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Is golf instruction different for better golfers?

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I have been fortunate during my many decades as a golf instructor to have worked with some very good golfers: collegiate golfers, state open champions, mini-tour players and even a few players who have competed on the golf’s grandest stage, the PGA Tour.

[quote_box_center]It must be different teaching golfers who have won tournaments at the highest level… way different than teaching average golfers, right?[/quote_box_center]

I’m often asked that question, and my is always, “No, it’s not.” There really is no difference, other than the respective skills sets of better players. That’s because the way the best teachers approach their students doesn’t hinge on their skills, but rather their personality and learning style.

There’s really only three things I’m focused on as a golf instructor:

  1. The club face has to be relatively square.
  2. The attack angle has to be sufficiently steep or shallow, depending on the club and the shot.
  3. The club path needs to correspond to the club face angle.

There are million different ways teachers can help golfers achieve those things, but those three things are all there is in golf.

I read so many comments that suggest certain tips are for the pros, and others are for beginners. For those of you who believe that, try coming with me to the lesson tee where you’ll see me teach students with handicaps that can range from +4 to 24. With each of them, you’ll find me working to correct the club face angle, the club path and the angle of attack. How I do it is of no consequence as long as the student understands what I’m asking them to do.

Last week, I taught a club champion and a 28-handicap golfer in back-to-back lessons. Both suffered from what I call a “hang back,” which occurs when the weight stays too much on the rear foot into impact and creates a shallow attack angle. Yes, the two golfers had different degrees of the problem, and there was a vast difference in how much the two golfers “hung back” and how shallow they were at impact. Their problems were essentially the same, however, and to help them I had to move the bottom of their swing arcs forward while getting more of their weight over the ball with some degree of forward tilt to the shaft at impact.

As I stated earlier, the method or style of delivery of the correction to these students will vary greatly, not by skill level, but by learning style and personalty. That’s because the actual information, while potentially complicated and detailed, is ultimately finite. It is quantifiable.

My job as a golf instructor is to take all the information I have learned in my 50 years as a golfer and 32 years as a golf instructor and deliver it as simply as possible in a way golfers will understand. To paraphrase a famous quote, every golf instructor should “strive to know golf in its complexity, and teach it in its simplicity.”

If I’m giving a lesson to an engineer at 9 a.m. and an artist at 10 a.m., I better change my approach to best deliver the requisite info. It doesn’t matter if one of my students is a scratch and the other is a 10 handicap. I have to solve their problem the same way I solve all golfers’ problems by asking myself:

  1. What is the ball doing?
  2. What is the club doing to the ball?
  3. What is the golfer doing to the club?

I would never suggest a change in setup or swing to a student based on a theory, a method, a system or, worst of all, because something “doesn’t look right.” My instruction is empirical and practical, whether I’m working with a pro or a beginner. Clearly, better athletes and more skilled golfers may be able to execute swing changes more easily, but that does not change the information itself.

Technical information is somehow perceived as a “higher level” of teaching. In this, the 3-D radar era, we are surely more capable of verifying what we see and how we may go about correcting it. Don’t think for even for a minute, however, that a highly skilled golfer is getting a better lesson or a more dedicated one than the newbie. And believe me, they suffer from the same problems.

Where’s Dennis now? Usually I give lessons at my academy in Naples, Fla., but for the next six weeks I’m teaching at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Penn. To book a lesson, contact me on my Facebook page or through my website

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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Andrew Cooper

    Sep 23, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Great stuff Dennis. Ultimately it’s just applying the club to the ball to achieve a desired result- the best players are very good at that, lesser players less so. The pros aren’t super human or have “the secret”-simply a lot of work mixed with athletic ability/sense. There’s no great mystery to it. The ultimate judge of the swing is the flight of the ball.

  2. christian

    Sep 23, 2015 at 5:25 am

    I’d say the average PGA tour pro doesn’t need to be taught how to grip a club, correct posture, how to stay balanced, how to move your weight during the swing, how to turn…Plus a number of other things a beginner needs to be taught. So I’d say there must be a pretty damn HUGE difference in teaching a beginner and a tour/Major winner. With a pro I would guess it’s mostly fine tuning details, with a beginner it starts with “here is how to hold a club”. Yeah, no real difference at all, clearly

    • Gary Gutful

      Sep 23, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      He is talking about the process that he goes through and how that process remains the same irrespective of handicap. That process might lead to a change in grip, posture etc in some players while in others it might not. #Process

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Have you taught many pros or amateurs?

  3. jdub

    Sep 18, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    I think the best time for a student to take lessons is the second they decide to start playing golf. All the things mentioned above are great and those 3 keys that Dennis mentioned are absolutely vital to swinging the club correctly. BUT in my opinion if every golfer got a few basic lessons early on these things would be so much easier to teach. I think a lot of problems that poor golfers face start with the basic fundamentals of the golf swing such as grip, posture, setup, stance which move into backswing and downswing which finish with impact. All three keys Denis mentioned happen during the downswing or at impact and beyond.

