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Physical limitations do not have to lead to poor golf shots

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Physical limitations do not have to equate to poor golf shots. They may equate to a loss of power, speed and distance, but that is not the same as poor golf shots. 

I work with some 800 senior golfers a year. The vast majority of them swing the driver club head under 90 MPH and are physically incapable of swinging much faster than that. This equates to shorter drives, it does not have to mean crooked drives. The vast majority of them have bad backs, arthritis, and limited range of motion. That does not mean they have to hit fat or thin shots, shanks, or chili dips. Not applying maximum force impact is quite a different issue than not applying correct force at impact.

Because the golf ball is not compressed the way a more physically capable player would compress it, does not have to mean a poor shot. “Poor shots” by definition are thin, fat, slices, hooks, pulls, pushes, toe hit or heel hits. Every one of those mistakes can be corrected for any level golfer without getting stronger, younger, less arthritic, and so on. Poor impact is defined exclusively as an open or closed face, a too steep or too shallow attack angle or an out-to-in or in-to-out swing path.

I advise my students, particularly the seniors I teach, to be honest, and not be too quick to blame their age or aches and pains for their poor shots. Let’s get to the real issues! Good golf demands brutal honesty with one’s self! I am a club professional, and as I head into my eighth (!) decade, I simply cannot hit the ball as I once did. But I do still hit the golf ball cleanly and solidly most of the time. It just doesn’t go as far (or as high, or spin as well)! But I do not hit behind it, top it, shank it, slice it or hook it — except when I do 🙂

That said, we do have to consider how certain limitations may negatively affect impact.  A classic example is restricted lower body motion. When I see a loss of mobility in the lower body limit a students ability to “get through the ball,” we have to see what is possible within the available range of motion.

I’m using this example because, as I said, I work with a lot of senior golfers and this is a common problem. One “solution” for this might be a more restricted, narrower backswing, which will allow a student to more centered over the ball. The wider the takeaway gets, the more off the ball the club head gets, and the harder it is to get the swing arc low point back in front of the ball. Where a bigger, wider arc might have been possible when the muscles were more supple, that may longer be the case. So a more restricted, more narrow arc may not be optimal, it is clearly more functional with aging or injury

Shoulder turn restriction on the backswing is another area seniors struggle with at times. Due to aging or injury, some players may not be able to make a full turn. If that’s the case, it may be more difficult to approach impact from inside, and a former draw might become a fade, but again, it is not a fate worse than death. Small changes in set up — such as slightly closed, rear shoulder drawn back a bit for a “head start” — might help a little.

But again a slight loss of distance is nothing that has to cause big numbers on the scorecard. Name one thing you can do at 70 better than you did at 30. If speed slows down, so what? A golf ball can be hit just as cleanly at 80 MPH as it can at 100 MPH. If flexibility decreases, so what? A golf ball can be hit just as cleanly with a smaller range of motion than a larger one.

The point is this: There is always somethings we can adjust to help get the golf club on the ball a little more solidly. It is easy to blame our bad golf on aging and injury, and I’m not saying these do not change things — they do! But in my many years of teaching, poor golf shots (as defined above) are less the result of aging than they are of poor swing habits.

If you’re a senior golfer beginning to see declines in distance or solid”ness” of contact, get with your pro, or get a video and take a close look. You may not be able to hold the club as you once did, or position the golf ball where it used to or even aim in the same direction. However, with some small changes to accommodate the natural aging, aches and pains process, you can still hit solid golf shots! And, after all, isn’t that the real fun of our game?

 

 

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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

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Dean Jarvis

    Jun 8, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Enjoyed your article very much!

    The vast majority of participants in The ParaLong Drive Cup have physical limitations (arm amputees, brachial plexus injuries, leg amputees, paralyzed, etc) and love the game of golf. Several are superb ball-strikers.

    Athletes that stretch regularly and integrate long drive training devices into their weekly routines have fared better retaining their swing speed, even at lighter training levels.

    Look forward to reading more articles about improving ball-striking, and retaining swing speed for golfers with physical limitations.

