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Is trying to get better always a good thing?



“I don’t want to be the golfer I was in 2001, I want to be better,” Tiger Woods once said. Golfers sometimes fight too hard to make improvements, and find themselves doing more harm than good.

Rory McIlroy is seemingly approaching “Tiger in 2001” status at this point in his career, but he seems to have one valuable lesson figured out: Don’t try to get better. 

In addition to his physical abilities, McIlroy seems like a bright young man. I don’t know him personally, but judging from his media presence, he is certainly wise beyond his years. He hasn’t put any added pressure on getting to a certain number of wins (like Tiger did with the number 18), and he isn’t obsessing over mechanical changes. Maintenance, especially for McIlroy in the coming years, is the name of the game. Not improvement.

“Maintenance” is a word most great golfers dislike. It connotes staying where you are, and not trying to “be all you can be”– an idea that may be perfectly OK for the U.S. Army, but might actually be dangerous for elite level golfers.

For the last three weeks we have witnessed Rory playing at a level very few players ever get to. Truly rare air. If he were to not get one bit better than he is right now, he might win 20 majors! He’s that good. And if he learns anything from Tiger, it should be to maintain the level of play he is at right now, and not entertain thoughts of “better.” I personally believe Tiger made that mistake. The constant chase of perfection has haunted him somewhat and left many wondering why he ever wanted to change the way he played at the time of the Tiger-Slam. If he had stayed where he was, he might be at 25 majors!

Every so often a player reaches the point of “all he can be” and that level is enough to beat every player on the planet. That’s what being the best means, by definition. Rory is currently at that point. Does this mean he shouldn’t practice or keep working hard on his game? Of course not. It means he need not try anything new; no new theories, no new coaches, not even a new workout routine. Just honing.

Rory’s past three weeks have been the finest exhibition of driving the golf ball any of us have seen in a long time, and if he stays healthy, there is no reason that he can’t continue to do that for a long time to come. He seems more content with dominance than others have before him.

Tiger decided to switch coaches after winning the Masters by 12 shots, then again after winning 8 majors, then again after 14 majors! Contrary to popular belief, he’s certainly not the only one that has tried to improve after proven success, either.

During the broadcast on the Sunday of Rory’s 2014 PGA Championship victory, Ian Baker Finch made reference to a time in his career that he made a grip change and it “ruined my career, really.” That was after he had won the British Open. Stewart Cink had a similar experience after his Open Championship win. So did David Duval. John Mahaffey, a fine tour player and major winner, has said the same of his game: “too much tinkering.” Bill Rogers, the leading money winner on Tour in 1981 and The Open Champion, decided he needed to hit the ball further.  He never won again. And then there’s the story of Raplh Guldahl, a back to back US open winner in the 30’s, who lost his game after writing a “how to” book on golf! The irony is biting.

Perhaps one of the reasons Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Gary Player lasted as long as they did is that they stayed with what got them to the top. Ben Hogan found his “secret” late in life, but never changed it a bit once he found it.

In this era of enlightened golf instruction through technology, the players have to be very careful. They need to be hyper-aware of what got them success in the first place. Some prefer “digging it out of the dirt,” but most now go the route of coach and radar systems. Whatever route the players chooses, he or she needs to know when they have “got it”, and stay with that feeling, that swing, that timing – whatever it might be. Thinking there is always something to improve on might actually be detrimental. It certainly doesn’t seem to have worked in Tiger’s best interest.

We can all learn from the lesson that sometimes complacency is a good thing. Often, I am approached by single-digit handicap golfers who want to “get to zero.”  I am always quick to point out that, say a 5 handicap, is already a very good golfer and we need to approach his changes with caution. No good teacher wants to make your swing prettier, we just want to make it better. Now, you may never reach the level of a PGA Tour player, but your own game means as much to you, so be careful how you approach your changes.

A major overhaul in your swing is rarely necessary to lower your scores.

