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Getting from the lesson tee to the 1st tee

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The longest walk in golf is from the lesson tee to the first tee. How can you retain what you have learned and take it to the course?

This is a true story: I had a lady in my school in Palm Springs, Calif., many years ago who topped almost very shot. This was because she was over the top and late —  lack of radius tops I call them.

Every time she topped the ball she would say, “Oh there I go again, I picked my head up,” to which I would reply, “No, you moved your body well before you got your arms down and extended. On this next swing, let’s get your arms and club down to the bottom of the ball.”

Sure enough by Tuesday or so, she was behind the ball, extending her arms and hitting most every shot in the air. Later in the week, I was actually able to talk to her about the body turning through on the downswing as well. These were 5-day schools at that time and long story short, she had a good week with GREAT improvement. So on Friday we would give them a review. I asked if she understood the nature of her swing flaw and she said she was good to go.

“I can’t believe I hit that many balls in the air this week,” she said.

I left California and came back home to New Jersey for the spring and summer season.  About a month after I was back, the woman from the school called.  She said, “We just got home to Pennsylvania for the season and I can’t stop topping the ball.”She asked if she could come out for a lesson. Sure, I said.

After watching her top five in a row, I asked her why she was doing that and she said — wait for it — “I must have picked up my head!” 

It was then and there I knew I’d never be out of work! Golfers have great memories; they are just short. Why can’t you take it to the course? Why does “it” leave when the pro leaves? How many times have you had a GREAT lesson and walked away and started slicing or shanking again?  Too often I’m sure.  This is the bane of the amateur golfer, so we need to take a look at why.

Im going to make a short list of the things I see that are a hindrance to learning and that create a poor learning environment. In my experience, thay are the root cause of not retaining information.

Nerves: Most golfers are really uptight when they arrive for the first lesson. They fear failure and being embarrassed in front of a pro as if their swing is the worst I have ever seen. It’s so bad at times that I think the first 15 minutes or so of a lesson are a total waste of time.

Preconceived notions: Most golfers come to a lesson thinking they already know what the problem is. The golf propaganda lingo is so entrenched in their brains, I often wonder why they need us teachers?  If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they are picking their head up or “coming over it,” I could buy a new car. Cash.

Adversity to change: I’m sure the teachers reading this will agree that if the student could see the lesson through our eyes, they would relalize how resistent they are to change. It’s like rigormortis has set in to live humans. Frail, gentle souls become beasts with a club in their hands. Tension the terrible.

External distractions: As a student, you are filled with the internal distractions I mentoned.  The last thing you need are EXTERNAL distractions. These might include everything from a busy driving range to bad weather to cell phones or distracting noises — anything that make it hard to concentrate on what you’re learning.

Passive learning: Many times the student becomes too dependent on the teacher to “tell” them what to do; somehow he/she will connect the dots for me. Even if it’s not working yet, I’ll get it later. This is passive learning, bump on a log waiting for osmosis or some divine intervention.

Here are a few suggestions for taking lessons that i think are more effective.

Relax: You dont have the worst swing in the world, you are just fine. Pat yourself on the back for being out there and trying to improve. I admire anyone who has the courage to say, “HELP”! I have been teaching for a very long time and believe me, whatever you’re going to show me, I have seen it before! Let’s have FUN, let’s play … this is golf not a life threatening illness. If the doctor says “get your affairs in order,” that’s time worry. Don’t worry about a golf lesson!

Leave your own swing theories at the door: Most likely you are victim of the 19th hole lesson syndrome. Golf is the only game with more teachers than players. Your friends are well intended, but not always well informed. Open your mind to what the instructor suggests and don’t try to tell him/her what your problem is. There’s a good chance they already know.

Be ready to change: Stay open to all suggestions, and try anything the teacher asks. The old way wasn’t working. That’s why you signed up. My favorite line is:

“That feels strange.”

Of course it feels strange; you have been doing it another way for 20 years and this way for 20 minutes. My experience tells me that only those really willing to change are going to improve.

Peace and quiet: You are better off with a serene, quiet lesson place away from the maddening crowds of other golfers or any other signs of civilization. The internal distractions are numerous, eliminate the EXTERNAL ones.  You have to be able to hear and converse clearly with your teacher and focus on what youre learning.

Be an active learner: Example: The teacher says, you have to hit more from the inside; try this. Did it work?  If not, ask for another way to feel it. Did it work? If not, ask for another way to feel it. Sooner or later you are both going to arrive on a way for YOU to feel the inside.  That’s when you can move on. You must abandon the “I’ll get it later” mentality and learn to get it now! 

My goal for every one of my students is to understand WHY they did not succeed on a given shot. You are not going to hit great shots every swing — that cat is already out of the bag — but, if you know WHY you failed BEFORE you leave the lesson, you have a much better chance of retaining it.

Finally, look around you. You are playing the greatest game in the world in a beautiful setting among friends. What could be better than that? Relax and enjoy, it will make you’re lesson easier to understand and retain.

By the way, I am writing this on the evening of the big lottery drawing, like a zillion bucks or something, And if I win, guess what I’m going to do tomorrow?  Yea you got it, I’m gonna play and teach golf!

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 dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Brian Huston

    Dec 14, 2012 at 1:34 am

    I am a young aspiring teacher of golf and this article has really given me a better understanding as to why some of my students are just not understanding some of my teachings. I believe I am knowledgeable in the golf swing and I am improving with every lesson that I teach. This article has just given me a better understanding as to why some students are not improving. I always tell them that golf is not a sport anyone can just pick up and expect to be good. It takes time and practice to understand the game. Knowing the key points to this article will help me improve in my teachings. Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it; if I can be of any help with your teaching career, feel free to contact me.

  2. JC

    Dec 4, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    For me, I feel like it’s not that I resist to change, it’s just simply difficult to break a habit. In fact, I believe most students like myself WANT to change, and that’s why we pay more hundreds and thousands of dollars on lessons.

    It takes great effort, concentration, and discipline, and a few weeks of practice before I can really make any significant changes in my swing. However, during this process, I occasionally get a few glimpses of hope, and hit a few very pure shots with the new and better swing, and that helps me believe that I am doing the right thing.

    As a student, I found out that by being exceptionally courageous, bold, creative, and sometimes ‘humorous’ help me make changes in my swing. What I mean is that when I’m asked to make some adjustments, I’d like to experiment by doing exaggerations or by doing things that look silly. Basically, as long as I’m doing some completely different from my normal swing, I am hopefully getting closer to breaking the bad habit, and getting closer to the new changes.

    One good example is that I’m recently working on my hip turn. At home, I would practice the hip turn with some exaggerations, and I basically look like I’m sexually thrusting something, and my girlfriend would just laugh non-stop. However, after a few weeks, I stopped slicing by about 80%, and I’ve gained 5~10 yards per club due to a more consistent draw ball flight and purer impact.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Exaggeration is a great learning tool. Try the new move to the point of absurd. you can always back off

  3. Jack Marston

    Dec 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks Dennis–This really hits home. I’ll keep this memo close by!

  4. Turn & Release

    Dec 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Great article. I think my problem taking my range swing to the first tee is, and has always been, nervous energy. I cant seem to forget that the swing on the first tee counts. I have always thought that the freedom in the swing came with confidence.
    How can I get the same confidence I feel on the range, knowing that there is another ball just waiting to be hit and not counted?

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Instruction

WATCH: How to stop swaying during your golf swing

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In this video, I share with you how to stop swaying for good. I demonstrate how to use PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to create the correct movements in your backswing. This video is part of a series on PNF drills.

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Instruction

A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Instruction

Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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