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What is the ball doing? That’s the most important question in golf instruction

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I offer an online swing analysis program, and golfers from around the world have sent me their swings to analyze. I am always quick to mention that with the video they send, they must also send me a description of their typical ball flight. 

At the club where I teach, and actually everywhere I’ve ever taught, I’m known as the what’s-your-miss teacher. Students who have been referred by someone I coach come to me and say: “I know what you’re going to ask me. What’s my miss, right?” And it’s true, that is how I begin every session. The reason is simple; their entire lesson is based on their answer. Of course, I’m about to see what the ball does, but I want hear it from them first.

By contrast, those who have not been referred by someone I coach might start by saying, “I know I come over the top” or “I’ve always fought that flying right elbow.” Of course, I also hear the classic of all self diagnoses: “I know I swing too fast.” My response, even after all these years, is the same. “No, that’s what you think YOU do. I’m asking what your golf ball does.”

Which one of these swings is “correct?”

Which_of_these_swings_would_you_change

In the game of golf, we have a “swing.” It’s nothing more than a series of motions and positions designed for a specific purpose: to hit the golf ball correctly and consistently. A good swing is one that achieves that end, and a bad swing is one that does not. To evaluate a swing by any other criteria is an academic exercise at best.

For too long, golfers have concerned themselves with positions in their swing. The only relevant position is the position of the club face at impact with the golf ball. When we look in the golf Hall of Fame, we see a variety of swings, all of which have resulted in good, solid impact. Otherwise, those swings would not be in the Hall of Fame. It’s as simple as that! The great John Jacobs said it best.

“The purpose of the golf swing is to hit the golf ball solidly; the method employed is of no consequence as long as it can be repeated.”

I teach any number of golfers who are hooking/drawing the golf ball from an open face position at the top of their swing. And I teach an equal number of golfers who are slicing the ball from a closed club face position at the top of their swing. As a teacher, I would be doing my students a terrible disservice if I “corrected” the club face position at the top of the swing. Because if I see a player who is consistently drawing the ball from an open face position either at the top or in the transition, I know full well that this player has made the necessary adjustments going into impact, whatever that adjustment may be. They have achieved the desired end result. It matters not how they got there. In golf, two plus two always equals four.

The biggest problem for most golfers who are trying to self-correct their swing are the things they have heard about where the club or the player is “supposed” to be. I am always quick to point out to my students that impact is the only place where golfers are supposed to have a square club face, at a good angle and traveling in the correct direction, and that’s the only goal of my teaching: to get my students to repeat a good solid impact. Some of my golfers may do this with an earlier release of the clubhead, while some may do it a little later. It matters not how or when they do it as long as they do it.

The very first thing I look at in a golf lesson is the flight of the golf ball. The second thing I look at is the ground at impact. And the last thing I observe is the overall motion of the player, because it matters least. If someone were to send me a video of Jim Furyk’s golf swing without knowing the ball flight or who it is, if I were not an impact teacher, I might send it back with all kinds of corrections suggested. And of course, if he foolishly listened, he would be $60 million lighter in all-time income.

The next time you’re asked to make a change in a golf lesson, ask your teacher why. You might want to say something like, “OK, you have asked me to tuck my elbow into my side; are you saying that my current elbow position is causing me to shank the ball?” It very well may be, but you the student have the right to know. If you’re being asked do change your swing simply because the teacher thinks a new position “looks better,” then I would look for another teacher. However, if you find your teacher’s suggestions are resulting in better impact position, and therefore a better ball flight, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track.

For more about me and how I teach, visit www.dennisclarkgolf.com or go to 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]

