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We may never see golfers digging it out of the dirt again

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The role of the professional golf coach is relatively new in the game of golf. Most tour pros nowadays have any number of coaches on their “team,” in charge of everything from their backswing to their thoughts between shots. This whole concept, however, is entirely a modern day occurrence.

Professional golf has been played in this country since the late 19th century, and it has only been since the late 20th century that players have embraced the concept of a swing coach. It was unheard of for Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead or Arnold Palmer to seek a swing coach (let alone their fourth swing coach, Mr. Woods). And those are some of the modern era greats. Go back before that and we find zero professional coaching on the professional golf scene.

BenHogan
Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” included this famous illustration.  

Sure, there were teachers and how-to books on the game. Players like Seymour Dunn, Alex Morrison, Bobby Jones, Tommy Armour and of course Ben Hogan wrote instructional books and developed theories on playing, but there was one essential difference: Almost to the man, every one of these teachers were professional players. Some of them were very successful, some less so, but they all played golf professionally.

The problem was, because golf was so new in this country and still quite unknown, there simply was not enough money for them to play golf exclusively. They supplemented their tournament winnings with club jobs. They ran tournaments for their members, sold clubs and of course gave lessons to their members. Rarely, if ever, did they give lessons to other pros. These pros would commiserate and bounce ideas off each other (Maniac Hill at Pinehurst was famous for that), but they essentially  did not have coaches. It was not unlikely for a pro, say Gene Sarazen, to win the U.S. Open on Saturday, and be on the lesson tee at Fresh Meadows on Sunday.

What changed and when did it change?

Well for one, golf became more popular. In fact, it’s popularity grew to such a point that television started to cover the game. With this exposure, corporate America recognized the opportunity to showcase its products through sponsorship and purses began to grow considerably. We also had a gentleman named Arnold Palmer who started to dominate the game, and a very popular president who spent a good part of his white house years at the Augusta National Golf Club (Hint: They named a tree after him that was lost this winter to an ice storm).

Golf had hit the big time and the touring circuit was well under way. With that development, we saw the rise of the full-time touring professional. The very best players could (and had to) devote all their time to playing, and they left the golf clubs en masse.

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Arnold Palmer and President Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, probably at Augusta National. 

That left a void: who will teach the members now? The next best level of players, club professionals, could devote all their time to their shops and members’ needs. Most club professionals are very fine players in their own right, perhaps just one step from making a living playing the game. So it was a win-win really for all involved. The members no longer had the big names perhaps, but they did have very talented and devoted young men and women at their service whenever needed. And the tour pros could do nothing but work on their game. This division came to a head in 1968 when the PGA of America formed the players division of the PGA.

But there was another, seemingly unnoticed at the time, benefit to all of this. The club professionals could devote their time not just to their shops, but FULL TIME to teaching. They had the opportunity to explore the world of teaching golf.  They were no longer giving lessons on the side; they were doing it full time for a living. Through this diligence, they developed a way of understanding the game, the swing and methods of communicating this to the amateur world that had previously been lacking. The early great players approached teaching from a “this is how I did it” perspective.

“This worked for me, so it’s bound to help you.”

And while this helped some, many simply couldn’t relate. The field as a whole was lacking something. And just as we had the early pioneers in playing the game, we had the same in the teaching field. Two names come immediately to mind when we think of pioneer teaching professionals: Bob Toski and Jim Flick.

BobToski
A young Bob Toski instructing one of his students.

Bob Toski played the PGA Tour quite successfully. In fact, he was the leading money winner in 1954. But Jim Flick, co-author of “How to become a Complete Golfer” with Toski, was not a touring professional. While he was a quite capable player, he was one of the first “big name” instructors who did not play for a living. Together, Toski and Flick developed the concept of golf schools through their affiliation with Golf Digest magazine and voila! The era of the teaching professional was in full flight.

Many of the names associated with the early days of Golf Digest such as Davis Love Jr., John Jacobs, Bill Strasbaugh, Paul Runyan, Eddie Merrins and others became household names in the teaching world. These teachers honed their crafts hour-by-painstaking-hour on the lesson tee (a routine I’m all too familiar with), not on the practice tee. But they were still, for the most part, teaching amateurs. And the idea caught fire. Golf Digest schools started with some 12 schools a year in the 1970s. By 1990, the company was doing 250 a year.

