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Your golf swing is more consistent than you think it is

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I need to preface this article about consistency by making one point quite clear: Golf is inconsistent! Pure and simple. If you can’t accept that fact, you might be better served taking up another hobby. Our game is played in such a variety of conditions and playing fields that to expect consistency is an exercise in futility.

That being said, many of my new students tell me on my lesson tee, “My problem is I’m inconsistent.” So I always observe the ball flight, and it is very inconsistent. Left, right, tops, fats… you name it. The golfer’s logical conclusion after hitting those shots is, “I must be doing everything wrong,” and this is one of the reasons we teachers use video and radar in diagnosing swing errors.

Another common exchange at the opening of a lesson is, “I’m working on so many different swings, I don’t know which one to use.” I’ll say something like, “Well, show me an example of the different swings you’re using.” Then I video all the samples.

And do you know what the videos show? Almost exactly the same swing on every single ball hit! If you don’t believe that, I invite you to my golf school in Naples to spend 6 hours with me on the lesson tee one day. And I’m not just talking about high-handicap golfers.

Other than BRAND NEW golfers, every student I have ever taught is unbelievably consistent.

So if the swings are the same, why is the ball flight inconsistent? The simple answer is that the club face and the bottom of the swing arc vary greatly, but almost never the direction of the swing or the motion that caused it. The video below shows just a few examples of something I see every day.

You see, missed shots come in groups or “families.” For example, an in-to-out swing path can cause a push, a hook, a “drop kick,” a shank or a topped shot (usually to the right). ALL are the result of the very same in-to-out swing path. An out-to-in swing path can cause a pull or a slice, often a toe hit, and a topped shot (usually to the left from what we call a “late top”).

Here’s the point, though: rarely does a golfer slice and hook. They might pull-draw a shot and see it as a hook, but it isn’t. Rarely does a player hit the heel and toe. And rarely, if ever, does a golfer get way ahead of the ball on one shot, and way behind it on the next.

It just doesn’t happen.

Your swing motion is remarkably consistent. And by the way, this is good news for those of us who coach and teach. My job would be much more difficult if my students did something different every time. What does vary is the club face angle at impact, however, as golfers use their hands to react to the shot they have just hit. That’s why a slice on one shot and pull draw on the next is NOT a different swing.

The lesson here is to know your swing patterns. It’s important to realize that your swing is in a certain mode — it is a very grooved pattern — and IF changes are needed, the drills and practice focus must be for your pattern. You can’t try every training aid and attempt to incorporate every tip out there, because at least half of them that do NOT apply to you. You may be hitting hooks from an inside-out path and hear a tip about “getting elbow tucked into your side on the downswing,” and there’s a good chance you’ll make the problem worse.

Having explained this concept, there is a requisite caveat. All golfers react to one of two things: the shot they have just hit, or the shot they usually hit. It is not uncommon for a fat shot to be followed by a thin one, simply by pulling away from the ground. So we get a pattern of fat and thin shots. That does not indicate that the swing changed; the only thing that changed was the reaction at the bottom of the arc to the previous miss.

I’ve watched this interesting dynamic closely over many years, and having an awareness of it can help your game. Remember, it will take video to know if you are actually making a change, and I suggest that you change ONLY that which needs correcting.

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]

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Seankinni

    Jun 30, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    Dennis you are the man! That video is an instant classic! Good stuff man.????

  2. um

    Jun 29, 2016 at 3:20 am

    redrum

  3. Dennis clark

    Jun 28, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Thx to those undaunted souls who agreed to let me use their videos as examples. There is such courage in humility.

  4. Gordy

    Jun 28, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    As someone who has video taped my own swing, and tried to work on ingrained swing flaws. This is a spot on article. Literally, no change from trying to work on things. My position at impact never changes.(I come down steep and I stand up thrusting my hips towards my target at impact) I know enough about a golf swing to tell you what I’m doing wrong. And more than likely how to fix it. However, going from there and incorporating it to my swing is another thing. I am 28 and playing for about 20 years and realize that these bad habits are tough to break, but not impossible. The thing that I’ve realized over the years is that I was ok with having my flaws and trying to work it out on my own and shoot in the high 70’s and low 80’s. So, my journey to playing serious good golf begins tomorrow. I am going to take lessons and actively work on it. Really, what I am doing is seeing what some serious dedication to my golf swing will produce. Hopefully good results.