  2. Charlie

    Jun 7, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    I’m 73 and fairly healthy – 7iron 140yds these days – rotator cuff is marginal and my lower body just forgets to start the downswing too often – leading to fats and thins. I hook as often as I slice. YES- a seniors section will be welcome!

  3. Steve

    Jun 6, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Dennis, I will welcome a column devoted to senior players. I am luckier than most with (except my shoulder) no aches and pains at 62. Nevertheless, when I see PGA pros playing par 5s with a Driver and a 9-iron, I am watching a game that I love, but no longer relate to. Features on fitness, scoring (short game), equipment (like making the switch from Steel to graphite shafts, etc.) would be of value to me and I hope to many of your readers.

  4. joro

    Jun 6, 2019 at 9:08 am

    Dennis, you are going in the right direction with us Seniors. I am a retired PGA Pro who was once a +4 hip and now at 80 and after 2 hips, Open Heart Surgery, and a stroke and several other little problems I am a 22. Anyway due to injuries and other problems the game is not what it used to be but I still love it. I taught also and dealt with Sr. problems daily and had to improvise a lot depending on the students condition. Good on you.

    And there is one thing I can do better today than I could at 30 and that is relax and fall asleep at any time of day.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 8, 2019 at 7:32 am

      The part of this comment i like is “I still love it”….just as life itself, take what the game gives you and keep golfing your ball until it goes in the hole!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 7, 2019 at 12:29 pm

      The falling asleep part is after your round i hope.

  5. stephen anfang

    Jun 5, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    What can I do when I cant put much pressure on my left (front) leg in follow-thru????

  6. Dennis Clark

    Jun 5, 2019 at 9:22 am

    If this article was helpful, stay tuned. I’m going to do a series dedicated to senior golf specifically.

    • Canes fan

      Jun 6, 2019 at 8:11 am

      Yes, DC. It was helpful. Us Sr’s with limited flexibility, different goals than a person their 20’s should have our own tailored instruction. Look forward to it.

  7. Canes fan

    Jun 4, 2019 at 6:57 am

    Good stuff Denis. You said, a fade is a better idea. But, also suggested a closed stance. Are you suggesting to hit a fade from a draw stance?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Fade is better? Where is that? I was surprised when you wrote it so I went back and re read…I don’t see. A fade is NOT bettter for seniors. Whenever possible I teach them to draw it fir a little more run out. Now by comp, a fade is better than a top or shank or slice????

      • Canes fan

        Jun 4, 2019 at 5:47 pm

        Thanks, Dennis. Perhaps, I was having a Sr moment, lol. But, I thought you meant a fade from a closed stance: “If that’s the case, it may be more difficult to approach impact from inside, and a former draw might become a fade, but again, it is not a fate worse than death. Small changes in set up — such as slightly closed, rear shoulder drawn back a bit for a “head start” — might help a little.” Either way, I tinkered with setting up a fade from a close stance and was striking it well!

        • Dennis Clark

          Jun 4, 2019 at 8:23 pm

          Fade from a closed stance IS possible, just less likely. I do have in-and-over students who set up closed and loop it out coming down. But to try to get a draw, I do close many seniors. The comment you’re referring to was regarding getting through the ball. For seniors who cannot turn through, I sometimes set them open to get less “stuck”. And that CAN cause fade but it is better than drop kicks or quick hooks which are the result of being stuck too far inside and not able to clear lower body. The whole idea of teaching seniors is finding a way to help them play more “functional” golf knowing that “optimal” is not likely. thx DC

  8. M

    Jun 4, 2019 at 2:35 am

    But mental limitations do ha

  9. JANICE Byers

    Jun 3, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    You’re way too good looking and spry to be going into your 8th decade! :0)

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:46 pm

      Exterior not so bad
      Interior oh so sad
      ??????

  10. Greg V

    Jun 3, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    Should we have a section on this site devoted to senior golfers? Club head speed less than 92 mph (or 90 mph), lets exchange ideas on drivers, irons, and wedge play.

    A separate heading – Senior Golfers!

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 3, 2019 at 8:43 pm

      Sure. Great idea. I’ll speak to editors.

