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Forget method teaching: Swing your swing

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Over the course of the 50 years, 30 of which I’ve spent teaching golf, I have seen many methods come and go.

From “Square to Square” to “Stack and Tilt,” from Alex Morrison’s left-handed game to Tommy Armour’s right-handed, many people have advocated different ways of swinging the golf club.

I’m here to tell you this: If you follow or teach a method, you are doing a disservice to your game or to your students. As proof of this, I offer the World Golf Hall of Fame. Look at the swings of the great players enshrined there. I’m willing to bet none of them are the same. The ONLY thing they have in common is IMPACT — good, solid contact of golf ball and club.

Here’s a few examples:

  • Should you stay centered over the golf ball with more weight remaining on the left side?

Curtis Strange, Walter Hagen, Hal Sutton and a slew of other great players don’t think so.

  • Should the right elbow be pointed down or close to the right side in the backswing?

Jack Nicklaus and Miller Barber are just two examples of great players who never got anywhere near that position.

  • Set up square to the target?

Paleeeese. Lee “Buck” Trevino and Fred Couples are 15 handicaps if we aspire to that “fundamental.”

  • Left arm extended into impact?

Lee Westwood and Calvin Peete have made a nice living with a bent left arm into impact. Ed Furgol, 1954 U.S. Open Champion, had a permanently bent left arm and won the national Open.

  • Neutral grip?

Don’t even go down that road.

  • Turn you hips through the ball?

An entire generation known as the “Reverse C Gang” played pretty well with a lot of “slide” of the lower body, with added axis tilt into the golf ball.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. And this is not just at the Tour level. I have played in state opens and regional events with guys who had the funkiest moves you could imagine and who could break par regularly. And they had much more than a good short game.

John Jacobs said it best:

“The purpose of the golf swing is to apply the club correctly to the ball; the method employed is of no consequence as long as it can be repeated.”

I had four players in my school this weekend and gave every one a different type of lesson. The reason? One was ahead of the ball and over it, one was swayed way off the ball and under it and another was up and over with a super early release. The other was what I call “rocked flat, with a very shallow angle into impact.”

They all came to school with one purpose: to hit the ball better —  not to get “prettier” or “stacked” or “lagged” or anything other than BETTER. Golfers have to square the face, get the attack angle right and get the golf club travelling in the direction of the target. Do those three things and you have a good swing. Period.

Can you get to good impact from your right side? Yes. Can you get to good impact from your left side? Yes. Can you get to good impact from 5 degrees inside out? Yes. Can you get to good impact from 7 degrees down? You bet your clubs you can.

But you need COMPATIBLE variations in your swing to get there.

  • Seven degrees down needs some serious left aim or swing to COMPLEMENT that much down.
  • High hands and a vertical backswing need some lateral hip motion to “drop the club in the slot” BEFORE they turn through the ball.
  •  Low hands, flat takeaway need an early and agressive turn- NOT slide” to deliver the club.

Do the math, pay attention to the impact and understand what YOU have to do get there. Method?  If I taught every student the same thing, first I’d be bored out of my mind, and second, I would not have lasted 30 years in this craft. Every hour I get a different puzzle to solve. That’s what keep it alive and fun for me.

I have darn near every instruction book and video that was ever written or produced. And at night I sit in front of the computer and watch swings of my students and of the great players too. It does not take great insight to realize that there an infinite variety of way to swing and play.

One student left this weekend trying to stay as centered and on the ball as possible in his backswing; another left trying to get as far to his right side as he can. The goal of both is the same, but the pattern and swing thoughts to get there were as different as night and day.

How do I know this style works? I correct swings. Come see me for an hour. If you’re not hitting the ball better when you leave, the lesson is completely FREE. And I won’t give you a whole new swing to get there either.

“Swing YOUR swing,” as Mr. Palmer says.

