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Raising your golf IQ

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There is a great line in one of my favorite books, Golf in the Kingdom, where the protagonist Shivas Irons (one of the greatest fictional golf characters ever) says:  “Our relationship to paradox is a barometer of our enlightenment.”

Golf is one of, if not the most paradoxical games in the world. Hit down and the golf ball goes up. Swing too much to the right, the ball curves left — too much to the left, the ball curves right, and so on. But that quote reminds us that we cannot improve at the game until unless we overcome the tendency to do what comes naturally. This is one of the reasons the game is best learned as a junior before we clutter our mind with “how to.”

One of the most common problems I see on the lesson tee is “coming over the top,” the dreaded outside-in swing path. It is so prevalent, I figure there must be a reason for it.  Well, there are many perhaps, but the two most obvious are these:

No. 1

Unlike other games, we do not face the target in golf. In fact, we face exactly 90 degrees to the right of the target. So from the start, it feels like we have to swing left of where we are facing (for right handers of course).

Then, in what would seem to be a total contradiction, we make a backswing and turn our back 180 degrees to the target. Now the target really feels left.  And that position at the top feels so far from where we are trying to go, we are in a hurry to get back to facing the target. So we open the body early and swing to our left.  Because that’s where we are trying to hit the ball, isn’t it?

It seems perfectly logical, but this is golf we’re talking about!  And of course we swing to where we feel the target is, and that path causes the ball to curve well off to the right. “ Duh that’s what I thought;  I better swing further to the left.”

No. 2

There is a golf ball sitting on the ground and we have to get it in the air.  It feels perfectly naturally to swing UP at the ball to help it get in the air.  And then it rolls on the ground.  “Ah I was right; , I do have to swing up at it;” OK, watch this!” And … well, you get the picture.

So when I tell people to swing more left to correct a hook and more right to correct a slice and they look at me like I’m speaking Martian, I can’t really blame them. But let’s get back to our friend Shivas, who reminds us that we must overcome the urge to do what we feel and learn to do what we should. Sounds like a lesson I learned as a kid growing up in Philly!

But it’s a fact that as golfers, we have to accept and somehow internalize the illogicality of the game. In order to improve you have to educate yourself further about the ballistics of impact. What makes the golf ball fly? What makes it curve? What causes it to launch in a certain direction and at a certain trajectory?

This scientific information is readily available from  countless sources these days (click here to read some of my other articles). But it would behoove you to do some leg work here and be a more active participant in your learning.  If you really understand the science behind what causes what, you will be less likely to do what comes instinctively.

Hitting down does cause the ball to go up, and swinging inside out can cause it to go left and so on.  Raising your golf IQ and being more self-reliant in your learning can only help you improve more quickly.  Total reliance on “how to” from the teacher will never completely overcome your skepticism.

The game is the ultimate counter-intuitive exercise, and by knowing a little more about it, you can take that leap of faith and make yourself a believer in what to do.  Rely on the teacher for suggestions as to how, but real golf knowledge is the first step in your long road to improvement. That’s why I believe  that good teachers provide learning opportunities: they don’t give “lessons.”

I suppose this means I may never be out of work as I am constantly helping people overcome instinct and do just the opposite of what it seems they ought to do. But that is yet another of the game’s myriad charms.  If it wasn’t so “bloody difficult,” as my buddy across the pond calls it, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. And if I help a few along the way well, what a nice thought that is too.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

Dennis Clark is a contributing writer for GolfWRX.com. His views do not necessarily represent the views of GolfWRX.

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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]

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. dizzyjoe

    Oct 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Hitting down on the ball does not make the ball go up. A short session on Trackman or Flightscope will tell you this. Feel is relative to the individual swinging the golf club. If I wanted to hit it low, Id hit down on it more. If i wanted to hit it high, I’d swing level to +1 deg. A more effective way of getting the student to do things well, is to put them in a position where their natural instincts would allow them positive returns. eg. if their body centers (and handle) were forward, an upward “feeling” strike would yield good results. Also, individuals often swing too far to the right or left because of two reasons. One, their minds are so engrossed in what their body parts are doing that they have no idea where their target is. Two, their attachment (grip) to the golf club requires them to swing severely right or left to compensate for an overly open or closed face. Eg. Individuals with an overly weak attachment will swing severely left to compensate for an open face. Putting their hands on properly, using the same swing, will lead to a severely pulled shot (possibly hooked) as a result of a closed face. The individual will in turn begin to swing in a fashion closer to neutral, as he or she realizes that a leftward swing pattern yields a negative result. In my opinion, the fastest way for a student to adopt a change is when he or she does it on their own. This can be accomplished by the methods explained above, or through a thorough explanation in which the student understands.

  2. joe the pro

    Sep 22, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Oh so true. Everything I think I should do, I shouldm’t. Good point

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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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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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