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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

Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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Golf 101: What is a strong grip?

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What is a strong grip? Before we answer that, consider this: How you grip it might be the first thing you learn, and arguably the first foundation you adapt—and it can form the DNA for your whole golf swing.

The proper way to hold a golf club has many variables: hand size, finger size, sports you play, where you feel strength, etc. It’s not an exact science. However, when you begin, you will get introduced to the common terminology for describing a grip—strong, weak, and neutral.

Let’s focus on the strong grip as it is, in my opinion, the best way to hold a club when you are young as it puts the clubface in a stronger position at the top and instinctively encourages a fair bit of rotation to not only hit it solid but straight.

The list of players on tour with strong grips is long: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, David Duval, and Bernhard Langer all play with a strong grip.

But what is a strong grip? Well like my first teacher Mike Montgomery (Director of Golf at Glendale CC in Seattle) used to say to me, “it looks like you are revving up a Harley with that grip”. Point is the knuckles on my left hand were pointing to the sky and my right palm was facing the same way.

Something like this:

Of course, there are variations to it, but that is your run of the mill, monkey wrench strong grip. Players typically will start there when they are young and tweak as they gain more experience. The right hand might make it’s way more on top, left-hand knuckles might show two instead of three, and the club may move its way out of the palms and further down into the fingers.

Good golf can be played from any position you find comfortable, especially when you find the body matchup to go with it.

Watch this great vid from @JakeHuttGolf

In very simple terms, here are 3 pros and 3 cons of a strong grip.

Pros

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and helps you hit further
  2. It’s an athletic position which encourages rotation
  3. Players with strong grips tend to strike it solidly

Cons

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and can cause you to hit it low and left
  2. If you don’t learn to rotate you could be in for a long career of ducks and trees
  3. Players with strong grips tend to fight a hook and getting the ball in the air

 

Make Sense?

 

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