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In golf, what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing

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One of the most perplexing aspects of the game we all love is this: What we feel we are doing and what we are actually doing are generally not even close to the same thing in golf.

I can’t tell you how many golfers over the years I have seen and/or worked with who think they are doing something, but are actually doing something else. It’s not unique to average golfers, either; it’s the same for the best golfers, too.

This is where video and launch monitors are so effective.

Unless you can actually see your movements and read the impact and flight measurements, you cannot ever actually know what you’re doing. You, me or Tiger, it doesn’t matter.

Here are some of the reasons why what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing.

  1. Ball flight is misleading. Anytime you can swing a club to the left and have the ball go to the right… or swing the club to the right and have the ball go left, we are in for a world of deception. The flight of the golf ball is such a powerful feedback that it will dictate our every motion.
  2. Motion habits are deeply entrenched. Once the golf swing develops, it is very hard to change it.
  3. Path of least resistance. Lets face it; it’s a human trait to choose the easiest, most comfortable way to do something. Most times, that means accepting their current swing errors because it’s easier to do so than make change.
  4. Pre-conceived notions. Many golfers come for their first lesson with an innate conceptualization of their flaws or what’s wrong with their game — but they’re often wrong, making those pre-conceived notions detrimental to their swing.

The best… actually the ONLY way I have seen golfers combat this phenomenon is to practice doing entirely opposite of what they THINK they’re doing. Let’s say you look at the video and it shows you are raising up on you take away, coming out of your posture. I suggest you actually try to feel as though you’re going down on the backswing; feel as though you are lowering your posture going back. Then check again to see if you actually made a change. If not, try again and this time dip a LOT in the backswing until you can internalize a feeling of actually not raising up.

To start this process, you need video. Luckily, most of us have a phone with a camera. You don’t need any sophisticated software, a simple iPhone will do. Have someone stand behind you and film a swing. It will take maybe 5 seconds. Watch it in slow motion and see if you have changed the motion. DO NOT be surprised if you do not see a change at first!

Of course, this type of exercise is based on knowledge of what you should be doing. Staying with our example, Paul Azinger actually raised up and out of his posture when he went back, but it worked pretty well for him. That’s why I never advise trying to do something simply because someone thought it was correct, or “fundamental.” Golfers only need to change the motions that are affecting the golf club into impact.

There are a lot of “so whats” in a golf swing: “I raise my left heel in the backswing,” “I don’t turn my shoulders,” “I sway,” etc. These CAN BE all ‘”so whats,” which means that these motions may or may not affect how you’re moving the golf club. If they’re affecting impact, then yes, they need changing; and you will need to closely monitor the changes you’re trying to make.

We all know the classic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Never is it more true than in a golf swing. Spending one more week, or even one more swing with the old motion is going to make change even harder. Remember, it’s not the old swing if you’re still making it.

So try to work on those thing affecting club face, swing path and attack angle, and observe the changes to see if they are really taking place. The very best way to improve, of course, is with an instructor with access to slow-motion video and and an accurate launch monitor. Even with the advantage of an instructor, however, you need to pay close attention to the new move between your sessions. And again don’t be shocked if you do not see change right away.

Remember this: We only learn through our struggles; there are no mistakes– only lessons.

I hope this helps, and as always, send me an email or message me on my Facebook page with any questions!

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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]

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. A

    Jan 22, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Nothing necessarily wrong with the “left heel coming off the ground” or a little bit of “rise” in the take away (unless you don’t ever come back down). See: Nicklaus, Bubba, etc.

    I still do accept the thrust of your point, that sometimes you have to experiment with trying to go to the opposite extreme to feel the difference, in whatever it is you’re trying to change.

  2. Richard Grime

    Nov 6, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    The problem with these old books and I’m afraid the PGA in the U.K. are still teaching as they have for the last forty years. No new instruction on the data that trackman has provided. So, the information has messed up quite a few golfers swings over the years, mine included!

  3. Christestrogen

    Oct 29, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    This is why former tennis players(like myself) transition easy to golf….slice across the tennis ball to the left and the ball spins right…
    -Christosterone

    • Christestrogen

      Oct 29, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Mom wouldn’t let me play a real sport like football…
      Christestrogen

  4. Dennis Clark

    Oct 28, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Glad y’all enjoy the help. I appreciate the following and hope you get something out of each one of these. One thing I eschew is teaching theories or methods. All my articles and lessons are “empirical”. That is they are things I have seen work for years and years. So I share them here with the readers of this forum. Thx

  5. possum

    Oct 28, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    “Feel is not real”. Not a new concept – but a good reminder of a valid concept for sure.

