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Winning Swings: Tim Clark, don’t sweat the small stuff

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[youtube id=”hiyJDmmt6NI” width=”620″ height=”360″]

Tim Clark is a world-class player who has built his swing around a physical condition that doesn’t allow him to rotate his palms upward. In the video above, I take a look at his mechanics and swing plane, but the real lesson here is to not let size or physical challenges stop you from being all you want to be.

I grew up in the inner city and spent many summer days waiting until 4 p.m. so I could play golf for the discount rate of $2.50, so I always admired athletes who achieved more than others in their position may have. The professional tours are full of physically gifted golfers who have had a world of opportunity, but I’m a fan of the guys who achieve more with less.

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 [email protected]

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. paul

    Jul 28, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    I started playing golf with a very strong grip and thanks to swinging a hammer for 12 years (similar motion in my right wrist, I am a lefty in golf) I could pound it into the 280-300 yard range pretty good. I have since sprained both wrists and can’t gain my distance back. Any suggestions for gaining back the 30-40 yards I lost would be appreciated. My accuracy is excellent, distance sucks. Drive 240, 7 iron 155 carry. I just suffer on longer courses. Par 4s at 420+ are silly hard but I used to play em fine. 10 handicap… Ish.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 28, 2014 at 10:05 pm

      Paul, if it’s mechanical it’s correctable; id need to see a video of it. But if it’s physical…another story. What doers your doctor or trainer say? I lost 20 yards after heart surgery and cant find it? It’s a strange thing…

      • paul

        Jul 28, 2014 at 10:57 pm

        Not mechanical. I tried a strong grip a few days ago hitting into a net and my wrists hurt for two days after. Its all physical now. I play a neutral grip now. I am debating trying strengthening my grip a tiny bit at a time and seeing if I can gain a little distance back. But I am struggling with if its worth the trade off. I enjoy my swing, its just my ego that wants the big numbers back. I used to be quite inaccurate and had a big hook sometimes. Now I play a straight shot or straight fade. I have had rounds where I hit 80-90% of fairways. I used to be 30%. Also dropped 10 strokes with new neutral grip.

        • paul

          Jul 28, 2014 at 11:00 pm

          Physiotherapist said she would need xrays to know for sure what is going on in my wrists. My wrists were hurt when I tried a used club and the tip let go and the head flew off as I released the club.

  2. spinout

    Jul 28, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    How does Tim flatten out his driver swing then? I’ve read on here that he’s one of the most efficient drivers of the ball based on his club head speed. I think I saw some something where his angle of attack was like +5 degrees. I cheer for the guy whenever he’s in contention and I think they should allow him to keep the belly putter after the rules change

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 28, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      It looks to me like he moves more behind the ball and swings flatter with his driver. And “backing up” from a steep downswing can create a hitting up motion with the driver. Some things cant be explained, look at a Jim Furyk or Raymond Floyd…talent is a word that comes to mind.

      • spinout

        Jul 29, 2014 at 12:47 am

        Just so I can learn something. Does backing up mean not shifting your weight on the down swing? I’m guessing by your response and your talent comparisons that this swing has some crazy compensation move that you have to have some amazing talent to time.

        • Dennis Clark

          Jul 29, 2014 at 9:12 am

          It means your upper body tilts away from the target to get the club back on plane or in a position from where you can avoid a crash because of a steep downswing. The analysis suggest that great players have a series of motions that are compatible. Lesser players go through a series of motions that are incompatible, that is don’t match. In Clark’s case, his strong grip and physical limitation are the base lines of his motions. Strong grip, extended (cupped) wrists create steep downswing plane but that is compatible with a strong grip and so on…get it?

  3. Andrew

    Jul 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Agree with the sentiments above about coaches not coaching to the individual and helping the student becoming the best they can with what they have got (that could be limited physical, mental ability and with the how much time to be able to practice).

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 28, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      Andrew, it’s the ONLY way to teach and coach. What a player does as result of their body type is not gonna change….a teacher has to work with that.

  4. Lord Helmet

    Jul 28, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Just goes to show you – many ways to skin the cat. Just get to a good impact position and you will be just fine.

  5. Bryan

    Jul 28, 2014 at 10:29 am

    That was an excellent review. Being that my swing has always been very vertical, and little forearm rotation, it’s nice to see it pay off for a tour level player. I’m a 3.6, and I’ve wondered if my swing that is much more comparable to Tims than that of a Sergio, has held me back from a scratch. I don’t have his hip rotation though impact.

    I wish more PGA teaching pros would teach to the individual student vs. teaching positions that only 1% of the world are able to attain.

    anyways; great review

    • ZC

      Jul 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      Very much agree with this comment – physical limitations do influence the golf swing (maybe not always as much as Tim Clark’s) but they inevitably do to some extent.

      The more teaching that takes them into account the better…

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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