We all have a core golf move, so you have to work within that basic structure. One of the secrets to Butch Harmon’s success with tour players is that he embodies a style of teaching that fits the individual. I’ve spoken with him about this, and he has said many times: “If a player does something very naturally, just stay with it; make that the basis around which you work.”

Words of wisdom for golfers at any level. Embracing your natural, inherent movements will give you the best chance to hit the ball better, and get the results you want. As John Jacobs has often said: “If that was a band aid sir, you need to go buy a whole box of them.” Don’t perform surgery when a band-aid will do the job!

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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]



  1. Dennis Clark

    Aug 15, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Carefully 🙂

    Seriously body type only tells me part of the equation. I have on on line video review program if You’d like Ill take a look , [email protected]

  2. John

    Aug 15, 2014 at 3:39 am

    This is a psychological issue. Earl had Tiger hitting balls on the Mike Douglas show when he was two years old. TWO. Push, push, be better, hit more balls, hello world, he’s gonna be the best that’s ever been, change the world, etc. His dad may have been gone for six years, but he’s still in his ear. More workouts, train harder, be a seal, more women, more wins, more majors, more, more, more. Of course he’s changed coaches and swings trying to “get better”. That’s theconlybway he knows how to be. I agree with you Dennis, but it’s very hard for people to change fundamentally who they are, and especially a driven guy like Tiger.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Aug 14, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Sorry for those typos but you get my drift.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Aug 14, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Authors note: Fun discussion and great comments but lets not forget. I was talking about a tiger but mainly using him as an example of what might e a mistake for the rest of us. That is, knowing when it’s good, being aware of what you’re doing when you’re playing your best, and MAINTAINING IT. Accepting that this might be as good as it gets and I’m really enjoying this level of golf is so important for your game AND your enjoyment. Thx again to all for participating. I always welcome swings on my Facebook page.

  5. Mitchell Beck

    Aug 14, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks Dennis – I enjoyed the article and agree with the sentiment, especially the teachings of Harmon and the wisdom of Jacobs.

    I think I have a minor correction, however. You wrote: “Tiger decided to switch coaches after winning the Masters by 12 shots”

    I believe Tiger was already working with Harmon prior to his US Amateur wins in the early ’90s, and he wanted to overhaul and change his swing with Harmon after watching tape of the Masters he won by 12.

    I think, in keeping with your article, that at some point Tiger wanted to do more (2002 or so) and Butch said, “No need, swing is good, just need to fine tune it and you’re ready to go” and Tiger’s obsessive mind couldn’t handle it.

    Unless it was hurting his knee, there was no reason to switch. If he just worked on his driving (or maybe switched to a more forgiving model of driver – something with a 43.5″ shaft and a 460cc head) that dude would have won more.

  6. John

    Aug 14, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I am a 52 year old, 6 handicapper who on good days shoots 76-80. When I asked my pro how I could become better he told me he would not mess with my full swing because it could do more damage than good. He said at this stage of my life I should work on my 50 yards and in and try and maintain my 6. He pointed out there is a reason why there is a senior tour!

  7. Mike

    Aug 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Sucks to read this that after 6 years playing and practicing I’m going to have to deal with periods of literally hitting 180yd toe hooks or shanks all of my life and I’ll always be chasing the center of the face only to never truly find it 🙁

    A 5 or 6 handicap may be deemed as “pretty good”, but there aren’t many days that I DON’T feel like a complete hack while playing.

    • Bainz

      Aug 15, 2014 at 7:18 am

      It is the hackers that have most to gain from coaches. Dennis was talking about Tiger getting obssessed with improvement not an average hacker.
      We all develop a certain way to swing club which can be hard to unlearn. But if you have a bad fault you have to change it, but working on your own is impossible. See a good coach and work on game together.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 15, 2014 at 9:16 am

      The article states: when you have peaked, reached the limits of your physical best…180 yard toe hooks doesn’t sound like you’re quite there yet. Keep practicing. Thx

  8. Jafstar

    Aug 14, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    I think it’s weird how Tiger is breaking down before Phil.