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Dennis Clark

    Jun 13, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    😉

  2. Brian

    Jun 12, 2016 at 11:47 am

    The concept is a good starting point but over simplifies the golf swing. Golf Tec tries to match up a tour model swing to your body type which is sound science if done correctly. The reason I say this is simple; if your swing is not biomechanically efficient it will lead to injury or/or power loss. Ball flight is not the only goal, longevity and lack of injury is more important for most amateurs and tour pros most of whom have game stopping injuries during their careers. If a client doesn’t want to do the work required for a swing change I would go with what this author says or not teach them. But if they want the best swing for their body type I would base the changes based on their body type and what biomechanics says about the golf swing.
    BTW Kuchar and Furyk are two of the shortest drivers of the ball on tour and yet are big strong athletic men so could they be better if they changed : absolutely. But both have made lots of money being short knockers of the ball and not swinging too hard keeps them healthier. Second rule of golf instruction the article should have emphasized more: what is the client’s goals?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 13, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      One of my very favorite golf swings, and people BTW on the tour is John Daly. I played a good amount of golf with at a course called Mystic Rock over the 11 years I was the director there. One night we played that golf course from the very back of the back tees at 7500 yards. He put on the best driving clinc I have ever seen in 55 years of playing or teaching. Every tee shot was 320 yards dead in the geometric center of every fairway. Best use of ground reaction forces, shaft load and lean that I’ve ever been up close and personal with still to this day. Super long, super steep in transition, lead arm stall and full release on every wedge. You had to be there. Of course if you saw from three fairways away you’d think he was a 15 cap.

  3. Philip

    Jun 12, 2016 at 12:33 am

    Great article – I recently came to the conclusion that that only two things matter – impact and swinging within myself, which is just respecting the restrictions my setup and posture put on the length of backswing that is possible without coming out of my posture or losing balance. If I swing within myself and pay attention to where impact will occur and the direction of my club face and swing path – I can control ball flight pretty well, regardless of what my swing looks like.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Jun 11, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Author’s clarification: Don’t mistake ball flight correction as a “non-body movement” concept. The ball flies as a result of the club at impact, the golf club is directed by the body, that’s simple physics. But the point of my article is this: We make corrections BASED on the the player’s miss. A flying elbow, for example is not a problem IN AND OF ITSELF! If it causes a steep downswing that opens the face it IS A PROBLEM! Positions in and of the themselves mean very little if not related to impact on a regular basis. If Kuch had Furyk’s downswing he’d hit six inches behind every shot and wouldn’t be Kuch…

  5. Todd H

    Jun 10, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    I have friends who teach for golf tec and they are mainly body position instructors or method instructors. The main concern for any instructor should be ball flight and Impact conditions.

  6. Mike Barnett

    Jun 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    In your recent analysis of my golf swing you stressed the importance of knowing what my ball flight was before administering any advice. This article certainly explains why and I only wish Mr. Clark was in my area for personal instruction.

  7. Desmond

    Jun 9, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Have heard this for 20 years from Jacobs, Haney, Harmon, etc., and now Clark. It’s a good reminder to look at ball flight.

  8. Christosterone

    Jun 9, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Wow that was awesome….

    PS: I knew Kuchar was flat but wow, he is in a crazy position…love his tempo and he proves there is more than one way to swing at the highest level..

    Great article!!!

    -Christosterone

  9. Kevin

    Jun 9, 2016 at 10:32 am

    This is excellent. This article should stay on the front page of this website forever.

  10. Mike S

    Jun 9, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Might be the single best instruction article I’ve ever read. Every player has their own unique body type and strengths so it only makes sense every swing should be different. The side by side of Kuchar, Day and Furyk is perfect. I’ve noticed in my own game that trying to swing like Adam Scott or anyone else with a “perfect” golf swing only leads to problems. Arnold Palmer was another great example. No one would teach that corkscrew swing, but it worked for him.

    • alfriday

      Jun 9, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Interesting. I took lessons at Golftec and the first two questions the instructor asked was if I had any physical limitations and what was my standard ball flight/miss.

      • Jay

        Jun 9, 2016 at 2:07 pm

        I gotta go with MSiz on this one – my GolfTec experience was all about body positions – if I could turn/bend like a tour player I probably would not have gone to them to begin with.

        • Big Kid

          Jun 10, 2016 at 10:09 am

          I’ve been going to GTec. For me it’s about positions, but it’s getting into better positions to limit my misses and become more consistent. I had a swing path that made DeChambeau look flat. I was playing at a 4 handicap, but in pressure situations, I wasn’t consistent. Getting my swing flatter has gotten me down to scratch. It’s all about impact, as the article says, but for me, being in proper positions makes it easier to have a more consistent impact position.

      • bcmintx

        Jun 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm

        I am just beginning a series of lessons at Golftec, and what the ball does was a primary question and the answer to that question (the “why does it do that?”) was then evident once the swing was analyzed.

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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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Instruction

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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