 

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

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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

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. reggie jaggers

    Aug 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    I am so glad to see someone, a teacher finally come forward and set all of this “all of these parts of the swing must be so and so, you need to have so much weight on this foot, that foot etc. etc. ” There isn’t any wonder that students have so much trouble taking away anything productive after a lesson. I’ve always thought use what suits you the best and don’t worry about what all the books say. They said Jack Nicklaus would never be a good PGA player (paraphrasing here) because his swing was too upright. Well I think Jacks record speaks for itself. I am a self taught golfer and am now 61 years old, soon to be 62 (Sept. 3) my best round at my home course was 64 and this was one year after taking up the game, but I was obsessed with it so I practiced daily. I can still shoot under par and hover around par on my bad days and I’ve never had any instruction. Thank you very much for your post, I wish more instructors would come clean and “fess up” as well. We have all become too reliant on today’s golf equipment ie: made to think we can buy a better game, practice is the only thing. Sorry straying a bit here, but again a great post and a much needed one.

  2. Dennis Clark

    May 19, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Well first thought is distance from the ball. Have you tried a little closer? Bill Haas does do that with an OUT hand path and you can bet he aint hooking off the toe. Its one of those compatible variations that you need to make,

    • Dennis Clark

      May 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      Chris send me a video; I’ll take a look

  3. Dennis Clark

    May 17, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    whats the problem? swing problem i mean?

    • chris

      May 18, 2013 at 6:03 am

      Dennis,

      I am around a scratch golfer yet I tend to hit the ball off the toe which causes me to hook/pull hook.. Video shows I move away from the ball on the downswing—can’t fix it to save my life. I have found pros like Bill Haas have a similar move.

  4. Chris

    May 16, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Best article I have read on the swing in a long long time. But Dennis, how do I improve and make my impact consistently pure? I’m working my tail off but at a loss here…

    Well done!

  5. Dennis Clark

    May 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Exactly Mike. State Open or State Am is perfect example. A lot of zero handicaps who look like like they’re digging graves.

  6. Steve Connolly

    May 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Dennis, wouldn’t you say that anyone who is coming for a lesson needs to get a more repeatable swing?

    I have been taught that up a more “correct” swing is more repeatable, and generates more speed with less effort than a swing filled with compensations. After all, not all of us can practice and play as much as the great players you mentioned.

    Doesn’t a more “correct” swing produce fewer injuries as well?

    Thank you!

    • Dennis Clark

      May 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Steve: I am willing to bet your swing is as repeatable as a tour pro other than the face at impact. Please send me a video. If you have a V-1 app on your phone, I’d like to see it. Thx, DC

    • Mike Divot

      May 15, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      How many times have you seen a guy with a “correct” swing who looks really controlled and unnatural?

      Or he has a beautiful swing and hits his driver 200?

      And how many times have you played with a guy who hits it like a horse on roller skates, but somehow beats the pants off you?

  7. Steve Pratt

    May 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Bravo Dennis! As a teacher, I can imagine a number of PGA Tour pros coming to me for advice – say Kevin Stadler, Jim Furyk, et. al. And I really wouldn’t have any swing advice.

    I think my first question would be – so how’s your putting?

    Yes Clampett advocates a forward leaning shaft of the driver at impact.

    • Dennis Clark

      May 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm

      Yes sireee…Played with Eamonn Darcy many many years ago. If you’re not familiar, google him. I couldnt believe my eyes. But he never missed a shot in a 66 round. Alan Doyle same thing thing; he could swing in a closet. Pured it all day long!

  8. Park

    May 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Excellent, thanks

    • yo!

      May 6, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Yes, I remember that from the book. He says that slow motion video shows that most pros hit the driver with a slightly descending blow. But I’m not sure he is advocating that. Also, I not sure that TGM is actually a method as opposed to a description of a golf swing. And I’ve seen TGM instructors disagree with each other because each person reads the book slightly differently or they incorporate their own bias into it.

  9. yo!

    May 4, 2013 at 11:10 am

    bobby clampett the impact zone is an excellent book on this topic. he describes the one fundamental that all good golfers have in common

    • Dennis Clark

      May 4, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      The ony problem with the TGM driven “Impact Zone” is that he suggests hitting DOWN on your driver. Trackman proves that is not optimal…

      • yo!

