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Clark: Golf is a reaction game



To most of us golf seems like a deliberate, planned exercise where we act on the ball or we initiate the motion upon it.  But unlike baseball, where we react to the ball hit our way or the pitch thrown at us; or tennis where we react to the serve of the opponent, in golf it seems there is no need to REACT simply because the ball is just sitting there. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

If you go to a driving range and watch new players trying to hit the ball, it is a most instructive exercise. I enjoy it immensely because I learn so much from it.  Typically the progression is something like this. Swing, miss, swing, hit ground, swing, shank, etc. But sooner or later, by hook or crook, new players swing and put the club on the back of the ball, and voila! The ball goes in the air and somewhat in the direction of the target! At that moment, something magical happens in their life:  THEY BECOME A GOLFER!

They were not a golfer when they missed the ball or laid sod over it, but they joined the fold when the golf ball did some version of what it was supposed to do. Now, and here’s what is important for us to understand, the series of motions they executed to produce that ball flight tells them that they must have done SOMETHING right to make the golf ball behave that way. And they spend a good part of their golfing life trying to repeat that motion. The positive reinforcement is so powerful, it becomes the very foundation of their future swing and stays with them for quite a long while.  They are reacting to the first great shot of their lives! They saw the golf ball behave, marveled at its flight and wondered, sometimes aloud, what they did to produce that magical shot.

The most recurring theme in golfdom is simply this: golfers REACT. They react to one of two things: the shot they just hit or the one they usually hit. Right or wrong they habitually swing AWAY from their predictable ball flight.  Slicers come over the top, hookers (no, not them) drop too far inside. It is as inevitable as Monday after Sunday. The instinct to aim or swing left for a slicer is as strong as the batter hitting the dirt after a high hard one was thrown at their head. How do I know? I have watched it for many, many years. It would be insane to do otherwise. So if you think the golf ball is sitting innocently on the ground waiting for you to put your beautiful swing on it, think again. It is resting rather maliciously on the ground directing you to steer it AWAY from its predictable flight pattern.  I could threaten a slicer with bodily harm if they swing left and it would be no deterrent whatsoever to over-the-top! You program your next swing at impact of your last. The golf ball only reacts to the club face and path of your swing and YOU only react to the flight it produces!

What can be done for this seemingly chronic malady?  Can you do any drills; can you use any training aids?  Is there a swing thought to change the pattern? Answer:  NO!  I know all my friends who design the training aids will tell you I’m crazy, and they are entitled to their view.  I have just never seen anything effective until: THE BALL FLIGHT CHANGES!  Yep, the correction for a slice is a hook — the correction for a pull is a push and so on. Something has to be done to change the pattern of your shots so that you can REACT in a totally different way. So when I’m working with someone who hits the big banana, I’m working to get them to hook it, NOT HIT IT STRAIGHT!  Why? Well, because of everything I’ve just written.

Let’s say I have a student five degrees outside/in on my Trackman reading. I can assure you that they are not going to read three degrees inside/out anytime soon.  So let’s use this example. What to do? Try any or all of the following:  A much stronger grip, a very early roll over release, take the club face away more shut, swing your arms down early, hit balls with your back to the target, etc. ANYTHING that will produce a right-to-left ball flight, a draw, or better yet a HOOK. When this ball flight becomes the pattern, the norm, then and only then can we start building a new move designed to swing more from the inside.  I have used this technique for many years, and it is most effective.  Some call this a band aid, to which I would proclaim, “Then buy a whole a box.”  It is a training aid intended to change your habits. And it works. The problem is most folks see the golf ball going the other way and try to moderate it TOO SOON.  They wean themselves off the drill and new ball flight well before they are ready to affect any real change in their golf swing.

Finally, when should you stop doing the exaggerated drill? When you can actually produce a hook, a true inside/out shallow hook with the golf ball starting right and curving TOO MUCH to the left; then you are ready to step on to the “broad sunlit uplands” as Churchill once so famously described it; That special place of higher learning reserved for the select few who really want to change.

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

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

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]



  1. Greg

    Jul 27, 2012 at 7:40 am

    You have a valid point here. But the difference especially with natural movement is still huge compared to other sports.
    Because the golf ball isn’t moving people are more inclined to repeat mistakes much more often because they don’t have the natural varience they have with other sports like soccer or tennis.
    Without instruction you won’t stumble upon the right path as easily.

  2. Pingback: – Clark: Golf is a reaction game | Golf Driving Hints

  3. joe the pro

    Jul 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

    this makes more sense than anyhting I’ve read. I can’t get my students to change their move if they keep hitting the same shot! Perfect sense. Where do you teach?

  4. adamyounggolf

    Jul 7, 2012 at 2:48 am

    I am a golf coach and would agree with this completely. I see in almost every case where the player is reacting to their normal pattern of shots by swinging the opposite direction – any attempt to correct this through forcing body positions is not hitting the real cause and is more of a band aid than the ‘better’ approach you describe. it’s the same problem with lag for example, people lose their lag as they want to see a high flying shot in many cases. Any attempt to force lag is not going to be long lasting

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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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Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?



Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.


With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.


Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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