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Why Every Golf Swing Tip Should Come With a Warning

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The internet has given birth to a plethora of golf swing advice, tips and how-to information. For average golfers, I think it has become a source of confusion rather than clarity… and with good reason. The information itself is all well and good, but the interpretation of the advice is a cause for concern. I know this because I teach golf every day to weekenders and people who play golf for enjoyment. Often, I hear them relate how they are attempting to incorporate a tip into their swing. And sometimes, in fact quite often, what they are trying to do is flat out wrong for them. The operative phrase here is for them.

Imagine for a minute that Jordan Spieth had read or heard about the importance of a straight left arm, or a full pronation and supination of his arms coming into impact. Those two pieces of advice have been widely discussed throughout the instruction community for years. And for some, perhaps many, they are relevant. Not so much for Jordan. His instructor was wise enough to know better in this case. That same teacher may very well have another student do those things; he just knew it was not in Jordan’s best interest.

How does a golfer know something they have read or heard is good for their swing when it’s likely the author or video creator has never seen them swing. Personally, I try to steer away from offering generalized swing tips. Rather, I focus on an approach that can best be described as, “If this, then that.” IF your golf ball is doing this, THEN you might try this.

I start every one of my lessons with a direct question: “What’s your miss and what poor shot do you, at times or often, hit?” That’s a loaded question for an instructor, because the answer contains a ton of information about a golfer’s pattern. For example, high upright swings create high slices; lower, flatter motions create low hooks; wide swings hit the heel; narrow ones hit the toe; steep swings hit fat shots; flatter ones miss thin. On and on.

I have had a lot of golfers come to my lesson tee trying their best to incorporate a move they’ve read or heard, and what they are attempting to do does not fit their puzzle. A recent example comes to mind about a player who was struggling with swaying off the ball and very wide takeaway. Consequently, he was hitting 2 inches behind most shots off the turf… even drop-kicking his driver. He told me how a Golf Channel segment had suggested that a wider arc creates more power. True enough, perhaps; it just happened to be terrible advice for him because he was already wide.

The very best swing advice you can get comes from your own instructor, but if you are going to attempt to employ a new pattern on your own, please be sure it can help correct your old one. In other words, be certain the prescription fits the condition.

Every swing tip should come with a warning: “Side effects can be hazardous to golf swing. Trying this can cause slices, hooks, shanks, pulls, pushes, thin and fat shots, skulls and pop ups. If any of these symptoms appear, please see your instructor right away!”

In deciding what information to incorporate, as I’ve said, a personal instructor is best, but if you are interested in trying a new tip from a friend, book, article or video, perhaps an online video review of your swing might reveal what is helpful and what could be harmful. In other words, buyer beware. I would hate to see any of you make your current swing problem worse. My new website will include a limited number of online students so I can work more directly with golfers through Skype and other platforms, but I have to know your history, your ball flight trends, and any physical limitations before offering assistance.

I know a lot us who write articles are accused of wanting more business. Personally, I do not want more business; I have all I can handle. If I were to get a rash of new students, I would need more time and/or a bigger staff-neither of which I care to do. I’m simply saying “swing-unseen” advice can be dangerous. Please know what you’re getting into.

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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. .

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Tom54

    Jul 26, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Please can we retire that picture of the body bug skin disorder looking thing once and for all??

  2. Tom54

    Jul 26, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    I am one that falls into trying all sorts of methods and tips. That’s what keeps us coming back for more isn’t it? As long as we see the pros struggle with their games and that’s their livelihood, than we can struggle with ours too. Arnie said it best when he said “swing your own swing”. Every day we go out there is a chance to play well. Nothing beats a good round

    it best when he said”swing your own swing”. The reason golf is so alluring is that every day out there is a chance to have

  3. Eric B.

    Jul 25, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    A lot of truth here. I am a beginner and initially started out with YouTube. I must say, I learned several good things initially such as grip and backswing form. I was hooked right away and signed up for a 3 lesson package from a local pro. In my first lesson, he really helped me and my friends couldn’t believe my improvement. I swore I wouldn’t watch any more videos and focus on what he was teaching. But, due to scheduling issues, it was a month before I could go back for my second lesson. The siren’s call of the internet was too much and I started watching them again. Soon I regressed and was all over the place. Too many conflicting opinions and my lack of experience prevented me from filtering out the noise. After my second my lesson, he righted the ship again and I started swinging much better once again. Thing is, I do enjoy the videos. They’re fun and interesting. But now I avoid anything related to the swing or grip or alignment, etc. I’m leaving that to my instructor. Instead, I watch the ones about golf course management, dealing with bunkers, green readingor anything related to strategy. I get my fix but also don’t pollute my head with conflicting info.