17pennington_CA0-blogSpan
Instructor David Leadbetter and Ernie Els. Els has worked with both Leadbetter and Butch Harmon on his swing. 

But the final leg of this journey was complete when Sir Nick Faldo decided that, to win major championships, he needed to rebuild his swing. He sought the services of David Leadbetter, a Florida-based teaching professional, to help him accomplish this. Faldo went on to win six major championships and just like that the era of the “tour teacher” was upon us. After Faldo’s great success, Nick Price came into the Leadbetter stable and we were off and running. This mutually beneficial relationship went something like this: The player’s part was to work hard on the game, and teacher’s part was to continue to study the science of teaching and the golf swing.

The names that so many are now familiar with: Harmon, Haney, McClean, Kostis and Leadbetter developed strong followings not just as teachers, but as Tour teachers in particular. They kept their private clientele and in fact it grew exponentially after their reputation as teachers of the stars grew. This was the very beginning of the professional coach.

Hunter+Mahan+Sean+Foley+Open+Preview+Day+2+qZ0fezVa7jsl
Hunter Mahan with instructor Sean Foley, Tiger Woods’ former swing coach who also teaches Justin Rose, Stephen Ames, Parker McLachlin and others. 

The upside of all this is obvious: big money for the successful teacher/student teams. The downside? Well, many feel that the players of today have become too reliant on their teachers, that they are automatons playing mechanical golf and have lost the feel for the game. Still others believe some of the mystique of the game has been lost through so much scientific research into the body and swing connection. Be that as it may, the era of coaching, and surely science, is here to stay. We may never see players digging it out of the dirt again.

The days of early mentoring, and then sending the budding professional out on his own have gone the way of persimmon drivers and the niblick. So for those expecting Tiger to “go it alone” from here on out, you might think twice. He has had a coach since he was 5 years old and will continue to seek the right one for the rest of his career. As well he should, I believe.

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]

77 Comments

77 Comments

  1. ALH

    Sep 2, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    I have been digging for 30 years and dirt is all I have to show for it. I think a second set of eyes is important and if that set of eyes is assisted by technology then even better. The dirt did teach me that the ball direction is mainly influenced by where the club face is pointed during impact. After several frustrating years of seeing my divots pointing to the right of the target even as my ball started left of the target and moved further left I realized I was not coming over the top and it must be my club face being severely closed and pointing left at impact.

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm

      That is a CLASSIC example of knowledge being the greatest teacher and self discovery having the most beneficial effects! Forget the divot!

    • bwb

      Sep 5, 2014 at 10:00 pm

      What the heck does Foley carry around in his “man” purse?

  2. Andrew Cooper

    Sep 1, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Thanks Dennis for an interesting read. I’d say all really good players will always “dig it out of the dirt” to a large degree, even with all the tech around. The intricacies of playing the game really can only be LEARNED not TAUGHT. Sure a good coach can steer a golfer in a good direction-but ultimately it comes down to the player. In many cases the best thing a coach can do is simply shield a talented golfer from the nonsense that would screw them up-see Mike Furyk, Victor Garcia, Michael Bannon…
    I understand full time teaching pros are not going to be too focused on their own games (and the days of Touring pros/teachers, such as a Tommy Armour, will never return) , but I think it’s sad that many teachers are so far removed from PLAYING golf.

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 1, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      Agreed Andrew. A teacher should be a “capable” player at the very least. They need to know hoe learning and trying things actually feel. They cannot simply read numbers and watch videos. Good observation.

  3. slimeone

    Sep 1, 2014 at 7:06 am

    Firstly – great article. These days the stakes are just too high for tour players to spend time developing their swing on their own. Imagine if Tiger was determined to struggle through his poor game for months on his own until he felt at peace with his swing, he would lose sponsors and potential prize money at an unacceptable rate. When Ben Hogan was in his early career he had to leave the tour because his play was too weak and he was broke! Then of course one night while stressing about his shocking hook he figured it all out. As cool and inspiring as his tale is, the modern tour is filled with young ruthless assassins lurking for an opportunity to take your ranking, sponsors and prizemoney at the first opportunity.