        May 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm

        Yes, I remember that from the book. He says that slow motion video shows that most pros hit the driver with a slightly descending blow. But I’m not sure he is advocating that. Also, I not sure that TGM is actually a method as opposed to a description of a golf swing. And I’ve seen TGM instructors disagree with each other because each person reads the book slightly differently or they incorporate their own bias into it.

        • Dennis Clark

          May 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm

          TGM science claims that the club loses speed as soon as it begins to ascend. That low point is the highest speed of the club. Radar disagrees. It’s true that MOST Tour pros hit a bit down on the driver. When you’re in the 115 MPH zone, you don’t need more speed, you’re looking for control and some of them feel 1 degree down or so gives them that. For 99.9% of golfers, this is terrible advice!

  10. ulejas

    May 4, 2013 at 9:14 am

    There are a few past golf teachers that could benefit from this article. We don’t all have to be cloned.

  11. Speedster

    May 3, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    totally agree except for the grip issue. neutral is all relative to where you strike the ball(example, alot of people will grip it address neutral but regrip as they hit the ball, not ideal, but it happens). reality is such, we are all humans, and therefore we should generally hold the club with our left hand relatively the same, assuming you don’t have any physical impediments. the left hand grip IMO is probably the only thing that should be “standardized”

  12. Nathan

    May 3, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I agree 100% with the article. I am one of those with a very unorthodox swing. Let say I use to take the club way outside, way over parallel, and then would drop my shoulders/hands way inside. The only way I hit the ball is quick hands, pop up at impact, and push the ball 30 yards right of my aim. The reason I changed/still changing is too get better. My thing was always consistancy. If timing was off my swing was gone. If I was on, I could play with anyone. That ultimately made me want to change my swing.

  13. David

    May 3, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Could not agree more. Listening to people slip into hyperbole when arguing their theories of the *only* way to swing is worse than listening to idiots go on about their political party of choice.

    That John Jacobs quote is important to everyone who loves the game.

  14. Steve

    May 3, 2013 at 7:28 am

    GREAT article!!! One of the best I’ve ever read here — this one actually talks about ‘real’ golf instead! We all have our idiosynchratic elements, and boy I’ve seen a slew of ’em, but they often result in pure, accurate, and repeatable shots. Great work, keep up this sort of writing!

  15. MJ.

    May 3, 2013 at 5:04 am

    The fact that writer thinks all ‘method teachers’ teach the same day in day out, means he has stopped learning an investigating at some point. Which is sad, because according to this article he seems to be a fantastic teacher ….

    Undoubtedly writer follows a certain set of rules to help his students, whether conscious or not. That makes him as much a method teacher as any other teacher.

    • naflack

      May 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      Interesting logic…

    • Dennis Clark

      May 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      writer follows a set of rules that are FUNCTIONAL, not a set that are in someone’s book. COMPATIBLE variations is what this writer teaches. You?

  16. Square

    May 3, 2013 at 4:57 am

    John Jacobs is the best; this article was worth the read.

  17. Adrian

    May 3, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Awesome write up and very very true.

  18. GSark

    May 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Bravo! I am one of those guys who is a bit unorthodox but still manages to score. I’m a self taught once a week and carry a GHIN of 4.9. I take my driver back flat, come a little over the top and hit a fade down the middle. I take my short irons straight up, lay them off at the top, drop’em inside and hit a big draw. It’s what feels good, it’s what I do, and I can repeat it. It’s how I do it. Fundamentals are good, and if your mis-hitting it fundamentals can help put you on the ball,but fundamentals aren’t absolute and they sure as heck ain’t the same for everybody. When I built my swing I read alot and got really confused,really,really confused. Then the clouds parted and I realized… You wanna score, make putts. Get the ball up and down. Chip it when you can, pitch it if you can’t chip it. Swing only as hard as you are able to hit the ball flush. If this means pitch it, then pitch it,even with your driver. I won’t call it fundamental, what I will say is putting the club squarely on the back of the ball and putting the ball in the hole is REALLY all that matters.
    Swing your swing indeed sir, Swing your swing indeed.

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Opinion & Analysis

Have you got Golfzheimers?

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While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.

Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition.  n truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do).  I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.

As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?

Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age.  The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.

As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.

The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.

Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you.  Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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