    Did Phil go through this at age 38? What has Phil been doing to keep up with the pack that Tiger isn’t able to do, at least this year anyway.

    I think Tiger just looks tired with bags under his eyes all the time. Maybe he should break up with his girlfriend like Rory did, might give him that boost he needs.

    • Ballstriker

      Aug 14, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      I’m thinking’ it’s because Eldrick has been through some 8 or 9 surgical procedures since college that Phil has not. Too many to list, I’m sure someone here will list them chronologically. A mild brain injury stemming from losing the respect of colleagues and fans world wide because of his poor choices as a husband. His swing violence at 120 plus miles an hour has been far more destructive to the body than Phil’s “slide back and slide through” hope I don’t block or yank it move. What injuries were incurred during the infamous ’09 fire hydrant incident? Who knows? Phil’s ills seem to be biologically linked, and he’s been lucky to not have had a catastrophic injury. The next 5 years for both aging war horses will be interesting to watch. Can either man pull off a late major into their mid forties like the Golden Bear did? We shall see, we shall see.

      • Knobbywood

        Aug 16, 2014 at 2:17 pm

        Tiger took a nine iron to the side of his face courtesy of an angry Valkyrie woman and I think that actually caused some kind of physical damage to him and his golf has suffered because of it… Balance, feel, and sight lines could have been altered

    • M-smizzle

      Aug 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      As a former weightlifter, I’d have to say that a lot of this can be chalked up to overtraining…back in my hayday everything hurt but you gotta keep goin but maybe I’m wrong..anyways it’s his life and people need to quit criticizing him for doing what he wants
      There’s a big difference in what he wants vs what we want for him; right chamblee?

      • Dennis Clark

        Aug 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm

        One would think with all the expert advice available to him, he’d know the lengthen as you strengthen school of thought. Maybe not?

    • Gautama

      Aug 15, 2014 at 11:15 am

      By appearances, Phil has also led a completely different life. We don’t know the truth of any of these guys’ lives, but it would seem that Phil has always led the more balanced life of the two, also finding happiness in family, friends, and activities off the course, while Tiger’s self image and happiness seems to be entirely defined by his record. Doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out who the happier person is likely to be and I think that has a lot to do with long term performance. Tiger has always seemed to be a deeply unhappy, lonely person to me, and thy a just has to take a toll on every part of your life. If all there was to life is how you’re hitting a golf ball right now, wouldn’t you tinker with your swing to no end?

      • Knobbywood

        Aug 16, 2014 at 7:27 pm

        Wow because you have enough insight into both tiger and phils personal lives to make such a judgement

        • Gautama

          Aug 16, 2014 at 11:55 pm

          Well, as I said we don’t actually know anything about these guys but what we see from the outside… But yeah with that caveat I’d say it’s pretty glaringly clear that they’ve led very different lives and that Phil’s has been the more balanced of the two.

  9. Scooter McGavin

    Aug 14, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I can definitely see the value in this concept from a shorter time frame. But, would this same principle still apply when you consider a long time frame, where one must take an aging body into account? As a player gets older and cannot swing the same way as they could when they were 25, won’t their swing need to evolve, and, in a sense, develop to accommodate this? In that sense, the player would need to find ways to improve his efficiency, which, I would consider “improvement”. Thoughts?

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      Sure move up two tees. I used to hit 12/13 greens, at 66 if I played the tees I used to play Id be lucky to hit 8/9. I’m hitting the same clubs into greens I used to hit. Just playing 30 yards closer:). Swings shorten and lose speed but don’t change a lot really.

      • Scooter McGavin

        Aug 14, 2014 at 6:43 pm

        Sorry, I should have clarified. I meant with competitive golfers, esp. on Tour. The aging tour players can’t move up tees, but they still have to find ways to keep up with the younger players who are hitting it 300. Does it basically get made up for in better course management?

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      Scooter. That’s why after mid 40s on the regular tour they start to fade. The senior courses play SERIOUSLY shorter than the jr tour. I personally think the senior tour might wanna move up to 45-47.