  4. rus

    Aug 31, 2014 at 2:14 am

    Truth be told…. Great article Dennis.
    Those that teach for a living see technology as a different being entirely. (not knocking the am’s reading this)
    When explaining what Trackman numbers mean in a lesson even the biggest feel player can understand what they felt versus what they saw. Trackman doesn’t inhibit a players feel, overthought inhibits a players feel. Mark McGuire never thought about a home run hit during a game. The process is honed in the batting cages and in batting practice. The greatest hitter in the modern era the late Tony Gywnn studied film before it was the norm. Understanding his strengths and pitchers strengths and exploited their weaknesses.
    It boils down to this – IN MODERATION! Tiger has become obsessed with playing by numbers. Mr. Foley is a modern era instructor and has adopted new school ideology – Tiger learned in the dirt but has lost that feel. He doesn’t need an instructor, he as learned all that there is to know about the golf swing especially his. Unfortunately people that become mechanical forget that this is really a clear thinking, free moving reaction based move from start to finish. Playing golf swing is way different than playing golf. Tiger go back to what made you successful – 3 Jr. Am & 3 US Am & 14 Majors – Yup that guy!

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 31, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      very true rus. AND the ability to self correct when all hell breaks loose in a big event. Its ALL feel then. Jack and Hogan were the best ever at it.

    • Søren Skadhede

      Sep 2, 2014 at 6:05 am

      Absolutely spot on – over-use any one technology, way of thought etc. usually is to your own detriment. But, it is exactly the over-use (abuse) of any one technology that ruins it. Not the technology itself.

  5. michael

    Aug 30, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    I have a home grown swing my father taught me the basics and how to cure my slice. Its interesting to me that many of your great golfers had the one fundamental that was the most important the grip. It is the basis for everything that has to do with the swing. My father told me that for the most part the grip and keeping the club square before you hit the ball, during the hit and afterwards was the most important part of the swing. I have been playing for over 40 yrs and I am sometimes a 10 and sometimes a 15 handicap but I have times when I can be a single digit. I am a feel player and that is what is lost I think with all of the technology is feel. As Arnold Palmer would say swing your swing.

    • michael

      Aug 30, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      by the way I have had only a few lessons in my life time and I am just fine with how I hit the ball it is as I said about feel and how my swing feels to me not how the instructor wants to see my ball fly a certain way but how I want it to fly my flight preference.

  6. Gib15

    Aug 30, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    I think that what has happened over the years is that the current and future crop of golfers are getting more focused instruction earlier, leading to more dependence on their teacher and if the teacher uses technology a bunch, they become dependent on that too.

    Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino and many other old school pros played various sports growing up. Like didn’t hale irwin play college football? Point is, they developed a swing based on their person salute and circumstances and used instructors to make sure the fundamentals were in place from time to time. They all had clubs that are not as tuned in as today’s stuff, but they used feel to make those work for them and I believe they knew how to “play” the game more so than many players today.

    A great example of feel versus becoming mechanical is just by looking at charles Howell vs bubba.
    On the surface, we all would say ch3 would have a better swing just by looking at it. But he has always seemed to be so concerned about being in this position or that position during his swing.
    Bubba’s looks downright crazy, but it’s his, he owns it, it matches his personality. And while ch3 may be a analytical golfer, it’s hard for me to believe that his swing is more his own than his instructors thoughts on what he should be looking like.
    Yes ch3 has won a couple of regular events, but bubba has won both regular and majors. And I believe it’s because he made his swing mostly on his own, and under the gun he is relying on what he knows and feels, not trying to be perfect at every point in the swing.
    Tiger has always had instructors I know, but I remember how many times he won with a shut face at the top and how he could will shots to happen, why? Because he mixed the 2 worlds well. Michelson has even been successful at merging the 2.
    But now I think tiger has let the technology part overrule the feel part and that is why when things go wrong he cannot adjust like his old self.

    My point is, I think technology is good in proper amounts, and teachers would be better to serve as ones who guide or nudge their students in the proper direction, not trying to make them golf swings as picture perfect as possible.

