because you are not practicing exactly what is told to you, and most likely you are expecting instant results. It doesn’t work that way.

      Too bad for you.

      …and that other gentleman’s comment, well it is pretty much on task.

  17. Dennis Clark

    Dec 15, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Authors note: make no mistake about the point here…NOWHERE does it say golf lessons DON”T help. They do, WHEN YOU HEAR THE TEACHER AND ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE IN THE LEARNING PROCESS. As i said, the purpose of lessons is to give you something to explore, not try to memorize. Self discovery through guidance with a mentor is the ONLY LONG TERM IMPROVEMENT. I might also recommend the research of Michael Hebron, PGA Master Professional who has explored this very idea extensively. As Mike would say, it’s not HOW TO, it’s leading you to DISCOVER HOW! Thx to all for your interest

    • KSig

      Dec 15, 2017 at 10:30 pm

      You should participate on Hell’s Kitchen and see how it’s done

  18. Pat

    Dec 15, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    I agree with Jim, but I interpret his “I have to feel it” as learning to “see”. Research on experts has concluded it may take 10,000 hours to develop expertise (citation due). Hours alone aren’t enough if they’re not diverse; they’re merely 1 hour repeated 10k times. Seeing means: Can a golfer visualize, say, while stuck in traffic, a complete play, from club choice to where that ball will stop. And than change that play: what if I used a different club, what if I did this, what if….that’s seeing. There are pro pitchers known only for 1 special pitch. There are ballet dancers who can’t make the leaps that gets them diagonally across stage precisely on time. Both pros could do it–if they could just see it. Classes can teach us to see–or to copy. Much of what we learn in life is “don’t see”. If golfers believe they must be physicists to read greens, they won’t see how slope, green speed, or skipping breakfast affects their putt. They will continue believing only physicists read green surveys. It’s ok to practice off the course. See?

  19. Acemandrake

    Dec 15, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Best thing I ever did was to stop chasing “tips” and look at fundamentals.

    For me, it starts with a consistent pre-shot routine and visualization.

    But, like anything else in this game, you have to train at it. Just saying/thinking you’re going to do something does not make it permanent.

  20. Mat

    Dec 15, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    This is exactly why I don’t bother with (single) lessons anymore. The youtube video is there later, the teacher is not. I’d rather pay for instructional material most of the time, rather than instruction. Most pros don’t go through adult learning theory, and that’s why 90% of lessons are garbage. They are correction sessions, just as stated here.

    If you aren’t going to have a 15-session sequence twice a week for 2 months, you’re just getting tips. When people say “go get A (single) lesson”, they are bound to fail. And that’s why lessons are tossed around as if they’re $50, but in reality, getting better costs thousands, and the luck of having a good coach readily available.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 15, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      I disagree about the 90% garbage assessment, but the point of my article is that golf lessons are there to help. But they have to be a two-way street. You have to be active in the participation, and be truthful with yourself and your teacher. Many golfers are not completely honest with themselves, and are afraid to admit their lack of understanding or the concepts with the teacher. Thx for reading

    • Dan Jones, PGA

      Dec 16, 2017 at 12:40 am

      Mat – I actually do agree with you to somewhat about learning theory and its place in golf lessons. I have met many pros who really have no business giving lessons. The world needs business men too. The PGA does cover it a little bit as we go through their school, and to a significant degree in their Certification 2.0 program. That said, I agree it is something that could make many pros better instructors. However, there are some people who have a natural talent in learning and honestly don’t need it, and there are also some like myself who are highly educated and do have this background, so don’t be fooled into thinking all of us PGA guys were just good at high school golf then got into the PGA program (although there are some out there).

      The simple answer is this, go talk to your local pros until you find one that you think is on the same page you are as to what you as a student needs. If you find someone who you are confident in because they have a lot of education, or because your personalities jive, then you are more likely to believe in what they teach you and therefore more likely to improve.

      I remember an interview with Fred Couples back when he was number one in the world, and he said that during pro-am’s, many of the amateurs that played with him would ask for tips and lessons. He would tell them that he really didn’t know that much about the golf swing so he told them to go see a PGA Pro.

      That sums up your statement about learning theory to some degree, just because someone is a good golfer, that doesn’t make them a good teacher.

  21. Mj

    Dec 15, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    Are. You taping the kesson and sending it to them?. I find this very helpful when you get a lesson and hitting the ball good. Then when I inevitably start hitting it not so good i can refer back.
    Only the top instructors that i have taken a lesson from do this. Suttie, Leadbetter assistant, Sieckman. ,pelz 1 day school have for me
    I think it should be a standard practice for all pga pros

  22. Alfredo Smith

    Dec 15, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Awesome article! And last week as I was hitting balls while my buddy was filming my swing, my pro walking behind says ‘finish the backswing’, which is my biggest problem that he was trying to hammer home at my last lesson. I go to the video and my problem was staring me in the face… listen to the pros, your game will appreciate it!!!

