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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 :

  1. Those you are going to correct
  2. 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!


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 JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at



  1. Nate

    Dec 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Wondering what would cause me to put high revs on my driver. Pretty open question, I know. I have a high ball fight and I’ve lost about fifty yards off the tee!

  2. Dale Houle

    Dec 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

    When talking about hitting greens, are you talking about hitting greens in regulation or simply the 150yrd and in shot. I’m a 9.9 index and really struggle on any course longer than say 6200yrds. I’m fairly consistent off the tee but at 180-230 from the green on my second shot feel I have little chance. 140yrd and in I’m fairly consistent at putting in on the dance floor, my 2 putt avg helps a ton. Avg drive’s are maybe 225.

    GIR is one thing but just making the 150 and in shot is another. Both have a huge impact on score. I think I’ll go practice swinging faster for more distance and the 150 and in shot for better control.

  3. Dave S

    Dec 17, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Long iron play is the one stat that separates good players from great. It’s trendy to say short game is the most important, but if you can hit GIRs from 150-200 yds out, you’re going to be much better.

    There was a GolfWRX article on this so I’m not just making it up. The one stat all of the greatest golfers shared was being top 10 in long iron play.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm

      I agree dave but 99% of the golf world will never be able to hit long irons, (that’s why they built hybrids) so for them the short game becomes even more vital. Thx for comment

  4. Saaam

    Dec 2, 2012 at 3:44 am

    Isn’t the shank mainly caused by arms crashing into the body hence sequencing is all over the place and the body doesn’t get out of the way of the club? Other than that I agree with every word good article.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      Lot of reason for a shank but hands running into the body would not be one of the main ones. Hand out AWAY from the body maybe…Sequencing is a sequential process, not a vector so I’m not sure what you mean by “all over the place”. Thx, DC

  5. Vincent Dice

    Nov 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Great article. Dennis is a true Rock Star in many golfing circles.

  6. Pingback: – Q&A with Instructor Dennis Clark: Why golfer's don't … | Golf Tips

  7. Romer Benitez

    Nov 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I had a privilege of a 3 day lesson with Dennis during my visit at Naples. It was the best golf lesson experience I ever had. He truly wants you to learn and he can make that happen!!! The rest lies on me…Cheers!

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Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing



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



“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

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



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, 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, 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 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

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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19th Hole