    Butch Harmon I think does this the best, he did not change dj’s closed face at the top and the guy still wins, when he is not on a leave of absence.

    Side point too, it thinks that the more mechanical guys today are, in large part more mechanical to fans as well.
    I also think that the feel players are better at short game under pressure.

    • Gib15

      Aug 30, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      Sorry for my horrible typing skills.

      Jeez I need to pay attention better.

  7. Philip

    Aug 30, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    There is nothing wrong with technology. Sometimes it can help someone get closer to what they are trying to achieve and other times it can draw you away from your goal (I’ve done the same with digging it out of the dirt). Depends on the person at that moment in time. I’ve known the correct way to do some things in golf for years, both through playing golf and also through technology. However, until I was ready to accept the information and change, neither method helped.

    I applaud technology whenever it helps me understand the difference between my feels and what I’m actually doing. However, that being said, every time I play golf on a golf course I am digging it out of the dirt. For me, the two will be intertwined going forward, not one or the other.

  8. F

    Aug 30, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    If we didn’t have technology, we couldn’t be discussing stuff here on the web, and we wouldn’t have computer-assisted designed super-duper Drivers, balls and other equipment. So of course tech is a great thing! We need it!
    But the point is……. people are different. We can’t all be the same. Some have feel, understand it, and others are more technical and understand that and don’t necessarily need to feel. A happy marriage somewhere between all of that? Then you’re a genius. But there will always be people of all kinds, even in golf. Especially in golf!
    The point that the numbers-feeding people don’t explain enough to the numbers-eating people is……. you still have to practice and maintain a swing. Even if the numbers are all there, if you can’t swing, because you’re not fit enough nor coordinated enough – it doesn’t matter what the numbers say if you happen to hit 1 ball on the number out of 3 just to prove a point. The game is played over 18 holes in all kinds of conditions and terrains. Nobody can explain how a ball bounced a certain unexpected way and killed the numbers, when the student asks “why did it do that?” and it can’t be explained.

  9. Jeffcb

    Aug 30, 2014 at 11:15 am

    I think what trackman helps to do also is validate the coaches ideas. Not a bad thing but maybe it takes some of the feel out of the game. We all can use an experienced eye to help fix our flaws but for me I still like seeing what my ball is doing. So I think there can be a happy medium of feel and technology melding. I really think the feel is necessary for shots you run across on the course that you won’t find on the range.

  10. Dennis Clark

    Aug 29, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    technology taking a bad rap in this thread; Technology is a GREAT thing; who doesn’t want to know what their doing wrong? The point is the game has swung in that direction and it will be interesting to see where it takes us

    • Ty Webb

      Aug 30, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Here is good example for to quiet down to technology haters. When I was learning to play golf 8 years ago I wanted to learn how to hit big draws and fades to get around trees or other obstacles when I missed fairways. I went to several different instructors and all said the same thing as the one I ended up working with. They told me to aim the face at the target where I wanted the ball to finish and swing on my stance line for where I wanted the ball to start. Needless to say I hit several trees in front of me if they were inline with my target and if i didn’t get fortunate enough to hit a tree I had massive over draws and fades. I knew it wasn’t working and I don’t know who discovered this but I first read from Bennett and Plummer in their original video describing that the face influences the start direction from 70 to 95% depending on the loft. This was completely opposite of the popular teaching method. Aim the face for direction and stance for path controlling the amount curvature. I’m not saying S&T guys discovered this but it was probably picked up from someone who noticed something on trackman or some launch measuring device and had an AH HA moment. Technology told me how to do it properly I still have to dig it out of the dirt to get the feel for shots on the course to how much to change face and path for the clubs, ball, and my swing type. Technology helps eliminate guesswork. Some people were lucky to have to discovered correct methods for them. The rest of us have to work to find it and I would rather practice correctly.

  11. Patrick

    Aug 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    This is disheartening. I learned from an old pro that had been crippled. He taught me and about 6 or 7 other kids from his wheelchair at the local par 3 driving range. Everything since then has been dug out of the dirt. I would put that swing in a pressure situation vs. any swing that was built on perfect science and relies on another individual (teacher) to remain intact.

