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Clark: On learning golf

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“A true teacher will teach how to think, not what to think”

There are several versions of the above adage, but when you teach every day, you get to see this up close and personal. In my opinion, all a teacher can do is to guide you as to what happens when you hit a golf ball. The student has to discover what works for them to achieve better results. It is that simple. The internet is loaded with “how-to” info, and some of it might actually apply to your individual issue, but do yourself a big favor: Go beat some balls and see how it goes; try this, try that, repeat steps one and two!

Let’s take turning as a classic example. If someone were to ask a teacher HOW to turn, there could be a dozen answers. What the teacher, the data, video show is simply this: You are NOT turning. Let’s try this, let’s try that, no, how about this? There are an unlimited number of ways, but the student needs to: FIRST, realize the lack or incorrectness of turn, and SECOND, find a way to do it. Any way, YOUR way. This is called participating in your learning and discovering process. When Ben Hogan said: “the secret is in the dirt,” this is precisely what he was referring to. 

I have a short section each day in my golf school dedicated to the ballistics of impact. A student needs to know exactly what happens at impact. And when you know what produces good flight, then find what you personally are doing to violate those laws. How to correct an open and/or closed clubface means nothing to a student who doesn’t know what open or closed actually is, or does. Swing path and its relationship to clubface resulting in ball flight curvature is knowledge every teacher has, but is like rocket science to the student who knows none of this. I once had a student who thought his shanks were coming off the toe! When I told him that just the opposite was happening, he immediately moved away from the ball a little and stopped shanking (there were other reasons he shanked but just that much knowledge got him off the hosel!)

In order to correct anything, anything at all, it is first necessary to discover the problem and find a way, any way to correct it. No teacher, book, TV tip, or article can do what you can do for yourself. All the teacher might do is make you aware of the problem. But in the end, just go play and try this, that and the other thing. The answer is there, believe me, the answer is in you. You have to find it!

The problem, very often, is that golfers are looking for someone to offer them a light bulb moment, a flash of “aha,” the “I’ve-got-it-now” solution. The aha moment is the only way to get sustained improvement, but it must come from you, the individual. There is no universal “light-bulb moment,” it is uniquely-yours alone to discover.  As I’ve said before, “it’s not what I cover, it’s what you discover.” Discover what? That “thing” you can grasp and go hit ball after ball until you have, at least to a functional degree, internalized it!

Good luck on your personal journey!

On a personal note, this will be my final article for GolfWRX. I have written 100-plus articles over the last 10 years or so and I have thoroughly enjoyed helping all of you who read my articles.

If you read through them on some rainy day, you’ll notice a theme: “If this, then that.” Meaning: If your golf ball is consistently doing that, try this. The articles are all archived on this site, and I am writing a book about my life on the lesson tee. It has been a labor of love as my whole career has been. There is no greater joy in my professional life than seeing the look on a golfers face and feel the joy within them when they improve. The minute that slice straightens, or that ground ball goes up in the air, is a special bond and a shared joy in the student-teacher relationship.

But I’ve said most of what I think is pertinent and anything after this would be redundant. There is now a plethora of how-to info out there, and I personally feel the reader may begin to think he/she should do this or that as opposed to thinking “I should try to discover this or that through my own personal exploration.”

If any of you wish to contact me directly regarding help with your game, you know how to do so. But do remember this: You cannot learn golf from words or pictures. My advice is to get a good teacher to look at you a few times, then go out and find the answer in the dirt. Golf is a game to played. And in that playing, in that trial-and-error process, you will find things that will help you achieve better outcomes. No one owns this game: We only to get to borrow it from time to time!  

 

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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. Doug Meek

    Sep 24, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    Great article. The best lessons I have received have come from you. . Glad to read progress is being made on your book.
    See you soon,
    Regards,
    Doug
    Akron, Ohio

  2. Howard Hayden

    Sep 20, 2019 at 12:36 am

    What a terrific final article! Thank you for your dedication and contributions to the game. Look forward to reading your book. Is there a planned publication date?

