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Need a new instructor? When it’s time to say goodbye

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It’s easy to know when you want to find a golf instructor: You can’t get rid of the duckhook with your irons, you hit every wedge fat or it’s winter and the course is closed and your wife wants you out of the house.

Or you could post on GolfWRX in the Equipment section that you have a 95 mph driver swing speed and you want a driver that will help calm down your nasty slice. At that point, you will get five responses saying that you need a swing fix, not a new driver, or that it’s the Indian, not the arrow.

When it’s time for a teacher, you’ll find lots of stuff on the web about what to look for — an experienced PGA guy or gal; someone you can afford and who works nearby so you don’t have an excuse to skip a lesson; a good reputation or strong references; someone whose instructions you can understand and with whom you’re comfortable; and someone who will work with what you’re trying to accomplish and what you will bring to the partnership in terms of learning style, time to practice, and the like.

So you don’t need me to tell you what to look for in a teacher. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts about something less discussed and a bit more complicated. When do you say goodbye to your instructor and move on to another one?

I started golf early in my teenage years. I gave it up when I went to college and didn’t pick up the sticks for 25 years. Then I started up again without lessons and achieved mediocre to crappy results, until I reached a point where my swing looked like a circus act without a ringleader. I had all sorts of moving parts, noneof them coordinated, and no connection between my intended swing and the final resting place of the ball. I finally decided to either throw away the clubs or find a teacher.

My office, back then, was in downtown Boston. I found a small indoor golf practice facility not far from where I worked. I started with the head teacher, taking lessons mostly in the evening and whacking balls at lunchtime. I will be forever grateful to the instructor because he gave me something that resembled a real golf swing. I went from a reverse pivot and an awful slice to a swing that produced much longer and straighter shots. I ultimately developed a draw—OK, yes, and a hook, on occasion. My scores came down and I could go back on the course without quite as much fear and embarrassment.

I stayed with my teacher for a number of years. I would take a number of lessons in the winter and early spring, than stop when golf started. Except that inevitably, sometime over the summer, things would fall apart, at least a little. Then I’d go back for a lesson or two, my teacher would give me some fixes, and with some time at the range, I’d be back in business—sometimes more, sometimes less.

During my time with this teacher, I came across a couple of other instructors. There’s an outdoor driving range near my house, and I was given a coupon for a lesson from the pro there. I went, just to check it out. The range pro gave me one piece of advice over and over—post around my left leg. He’d been a pro at a long series of clubs for very short periods. He did not use video or any other teaching tool, and he didn’t spend much time talking to me about what I wanted to accomplish. I’m sure he does a fine job starting people off in golf, and maybe he even had some things to offer me, but that wasn’t obvious in the lesson he gave me.

Then I had a lesson from a guy who runs an indoor golf center in my area. He is by all accounts a good teacher and I’ve seen him enough to know he’s a good guy and easy to work with. I go to his place in the winter to hit in bays or to play games on a simulator. In the lesson I had with him, he wanted me to change my swing to a two-plane move where my arms came down from the top at one angle, then halfway down shifted to another. I thought about it after the lesson and decided it would take me forever to be comfortable with the dramatic shift in my swing. I don’t get to practice nearly as much as I’d like and I would need a lot of practicing to get the new swing right. He may well have been right, in terms of what he wanted me to do—but I simply didn’t have the patience or energy to make the dramatic change he suggested.

Fast-forward a few years. By then, I had two issues with my first teacher. The first was he would take calls on his mobile phone during the lessons and that habit was getting worse. The second was, I didn’t really understand the swing he’d given me. Either he didn’t explain it well or I wasn’t smart enough to figure out what he was talking about. When things went wrong on the course, I couldn’t figure out for myself how to fix them. I’d always have to go back to him to get the swing repaired. I felt like I’d hit a plateau both in my play and my understanding of my swing.

Two years ago, I made the switch. I did some homework on teachers around my home and found a GolfTec in a neighboring town. There are certainly golfers out there who are skeptical of the GolfTec model because they ask for a commitment to a number of lessons upfront, but I started with an evaluation and my eyes wide-open. And I found a good teacher who has made my swing more consistent and my game more reliable.

My new instructor focuses only on teaching when I am with him. He’s given me a swing with concepts and key moves that I understand and can repeat. He has built my new swing steadily, with a succession of new pieces over two years. I still go off the rails at times, but I can often fix things by working on them myself. I did need to see him at one point this summer when I was in a bad funk and he gave me a few quick things that helped right away. But now I have a much clearer understand of what I am supposed to do and when I do it, good things happen.

Recently, I started off badly on the front nine, but was able to concentrate on a few swing basics and turned things around on the second nine, dramatically improving my play and my score. Under my previous teacher, I would not have had a clue what I was doing wrong, let alone how to fix it.