    • Norman Bates

      Aug 29, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      I’m pretty sure he meant his range built swing versus having a swing science coach building a scientifically optimally swing.

  12. JW

    Aug 29, 2014 at 5:06 am

    Thank you Mr.C.
    There was an article in (If I remember correctly) Golf World by a touring pro, where he talked about the growing size of the entourage for the average tour player. How feeble men are.

  13. 247

    Aug 29, 2014 at 3:33 am

    Funny enough, only the teachers would hope that players DON’T dig out for themselves but come to the teachers to check their swings. Because otherwise how will all those starving PGA teachers make a living?

  14. Wade

    Aug 29, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Dennis, thanks for the insight. I sat in on a seminar with Brian Manzella earlier this spring and he said that he thinks there’s a kid right now growing up somewhere (probably Asia) who’s working on Trackman and that this person will shoot 59 in a US Open someday. Now I know he’s saying this in jest, but it just says where teaching and learning the game is going.

    • Zubair

      Aug 29, 2014 at 1:43 am

      So many ways to falsify that point…
      Takes more than a perfectly sound swing or trackman numbers to even get to a US Open, let alone shoot 59 in one HA!
      Lies, weather, wind, etc etc etc
      Hmm emotions? Pressure?
      The list could go on and on
      He is a teacher trying to sell that teaching is important for the elite players, yet most of the true legends and shotmakers of the game haven’t been seen in decades

      • Dennis Clark

        Aug 29, 2014 at 6:58 pm

        I wouldn’t go that far; clearly Tiger Woods is a legend, and the quality of the shots he hit for 12 years, no one has ever matched. David Faherty: “Of the 10 greatest shots I have personally witnessed in my life, Tiger has 12 of them”!

        • Rich

          Aug 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm

          I think you may be getting a little carried away there with the tiger thing. Using a David Feherty quote as supporting evidence is not exactly convincing either. While he is funny and I like him as a commentator, he has a few screws loose.

          • Dennis Clark

            Aug 31, 2014 at 8:15 am

            I played with him once, he’s funny as a stand up, and can flat out golf his ball!

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 29, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Hes got a point; you get the right student on the new technology, and IF they can maintain feel for the game, look out.

  15. w

    Aug 28, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    technology was good for a while, but now its destroying the game.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 29, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      WE cant blame anything on technology. Its an inanimate object! Only as good OR bad as the teacher/student using it

    • Dan the Man

      Sep 4, 2014 at 11:53 am

      W…I’m with you! The USGA failed to get out in front of the technology tsunami in the early 70’s (driven by Karsten Solheim)and many ball manufacturers (most of whom are no longer around). The USGA now lets the horse (Taylor Made/Titliest/callaway etc.) drive the cart. The USGA’s failure to enforce equipment standards…from composite shafts to metal wood club head size and even “rescue club” technology has forever altered the history of a once great game. the “feel player” is all but gone. The true shot maker…he’s gone too. Toski was a great teacher. I was privileged to attend one of his clinics while in college. He taught all about ball movement and how wind conditions affect the flight of the ball etc. It was a day will never forget.

  16. pokeman

    Aug 28, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Tger’s best coach died some time ago … it was his dad Earl

  17. Dennis Clark

    Aug 28, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Authors note: I do not mean to indicate in anyway that this is bad trend in golf. It’ll just be interesting to see how it goes. Great athletes being taught by knowledgeable teachers with all the latest tech has got to produce better players. RIGHT?

    • MHendon

      Aug 28, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      Nope golf is all about muscle memory created through repetitive motion. The proof is in the pudding. Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Jim Furyk. All great players with Butt ugly swings, but they worked.

      • Sir Charles

        Aug 29, 2014 at 12:57 am

        Those are not butt ugly swings. Arnie in his prime had one of the best body motions and separation of upper and lower body to start the downswing of just about anyone that’s played the game. Arnies follow through was a bit different. Other than the quirky shuffle into the ball trevinos action was pretty awesome to watch. I’ll give you Furyk because I have no idea how he even hits the ball let alone rank as high as he has in ball striking. It really does come down to controlling face angle to the dplane club path and using whatever body and god given athletic ability you have to repetitively achieve impact. Interesting though that the three players you mentioned MHendon were very one dimensional ball strikers meaning they primarily played one shape. They found something that worked for them.

