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

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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

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Instruction

Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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