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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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Comparing the recreational beginner to the elite player

As a player, I know there are rounds of golf where I feel like I worked extremely hard to achieve the results and there are also rounds that are effortless and just plain easy. Why do we go through these peaks and valleys in golf?

As an instructor and player, I want to explore a deeper understanding of what it means to be playing out of your mind vs. playing in your mind.

I want to address both beginners and elite players on their quest for better play. All beginners and elite players must understand that, as players, we are all experiencing ups and downs. The bottom line is that some handle them better than others.

Why is this a feeling golfers have: “playing out of your mind”?

Well, it is pure relaxation. It is fluid, seamless, continuous motion. No hang-ups. No hiccups.

The next big question, how do we achieve this regularly?

We get to this without forcing it, by believing in our makeup. It is locked in our subconscious. It is a controllable, uncontrollable. Subconsciously, your nervous system is in the green light. You are just doing. This is peak performance. This is the zone. This is playing autonomously, out of your mind.

I believe that over time, a golfer’s game is compiled in his/her built-up expectations of the player they truly believe they are. Expecting to make a putt vs. just so happening to make it feeds two different minds. When you place an expectation on an action tension is created. Tension creeps into our nervous system and our brains either respond or they don’t. This is called pressure. This is what I call playing in your mind. You are in your head, your thoughts are far too many and there is just a whole lot floating around up there.

The more players play/practice, the more they will expect out of themselves, and in result, create that pressure. (ie. Why progress is difficult to achieve the closer you get to shooting par or better). The best players are better at responding to that pressure. Their systems are auto-immune to pressure. (ie. Think of practice like medicine and think of a pre-shot routine like the Advil to help calm the spiking nerves.)

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The key to understanding here is that we can play in both minds and achieve success in either situation. It is all about managing yourself and your re-act game.

Subconscious playing is beyond enjoyable. It is more recreational in style. I believe beginners are playing more subconsciously, more recreationally. I believe elite players can learn from the beginner because they are achieving superior moments and sensations more subconsciously, more often. All players at all levels have off days. It is important to remember we all have this in common.

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There is no secret or magic…it takes mastering the minds to achieve the best results more often. Most important, as players, we must recognize that during our amazing rounds…

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  3. We are just doing

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Remember to enjoy the walk and believe that hard work always works!

Please reach out to me at dmfiscel1482@gmail.com to learn more about the zone and how to become accustomed to playing autonomously.

 

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