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Clark: “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive”

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It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, as the Zen Masters would have it. It has been said that golf is a very jealous game. If you don’t give it all your time and attention, it exacts a price in return.

Those of us with the game in our DNA get this. Those of you who approach the game a bit more casually don’t — or won’t. Good for you. But this article is more for those who know that the guy who said, “It’s just a game” didn’t play golf.

We hear a lot about “walking the walk, not talking the talk” and for good reason. It seems there are a lot of talkers and not a lot of walkers in the world, and this is never truer than in golf.

To get any better at the game you have to practice. How much is a matter of personal interest, lifestyle and ultimately how enjoyable you find practice.  After 50 years, I still find great pleasure in the simple task of hitting a golf ball. And when my back allows, I do it every day, hundreds of times. I no longer hit balls to get better; I have faced the fact that my better playing days are well behind me. No, I do it simply because I love it.  And after I practice, teach and play, I go home and watch it on TV. The game is in my soul, not just my body and mind. Life without golf is simply unimaginable to those of us who are so constituted.

Very often I ask my students how much they play. The responses vary of course, but the one I’d like to talk about is the “avid” golfer.” Avid golfers love to play, and do so every time they get the chance.  A typical response might be something like, “Oh I play a lot, like 3 or 4 times a week.” And certainly by the national average that is a lot.

Well there’s bad news, good news and better news here. The good news is that you can maintain your current level of play with that amount of golf.  The bad news is I’m afraid you can’t get better at golf playing at that frequency — at least not significantly better. But here’s the better news: If you look at the time invested in those 3 or 4 rounds, let’s say 14 or 15 hours a week, you have time for some serious improvement. The point is I’m suggesting is a shift in your routine. You need to spend time more on the practice tee and less time on the course. Now, the best of both worlds would be that you spend more time at both, but let’s face it — it’s time we’re talking about.

Changing a swing motion, a physical habit is the existential challenge of every golfer in the world. There is a book by Daniel Coyle called, “The Talent Code.” It is one of the best books I know of on the subject. When you read it, you get a sense of not only how the great players got to be great but also what is involved in real practice; real, guided practice. I have read varying estimates on how much time is involved in changing a physical habit; 60 times a day for three weeks, 20 minutes a day for 90 days, etc. I don’t know but I can relate this: The more the merrier! And to change a swing motion, you should NOT be practicing on the course. In fact, that is one of the worst things to do if you want to make a swing change.

I have people who take a lesson and then go immediately to the course and play in their $20 Nassau. That is bordering on insanity. They pretty much wasted your time and money on the lesson. If they could see this through my eyes, they would see and learn to appreciate the dedication it takes to make a real commitment — a walk-the-walk commitment to changing your swing.

Another thing I hear often is, “Why can I do it when I’m here, but not out there?”

Well, there are a lot of reasons for that but one of them is the instructor is walking you through every part of the new motion. But when you go on your own, you will immediately go back to the old habit. Try taking some time, at least a few days and spend maybe four-to-five hours on the new move. I think it would help a lot. And try taking it one step at a time, working on only one thing when you practice.  When you have that down, go on to the next change and then the next.

It’s tough, it really is, but the joy from improvement is directly proportional to the work you put into it — another example of golf mirroring life. Is this the greatest game in the world or what?

Enjoy the practice,

DC

 

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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

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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dave

    Dec 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    What if the only practice tees available are mats? Is there a good way to practice on mats?

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm

      Mats are better than nothing Dave but, don’t get used to them; they give a false impact reading and are much more forgiving than turf. Thx, DC

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Instruction

A Guide (Secret) to Better Putting

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Putting is a part of the game where we can all do small things to get better. You don’t have to practice 40 hours a week or have a stroke that gets a perfect score on a SAM PuttLab. The universal answer is to simplify the approach as much as possible.

While being a world class putter is an art form, being competent at putting is probably the least physically daunting task in golf — aside from maybe driving the cart. Putting generally provides the most stress and frustration, however, as our results are almost never aligned with our exceptions, which drives us to create unnecessary roadblocks to success.

That being the case, let’s narrow this down to as few variables as possible and get ourselves holing more putts. First off, you need to have proper expectations. If you look at the PGA Tour averages for made putts, you will find that the rates of success overall are far lower than what we see on on TV on Sunday afternoon. That’s because we are seeing the best players in the world, who in a moment in time, are holing putts at a clip the average plus-handicap club champion couldn’t dream of during a near death experience on his way to walking into the light.

If you have ever seen golf balls rolled on a stimpmeter ramp (the device used to measure green speed), you have probably seen something shocking. Golf balls rolling perfectly — the perfect speed, on a perfect green, on a perfectly straight putt — sometimes miss on both sides of the hole on consecutive efforts.

This is a very important point. The farther you get from the hole, the less control you have over making the putt. That’s why actually making putts outside a few feet should not be your priority. Hitting the best putt possible is your only priority. Then be resigned that the putt will either go in or it won’t. This might seem defeatist, but it’s not; its just a perception change. If you judge yourself on whether the ball goes in or not, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you judge yourself on whether or not you hit a good putt, you will be more successful… and you’re going to make more putts.

