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Clark: The Mind That Created Your Swing Issues Cannot Correct Them

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There is a plethora, maybe an overabundance, of golf information available online these days. While some of this information can be extremely useful, it can also be a source of confusion and may, unwittingly, lead a golfer down the wrong path. Here are a few things one might consider when searching for online help.

Golf forums have, to a large extent, become platforms for discussing the golf swing. One author or teacher suggests a system; another believes and teaches something quite different. Even when they are in agreement with how to produce a better result (impact), they are at odds on how to get there. And herein lies the source of confusion for the reader. It is often the interpretation of the suggestion that leads to the confusion.

In most cases, a teacher’s message is all well and good, but it cannot take into account the mindset of the reader because the teacher has never met the golfer or seen the golfer’s swing. It’s also important to keep in mind that the lens through which a tip is seen is vastly different for every single reader. I know this because I ask my students regularly this very question: Did you watch so and so on the XYZ channel last night? What did you get out of that segment? The answers vary so greatly one might think they watched completely different programs.

Dennis_Clark_Mind_Full

The swing issues my students confront are a result of the mind that created them, and the mind that created them cannot correct them. My lessons have more to do with changing minds than changing swings. I cannot help a student with simple swing issues by explaining the scientific principles underlying the biomechanics of them. I am far more effective when I get into their mind than their swing; I try to understand how the words I’m offering, or the swings I’m demonstrating, are being internalized or understood by the student. For example, I might ask some of the following questions:

  • Tell me what you think you are doing?
  • What are you trying to do here… and why?
  • What, in your understanding, gets the golf ball airborne?
  • How can I help you do it better?

It is more helpful to create individual opportunities to learn than to instruct how to do something. The corrections are finite, and the presentation of them is infinite. We cannot afford to allow the technical to eclipse the personal. It is critical to leave the lesson tee with a different mental image than you came with. DO NOT fake understanding if you really don’t get it  Speak up! Your teacher wants to know what you’re thinking and the perceptions you have.

Take the simple act of turning the shoulders in the backswing. The lesson begins by discovering that the player is under-turned. We all agree that this is important, but Player A might have to think one thing, while Player B something completely different to accomplish this task. The teacher’s role is helping students find the keys to unlock their personal puzzle. Learning is a mind game, and direction has to be given in very personal ways. Those ways have to be practical and enjoyable enough to continue exploring, or we usually have little to no learning. This cannot be done with generic tips to mass audiences.

That said, communicating with your individual instructor online, and sending him/her regular videos and ball flight information can be very helpful. Keep in mind, however, that there is NO substitute for live lessons. When that is not possible, this form of communicating with your personal teacher can be quite effective. It’s imperative, however, that the teacher not only understand your physical habits, but also your knowledge of the golf swing and your learning style. Without that balance, I see this kind of instruction doing harm more harm than good.

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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. .

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Heich

    Aug 20, 2017 at 3:03 am

    You know, according to Hypnosis Motivation, you can un-do some of the programming in the mind and correct the bad stuff and make it better

  2. Dennis Clark

    Aug 19, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    The next big frontier is learning…our job is to know a thousand ways to say a few things! I would refer all who are interested to Michael Hebron’s work.

    • Stephen Finley

      Sep 13, 2017 at 12:35 am

      Amen to that. You have to stick with it and make an effort to meet it where it is, but it’s worthwhile.

  3. Tapin

    Aug 19, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Your question was answered. Your next questions were rude and insensitive. Everyone’s game can be helped. Playing better is a noble goal. Regardless of physical ability the attempt to gain knowledge should never be discouraged.
    If you are going to nasty don’t post!

  4. Speedy

    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    24 swing components is all you need.

    • Walt

      Aug 19, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      You mean like Homer’s 24 swing components, duh?

  5. Rors

    Aug 18, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Where are the Harvey Penicks’ of today. Most golf instructors think they are engineers at NASA… Freaking ridiculous where instructors are going these days…

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 18, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      That’s the point of the article. We are learning a TON about the science and biomechanics of the golf swing, but what are we learning about HOW they learn what we are discovering? How do we present this? How do they take it all in? MY answer is: as simply as possible. If I cant put what I need to say on the head of a pin, it ain’t worth saying. Thx

      • Rors

        Aug 18, 2017 at 7:50 pm

        Thanks for the retort, really enjoy your point of views. Plus you don’t get your underwear in a knot when someone comments… Thanks DC

      • Walt

        Aug 19, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Call it the K.I.S.S. principle or else you lose your confused hopeful student.

    • stephenf

      Aug 31, 2017 at 1:23 am

      So true. Dissectional analysis is great for lots of words, lots of discussion, and frankly a lot of money. I’m not sure it helps many people hit it better and enjoy the game more, or be more competitive if they play tournaments. If we learned to walk down a flight of stairs the way most people try to learn to play golf, and the way a lot of teachers teach it, we’d all be walking around in casts or rolling around in wheelchairs. Think about the complexity of driving a car through traffic repeatedly, day in and day out, for a year without an accident. It’s far beyond anything that happens in golf. If we were to try to do that the way so many people learn golf and teach golf, it would endanger lives every single day.

  6. Tapin

    Aug 18, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    That can’t really be your question. How silly!

  7. Double Mocha Man

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    That diagram showing swing keys is all wrong! There are not enough. I have at least 25 more swing keys in my 1.5 seconds of the golf swing.

  8. Teacher2

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

    What do you tell a new student they are physically out of shape to swing a golf club correctly even if they practice a lot? Do you tell them the truth or do you string them along to satisfy their delusions? Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 18, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Good question and not an uncommon occurrence as you might imagine. Professionally and politely I may come around to discussing how physical conditioning plays a role in the swing. But I will say this; MOST out of shape people are very aware of their condition and almost always bring it up before I do. PHEW! The first thing any teacher has to remember is to respect the humanity of the person they are instructing. The person in front of me is far more important than anything I’m telling them!!

      • Teacher2

        Aug 19, 2017 at 12:16 am

        Why would somebody with physical problems want to come to you for instruction when they may know they are burdened with physical shortcomings?
        Desperation? Reassurance? Learning? Friendship? Or just naivete?
        Some/many shouldn’t attempt to play golf properly because they can’t make a commitment to physical conditioning.
        A good golf swing is athletic and most are not athletic. What do they want in a lesson?

        • Clark G

          Aug 19, 2017 at 3:23 pm

          I think you answered your own questions: all of the above.

        • Dennis Clark

          Aug 19, 2017 at 7:54 pm

          I think they want a little hope, maybe some direction to see if there is any little tips that may help them within their limitations. They are not looking for “good golf” per se. Short game particularly.

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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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