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Golf is not a game of consistent

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into a small hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the task.” -Winston S. Churchill

In general terms, the golf club is covering perhaps a 30-degree arc, traveling at maybe 90 mph, attempting to hit a ball lying on the ground that is 1.68″ in diameter in less than two seconds. If that isn’t enough, we are expected to strike it with a golf club that is three-feet or longer, and we have to hit precisely in the middle of the face of that club, an area comprising maybe one square inch. To boot, we stand well above the ball, to the side of it and in a variety of lies and an even wider variety of weather conditions. In that light, Churchill’s comment seems pretty spot on.

And yet, the number one comment I have heard over my 35-plus years of teaching is: “I just want to be consistent.”

Now when we come right down to it, getting consistent results in golf is pretty much mission impossible.  Yes, there are degrees of consistent, but when the great Jack Nicklaus says that in his best days, he hit maybe three or four “perfect” shots in a round, where does that leave the rest of us?

Yet we still long for “consistency,” knowing full well that if the strike is just one inch (or less) from the center, the shot will go awry.  Or if the swing direction does not match the attack angle or the face does not complement the path, we hit some degree of a foul ball.  What is consistent is the sequence of motions, but not the strike of the golf ball.  During the .0004 seconds of impact a whole lot can, and usually does, go awry.

The bottom line is this:  Golf is not a game of consistent (results). and to expect it of ourselves is unfair, damaging to our learning process and our level of enjoyment.  Expect and accept the unexpected and you will not be disappointed.  We see the greatest players in the world every weekend hit foul balls.  Of course, they are more consistent than average golfers, but ask them how many times they execute the actual shot they are trying to hit, and you might be shocked by the answer.  The best we can say is that their bad shots, the shots that come off with less than desired results, are still very playable.  And therein lies the key: improving at golf for anyone is simply hitting “better bad shots” yet aware that a poor one will come sometimes.  Accept it, learn from it (the darkest hour is just before dawn) and play your next shot.

Anticipating  some unreasonable level of consistency is unrealistic at best, and down-right frustrating at worst.  The unknown is what makes our game so wonderful.  Heck, even really well-hit shots do not always have the desired outcome, let alone the misses.  For more perspective on it, consider that the best in the world miss five or six greens every round, and miss more putts than they make from eight feet! I have always loved the unexpected, the “where did that come from moment”…it is what gives golf its mystery, its lure, and above all the pure joy of excitement we all get when the occasional great shot does come off.

Golf cannot be won, only played” Bagger Vance told us, and so we keep playing.  So we keep trying to master a game no one will ever master, and we have our brief glimpses of brilliance followed by hours of mediocrity and inconsistency, and we accept the whole game, not just the success we have at it. Let the foul balls be a teacher, not a frustrator.  Learn to love mystique and the wonder of the game.  It is, after all, the greatest of games because of that magic.

The next time you hit a foul ball, don’t look away in disgust, and think, “that’s not me.” Instead, think “that’s golf, and I love it.”

 

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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

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. RBImGuy

    Feb 13, 2019 at 11:20 am

    once your swing path is the same you will be consistent like Moe Norman was and as long as Mike Austin was.
    Yes coming a how to

  2. hal

    Feb 11, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    As Tiger Woods said; Golf is a game of misses, he who has the smallest misses usually wins!!

    • Peter McGill

      Feb 12, 2019 at 6:45 am

      Good misses usually make for a good round.

  3. Juststeve

    Feb 11, 2019 at 8:31 am

    Dennis:

    I’ve read your previous posts with interest and usually find them spot on. With this one however I think you are way off target. You have conflated perfection, which is unattainable, with consistency which has been attained, to a greater or lesser degree, by every good player. Were it not for consistency we wouldn’t know how far our next 7 iron would fly. We do know because we have attained enough consistency to know at least roughly what to expect when we hit the club. Consistency is how we know that club to pull. I would venture to say that in almost ever case the better player is the one who hits the ball more consistently. When people come to-you looking for consistency they are looking fir the right thing, the thing that will make them better.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 11, 2019 at 11:27 am

      I agree. Better players are more consistent, almost by definition. But it’s still a game that the “out of nowhere”shot is never far away. I played some years ago with a very good player (I’ll not say name) who hit me in the back of the leg with a SHANK! He shot 67 that day! Thx for reading and the comment.

    • Mel

      Feb 11, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      I agree, Juststeve. In most cases (within the article) if “perfect” replaced “consistent” it would have been more helpful to me. And less incongruous too. The author/instructor mentions how few perfect shots touring pros hit while almost in the same breath admits they’re more consistent golfers than amateurs. We’ve all achieved some level of consistency and our time on the driving range, in my opinion anyway, is to increase that consistency and not necessarily to increase the number of perfect shots. Although we love those! Anyway, I won’t let this article dissuade me from trying to improve my consistency. To be fair, there were several helpful concepts which I appreciated.

  4. Mike Duranko - GolfToons

    Feb 11, 2019 at 5:22 am

    Fantastic. Thank you
    I do get inspiration watching the pro mistakes during tournaments, not to see them fail but for the encouragement. 1/2 the 8 footers are missed by pros!!!
    My game is not so bad.