I’ll always be grateful to my first teacher—he got me back to a good enough swing to make golf fun again. But sometimes a teacher can take you only so far and you have to graduate to someone else. Maybe you’re stuck in the nineties and want to get to the eighties, or in the eighties and want to get to the seventies, and you’re not sure your teacher can get you over the hump. I don’t know why Tiger or Padraig Harrington switched teachers, but for me, I wanted something simple — help beyond what I was getting so I could play better on a consistent basis. I wanted a better picture of what I needed to do, the guidance and repetitions so I could instill and then repeat the moves, and the capacity to do some self-repairs.

If you’re missing any of that, maybe it’s time for you to move on, too. Or maybe you should do what I probably should have done some years ago—put the teacher’s phone on the tee and knocked the damn thing right down the middle of the hitting bay, with a little draw.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

Jamie Katz is a contributor for GolfWRX.com. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the GolfWRX.

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Instruction

How to fix the root cause of hitting your golf shots fat

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Of all the shots golfers fear, hitting the ball FAT has to be right up at the top of the list. At least it heads the list of commonly hit poor shots (let’s leave the shank and the whiff out for now). After fat, I’d list topping, followed by slicing and then hooking. They are all round-killers, although the order of the list is an individual thing based on ability. Professionals despise a hook, but club golfers by and large fear FAT. Why?

First of all, it’s embarrassing. Secondly, it goes nowhere — at least compared to thin — and it can be physically painful! So to avoid this dreaded miss, golfers do any number of things (consciously or subconsciously) to avoid it. The pattern develops very early in one’s golf life. It does not take very many fat shots for golfers to realize that they need to do something differently. But rather than correct the problem with the correct move(s), golfers often correct a fault with a fault.

Shortening the radius (chicken-winging), raising the swing center, early lower-body extension, holding on through impact (saving it), running the upper body ahead of the golf ball and even coming over the top are all ways of avoiding fat shots. No matter how many drills I may offer for correcting any of those mistakes, none will work if the root cause of fat is not addressed.

So what causes fat? We have to start with posture. Some players simply do not have enough room to deliver the golf club on a good plane from inside to inside. Next on the list of causes is a wide, early cast of the club head. This move is invariably followed by a break down in the lead arm, holding on for dear life into impact, or any of the others…

“Swaying” (getting the swing center too far off the golf ball) is another cause of fat, as well as falling to the rear foot or “reversing the weight.” Both of these moves can cause one to bottom out well behind the ball. Finally, an excessive inside-out swing path (usually the fault of those who hook the ball) also causes an early bottom or fat shot, particularly if the release is even remotely early. 

Here are 4 things to try if you’re hitting fat shots

  1. Better Posture: Bend forward from the hips so that arms hang from the shoulders and directly over the tips of the toes, knees slightly flexed over the shoelaces, seat out for balance and chin off the chest!
  2. Maintaining the Angles: Casting, the natural urge to throw the clubhead at the golf ball, is a very difficult habit to break if one is not trained from the start. The real correction is maintaining the angle of the trail wrist (lag) a little longer so that the downswing is considerably more narrow than the backswing. But as I said, if you have been playing for some time, this is risky business. Talk to your instructor before working on this!
  3. Maintaining the Swing Center Over the Golf Ball: In your backswing, focus on keeping your sternum more directly over the golf ball (turning in a barrel, as Ernest Jones recommended). For many, this may feel like a “reverse pivot,” but if you are actually swaying off the ball it’s not likely you will suddenly get stuck with too much weight on your lead foot.
  4. Setting Up a Little More Open: If your swing direction is too much in-to-out, you may need to align your body more open (or feel that way). You could also work with a teaching aid that helps you feel the golf club is being swung more out in front of you and more left (for right-handers) coming through — something as simple as a head cover inside the golf ball. You’ll hit the headcover if you are stuck too far inside coming down.

The point is that most players do what they have to do to avoid their disastrous result. Slicers swing way left, players who fight a hook swing inside out and anybody who has ever laid sod over the golf ball will find a way to avoid doing it again. This, in my opinion, is the evolution of most swing faults, and trying to correct a fault with a fault almost never ends up well.

Get with an instructor, get some good videos (and perhaps even some radar numbers) to see what you are actually doing. Then work on the real corrections, not ones that will cause more trouble.

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Instruction

Right Knee Bend: The Difference Between PGA Tour Players and Amateurs

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The knees play an especially important role in the golf swing, helping to transfer the forces golfers generate through our connection with the ground. When we look closer at the right knee bend in the golf swing, we’re able to get a better sense of how PGA Tour players generate power compared to most amateur golfers.

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Instruction

How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location

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One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:

Observations

  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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