  10. rockflightxl1000

    Aug 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Dennis, out of curiosity with natural moves do you ever see it as a result of a physiological compensation? I’m speaking in the context of the low handicap players.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Stocky gets short, often lays it off. Have to live with it.
      Natural lefties playing righty are almost always flat.
      Lanky types get loose and move excessively. Gotta widen the base to tighten em up a bit.
      Lots really.

  11. Andrew Cooper

    Aug 14, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Interesting read as always Dennis. Amazing how many seemingly “quirky” swingers have had amazing consistency and longevity- Monty, Couples, Furyk, Leitzke, Peete, Barber and so on…and seemed to require little maintenance too. They all knew their swings and games and had the good sense not to change them-something in that I think.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      So many…Acceptance is key in golf. It will never be a game of perfection, and one only funds trouble looking for it! You’re right there is a lot to be learned in those swings for all of us!

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  13. Chris Costa

    Aug 14, 2014 at 7:16 am

    Great story, Dennis!

  14. whatisthis

    Aug 14, 2014 at 1:38 am

    Enjoyed reading the article and all the comments. I’m not a single digit player, but I have a tendency to tinker with my swing. I think the article makes sense. The problems is being able to repeat that great round when you’re a once a week golfer. It would be great if I was that talented to repeat a great round without practice…

  15. Jeff

    Aug 14, 2014 at 1:33 am

    I think Rory is fun to watch, he’s a great player, making history. But, he’s got to win a 5th one, then come down from the high, a 6th one, a 7th, 8th, and 9th. Then he’ll have 10. Then we can start to talk about whether he’s avoided making mistakes that have hurt other great players.
    Its unfair to say Nicklaus and Snead and Player did something Tiger hasn’t, or couldn’t do longevity wise, and he compares favorably to any of them in most every possible performance measurement except for majors won. His career has already covered almost 20 years, if you start with the his US Amateurs.
    Rory has the game, and now he’s shown a penchant for winning on the biggest stage. Now he’s gotta win a handful more, and I’ll be rooting for him, for the same reason I like Tiger, I like history.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2014 at 7:18 am

      I agree. The only history on the current tour is Tiger Woods. No question.

  16. John

    Aug 13, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    We have a saying where I come from. “Dance with the one that brung’ya.”

  17. ada

    Aug 13, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Rory should be focused on getting better. That doesn’t mean he makes big changes to his swing. Maybe it is time to become a top 10 putter.

  18. Long

    Aug 13, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Could the reason be Tiger listens to his body and tried to change the swing in order to have less stress on his aging body ?

    • Joe

      Aug 13, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      Yes! I believe he didn’t change his swing to get better. Even during “maintenance” little tweaks are made, almost daily. The only reason he completely overhauled his swing is because he had to in order to keep playing.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2014 at 7:14 am

      What in his new swing is easier on his body?

      • Jeff

        Aug 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm

        lololol. I’m a huge Tiger fan, and sometimes Tiger apologist, but you hit the nail on the head right there. Maybe he needed to challenge himself the way Haney claims in “The Big Miss” if only to stay motivated, that understandable. But in time his swing has only become more and more, he would say explosive, I would say violent.

  19. cdvilla

    Aug 13, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    This is a great article. I’m a 10 (and dropping) and have used software to track my game for the past few seasons in order to pinpoint areas to improve. I think that most people think that they know but do they? I know that bad driver swings cost me strokes but if I hit the fairway, I make par 3/4 times. No need for a full-bore swing change but certainly a need for a change to my process in the tee box.