This sounds like something you’d hear at a Tony Robbins positive thinking seminar, but it has proven successful for every one of my clients who has embraced it. So what’s the secret to hitting the best putt possible each time?

Simplify the process.

  1.  Read the green to the best of your ability.
  2.  Pick a line and do your best to set up to it.
  3.  Do your best to hit the putt solid and at the right speed.

Reading the green is something that gets better with experience and practice. Some will be better than others, so this is an intangible thing that countless books are written about. My advice is simple; DON’T OVER THINK IT. Look at the terrain and get a general sense of where low point is in relation to the hole.

The reason why perfect green reading and perfect alignment are overrated is because there is no one line to the hole. The hole is over 4-inches wide and putts break differently with changes in speed and solidness of contact. I saw a video at the Scotty Cameron Putting Studio many years ago of dozens of PGA Tour players. There was a worm’s-eye camera on a 4-5 foot putt that was basically straight on the artificial grass. Few were aimed at the middle of the hole and many weren’t even aimed at the hole at all… but I didn’t see one miss.

So have a look at the terrain and be decent at lining up in the general direction that will give a chance for a well struck putt to go in or finish close enough for a tap in. Simple. After rambling on for several paragraphs, we get to the heart of how you can improve your putting. Narrow it down to doing your best to hit a solid putt at the right speed.

The “Right Speed”

I ask people after they addressed a putt how much attention they pay to line and speed. Any answer but 100 percent speed is wrong. You’ve already read the putt and lined up. Why is line any longer a variable? Plus, have you ever missed the line on a 20-foot putt by 5 feet? Maybe once in your life on a crazy green, but you sure as heck have left it 5-feet short and long on several occasions.

Imagine I handed you a basketball and said shoot it in the basket. Or what if I told you to toss a crumpled piece of paper into the trash? Having the requisite coordination is an acquired skill, but you wouldn’t grind over innocuous details when it came to the feel of making the object go the right distance. You’d react to the object in your hand and the target for the right speed/distance.

Putting is no different, save one variable. There’s the sense and feel of how the the green interacts with the ball, and that’s a direct result of how solidly you hit the putt. If you use X amount of force and it goes 18 feet one effort and 23 feet the next, how are you ever going to acquire speed control? That is the mark of almost every poor lag putter. They don’t hit putts consistently solid, so they never acquire the skill of distance control.

Since speed is a learned reaction to the terrain/target and consistency is a direct result of how consistently solid you strike the ball, that is what we’re left with.

Learn to Hit Putts More Solid

The road to better putting is as simple as hitting your putts more solid. Put most/all of your effort into what it takes to hit more putts solid. Now for each individual, it’s less about doing what’s right. Instead, it’s about avoiding movements and alignments that make it difficult to hit the ball solid. It would take an encyclopedia to cover all of the issues that fall into this category, so I will list the most common that will cover more than 90 percent of golfers.

The most common one I see — and it is nearly universal in people who are plagued by poor lag putting — is excess hip rotation. Sometimes there’s even an actual weight shift. Think of it this way; take a backstroke and stop. Rotate your hips 20 degrees without moving anything else. The putter and the arc is now pointed left of your intended line. You have to shove it with your arms and hands not to pull it. Good luck hitting it solid while doing all of that.

I had a golf school in Baltimore and told this story. Ten of the 15 people there assured me they didn’t do that. After 8 people had putted, we were 8-for-8. No. 9 said, “There is no ******* way I am going to move my hips after watching this.”

The entire group laughed after his putt told him he was wrong. The last 6 did everything they could to avoid the fault. We went 15 for 15. Many people are unaware that this issue is so dire. If you add the people that are unaware they have this issue, we are near 100 percent of golfers. I have gotten emails from 8-10 of them telling me how much their putting improved after all they did was focus on minimizing hip rotation and just hitting the ball solid.

This issue is not just the bane of average golfers; I’ve had several mini-tour players with putting issues improve with this. We are all aware Fred Couples would have won many more majors if not for a career-long battle with his putter. Watch the next time he misses a 6-foot putt to the left. As you will see, it’s not just a problem for a high-handicappers.

The best way to judge and practice avoiding this, it putting with an alignment stick in you belt loops.  If your hips rotate too much, the stick will definitely let you know.

Other issues include the well know chest/sternum coming up too soon in an effort to see the ball go in the hole, as well as:

  • Not aligning the putter shaft properly with the lead arm
  • Grip pressure issues (too much and too little)
  • Too much tension in neck and shoulders
  • Poor rhythm
  • Long back stroke

I could go on and on and on. The main point; find out why you aren’t hitting putts solid and do whatever it takes to do so, even if it’s something crazy like a super wide-open stance (with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek). See the Jack Nicklaus picture at the top of the story.

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Instruction

WATCH: How to Improve Your Golf Club Release

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Many golfers release the club way too early. The low point of the swing moves back and they hit the ground behind the ball or pick the ball clean off the top of the surface. They then dream of “lag” and the “late hit” trying to achieve this by thinking of holding on the the wrist angle too long.

In this video, I share a drill that it will improve the way you release the club.

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Instruction

Alistair Davies: My 3 Best Swing Tips

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In this video, I share with you my three best swing tips. Watch the video to get on the path to lower scores straight away.

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