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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

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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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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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“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 edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

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

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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 ShotByShot.com, 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 ShotByShot.com, 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 ShotByShot.com 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 ShotbyShot.com

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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