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My buddy tells me that my golf swing is…

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Recently, one of my students said this to me:

I have a friend who is a pretty good golfer and he said I shouldn’t lift my heel on the backswing. His daughter plays college golf, and her coach told her it’s a bad idea.”

This random tip-taking is the epitome of foolishness in golf instruction, and says more about the gullibility of the one taking the tip as it does about the one giving it.

Why? Because the advisor never saw the person swing!

This is something every teaching pro in the world has encountered at one time or another; well-meaning friends or family members pass on things they’ve heard in hopes it will help. It’s said that golf is the only game in the world with more teachers than players, and despite their good intentions, golf-tip givers generally do more harm than good.

Another frequent comment I get from my students: “I heard Johnny Miller say…” I’m always quick to ask: “Did Johnny Miller ever see your swing?

You’ve heard me say this before: A golf swing is an equation; it has to balance. By randomly tossing this and that into the mix, you may very well be upsetting the balance, and, in many cases, making things worse.

Furthermore, when you are trying something new, how can you be sure you are really accomplishing what you’ve set out to do? Answer: Without the aid of video or a trained eye, you cannot tell if you’ve changed anything at all.

I can’t begin to tell you how many golfers are shocked when they see themselves on video. “Is that me?” is a pretty common reaction. Or, “I’m still doing that?”

And I don’t mean just average golfers; some very accomplished players react the same way. You need to see the new attempt to be sure it is what you’re trying to do — if in fact what you’re trying is the right thing, of course.

Next, you also have to consider what I call “leftover behavior” in the downswing. Take a golfer who used to transition very steeply, for example. To make that move functional, the golfer raised the handle of the club into impact. This is certainly not optimal, but it may be somewhat functional. Now let’s say that golfer tries shallowing out the the transition and this one time the golfer actually accomplishes it. The handle-raise motion is so habitual, however, that it’s still there and with the new flatter arc coming down, voila… the golfer can’t find the bottom of the golf ball on a bet!

The golfer in this case might think the new move (if they have really made a “new” move) is totally wrong, but what really caused the problem is leftover behavior from the old swing.

Note: Your “old swing” is not old if you’re still making it.

The bottom line is that golfers need to consider a few things when incorporating a golf tip:

  1.  Take advice from someone who is actually watching you hit balls, and who understands the whole dynamic. Did the person writing the magazine article ever see you swing? Does he/she know your tendencies and/or swing faults? If not, you’re on shaky ground at best with that advice.
  2.  You need to see (video, for example) if you’re actually executing a new move.
  3.  Finally, remember that there may be leftover behavior from your “old” swing causing some unwanted outcomes.

May I suggest a trained professional who sees the big picture, and not simply some isolated move or position you are “supposed” to be in. And believe me, this is not an ad for business; I’ve got more than I can handle!

If I can be of help to your game visit my Facebook page.

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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]

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Brodie Hock

    Jan 18, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Even as a past Golf Pro I would generally refrain from offering any advice when playing golf with members unless they ask. I just know how annoying it is when people offer unsolicited advice and I never want to be that person.
    My favorite now is in the gym. When someone wants to critique everything in your form without giving them the open door to do so.
    Here’s your swing fix, lift this way, etc… “What was your name again??” 😛

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 18, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      “the only game with more teachers than players” 🙂

  2. cgasucks

    Jan 16, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    If someone came up to me for swing advice and I never saw it…I tell them to record their own swing and compare it to the pros…9 times out of 10 they will nitpick their swing to death and do something about it..

    You are your own worst critic…

  3. Christestrogen

    Jan 16, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    This guy did ok with a “dynamic” pair of feet:
    http://youtu.be/5ocMJecgW2w

    So did he:
    http://youtu.be/NS9XLWggQzo

    So did he:
    http://youtu.be/DisSQ8bFS0U

    He does pretty well still:
    http://youtu.be/zEFLbehtP5k

    -Christosterone

    • Dennis clark

      Jan 16, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      It’s a good thing we don’t kick the ball around the course huh

      • Christestrogen

        Jan 16, 2016 at 5:46 pm

        Lol…great article btw…
        I never offer advice on the course or range so am always happy to see someone reinforce that notion…if asked I am happy to give my opinion but never will I offer it unsolicited…
        Especially since I have always emulated Colin Montgomerie(Nicklaus acolyte) whose reverse C swing/finish is so belittled by modern swing theory which is all distance, distance, distance….whereas I prefer straight, straight, straight…

        -Christosterone

  4. Other Paul

    Jan 16, 2016 at 1:00 am

    But i love helping people at the range ????. I have cured peoples slice just by showing them their swing in slow motion so they can see the club path. Voila, they see the path is wrong and they fix it. One friend of mine played golf his whole life and hit a 50 yard slice the whole time. Watched him hit draws for a half hour on the range. He loved it. Some of us can help people because we had our swings built from scratch. Your article wont change me. I would be happy to record my swing and send it in for your audit some time ???? -30 right now though…

    • Dennis clark

      Jan 16, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      The article is not trying to change people who get help the article suggests that those people who are listening may not want to… Unless the tip truly applies to them

  5. Philip

    Jan 15, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    I have an easy way to quite those who must impart their latest “can’t miss” tip – I ask them to show me – whether on the range or course it stops the tips immediately as most cannot come close to executing it. I get a chuckle though, out of those who cannot keep a drive in play, but just cannot resist to give advice when I’m struggling to keep my drives in the fairway.

    • dennis clark

      Jan 15, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      They are well intended, just not well informed. Thx

  6. Random

    Jan 15, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    This article says nothing new, typical WRX

  7. Greg V

    Jan 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I bet there were a lot of bad golfers who would have “fixed” Eamon Darcy’s swing.

    • dennis clark

      Jan 15, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Or Jim Furyk, Jim Thorpe, Alan Doyle, Chi Chi, Miller Barber, Walter hagen, and on and on…

  8. rockflightxl1000

    Jan 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    I would like to add one more to the bottom line:

    4. You can teach/ get taught on the course as long as you aren’t slowing down pace of play!

    Dropping a couple balls for errant shots is something everyone is entitled too but if its becoming a trend every hole b/c you’re working out swing issues… pick it up and drop it closer please!

  9. cb

    Jan 15, 2016 at 11:07 am

    great article and so true. for example, i saw where martin hall was giving power tips and said one is to have your head turned in like jack did to make a bigger shoulder turn but the reason jack did it wasn’t because of shoulder turn it was because he was left eye dominant (he even says so in his book) and wanted to keep his dominant eye on the ball

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jan 15, 2016 at 11:57 am

      … and Jack lifted his left heel off the ground. Too bad the guy couldn’t have put together a better golf swing… he might have won a few majors.

      • dennis clark

        Jan 15, 2016 at 8:53 pm

        His book “Golf MY way” influenced a lot of folks back in my day. He could have won majors left-handed he was so far ahead of everyone else! Thx for reading Mocha…

    • dennis clark

      Jan 15, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      well the point is simply that everyone doesn’t have to tilt their head; even those left-eyed dominant. I’d never advise anyone stuck under plane or hitting too much from inside to take that look.Thx

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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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