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 20, 2019 at 8:07 am

      Thx Howard. I’ll keep you posted. drop me your email.

  3. John Mule'

    Sep 19, 2019 at 10:11 pm

    Dennis,

    I will truly miss your articles. I’ve learned much from them. Feel very privileged to have taken part in your schools down through the years. Really looking forward to your book. All the best my friend.

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 20, 2019 at 8:08 am

      Thx John. I watched your great improvement. Keep up the good work

  4. geohogan

    Sep 19, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    What if , “the secret is in the dirt” quoted from Ben Hogan
    actually referred to the DIRT. ie the divot.

    Study the divot and you will find all you need to know about the clubface and path at impact?

    Is the clubface sweeping the dirt from the inside quadrant of the ball, rather than the back of the ball?

    Before Trackman there was the Dirt. Thank you Ben Hogan.

  5. geohogan

    Sep 19, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    Reverse every natural instinct and do the opposite of what you are inclined to do, and you will probably come very close to having a perfect golf swing. Ben Hogan

    Thanks for the thought provoking articles.

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 20, 2019 at 8:21 am

      Of all games, clearly the most counterintuitive, paradoxical game of all! ThxGeo

  6. John

    Sep 19, 2019 at 2:32 am

    One of the best articles Ive read on here. I don’t teach golf, but I am a teacher. The only real way of teaching anybody anything is to raise their awareness of what they are actually doing, as opposed to what they think or feel that they are doing. Then with that as a base the student goes from there, as you so adroitly said yourself.

    Telling someone to “do” this or that is temporary at best and is never effective in the long run.

    Thank you Dennis, I have enjoyed reading all your articles.

  7. Dal ANDREW

    Sep 18, 2019 at 10:58 pm

    Is it intentional or just a coincidence fueled by common understanding & approach that your swan song title exactly duplicates Percy Boomer’s classic; On Learning Golf?

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 21, 2019 at 6:11 pm

      Percy’s Classic has been an inspiration to all of us, but no my title was not intentional. Im glad you mentioned it though as perhaps some who have not read it, might take a look. My approach to golf instruction is likely an amalgam of what I’ve learned and what I see right in front of me daily. I’ve worked with some 35,000 people over the years and certain patterns (both physical and psychological) emerge. The articles I write try to capture these patterns…I hope they have. Thx for reading.

  8. Tanner

    Sep 18, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    Dennis, Thanks, for the articles.Your down to earth method of teaching is refreshing since the industry has gone in the opposite direction. Best Wishes, Tanner

  9. Mike Barnett

    Sep 18, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I have read so many of your articles here and had the distinct pleasure of you taking the time to analyze a video my own swing.
    I want to thank you for all your efforts to assist all of us golfers.

  10. Tom F. Stickney II

    Sep 18, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Love ya brother…student self-sufficiency is the goal for sure.

    Stay in touch pal!

  11. Laura

    Sep 18, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Great article! I got teary eyed when I read it was your last… I haven’t known you long but you are a great teacher! Looking forward to reading your book

  12. Scooter

    Sep 18, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Dennis, Thanks for all the bits of wisdom in your articles. I have read most of them, and find myself reading and re-reading some key ones as my swing comes and goes throughout a season. Always helpful in “righting the ship”. Best wishes with your book.

  13. DB

    Sep 18, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Great article. Thank you.

  14. John K

    Sep 18, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Usually don’t comment on these things – but I’ve enjoyed reading your articles when I do come across them!

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 20, 2019 at 8:25 am

      Thx John, I’m glad they helped. Stay tuned for book

  15. Rascal

    Sep 18, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    A wonderful article to finish your tenure – thank you and well wishes.

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Long irons vs. short irons. In this week’s Impact Show, we discuss the differences between long irons and short irons. We talk through the different ball positions, postures, and techniques for both irons and give you some golfing drills to help you differentiate both irons!

 

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Walters: Avoid these 3 big chipping mistakes!

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Chipping causes nightmares for so many amateur golfers. This s mainly due to three core mistakes. In this video, I talk about what those mistakes are, and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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