  20. Dennis Clark

    Aug 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Thx for the interest all…remember I’m a teacher and this was written for all of you and directly about Tiger Woods. I’m a huge Tiger fan have been since he came on the scene, but he MIGHT have made a mistake? Its a pitfall that all athletes have to be careful of and it applies to the rest of us as well. HOW you change, IF you change might need some careful consideration

  21. Mike

    Aug 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    There is clearly a strong consensus that Tiger played his best golf under Butch Harmon and had he stayed with Butch he would have broken Jacks major championship record by now. I too felt this way but I decided to look at a timeline of his career and calculate his winning percentage with each coach. He actually won a higher percentage of events he entered under Hank Haney. 32.98% versus 25.16% under Butch. Yes he had that amazing year in 2000 where he won 9 or 20 events (45%). But in 2006 under Haney he won 53.3% of his starts. Still the only year of his career where he won more than half of his events. He also had a big equipment advantage for the majority of 2000 that no one ever talks about. In fact, I’m not sure how many people are even aware that in the late spring of 2000 Nike developed the first multilayer, urethane covered golf ball which Tiger put into play right away. For most of the rest of the players on the PGA tour, it wasn’t until that years Presidents Cup in the fall that Titleist introduced their first ProV1. We all know that the multilayer golf ball was a game changer on tour and Tiger was using one for most of the golf season including the 3 majors he won that year while the rest of the tour was using a wound balata covered ball. Also if you look at a larger snapshot than just a single season, say that great run he had with Butch from 1999-2002 you’ll see that he won 34.61% of his starts. In comparison his best stretch with Haney came from 2006-2008 where he won an amazing 51.35% on events he entered on the PGA tour plus majors. So after looking at the numbers more closly it appears he played his best golf under Hank Haney. As for Sean Foley, Tiger has had to suffer through too many physical problems to give a fair assessment of their work together. But if you’re interested his winning percentage is 15%. But if you just look at the two years he was basically healthy 2012-13 his winning percentage was 22.86. Much closer to that of the Harmon years.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Every player has “natural tendencies, things they do that are in their golfing DNA. A good teacher/student relationship is where the instructor does not remove or totally eliminate that move. Particularly if a player has had success with a certain move. In Tigers case, he was always standing up, moving off the ball, driving hard to his left and freely releasing the club. An in-to-out pattern that yes, had him hitting down on the driver. He won 14 majors and everything else you can think of with those tendencies. I think Hank and Butch both recognized that. Now his core, his player’s soul if you will, has been surgically removed from his game. Granted it is very different body but I’m just sayin…

      • Old Tom Morris

        Aug 14, 2014 at 12:19 am

        I was just curious but of Tigers 3 swings (Harmon, Haney,Foley) which one do you think is the most technically sound to be the best ball striker. If you say either Haney or Foleys do you think switching from his Harmon was a mistake because it was just an improved version of what Tiger had been doing naturally since he was a kid?

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 14, 2014 at 6:47 pm

          Old Tom: I will go on record as saying this officially once and for all: I think Tiger Woods made a mistake leaving Butch Harmon!

          • Old Tom

            Aug 14, 2014 at 9:17 pm

            Interesting, any chance you could explain why. I was just wondering if there might be a golf lesson hidden somewhere in your answer since I’m going down a swing change at the moment.

  22. John

    Aug 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Very good read. And actually very relevant to me. I’ve been hovering around a 10 hdcp all season, dropped 3 strokes from the last couple years, and my goal is to get to a 5 before next spring. Didn’t go to a swing coach, but I obsessed over some videos I took at the range, trying to find some improvements, and then I realized after a couple rounds that it was my putting, and to a greater extent, my scrambling that needed the most improvement. I go to the range often, but now hit less balls and try to spend as much, if not more time on the putting/chipping green.

  23. dapadre

    Aug 13, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    As always, nice read. The funny thing is I was discussing this with a golf mate, that is the urge for golfers to always “want” to get better, without questioning if we arent already at out best. I think it has to do with the fact that golf is one of those very few sports were perfection is impossible. Think about it, a perfect score card is one with 18 hole in ones, Impossible yes, we know but that is perfection. Its like the 100 meter sprint, the obsession to see how fast we can go.

    I agree that nothing beats 2000-2001 Tiger, was phenomenal and something tells me that Rors wont make that mistake, so we have a lot to look out for.