        • MHendon

          Aug 29, 2014 at 11:47 am

          Just goes to show we all see things our own way. I would have said Furyk actually had the best swing of the three. True his take away is a nightmare to watch but his down swing is much more conventional than Palmer or Trevino. Unlike the two of them who both dip down and chase through the ball Furyk maintains his level, stays behind the ball, and slots the club perfectly. The point of course being your swing doesn’t have to look like Els, Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, etc to strike the ball solid and play the game at the highest level. For instance, I wouldn’t put this guy at the level of the previous ones mentioned but Tommy two gloves is a PGA Tour player so in my book a great player but I guarantee you he’s dug his game out of the dirt.

          • Leslie Chow

            Aug 30, 2014 at 12:21 am

            Dipping, squatting, lowering in the downswing provides power. All the best powerful strikers do it Miller, Hogan, Woods, Mcilroy and Nelson. Pretty much any power player is going to use the ground for leverage and lower in the downswing. Two players that gave the illusion of level are Nicklaus and Faldo. Faldo raises his head out of posture and then returns to original height. Nicklaus lowers in the backswing and by the top of the swing he raises back to his original height and the lowers again in the downswing. Maintaining a level head is a power leak and used by weaker swingers. Furyk lowers his head about 9 inches in his swing he just does it all in the downswing like Johnny Miller whereas Woods and Hogan lower in the backswing and lower further in the downswing. Again MHendon you don’t know what you are talking about

          • MHendon

            Aug 30, 2014 at 11:03 am

            Sure Leslie the 1.9 hdcp with 20 years of playing this game doesn’t know what he’s talking about. To be clear LESLIE I stated both Palmer and Trevino dipped and chased down and through the ball. NO and I do mean NO teacher would teach that move, BUT my point was they where still great players who played at the highest level. I simply stated that Furyks down swing was MUCH more conventional. Plus I doubt he or anyone for that matter dips 9 inches not even Mcilroy dips that much. And all though many or most POWER players dip usually at the start of the down swing they raise back to level by impact. However that move can lead to some inconsistency if your timing isn’t spot on! But thanks for educating me Leslie let me know when you’re on tour or teaching anyone for that matter.

          • Leslie Chow

            Aug 30, 2014 at 10:32 pm

            Actually lots of teachers teach a power squat move in the downswing. All good players and I do mean ALL lower in or compress in the downswing. Wayne Defransesco, Shawn Clement, and Sean Foley are a couple teachers that teach a compression move. I don’t have time to scroll through all the teachers postings, videos or writings just to prove you wrong but if you draw a line on top of players head all good players lower and chase through a swing as you describe it. I did say Furyk lowers about 9 inches but could be 7 which is why I said ABOUT. That was the lowest I found of his online swing but most looked to be about 4 or 5 or half of the length of his head and I have no idea what he was trying to make the ball do. It’s tough to accurately measure how much lowering takes place but whether it’s 5 or sometimes 7 it doesn’t matter the fact is it’s happening. Lowering may lead to inconsistencies because from fairway bunkers to pick a ball clean lowering in the downswing must be minimized but that is also not a normal shot. Compressing into the ground is a power move. The reason for lowering is the same reason why you hinge the club or make a shoulder turn. Golf is a balancing act between power and consistency. If it was just consistency swings would look like a chip shot or a putt with the least moving parts. I find it odd that you always have to defend your arguments online with your handicap as if a 15 handicap couldn’t possibly know or see something you don’t.

          • MHendon

            Aug 31, 2014 at 12:00 pm

            Leslie READ what I’m saying then There will be NO need to defend my argument. I know dipping is a power move, I dip slightly on full shots too but what I said was Palmer and Trevino DIP and CHASE through meaning they STAY DOWN instead of springing back up to a more level position which is the power move. So once again NO teacher would teach you to DIP and CHASE through the ball like that NONE! It seems to me you where just looking for an excuse to make a point that was never even disputed. It’s guys like you who talk crap behind the anonymity of a computer screen then approach me on the driving range for free tips. Lastly let me point out my whole initial response to this article was to simply point out you don’t need a perfect swing to play this game at the highest level. I never intended on getting into a debate about proper swing mechanics.

