Q&A with Instructor Dennis Clark: Why golfers don’t improve and more
Editor’s Note: Dennis Clark, a PGA Master Professional, is the most widely read and commented instructor on the GolfWRX Featured Writers section. He has been writing instruction stories for GolfWRX since April — since that time he’s amassed more than 150,00 views and 350 comments on the front page and in the forums. For this Q&A, we sent him some of the most common instruction questions we see in the forums, as well as questions about his own teaching philosophies. Click here to view Clark’s Featured Writers Profile, where you can view his previous instruction stories.
WRX: Thanks to new technology, golfers and instructors know more about the golf swing than ever before. Strangely, handicaps have not gone down very much. Why do to think that is?
DC: You can’t learn to play the game, you have to play it to learn. The traditional lesson where the teacher tells the student what to do is part of the problem. There has to be more active learning where the teacher provides opportunities for the student to discover their way of doing it! Personal discovery, an “Aha!” moment, goes so much further than being told what to do and forgetting it by the time you get to the parking lot. Mike Hebron has done tremendous research in ths area.
WRX: You teach all kinds of golfers — everyone from the very beginner to golfers who are trying to make a living playing golf. But let’s talk about average golfers. What’s their No. 1 problem?
DC: Well, shot wise it’s slicing, no question. 75 percent of all golfers slice in some form or another. But in a larger sense, the counter intuitiveness of the game is a tremendous obstacle. Most other sports are more intelligible in that what you should do is what you do! Not golf. It’s often the opposite of what you think. Take slicing for example. When you stand facing 90 degrees to the right of your target, it SEEMS like you should swing left. And when you do, you slice. It’s maddening.
WRX: Can you help anyone play better? Are their hopeless cases?
DC: The hopeless case is rare. But often the student is their own worst enemy. Preconceived notions, impatience, unrealistic expectations, performance anxiety — these types of mindsets are hindrances to learning. You have to realize that you are often being asked to do something you’ve never done before and physical motions are so ingrained that it takes time and disciple to change it. Attitude is a much bigger impediment than lack of physical skill.
WRX: You have said you teach on an individual basis? Could you elaborate?
DC: Sure, lessons come in two kinds :
- Those you are going to correct
- Those you are going to create
Say a 15-handicap just started shanking and he goes to 20. Well, what he wants is to lose the shank and get back to 15, not a new swing. So I would work with him on correcting that shank, whatever that fix is. There are probably five reasons someone shanks. I have to find the right fix for him. Then comes a young gal for her first lesson and her goal is to play golf for a living someday — very different animal. Or a guy who just retired and he wants to be the senior club champ:
“Start from scratch pro, I’m all yours,” he says.
It’s like I have to build a foundation or repair the roof. How do I know which lesson to give? I ask them.
WRX: Does teaching get old?
DC: No, never. If I taught golf it would get old, but I teach people to play golf. Big difference. Different personalities, learning styles and every hour a new puzzle to solve. If I was a method teacher, I imagine it would get old pretty quick.
WRX: How do you formulate lesson plans for your students?
DC: John Jacobs taught us to diagnose the ball flight, explain the problem and correct it. It sounded pretty simple so I’ve stuck with it. Of course, now there are systems like FlightScope and Trackman that are essentially built-in ball flight detectors. We are less reliant on our eye today, but I still get a feel from watching the ball. And there is always one core fault that I have to find. Every move they make is based on that flaw. Very often it’s a reaction to a shot they usually hit so I try to change the shot hoping to get a different reaction. Get a slicer to draw the ball and I’ve got a friend for life! And I never give more than a few things in a lesson. One, two, three at the most. The game is hard enough!
WRX: What about seniors who have lost distance?
DC: Speed is only partly physical. The other part is confidence. If I could measure practice swings, I’m betting they would average 5 mph faster than one’s real swing at the ball. Why? They lack confidence and put the breaks on through impact. Or they have been told to “slow your swing down” (one of the worst tips ever). They have to learn to play NATO golf — Not Attached To Outcome! Stop worrying about where the ball is headed and take a good rip at it. Now, the other part of distance is correct impact. And this is where I find FlightScope and TrackMan to be quite valuable. We live in an age where I can tell exactly how far someone is hitting it and how far they are capable of hitting it. If someone is too steep or hitting the toe or using too little loft, then we can correct it. But we do lose speed as the musculature loses elasticity and strength, no doubt.
WRX: Do you give a lot of short game lessons?
DC: Most of my students don’t ask for them, but they should. An 18 handicap hitting 3 or 4 greens per round might get up to 6 GIRs with full swing improvement. He/she is still missing at least 12 or 13 greens a round. Do the math. And these are shots that you don’t need strength or speed to execute. Putting alone is over 40 percent of the game. Two out of every three shots most people play in a round are LESS THAN FULL SWINGS.
WRX: Everyone has hit a shank, which is probably the most embarrasing shot in golf. What’s the main cause for shanking?
DC: Really, there’s three — a flat swing action, an in-to-out path and a very late release. It’s easy to confuse hosel plane with sweet spot plane. A perfect shot is less than an inch from the hosel. Tough game…
WRX: What’s the biggest word of advice you can give the average golfer?
DC: Start young. To quote Jack Nicklaus:
“There is no such thing as a natural golfer. Don’t be too proud to take a lesson; I’m not!