  24. IH8

    Aug 13, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I get what you’re saying, i.e. beware the pitfalls of chasing perfection, but I gotta challenge you (and those who put this warning out there) on something.

    Some say that if Tiger had changed nothing he’d have 18 or more majors. You say that if Rory keeps this up, he might win 20 majors. Maybe, but here’s the thing about being the best: you become the bar, and that bar becomes what everyone strives for. I totally get that completely overhauling everything may be a disaster (or it could make you better….but lets ignore that) but to just maintain means you’re standing still while everyone is running to get to you. If you do that, eventually, someone will pass you by. Right now, a whole world of touring golfers are looking at Rory as what they gotta beat and, more importantly, a world of junior golfers are looking at Rory as what they gotta be to win the big ones. If Rory stays exactly as he is, you don’t think some of those folks are gonna get better than him? Yes, an overhaul may screw everything up, but if he keeps everything exactly as it is (even his work outs, which is odd as you can get stale in the gym pretty fast) you don’t think someone’s best is eventually gonna be better?

    Look at it this way: do you really think Rory would be where he is right now if he didn’t push himself beyond his best?

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 13, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      I think we don’t know; I think if and WHEN these people start beating Rory, then Rory might wanna consider a change…My question about Tiger is why change when NOONE can beat you? It’s a risk he took and now older and injured we may never know. Thx for reading

    • Christosterone

      Aug 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      No offense but rory’s career barely matches some of tigers better years.
      Tiger had over 25 wins by rory’s age…what does he have, 7 maybe?
      Rory is an awesome player but he is nowhere near tiger or jack. Those guys(tiger especially) didnt miss cuts left and right…
      The memory of the golfing public is either extremely short or nostalgically long….
      Tiger was the embodiment of domination through the entirety of his first 15 years.
      And for the guy claiming tiger had an equipment advantage….are you kidding? Phil is on record as calling tiger’s equipment out(correctly imho) for being antiquated.
      And he was still dominating the world of golf.

      • Philip

        Aug 13, 2014 at 10:44 pm

        Well the year isn’t up yet for Rory so he may get another one or two, but if we compare till the end of the calendar year as of their 25th birthdays (if I didn’t mess up the counts) :

        Jack – 17 (4 majors)
        Tiger – 24 (5 majors / 3 World Championships)
        Rory – 13* (4 majors / 1 World Championship)

        * and counting for the rest of the year

        • Christosterone

          Aug 14, 2014 at 12:54 am

          I stand corrected on the wins.

      • Dennis Clark

        Aug 14, 2014 at 7:01 pm

        Agreed I don’t think anyone is comparing Rory to a young Tiger. And he’d be wise to avoid that pitfall as well!

      • Dennis Clark

        Aug 14, 2014 at 7:07 pm

        Agreed I don’t think anyone is comparing Rory to a young Tiger. And he’d be wise to avoid that pitfall as well!


    • Jeff

      Aug 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      I don’t think Rory needs to get better. 16 under at both the Open Championship and PGA will win outright, just about every year. I’m always on WRX, hearing about how great it is to get fit correctly. Maybe Rory just finally found the Head-Shaft combo he’d been missing with his driver? Maybe if all WRXer’s foubnd that combo they could drive it just as good? jk

  25. tom stickney

    Aug 13, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Great thoughts Dennis…sometimes trying to get better can hamper your success as we all know, but what if it had worked out and he really did get better than he was in 2000? Or is that EVEN possible??? Quite the question to ponder.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      You’re right Tom…hard to imagine better than then, anyone. I give him credit for trying; didn’t work this time but who knows? I myself miss those days!

  26. Joey

    Aug 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Tiger’s too big now. Dude got addicted to physical fitness in the wrong way – he’s too jacked up and not as agile as he should be as a golfer.

    I think this is the biggest mistake he ever made.