          • Leslie Chow

            Aug 31, 2014 at 10:11 pm

            I’m really happy for you that golfers approach you for lessons hoping that some of your 1.9 handicap and your athleticism that you boast about throughout the forums will rub on us mere mortals. Handicap doesn’t matter when discussing golf but just to ease your mind I will not be approaching you on the range as my handicap is 1.1 and I’m not hiding behind a computer, you want to meet in person bring it, your arrogance it’s offensive.

          • MHendon

            Sep 1, 2014 at 12:29 am

            Leslie you are the one who chimed in on my post trying to discredit my knowledge of the game. I simply came to my own defense and you got your feelings hurt. Please let me know when you’re in Western North Carolina or up state South Carolina. I would love to play a match with you. Otherwise I am done arguing with you.

  18. Regis

    Aug 28, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    I think what really set this into warp speed is the growing popularity of Tracman and other swing analyzers. Pros and now amateurs are slaves to swing speed, angle of attack launch stats etc. Smart phone apps for the range. That’s how they train and what influences their buying habits. “Boy I hit that nice and feels like butter” has been replaced by “What were my numbers”.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 28, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      I would agree with this. I use Flightscope and I love it but I do have two of my professional players who DO NOT want to know their numbers. Tiger won 14 majors before Trackman. None since.

      • BcavWecllh

        Aug 29, 2014 at 12:16 am

        That is very interesting.

      • Matt Reynolds

        Aug 29, 2014 at 12:20 pm

        Could mean 2 things. He’s become too technical or players are much better now due to technology like trackman hence stiffer competition.

  19. C

    Aug 28, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    You still have the likes of Bubba Watson doing it by himself, so it’s still possible to do it without a swing coach. And it’s becoming easier to do it by yourself with all the portable video and computer technology, so we may yet see another wave of self-diggers who figure it out themselves by analyzing themselves on tech at home.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      We might. It would be interesting to see that. Bubba’s a rare talent. I make my living as a teaching professional but taught myself to play golf. So go figure:)

    • BcavWecllh

      Aug 29, 2014 at 12:18 am

      But Bubba might be a better player with a coach !

  20. Claude

    Aug 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    “After Faldo’s great success, Nick Price came into the Leadbetter stable and we were off and running”

    Nick Price worked with Leadbetter for 2 years before he starting coaching Faldo

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 28, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      I first took a lesson from David in 1984 I believe at Grenelefe. He met Faldo in 83 and their work began shortly after. Nick was playing the European and South African tour until 1984 I believe when he came to America. David may have worked with Nick in SA or Europe before that I don’t know? But thanks for that info.

      • Claude

        Aug 30, 2014 at 2:03 pm

        I just happened to be reading Nick Price’s book the other day and he mentions his first lessons with Leadbetter in 1982 at Grenelefe, How long did you work with Leadbetter and what did you think of his teaching?

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm

          One lesson when I was playing mini tours. Great teacher, nice guy.

  21. Silverhead

    Aug 28, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    I agree. It’s not that today’s touring pros are not talented. I believe it’s more overthinking themselves to perfection. The money that is available today has hurt the game, I’m my opinion. Top pros now can take off weeks at a time, time that used to be spent (in earlier eras) between weekly tournaments to work their games… Then back to playing the next weekend. It is not that they didn’t seek help, but would get tips where they could. I don’t see where a pro has to change his swing in order to compete. I shoot in the 90’s and could benefit from some lessons, but don’t need wholesale changes (or new clubs every year) to improve my scores. I need small tweaks to my form in order to become more consistent. Excellent perspective in the article. Perhaps I’m too naive and/or old-school, though.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Yea money is huge no question. When you can afford to fly your instructor in for the weekend, it makes things a little easier I suppose. I wonder what happens when it falls apart though and the player has not totally internalized the changes?

