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Swing advice is not one size fits all

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I have written a number of instructional articles over the years, and created quite a few “how-to” videos as well. I always enjoy sharing tips with my readers and students and I am grateful when a number of them respond that I have helped with their game.

But I am here to issue a word of caution: It is very difficult to learn the game of golf from a written word or even watching instructional videos. When doing so, you have to be very careful about how you internalize the information. When instructors write these tips, we are doing so very generically, to mass audiences who we have never seen swing the club. So it is incumbent upon the readers to know which tips apply to them and, conversely, which ones do not and can actually hurt their game. This is a fine line we walk and caution is the order of the day.

If you look in the World Golf Hall of Fame, you will see every kind of swing imaginable; flat, upright, long, short, quick, slow, etc. I can think of nothing that every single great player does or has done over the years. If a flying elbow is bad, Jack Nicklaus would not be the great champion he is. If a flat swing is bad, no one would have ever heard of Lee Trevino. If the club is to be swung slowly, Tom Watson would be still playing in Kansas City. This list could go on forever.

Every time I read or watch a suggestion for a position in which a player “should be,” I can find some great golfer who is not in that position. We see many of the greats roll their arms through impact, supinating the left hand; yet Paul Azinger finished “knuckles up.” Freddie takes it outside, Ray Floyd took it way inside. Even if we look at the modern players, those coming up in the Launch Monitor era with coaches, videos, Motion systems, etc., we still see a wide variety of methods employed; from Fowler’s flatness to DJ’s straight up style, there is no end to the differences! What do they have in common? They all square the club face at the right time.

If anyone saw Jim Furyk’s video and didn’t know it was Furyk, they would find fault and make any number of suggestions to correct it. Unless they looked very closely at the club at impact, a fan might think: “Why is he doing that?” But the trained eye thinks: “How did he do that?”

If we look at little closer at Furyk’s move, it’s a stroke of pure genius. I have had a lot of people say, “I hate that swing!” I’m always quick to point out that I would love to have that impact position consistently. The point is simple: It’s a series of moves — a sequence of motions that works. The strange movements in Furyk’s swing don’t matter. One move complements the other. It is a compatible variation!

When I see unique swings like Fuyrk’s I’m not looking at what he does wrong, only how did he match the disparate parts? I love that singularity and want to find out all I can about how he did it. When my students arrive on the lesson tee, they have an incompatible variation, and that’s why they are there. I have to make the parts match. But I need to see it live and in-person to do that completely. I am simply amazed when criticism is offered before the ball flight is known. My very first question to a student: “What is the ball doing?” That’s all that matters. When I am sent a video to analyze, I have to know something about shot patterns, or all I’m suggesting are classic positions. What good are those?

Learning from an article is fine if it is of the “If-this-then-that” nature. If you do this, then try doing that. That’s the way I teach, and I believe it’s the only way to develop a personal style that allows you the freedom to do what comes naturally. IF the swing is wide going back, it has to narrow coming down. If it goes outside going back, it has to loop back under coming down. And the reverse works as well. I personally think Sergio has one of the purest moves in the game. How he got there, only he and his father (his teacher) really know. And the look of it matters not one bit — all that matters is that the ball reacts as he wants it to. But again, if one were sent a video of his swing, comments like laid off, too much lag, hands too low and others might be the typical responses.

“Golf is what the ball does,” the great John Jacobs reminded us, and as an instructor, I let that be my first guide. Writing articles, as I do for this site, are very general suggestions. I remind students and readers that if you want to find your personal problem and get correction for it, see your instructor. He or she will work with what you have, and try to improve on it; at least I do. Look for the “if you do this” approach when sifting through the massive volume of material on the blogosphere about learning golf. And see your teacher to bounce your new findings off — It may keep you from going down a wrong path.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction and Academy” forum.

 

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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

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Mike Leether

    Jan 31, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Amen to that!, a couple years back I developed a bit of a “loopy” swing with an instructor as a way of counter acting some bad swing flaws I previously had. It has some Furyk-esque qualities. I broke par for the first time six weeks later. In the years since I’ve tried to hit some balls with a more “conventional” swing and it just doesn’t work for me. People constantly tell me how “weird” i look, until I beat them….

  2. Dennis Clark

    Jan 30, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    The reason I advocate live, 1 on 1 lessons is obvious I think. The instructor can manage your swing as he/she sees it unfold right in front of them “Your ball did this; that’s because you did that-feel the correlation.

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Great advice as always Dennis,

    You’re right, it is difficult to learn off written words no question. At the very least you need to see a video of a specific instruction being performed.

    Nothing beats a live golf lesson from a qualified instructor explaining the elements of the golf swing.

    Cheer

  4. Martin

    Jan 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    We are really getting spoiled by your good articles Dennis! Big Thanks!
    Your article got my thinking. I recently saw a video instruction by Jim Mclean where he tells us how good and reliable it is to hit a power fade with the driver, and informed us that Hogan, Lietzke and Nicklaus achieved great success with this shot and nowadays we can see how Tiger is working towards finding the power fade from the tee. BUT I have never met an instructor here in Sweden (and I think swedish teachers generally have good reputation) who has tried to teach me a fade as my basic swing. It also seems like most of the instruction in magazines or in books (for example the slot swing by Jim Mclean, Hardys the plane truth) encourages a in-square-in movement in the swing which ideally would result in a straight shot or maybe a slight draw. Why? If its easier to hit a fade, why dont the pros try to teach us this, maybe a lot of us recreational golfers would benefit from it? Or would it be to difficult for us to understand? When I am driving the ball bad from tee, I set up my body to the left, and the clubface at the target, and try to get the club out in front of me in the backswing and then from the top I basically just turn and the good result is a fade, and the less good result is a push that most of the time finds the right side of the fairway or maybe the light rough. I showed this shot to a coach ones and he just said he didnt like it, that it wasnt the way he wanted me to swing… Are the majority of the pros to obsessed with giving is a traditional swing with the right setup, right angles, correct plane etc.? Are they to obsessed with the perfect swing?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      well i think the draw has always been the coveted shot for amateurs. It usually goes futher because it is launched lower and runs out more; that is, comes in at a shallower landing angle. Fades can get high and short when the attack angle gets too steep.

      • Martin

        Jan 31, 2013 at 6:48 am

        ok, thank you Dennis. I see your point, and I like your arguments. You have to really know what you are doing to start fading with power and maybe it mixes up alignment, posture, backswing etc to much and makes the game even harder…and who wants that:)
        Thanks a lot!

  5. Matt Newby, PGA

    Jan 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Dennis,

    Very well said. Nowadays I find more of my students are over-informed rather than under-informed. While much of the information available is good information (of course not always) most people do not understand what should/should not apply to them specifically. I often use the analogy that a cast is very good for a broken leg, but if your leg isn’t broke a cast is probably only going to hurt your performance.

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Instruction

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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