    • dennis clark

      Jun 28, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      Good for you Gordy! Good luck and keep me posted. remember flaws are only flaws at impact…

  5. Golfrnut

    Jun 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    I wish more people would read/listen to stuff like this. This is the same argument used as a rebuttal for getting anyone with a higher handicap fit for clubs. “There’s no sense in it” “Hackers are inconsistent” “No use getting fit unless you are a single-digit handicap” blah blah blah. It’s the same dribble spoken by people who have no idea what anyone’s swing looks like, never seen video, and never seen anyone on a descent monitor that measures all the club data. People don’t go from swinging in-out to out-in every other swing, etc…don’t care what level you play at. Trends and tendencies are common with everyone, no matter what skill level they play at.

  6. Bobalu

    Jun 28, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    I once overheard a local teaching pro comment that the vast majority of mid to high handicap golfers that have played for more than a few years are incapable of making significant changes in their golf swing. They’ve ingrained a faulty swing pattern with little time or mindset to make significant swing changes. I have noticed that virtually every struggling golfer that tells me they’ve made new swing changes- with or without a swing coach- honestly just look the same. Rarely do I see a golfer change their swing pattern, but they do find varying compensations, for example, like aligning too far to the right compensating for their steep downswing and pull hook. On the course, this type of golfer usually proclaims, “Smoked it! What I tell you? I’m back brother!” LOL, gotta love it.

    • dennis clark

      Jun 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      True that…

    • Jack

      Jun 28, 2016 at 10:58 pm

      Well I can understand that. Though I feel I have made huge changes, it still looks similar. Though I think having instant replay on the swing really helps, because often you feel like oh I’m swinging so differently, and you’re not even close. Basically it’s gotta feel like a drastic 180 degree change for it to look a little different. But things like a straight left arm, proper shoulder turn, not overswinging, and proper sequencing of the body in the swing, prevent casting the club, those things can be changed. And it sure wasn’t easy. Still got lots to work on. I think many people are unable to make changes one because they can’t see that they are not swinging any different and b they revert back to old habits because it’s “easier”.

  7. rd

    Jun 28, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    Yes my swing is consistently hitting my balls left and right and never where I want to

  8. NC Golfa

    Jun 28, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Dennis, Your articles and explanations are simple and excellent. I had a recent series of lessons that did not help. I’ve been playing for 30 years and probably have ingrained a not so great swing. It almost seems based on your article, we should relax and just work with our existing swing and pay attention to the face at impact. Cheers!

  9. Double Mocha Man

    Jun 28, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Not only is it important to be able to adjust your swing within a round it is equally important to adjust your swing over time. Swings are living, breathing entities… not something static. The molecules and cells in our bodies are changing by the minute. There is no way to maintain the same swing… just an approximation.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 28, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      Do you see considerable change in your student swings from swing to swing?

      • Double Mocha Man

        Jun 28, 2016 at 9:43 pm

        Hi Dennis. I am not an instructor. So, no students. I’m just a 3 handicapper trying to get to scratch. And my swing changes and feels different day to day even though I play or practice about 6 days a week. I try to work with what I’ve got, make minuscule changes and grind. Though I am always looking for the magical combination of swing keys. 🙂

        • Dennis clark

          Jun 28, 2016 at 11:20 pm

          Keep at it man…the joy is in the journey!!

        • Dennis clark

          Jun 29, 2016 at 6:22 am

          Send me a video. I’d like to see it

        • Jack

          Jun 30, 2016 at 3:18 am

          I almost feel like the adjustments are just small differences in timing and contact points. Even the worse swing that hits the sweet spot straight will feel amazing.

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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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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