  5. John

    Feb 9, 2019 at 11:30 pm

    Best article I have read on here in a long time. Spot on. Thank you, Dennis.

  6. Nack Jicklaus

    Feb 9, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    If only I could remember this article next time I flail a tee ball over the trees and into the next fairway… Golf really is a lot more enjoyable when I don’t beat myself up over bad shots.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 9, 2019 at 9:24 pm

      And…it detracts from your ability to correct the foul balls.

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Instruction

Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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Golf 101: How to hit a bunker shot

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I’ve heard from numerous people over the years that theoretically, the bunker shot should be the easiest shot in golf—you don’t even hit the ball.

Sounds romantic, but common sense would suggest the polar opposite. Any new golfer or one walking into the game knows that hitting it into the bunker can be a disaster if you don’t know what to do. Figuring out how to hit a bunker shot can be daunting. So in the spirit of the 101 series, I want to give the beginner a three-step strategy to playing out of a bunker with one goal in mind: get it out of the bunker.

Keep in mind, this is simply to get the ball outta the sand, not spin it, not get it close, just get it back on the grass.

How to hit a bunker shot

Use a 56-degree wedge. Non-negotiable. You need the loft, the bounce, and the forgiveness.

Dig in: Gives your feet and body not only a feel for the sand but also a firm base. The bunker shot isn’t a full swing but you need stability. So when you address the ball, wiggle your feet a bit to get in there. It also makes it look like you know what you are doing—that helps for social reasons.

Face open: Imagine if you had to hold an egg on the face, that’s the visual. If the face isn’t open enough to do that its not open. Remember also that when you open the face, you are not cranking your hands over to do so. Turn the club open, grip it normally, and there you go.

Thump

This is what I have taught beginners a few times, and I’m not a teacher, but I’m a pretty gnarly bunker player. It works. Now that you are dug in, the face is open and you are ready to hit it, pick a spot an inch behind the ball, and with some speed, control, and a firm grip (hold the face open) THUMP down on that spot. Even more, THUMP the heel down on that spot. When I saw THUMP I mean CHOP, BEAT down on it with some purpose. Two things will happen, the ball will pop up by simple momentum and the face will stay open because the lever (and meatiest part) that holds it open (the heel) is doing all the work. Your tempo is key, and yes, I’m telling you to beat down on it, but also be mindful of staying in your body.

Could you potentially stick the club in the ground? Yup. Maybe. But the odds of you skulling, whiffing, chunking are reduced to almost nothing.

The best way to get outta the sound is to use the sand to help you. That’s how to hit a bunker shot. Pounding down on it with an open face uses a ton of sand, a ton of energy, the bounce of the wedge, and requires you to do very little.

Give it a shot.

 

 

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How the direction of turn influences your swing

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Understanding the direction you turn in the backswing will help identify your swing pattern. To start, turn is simply a word for something going around or moving circularly. When teaching, the term turn is very broad. The spine, shoulders and pelvis can all move in different directions.

So what direction should you turn? After an efficient setup (How Posture Influences Your Swing) I want players to coil around their original spine angle. This gives players an efficient “shape” to the body at the top of the backswing. Shape is the relationship between the upper and lower half of the body. Shape retains body angles from the setup, which also mirror impact. The relationship between the upper and lower body are highlighted in the pictures below.

When in this shape, the downswing can become a reaction towards the target. The club and body can return to impact with efficiency and minimal timing required. The body doesn’t need to find the impact position. This impact position is a common look to all great ball-strikers.

An important concept to understand is the direction of turn is more important than the amount of turn. Think of throwing a ball towards a target. You don’t turn more to throw the ball further or for more accuracy. Your body coils the correct direction to go forward and around towards the target. The golf swing and direction of turn is similar to a throwing position.

A great drill to get the feeling of this coil is what I call off the wall on the wall. Start by setting up with your lead side against a wall. Make sure your trail shoulder is below the lead shoulder with a tucked trail arm. From this position, swing your arms to the top of your swing. Note the backswing position.

When doing this drill, note how your upper body moves off the wall, and the lower body stays on the wall. An important note to make is the hips and glutes don’t stay stagnant against the wall. They go around, sliding against the wall as the upper moves off.

The beauty of the golf swing is there is more than one way to do it. Many great players turn with lead side bend in the backswing. This is where the upper body tilts towards the target (lateral trunk flexion). However, these players will have to change their spine angle to find impact. This pattern isn’t incorrect, just needs more recovery in the downswing to find the impact position.

I do not prefer players having to recover in their downswing. I define recovery as having to re-position the body in the downswing to find impact. Think of a baseball player having to throw a ball to first base when his body starts in a contorted position. I the golf swing, this requires more talent and timing and can lead to inconsistency unless precisely practiced and trained.

Educating yourself on how your body coils in the backswing is critical when working on your swing. Remember, there is no one perfect swing and people have different physiologies. However, coil in a direction that will give you the most efficient swing and prevent injuries.

www.kelleygolf.com

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