      • scott

        Aug 29, 2014 at 8:41 am

        I think an exchange something like this happened recently at the Web.com season-ending event:
        Player: Teach, I’m having problems – – I can’t figure out what is wrong!
        Teacher: Send me a video – – I’ll take a look and get back with you ASAP.
        Player: OK, I’m going to the range now.
        Time passes . . . . .
        Player: Teach, I found a little something on the range and I’m hitting it much better
        Teacher: Yeah, I looked at your video and things look great – – stop thinking so much & play golf

      • Bainz

        Aug 29, 2014 at 6:01 pm

        Trackman and k vest won’t fix your swing when it goes off mid round. Pro’s need to be able to fix it there and then in the round. Maybe ’cause Hogan Nelson and others of that era had so little cash they had to find the fix immediately. Nowadays even ‘journeymen’ are millionaires, they don’t have to find it week in week out – just enough to be in top 125.
        It’s the amateurs that need help not the pro’s – if we could get a fix that works we would keep on lessons, but when you don’t get a change you lose heart in seeing a Pro.

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 29, 2014 at 6:22 pm

          absolutely agree with all of that…partly why i wrote the article. Most amateurs have no idea what they’re doing wrong. The professionals need feel, ams need information

  22. Philip

    Aug 28, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    For the most part, yes – such is the draw of money. However, every now and then – someone who has no choice but to dirt it out of the dirt will come onto the scene.

    It is sad how golf is going full circle. At first it was the elite, the rich (money and birth right) who played and completed in the old system. Then for a wonderful period, anyone who wanted too could pick up a club give it a go, as the new pro circuit had few boundaries other than could a player play. Now it is going back to money and working at it from almost birth to make it in the new system.

  23. Andrew

    Aug 28, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    What’s the point of this article?

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 28, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Don’t know that it has a “point” just an observation on the changing nature of professional golf in light of Tigers recent decision. Does he “go it alone” or choose a new teacher? Sems like no one goes it alone any longer

      • A J

        Aug 29, 2014 at 4:15 am

        Dennis, I thought it was a relevant and interesting article. I hadn’t considered Faldo to be a pioneer in this way but I guess you are right.

        Will be interesting to see if McIlroy ever feels tempted to ‘improve’…

        • Bainz

          Aug 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm

          That will be when he stops winning 😉 He should stick with the coach that has got him where he is.
          Changing coach for Luke Donald seems to have ruined his steady game that he had.

    • Ctmason

      Aug 29, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Chuck Connors in Airplane II: “I have no point.”

  24. Dennis Clark

    Aug 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Jones’ chronicler. “Bobby Jones on Golf” and “Down the Fairway” are my two favorites.

  25. nikkyd

    Aug 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    I played in a tournament last weekend where a bunch of really good young sticks demolished the rest of the field. Not one of then weighed over 145lbs. They looked mechanical and awkward. Absolute cookie cutter (daddys money bought them all premier lessons with a top pro and one of them went to pelz short game school) . Anyways, short story long. The art of the swing looks lost. No such thing as natural anymore. Its a shame. Palmers swing was something you wouldnt want to emulate, but it was his

    • Brad

      Aug 28, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      Uhhhh….isn’t the point to win the tournament??? You said they demolished the rest of the field and then you criticize them because they are “mechanical and awkward”? I’m confused.

      I’m sorry but you can have your artsy swing and I’ll take mechanical all day if I’m taking your money….

    • A J

      Aug 29, 2014 at 4:13 am

      Two words for you:

      Rory McIlroy.

      Hardly mechanical is he?

      In fact there are a number of guys out on tour who all swing it very differently and have great success. Your argument just doesn’t stack up.

    • DB

      Aug 29, 2014 at 8:08 am

      Good, Good… let the hate flow through you.

  26. Dennis Clark

    Aug 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Jones is probably the most literate golf writer Ive ever read. Bernard Darwin and Herb Wind possibly excepted. His English lit degree served him well! I could read him all day.

  27. Christosterone

    Aug 28, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I learned golf from “How I play Golf” and “How To Break 90” with Bobby Jones.
    I rewatch the entire series’ at least every other year and other than the putting and sand lessons, they all hold up.
    Mr. Jones teaches the thought process(game management) and intertwines technical thoughts.
    I highly recommend yall to watch these series(amazon sells them as a set).
    I promise you there is a ton of cool things you can take from them…and i generally shoot in, around and under par(more occasionally these days)

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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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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