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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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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Instruction

Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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