  4. Joe D

    Jul 25, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I’m a new golfer, still exploring my swing. I’ve been obsessed with videos. Meandmygolf. Crossfield. Shiels. Clement. Alistair Davies. Paul Wilson. I had a decent driver swing, bad wood swing, decent iron swing.

    After obsessing over all of the videos, I’d try each tip at the range and the results were far from good. I eventually developed a better iron swing, and a better wood swing. But my driver went to shat. That was my best club and I couldn’t hit it at all. Saw this article, last night, off to the range today. Forget all of the damn advice. Just swing the damn thing. So far everything came back.

    • acemandrake

      Jul 25, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      Yes. The tough part is keeping this approach: Swing thoughts are seductive.

  5. Philip

    Jul 25, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Totally agree – baby steps, tiny tweaks, taking it slow and allowing time (weeks or months) before deciding to stop something or to give it more time is the only way. Of course in saying that I am expecting that things haven’t gone sideways with a tweak – in that case one has to slam on the brakes and step back as obviously something was misunderstood or misapplied. Having someone you trust looking at your swing is great. The only caveat with an external point of view (whether instructor or video) is that one still has to internalize the swing and any tweaks – thinking that if one physical part of your swing is off and all one has to do is make the direct change is a recipe for a fools errand – and the endless going in circles. What may be required to change the location of an arm in the swing may have nothing to do with the arms. Hence the reason for drills – to encourage change in a better direction without trying to force it immediately via thoughts.

  6. CB

    Jul 25, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Excellent piece. This is why I enjoy visiting the instructor that I see. He takes what i bring to the table and incorporates ideas/mechanics/thoughts to make what I have better. His whole goal was to get me to the best impact position that my middle age amateur ability could. With his guidance, I went from a bogey golfer to shooting in the 70s with ease (with a personal best of 74). I see him once or twice a year for checkups.

    • acemandrake

      Jul 25, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      Your experience confirms what I believe works best for learning this game. I’m a combination of formal instruction and self-learning while still young and able to practice a lot.

      If asked, I tell anyone to find an instructor they like, work with them, and ignore all other golf swing info from other sources (web, Golf Channel, golf magazines).

      “Happy with ball flight & a swing that repeats” may be all that most golfers need.

      BTW, nice playing, CB!

  7. AceW7Iron

    Jul 25, 2017 at 7:50 am

    It surely comes down to each individual and finding a swing that fits their body and abilities. The internet can certainly hurt some seekers but it can also help some tremendously. I recently started slumping (9 hc) after weeks of really good ball striking. I didnt feel like I changed a thing but all of the sudden I could only pull hook a ball…period. After about 4 rounds I was so frustrated it seemed taking 3 weeks off and quitting was the best thing I could do. Then I started searching for videos on how to hit a fade…No, I didn’t really find the magic bullet there in plain sight but hidden among all the hours of youtube video I found a gem called the “Coat Hanger Drill”. I figured what did I have to lose by going to the closet and swinging a few times in the living room with a coat hanger. Turns out the sensation was immediately different than the way I was swinging and I knew I had to stay more connected with the club handle & my wrist. My 1st drive after that was really a slice…my eyes lit up…I can tame a slice. My next drive split the fairway and my approach shot covered the pin. I was back and all because I had a great tool at my fingertips that I didnt have to leave my home to use.

    • dennis clark

      Jul 25, 2017 at 9:09 am

      No doubt it can be a huge help, I like to think some of the things I’ve written have helped folks but the secret is knowing which tip to employ. Thx

      • dapadre

        Jul 26, 2017 at 7:39 am

        Yes you have most certainly sir. Your look on golf is so insightful and I always look forward to your write ups. I actually print some out for later references. My favorite was where you spoke about how your grip has to match your swing dynamics, GOLDEN!

    • dapadre

      Jul 25, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Totally agree. Hence Im just love that Speith is doing so well, why? If we never heard of him and saw his swing, I can guarantee you that there would be comments on how bad it was ( ie his chicken wing and that crazy grip where the v’s dont even align) but it works for him. As its been said its all about the impact. Look at greats like Nicklaus on the backswing his club is actually vertical. I read a book recently that changed my whole look on golf, The L.A.W.S. of the Golfswing by Mike Adams. In short he states and I agree totally, that since we are all different builds and flexibility etc, its impossible to try and teach ONE way to swing. Since reading the book ive dropped strokes and my impact is more solid then ever. Im a club longer and my carry distances on my drives have gone up 20 yards. Since I have stopped fighting my natural swing and have adopted that which suits my body, ive only seen progress.

      • dennis clark

        Jul 25, 2017 at 9:27 am

        Yes if we put a wig on Jordan and some baggy jeans, everyone would be finding fault. IMPACT!

        • Double Mocha Man

          Jul 25, 2017 at 10:05 am

          … and take away his shiny Titleist clubs… and remove his caddy. Those are givaways. 🙂

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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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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