  27. Christosterone

    Aug 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    To be fair, Tiger was BY FAR the best driver and player with the shorter smaller headed drivers.
    He has need to change and adapt his game to more technological changes than Nicklaus or Hogan ever could’ve dreamed.
    Notice Tiger still hammers the shorter, smaller headed 3W and pounds his hogan era blades(4iron at 24 – pw at 50)
    If the equipment had not changed and given guys like Yang, Wier, Micheel, Hamilton, Curtis, and numerous others the chance to hit it off the center of the clubface he would probably have 18 by now and perhaps mid to low 90s in total wins.
    The fact is that 45″ drivers require an entirely different swing while Tiger was always a one swing guy like Nicklaus from his driver to his sw.

    • Joey

      Aug 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Tiger is TOO MUSCULAR now, that is the biggest problem. He went and got all muscle-hungry and addicted to being big, and IMO that’s why he’s lost agility and the swing that made him all those majors.

      Seriously, just look at footage from 1997-2002 and tell me that when he was there as his most dominant his figure wasn’t light years from what it is today.

      • Christosterone

        Aug 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm

        I agree he went the peter lonard route to his detriment(possibly)..
        I like the sinewy look he had or vijay…vijay is the perfect example because his swig. Is a reverse c(supposedly the hardest on the body) and his swing is identical to the 1994 version..and its beautiful.
        Tiger would’ve been well advised to stay lean and sinewy(like jordan in basketball)….
        But he has an insane desire to do everything to the extreme…he cant just run like a normal person, he has to do it with navy seals..
        Personally i have no clue why he went so bonkers working out…but my point about the equipment stands. I believe guys like michael campbell would not have made the us open cut without a 460 driver and prov1x.
        Whereas tiger wouldve with a tiny driver and balata.
        To give u an idea of what has undergone since tigers 97 masters consider this: justin leonard’s 3w in 1997 was actually made of wood….lol

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm

          you have to remember that the obsessive trait got him to be Tiger in the first place? The best Ive ever seen for a while…

          • Christosterone

            Aug 13, 2014 at 1:26 pm

            And he won like 8 out of 9 tournaments i believe in 08 or 09…which would be a massively successful career, let alone a year or 2.
            So we cant be too quick to call his bulking up a failure.

          • Christosterone

            Aug 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

            Also please forgive the fact that my comments read like illiterate ramblings at this time.
            I am posting from an ipad and i hate software keyboards and find it too time consuming to edit posts…

      • Max

        Aug 13, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        You can be big and swing from the inside and hit a draw. I think that’s what he should do. And not these fades all the time.

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm

          In my teacher opinion I agree; his body is not fast enough to play fades, at least right now

          • Jeff

            Aug 14, 2014 at 2:17 pm

            But if he hits a draw he will be more prone to hooks, and from what I can tell of Tour Pros, they hate hitting hooks more than just about anything

      • RobG

        Aug 13, 2014 at 4:51 pm

        Go back and take a look at Tiger when he was dominating in 2005-2008/early 2009, he was WAY bigger then than he is now – he was winning at 50% clip and bagged 6 majors and had an average club head speed of 124 MPH.

        Tigers problem now isn’t that he is too muscular, it’s that his body is broken and he has dirt poor swing.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      He never drove it better than the 43.5″ steel driver he used to use

    • Rich

      Aug 14, 2014 at 5:46 am

      You are certainly on Tigers band wagon aren’t you? There was no better driver of the golf ball with a small headed driver than Greg Norman. He was absolutely amazing. Tiger could only dream to hit the driver like Norman.

      • Jeff

        Aug 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm

        And that’s why Tiger is still chasing Greg’s stellar two majors? C’mon, Tiger the kid lapped Norman before the turn of the century. Chased him out of the game.

        • Rich

          Aug 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm

          He never DROVE the ball as well as Norman. The comment I replied to was that he was BY FAR the best driver of the ball with a small headed driver. I was simply saying Norman was better. No one was talking about how many wins they had.

