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

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

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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