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

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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Clement: Load up the full power package in the backswing!

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This video is FUNDAMENTAL FOR POWER GAINS in the golf swing; the arm anatomy BEGS TO BE USED in this manner from casting a fishing pole, to serving a tennis ball to batting a baseball to driving a golf ball. YOU WILL LOVE how much SNAP you will get through the ball and the sound the ball will make coming off the club from the compression off the face. BLISS ON A STICK!

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Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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