      • Christosterone

        Aug 14, 2014 at 8:31 pm

        Fair enough. Norman was astounding with the smaller headed driver.
        As Butch Harmon has always said, Greg was the best ever with that tech.
        But Tiger’s era marked the end of Greg’s with maybe a 3-5 year overlap.
        While Norman(in his prime) was striping it in the 80s and early 90s can hardly be equalled, Greg was no longer drilling it 270+ center cut at the turn of the century just prior to the 460cc explosion.
        So I stand by my statement that Tiger(at the turn of the century) was the best driver with the small headed woods.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      He used to release his driver better. I teach and believe the two swings are different in what they are trying to accomplish, so differ considerably from each other in motion. He has gotten into handle dragging with the driver in an effort to zero out his path, to his detriment. He used to instinctively feel the difference. He’s lost that distinction and it’s killing his driver swing.

  28. palmer

    Aug 13, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    With the greats mentioned, remember one thing. Any avid golf fan can recognize Nicklaus’ swing from a distance, or Hogan’s Or Palmers, Or Nelsons. It was their trademark- their thumbprint.

    Tigers swing? So many changes- you can’t pick it out anymore.

    The Tiger Era is done. It was from the Masters 1997- to the 2008 Open. The BEST, being from 2000-2001. best and most solid swing and putting stroke.

    Tiger will need to change the way he plays to have any further Big Stage (major) success. Mickelson did it. Trevino did it. Face the fact’s Tiger.

  29. Archie Bunker

    Aug 13, 2014 at 11:55 am

    So True. I can’t think of any other great golfer that has attempted to do so much to his swing and physical self in an attempt to “improve” as Tiger has. Multiple “swing coaches”, laser eye correction, blood doping and probably more than we will ever know. He certainly might be paying the price right now. The great players of the past (Snead, Palmer Hogan, Jones, Nicklaus) never needed to do any of the above, and it worked out well for them. Let’s hope Rory keeps his “natural” swing and stays away from the Foleys, Ledbetters, and other shortcuts to “improvement”.

  30. Alex

    Aug 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

    This is a phenomenal article with particular relevance to low handicap golfers. Sometimes, you need to accept that there’s a difference between your “lowest scoring” swing and your technically best swing.

    I’ve always had a very flat swing (probably because I have very long arms). I tried to change my backswing to get a more “classic” position at the top of my backswing because I thought it would improve my consistency and distance. Instead, I went from a 4 to a question mark–shanking 50% of my wedges and hitting an off the planet slice.

    I really hope that McIlroy recognizes the danger of messing with some of his idiosyncrasies (straight left leg at address, tons of knee action and ridiculously fast hips) and sticks with what works.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      One thing I hope you did when you made that change was a stronger grip…needed for more upright in most cases. Thx for reading

      • Alex

        Aug 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

        I’ve always had a fairly strong grip. The problem with the change is that making my swing more upright required me to disconnect my shoulders/hands from my chest, leading to a loss of secondary tilt and all kinds of bad things. Although I was flexible enough to get into that position, it just doesn’t work with my body (I’m between 5’9 and 5’10, but my wingspan is between 6’1 and 6’3).

        • nikkyd

          Aug 13, 2014 at 5:04 pm

          Your built like an orangutan dude! Wow. I get so jealous of those lanky 140 lb 6 foot tall guys that are fluid and graceful.

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm

          Ive never seen more upright NOT disconnect; its the less effective way to swing IMO because of the timing involved. I prefer rounded flatter moves that have a better arc and more passive club face squaring. Just a teachers opinion…

          • jm

            Aug 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm


            would you say tom watson disconnects? i think he looks fairly upright and connected.

            also can you define what you would call a “better” arc?

            and can you explain passive clubface squaring vs aggressive?

            thanks for all of your great insight in your articles

          • Bainz

            Aug 15, 2014 at 7:36 am

            Dennis how should a 45 year old who is 224 lbs and 5 foot 10 swing?? Left leg is 3/8ths of an ich shorter than left (childhood bone disease) and I play right handed. 🙂

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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf



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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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle



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



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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