    How many players do you see that simply cannot and will not ever be able to get into good positions on the way down, at impact and do so with consistency and repeatability simply because they are in such poor positions are setup with a bad grip.

    If all brand new golfers were taught a neutral grip and a solid athletic posture as well as how to align themselves and the club face these 3 keys Dennis mentions would be much, much easier. So many golfers spend years doing all these basic things incorrectly and have beaten bad habits into their natural move that it takes so long for them to get comfortable doing things correctly.

    Teaching a brand new golfer a neutral grip is simple because there is no expectation that early so they have nothing to revert back to just to hit decent shots and the same thing can be said for posture, stance, setup and alignment.

    Instructors– think about how much easier your job would be if all golfers were taught these basics before they spent 2 years at a driving range by themselves with poor fundamentals. Dennis, think how much easier controlling someones face, path, the relationship between the two AND the angle of attack if their natural alignment was actually solid and they had a neutral grip. Those things become so hard to teach that 24 handicap when he’s spent 10 years slicing the ball so he naturally reverts back to aiming left or producing a grip thats so strong you can’t even see his right thumb.

    Lessons are for for beginners!!!

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 24, 2015 at 6:36 pm

      Very true. Hitting balls for most people is exercise. It is not practicing golf. They are simply grooving bad habits

  4. Pete

    Sep 18, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Good read!

    I heard the same from an ET players’ coach. The pros practice and fight the same problems as we high or low handicappers do.

    What I think would make a huge difference, is that golf teaching shouldn’t be so golf spesific. Some people have been playing racket games, hockey or baseball since childhood. They know how to swing a club sometimes even better than the golf instructor. The same fundamentals apply in throwing. Actually the motion in tennis serve is exactly the same as in golf swing. The direction, where the club is going is the only difference in the big picture.

  5. Steve

    Sep 18, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Ugg

  6. Dennis Clark

    Sep 18, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Steve, Thx for your interest in my work. I appreciate the following. The point I am making here is this: Shallow is shallow, steep is steep etc…The problems are no different, just the degree varies greatly with the skill level. For example, IMO, Tiger does not turn through the golf ball like he once did causing him to get under and stuck. I had a fella this morning with the SAME problem, but of course had to go about the correction quite differently. Of course I’ll never get the level of Turn through of an professional, but I do need to go in that SAME direction. Thx again DC

  7. juststeve

    Sep 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Dennis:
    I follow your posts with great interest and usually agree with what you write. This time however I think you have shanked it. There is no question that all golfers, from the best to the worst need to strike the ball with a proper angle of attack, a path toward the target and a club face square to path. That’s a matter of physics and geometry. How to achieve that impact is what the student wants from the teacher. To try to get a 12 handicap middle age fellow who sits behind the desk all day to swing the club like Tiger in his prime is folly. They are different in almost all relevant respects, and need to be taught different things. That at least is my opinion.

    Steve

    • devilsadvocate

      Sep 18, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      Spoken like someone who doesn’t teach golf for a living…. Not that there is anything wrong with that other than ignorance . I’m sure u are a good guy and all but if your reading comprehension is up to par i believe you shanked your comment…. Fore!

    • alexdub

      Sep 18, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      x2 devilsadvocate… Steve shanked it.

      The article said the exact opposite of what you commented. I believe Dennis is saying that there are universal principles that overlap all golfers, but they must be applied in a unique way to each individual golfer.

      • juststeve

        Sep 18, 2015 at 5:21 pm

        If that is what Dennis was saying then we are in complete agreement.

      • Dennis Clark

        Sep 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm

        Spot on that’s exactly what Dennis is saying.

    • other paul

      Sep 18, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      Hey Steve, I am a middle age guy trying to do tigers swing from his prime. Or at least some thing between woods, bubba, and sadlowski. And it isn’t that hard. Once you know the body movements. Swing speed has gone up from 97 to 114 (measured last night).

  8. other paul

    Sep 17, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    My last golf lesson involves the instructor telling me my face was shut at impact. He gave me the video and let me figure it out. I tinkered all summer and eventually figured out that my upper body was staying to closed at impact. When I opened my body more the face opened as well. Voila. Straight shots. Thank the Lord. I fought with that for a while. Now I have a push draw. And love it.

    • Gary Gutful

      Sep 23, 2015 at 1:30 pm

      Lazy sod of an instructor. Did you ask for your money back?

  9. Alex

    Sep 17, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Cool article Dennis.

    Great idea of checking on the student’s personality for better teaching. I’ve played golf since I was a kid and I like teachers who don’t go with a lot of theory when correcting the swing. I like “feeling” and positions. But some guys I know want to know almost the physics of the swing while taking their lesson. I guess a good teacher should cater for both types of students.

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Instruction

Kelley: Should a Tour player’s swing be the pattern we copy?