    • G

      Jun 3, 2019 at 10:11 pm

      You mean Geriatrics.
      Senior just means Over 50, and that might include people who are still scratch and can shoot low scores because they’re still players.
      It should be either called Geriatrics or Super Seniors.

      • Dennis Clark

        Jun 4, 2019 at 5:27 am

        50 is an arbitrary number chosen by the USGA….I shot my age two days ago. This article applies to anyone at any age who has realized changes in their game due to aging or physical issues.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Fade is better? Where is that? I was surprised when you wrote it so I went back and re read…I don’t see. A fade is NOT bettter for seniors. Whenever possible I teach them to draw it fir a little more run out. Now by comp, a fade is better than a top or shank or slice????

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      Stay tuned. Good senior-specific stuff headed this way?

  11. underachiever

    Jun 3, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Should we start by telling the dude in the picture that he bought the wrong handed glove… #limitations

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Instruction

More stroke-saving advice for seniors: Love thy hybrid

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Continuing our series for seniors, this is a topic I’ve written about before but it is so important to our senior games, it is worth revisiting.

Some of you may be aware of the “24/38 rule.” It deals with the idea that most golfers lose consistency with an iron that is less than 24 degrees of loft and over 38 inches long. That USED TO BE a 3-iron. And I always thought even that was marginal—a 3-iron for a middle handicap players has always been a bit “iffy.”

Then came the “juicing era” when manufacturers started making golf clubs with much less loft and some added length. Now, that “24/38” rule applies to 5-irons! The cavity back era gave way to some great innovations, particularly forgiveness, but it also introduced stronger lofts and added some length. For example, today’s 6-iron, on average is 31 degrees and 37.5-38.o inches. The point is this: Many golfers do not have sufficient speed to hit 5-irons, maybe even 6-irons, from the fairway!

This goes for golf in general, but in senior golf, it is even more important to remember!

What to do? Voila! The invention of HYBRIDS! We have to understand one simple golf impact principle:  Getting the golf ball airborne from the turf requires speed. If we lack that speed, we need clubs with a different construction. The HYBRIDS are built to help launch the golf ball. Basically, it works like this: when the center of gravity is further from the hitting area (face), it is easier to launch the golf ball. On an iron that CG is directly behind the ball. In a hybrid, it is moved back, so the ball can be launched higher. There are other factors, but basically, that’s it.

My personal recommendation is as follows

  • If your driver clubhead speed in under 85 MPH, your iron set might go 7-PW
  • Driver speed 85-90 MPH, your iron set might be 6-PW
  • Driver speed 90-100, your iron set might be 5-PW
  • Driver speed over 100, you can choose the set make-up with which you are comfortable

As this piece is largely for seniors, I’m assuming most of you are in one of the first two categories. If so, your game may be suffering from your set make-up. The most common swing issue I see in seniors is “hang back” or the inability to get weight through at impact. This is often the result of a club shaft too stiff, OR clubs too difficult to launch—example, a 3-iron. Please DO NOT beat yourself up! Use equipment that is easier to hit and particularly easier to launch.

The question invariably arises, what about fairway woods of similar loft?  They are fine if you do not mind the added length. The great thing about hybrids is they are only slightly longer than similarly lofted irons. My advice is to seniors is to get with a pro, get on a launch monitor, find your speed and launch conditions and go from there.

Note: I am NOT a fitter, and I DO NOT sell clubs of any kind. But I do know, as a teacher, that hybrids should be in most seniors’ bags.

 

Want more help with your swing? I have an on-line swing analysis service. If you are interested in a “look” here it is.

 

 

 

 

 

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Clement: Long and short bunker shots

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It happens to all of us where: We get short-sided and need to put a shot together to save the furniture. The short bunker shot can really be a challenge if you do not have the right task to perform it and can result in you wasting a shot in the bunker or letting the shot get away from you because you don’t want to leave that delicate shot in the bunker.

And of course, so many of you are afraid to put a full swing on a longer bunker shot because of the dreaded skull over the green!

We have the easy solutions to all of the above right here and the other videos I have, which are great complements to this one including an oldie but goodieand this one with Chantal, my yoga teacher.

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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