  23. OB

    Dec 15, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    It’s obvious. During the ‘lesson’ the golfer is consciously applying the teacher’s advice and the results are good.
    Later, when the golfer is on his/her own their conscious swing fails because they forgot what to do. They didn’t learn instantly and permanantly.
    To acquire a permanent change requires at least 90 days of practice plus followup lessons. Only then will the brain and muscular system have grown the neural system to automatically, unconsciously apply the ‘lesson’.
    There are no quick fixes for the dynamic part of the swing, only the static adjustments like address stance and hand grip positions.
    Golf tips are useless unless you practice obsessively to ingrain those tips into your swing… for 90 days.

    • Radim Pavlicek

      Dec 15, 2017 at 4:12 pm

      Exaclty this. You need weeks for changes to settle down.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 15, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      It takes a while but the problem is when golfers leave a lesson they have to FULLY understand what to work on. Or those 90 days, or however long it takes are not going to help

      • Donald

        Dec 15, 2017 at 10:14 pm

        How do you emphasize the need for long term commitment to practice and patience?

  24. Michael

    Dec 15, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Honestly think the biggest issue with most teaching professionals is they instill their “ideals” on a person’s golf swing rather than working with the player’s golf swing. Sure there are aspects such as the grip that can only variate so much but the swing has no many variables that are unique to each player. The good coaches help nurture the swing than re-engineer.

    • Alfredo Smith

      Dec 15, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      True, however some pros will ask if you want a complete rebuild or improve your current swing 🙂

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 15, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      Agreed, read the other articles I’ve written. If I see five people in a days time, it’s likely I’ll give 5 different lessons.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 15, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      Agreed, read the other articles I’ve written. If I see five people in a days time, it’s likely I’ll give 5 different lessons.

  25. Don

    Dec 15, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    I think lessons are a useless waste of time and money. A coaching program is far better as it provides ongoing support and development on all parts of the game. Find a pro that wants a long term connection to you. It’s a better investment than chasing the perfect club.

  26. Dr. Brian Pasemco

    Dec 15, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Great article! I had back surgery last spring but only after 5 years of pain that produced many bad compensations in my swing. So after recovering from surgery paid $1100. to Golftec but teacher wanted me to bow my wrist like Dustin Johnson. I’m 65 and only wanted to break out of double digit handicap. (played to a 6 handicap most of my life). After 3 lessons I physically could not do it. I understood it but asked teacher to work with my abilities. He didn’t or couldn’t change from the “cookie cutter” method. He gave me a full refund and I worked on discovering “my” swing. Within 3 weeks I was breaking 80! Now a 7 Hdcp. for an investment of a few hours and humility and $0. I think that many could benefit from some introspection and a deep desire to improve by starting with humility and avoiding the notion that a teacher will instantly produce results.

  27. Uhit

    Dec 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    …and there are teaching pros, who are (at least) strange.

    I recently came from the range, with 4 long iron in hand (3x2i + 3i).

    I had a happy face, because I was surprised, how good I had hit my new 2 iron in comparison to the others.

    The pro told me, that long irons are very rare, because most rather use a wood, or a hybrid, because woods and hybrids are more easy to hit.

    After he saw the residues of range balls around the middle of the club face,
    he told me, that I have to be careful, to exclusively use long irons instead of woods…

    …because I could lose the ability to hit woods, because they would have an even smaller sweet spot, than my irons, and would be even harder to hit!

    Btw. this was the pro I had my first lessons as a beginner, and the new 2 iron was a blade, and no driving iron…

    If you want to grow the game, teaching pros like this, should not really teach…

    If you want to grow the game, teaching pros like this, should not be teaching…

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 15, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      If you hit long irons that well, hit long irons. If you get better results from hybrids, use them There is no “should” here or in anything in golf really. Like fingerprints, no two are alike. Good news is you’re playing well! Thx

      • Uhit

        Dec 15, 2017 at 7:09 pm

        Thank you!
        Can´t wait for the next season to start.
        However, I will give the hybrids one more chance – with a steel shaft – the same like in my irons.
        I am curious to see the results.

  28. Jim

    Dec 15, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I love this article. This is exactly what I do in a lesson and love them because they always seem to help me. Whether it is getting to my front leg better or making sure to extend on the back swing and not pick it up, I have to feel it, then be able to take the lesson with me home to practice and then be able to work on it on my own. A majority of teaching pros want a good result but stubbornness and not feeling the motion often are students hangups.

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Instruction

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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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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