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PGA Tour players are the most gifted golfers on the planet. Their ball striking ability is remarkable to the average, even scratch, golfer. With the time to practice all day, usually perfecting their imperfections in their own swings, why are PGA Tour players’ swings always the model we seek?

Look at the progression and expectations in other sports played recreationally. If you start playing Tennis, you don’t expect to serve as fast and accurate as Rafael Nadal. When joining a gym, do we look and replicate the times and bodies of Olympians? However, in golf, players seek the worlds best trying to emulate them. Examining this idea, could this actually be detrimental?

Let’s start with the speed differential. The average PGA Tour driver club head speed is 113 mph. The average male amateur golfer driver speed is 93.4 mph. The average handicap for the male golfer sits between 14 and 15. Below is a chart from Trackman showing the distribution of clubhead speed among male golfers.

*Trackman research shows there is a direct correlation between clubhead speed and handicap.

Speed is mostly a natural talent developed at an early age. It can be enhanced with speed training, gym work and even lifestyle changes. ?With such a differential in speed?, wouldn’t players first be better served focusing on center contact with the most efficient route to do so? This can include modeling simple looking swings.

Besides the speed differential, the world’s best golfers all have unique swings that have been perfected over time. Take for example the top ten players in the world. Different swings with different match-up moves throughout the motion. They have made it work for themselves with countless practice hours. Usually time the average golfer doesn’t have.

A main example would be Rory McIlroy, often a sought out golf swing among students. Here is a quote regarding his swing swing sequence after visiting the Titleist Performance Institute Center. “At the start of McIlroy’s downswing, his left hip spins violently counterclockwise, as it does for every elite, long-hitting player. but then, and only with the driver, Mcllroy makes a funky move you could not teach. a moment before impact, his left hip suddenly changes direction and jerks back, clockwise, and then rotates again.”

With the average golfer on a time constraint?, golfers could actually look at what the greats do the older they get in their careers. The swings become more simple, using their instincts to get their body in efficient and more teachable positions. This is usually in their set-up then backswing, with less excess movement for an efficient strike. Take for example a young versus older Ben Hogan. (Picture below)

Below is another example of a young Jack Nicklaus compared to an older Nicklaus later in his career.

This is in large part due to the concept that less can be more at times. Unfortunately in golf, all to often players are told to do more with their swing, only to jeopardize center contact even seeking vanity over function.

A concept that could be beneficial is next time you want to work on your swing, focus on efficiency and minimizing the ?motion for center contact and a better face/path relationship. Then you can build. Rather then taking a bit from a Tour player’s swing, understand how your body should move to achieve your desired ball flight. Once you have a foundation, then add speed and your own DNA to the swing.

The argument could be made the opposite should be taught for aspiring junior golfers, especially the way the game as going. This article is intended to open a discussion and perhaps change the view of how the golf swing is being taught based on your skill-set and what you are trying to get out of the game. Also, what may be teachable and not teachable. You can change swings with concepts alone.

www.kelleygolf.com

Twitter: @Kkelley_golf 

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Clement: Why laying up = more power

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You have been there before — you can’t get over the hazard on a par 5 and decide to lay up and take the club you need for the distance and the ball makes it into the hazard after you took this smooth swing that smoked the ball 15 yards farther than you expected? We uncover the mystery right here!

 

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Kelley: Simplify your swing with the hammer drill

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Regardless of your handicap, a simple hammer can teach you how to efficiently address the ball, start the swing and then put your body in a dynamic position at the top. If you can hammer a nail, there is no reason you can’t simplify your swing. This drill can also change the parts in the middle of your swing you have been struggling to change.

To start, grab a hammer with your trail hand as if you are hammering a nail into a wall in front of your body. You will notice how this instinctively gives you a slight tuck of the trail elbow and drops your trail shoulder below the lead with angle in the trail wrist.

Once gripping the hammer, move the weight of the hammer as if hammering a nail. This will give you the feel of the takeaway.

From here, the golf swing is no more then a lifting of the arms as the right arm folds and the body goes around a bit.

From this position, holding your spine angle and placing the left hand on the right hand will pull your body into a coil or “turn”. This places your body in a position to efficiently swing the golf club back down to the ball.

A great way to combine the hammer drill with a golf club is to hold a hammer on the grip of the club or tape the hammer down the middle of the shaft. Start with just your right hand on the club and make slow swings.

Once you have practiced this a few times, the hammer can be removed and this feel can be integrated to a normal golf club. To continue this feel, simply turn the clubhead in as if you are hitting the ball with the toe of the club (below picture). When turning the club like this, the center of balance goes more to the clubhead, helping replicate the actual hammer feel.

What’s great about this drill is that the actual task is driving the technique. Rather than being thoughtful of several technical positions in the golf swing, replicating the instinctive motion of the hammer will put you in the proper positions. This drill will also help you place your focus of attention on the actual club, which is often overlooked.

www.kelvinkelley.com

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