  6. Ol deadeye

    Oct 28, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    I have a shelf full of books and videos on how to hit a golf ball. Some directly contradict each other. Kind of like articles in golf publications. The best I have found in 45 plus years is Ross Duplessis. His method has brought me accuracy, consistency and lower scores. Check out duplessigolf.com. His methods are simple and well thought out. The ball completely understands ball flight laws so you don’t have to. Hit it correctly and it does what it should.

  7. Ver

    Oct 28, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    It’s not just in Golf – this is a fact for everybody who’s ever dreamed of achieving something unattainable to them in the world of any coordinated activity with their bodies. So when you try to explain to somebody who is picking up the game who had never participated in any kind of sports activity of any kind until they became adults, it’s not going to be easy. True, true.

  8. Stretch

    Oct 28, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I admire Dennis’ ability to take the individual and not make wholesale changes to create a perfect move. Too many instructors are stuck on a style that works for some and is a disaster for others.

  9. Philip

    Oct 27, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    I learned a few years ago that when I feel I am going in circles to automatically do the opposite of what I think I should do – works like a charm. Just wish each time I did it sooner. I am generally better at making changes if I visualize what it is I want the club head to do and work backwards from a good impact position rather than working forward from my set up position. Old habits die hard though. My process is to first visualize the changes at home and practice without a ball (besides I don’t think hitting a golf ball in a living room is too brilliant), go to the range try the changes with golf balls, and then test it on the course.

  10. Dennis Clark

    Oct 27, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    You mean impact laws, not ball flight laws. And the problem is not that we don’t teach ball flight it’s that for many years we DID. An they were wrong.

    • Robert

      Oct 27, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I think ball flight laws is the correct term. Here’s a good article about it from Golfwrx.

      http://www.golfwrx.com/107406/understanding-the-new-ball-flight-laws/

      • Dennis Clark

        Oct 27, 2015 at 3:42 pm

        take this example; an out-to-in path with an open face can hook. If it struck on the toe. Ever hit a double cross? Thats generally the reason. As soon as we miss the center of the club face, all bets are off on face to path relationship. Thats what is misleading. We see open face hooks and closed faced slices all the time…

        • TR1PTIK

          Oct 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm

          Excellent distinction Dennis! Thanks for the helpful tips!

          • Dennis Clark

            Oct 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm

            You’re welcome; thx for reading.

            • other paul

              Oct 27, 2015 at 6:36 pm

              Throw in closure rate and all hell breaks loose to.

        • Robert

          Oct 28, 2015 at 1:10 pm

          i appreciate your comments and interaction with everybody here but i still think the point is missed. “ball flight laws” is the most appropriate description. any experienced golfer can quickly assess what they did or are doing wrong based on the ball flight. Fixing it is another issue. Your double cross point….i’d say the vast majority of times that a double cross occurs is because the face either closes too much when trying to fade it or opens too much when trying the draw it. i can’t recall the last time i toed it on a double cross while trying to fade it. there is a very distinct feel when you toe the ball. i can’t believe that i’m the exception to your rule. Toeing the ball is also far from guaranteeing a right to left ball flight. i’ve had toeing issues in the past (irons) and it was always a crap-shoot as to where the ball would go. i would be shocked if the ball ever went left while toeing the ball with an open clubface. I know it’s possible but I’m saying it’s unlikely. that’s just my 2 cents. correctly learning the ball flight laws has been one of the most beneficial things to happen to my golf game in the last 5 years. i appreciate your columns and look forward to reading your next one.

  11. alfriday

    Oct 27, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Ball flight is not “misleading.” Your ball flight tells you exactly what is happening with your swing path and clubface at impact. The problem is that instructors don’t teach the ball flight laws. Once a player learns the laws, self diagnosis on the range is simple.

    Video and ball flight monitors are great learning tools. But most of us don’t have accessw to them daily on the range or on the course. We all have access to the immediate feed back of ball flight.

    • other paul

      Oct 27, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      You can’t perfectly diagnose from ball flight alone. Feel also comes into play. If you know the laws bit you hit the ball on the toe with a high closure rate then you get a massive toe hook. If you hit it on the toe with a very low closure rate then a push draw follows instead. So you have to be able to know where you hit on the face and know if you have a high or low closure rate.

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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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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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