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Opinion & Analysis

Golf Training Aids: Do They Ever Actually Work?

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Swing gadgets and training aids have been around in some form or another since… forever, I suppose. Some are really good, while others are really bad. Some serve a specific problem and some are more universal in their intent. Do they work? It’s a fair question.

If I had to choose the one thing that has amazed me more thing else over the years, it’s how ingenious and creative golfers are. Golfers are really adept at finding the golf ball. By hook or crook, if they play enough, they will find a way to put the club on the ball. This is a skill called “proprioception,” and it also plays a huge part in the inconsistency of golfers and their related inability to score better.

Here’s why: A compensatory move in the downswing that corrects a faulty position in the backswing is ingenious… but also costly. When the golf club gets to the top of the swing out of position, golfers — especially those who play often — will adjust the club coming down to find a way (any way) to get the golf club on the golf ball. This happens at all levels, of course, including the top players in the world.

Let’s consider some swing positions that have to be re-routed in the downswing:

  • A golf club that is “laid off” at the top of the swing is effectively outside the hands. It has to be brought back into line to avoid shanking and hitting the heel.
  •  A golf club that is across the line at the top is effectively inside the hands, and it has to be brought back into line to avoid hitting off the toe.
  • A golf clubface that is wide open at the top of the swing has to be closed coming into impact.
  • A golf clubface that is too closed at the top of the swing has to be opened on the way down to square it.

And in transition…

  • A golf club that starts down too steeply has to be flattened to get it into a better incline to come down into the golf ball.
  • A hand path that goes out to start the downswing requires a fall back inside to get the bottom of the arc to the ball.
  • A hand path that is vertical or tight coming down requires a club head that is swinging more out than down to avoid hitting the toe.

Swing trainers are designed for a specific purpose often miss the cause of the swing flaw and attempt to re-train the fault itself. Consider the example of getting way ahead of the ball. Most of the time, golfers who run ahead of the ball do so because they release the club far too early. The movement ahead is to avoid hitting the ground behind the ball. Well, if you find a device that helps you stay behind the ball better and you still release too early, guess what happens? Fat shots, of course. Conversely, if you find a device that helps you hold the angle a little longer and you continue to run ahead of it… well, you guessed it. Skulls and late tops.

Another: Let’s say you find a device that helps you get off the rear foot into impact. It’s one designed to help you get “through the ball” better. Well, if you were “hanging back” because the golf club is coming down far too steeply and you simply improve the “turn-through” motion, you will hit the ball fat, late, and sometimes shank it. Why? Because the steep transition was not corrected. So you’re off your back foot, that’s alright, but if your club face is wide open and you’re steep into impact, you’ll likely also be really late. That means a lot of thin shots and some shanks.

And Another: You find a device that helps you stop coming over the top, and you’re able to get the club more inside coming down. Great… but a lot of over-the-toppers shift their weight to the back foot in order to get the bottom of the swing arc near the ball. In fact, many single-digit handicaps have this move! You see, if you’re over the top, you’re moving the bottom of the arc forward. Many more experienced golfers feel this, and instinctively they shift their weight back to get the golf club to bottom out a little earlier.

See the point?

If the root cause of your swing issue is not corrected, the device that’s designed to correct the reaction is not enough. The bottom line is you have to correct the core swing issue to eventually avoid the reaction. Work with an instructor to help you identify the root cause and go from there.

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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. .

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. anthony aguilar

    Oct 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    A great training club will instantly give you correct feel and feedback every time you use it. A great training aid will show your flaws and showing you make a pure stroke.It will give you great Rhythm and timing so you can repeat itself and shoot your lowest score ever. Putting alone is almost half your score! see flexputter.com

  2. Dennis clark

    Sep 27, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Moguls , simple mounds of dirt are some of the very best training aids one can use. And there is always one available.

  3. chinchbugs

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:22 am

    I gave this a like and didn’t even read it purely based on the excellent photo choice used for the cover. Well done!

  4. larrybud

    Sep 27, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Absolutely spot on, and I was a training aid collector (some bought, some home built) before I understood that if you don’t fix the root cause, you’ll just revert back to your old habits.

    So to those training aids which “force” your body into a certain position, those don’t work. But I have had aids, such as a putting mirror, which gives me feedback which I then fix myself (such as poor shoulder alignment at setup), which lasts a long time. To expand on that:

    My problem was I would cut across the ball. I tried a device which would control the path of my putter, and it worked when I used the device. But take me off of it, and in 4 or 5 strokes I would revert back. Why? Because I didn’t fix the root cause of the issue, which was poor shoulder alignment. The device was just artificially creating the proper path of the putter rather than fixing why that putter had a bad path to begin with.

    • Gearhead

      Sep 27, 2017 at 11:25 am

      The root cause is that you’re human, and just not very good at the game, no matter what you try. lol

      • LD

        Sep 27, 2017 at 12:22 pm

        Your first sentence was spot-on, and then you had to needlessly throw in an insult.

        • Gearhead

          Sep 28, 2017 at 3:05 am

          Idiot, it’s human to thrown in insults. Where would we be without it

  5. OB

    Sep 26, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Before you can utilize any golf training aid that attempts to help you hit the ball you must first prepare your body with general conditioning. If your body is not properly conditioned any sport-specific training aid will not work… plain and simple.
    Golfers want to cheat and go directly into sport-specific training and avoid general conditioning which takes a lot of time and consistent effort for physical preparation. Golfers who want to believe some training contraption will fix their swing are gullible. They buy the gizmo, try it a few times and then run to the golf course/range to see what will happen. Squat happens because their body is not conditioned for proprioceptive activity. IOW, they are too decrepit to swing consistently after training with these gizmos.

  6. Caroline

    Sep 26, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    do they work, yes they do, for the better not always…I played to a 11 15 years ago playing from a open stance and hitting every club with a little fade…then on vacation I saw an add for a “swing Magic club”, did it work, well yes and no after practicing with it at home for hours because it just felt neat I went out for my first round with this neat feeling I had gained…first shot a nine iron on a short par 3, first hook I had seen in years, right out of bounds…ok no more open stance, second 9 iron hooked right out of bounds…finished the day loosing 8 golf balls where I never loose any…15 years later still cannot find that fade I had and cannot get down from a 16…..

  7. HeineyLite

    Sep 26, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    When used for feedback and working slowly on your swing…

  8. JE

    Sep 26, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Do you have a golf watch?

  9. WFWP

    Sep 26, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Hello Dennis,
    Your reasoning for the limited application of swing aids can be applied to swing drills, too. Drills and swing aids need to be used with understanding and technique to create positive changes. There are many skills to develop to produce a reliable swing. Calling “proprioception” a skill is a stretch since it is simplification of the bodies dynamic mental and physical system of coordinating movement (https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2008/proprioception-the-3-d-map-of-the-body, retrieved 2017). Developing awareness of the movement of the hands arms, torso, core, feet and legs are skills, which improve proprioception. In my opinion, having awareness of the clubhead (14 clubs) in golf is the challenge for the proprioceptive system as the club is an external component. I agree: equilibrium, safety and pain avoidance create adaptive moves in golf as well as other sports activities, so seeking guidance from a skilled individual is important to obtaining safety, efficiency and performance potential. However, certain swing aids and drills have wide reaching benefits and have stood the test of time.
    Jon

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 26, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      No question Jon; some training aids are very effective and work across a wide spectrum. Particularly those that assist in getting to the player to the top of the swing effectively. In my experience compensating moves are the result of a poor club face, poor plane or direction or a misdirected center of pressure. The training aids that help us to the top are great for reducing the amount of compensation coming down. Golfer are VERY creative, VERY creative in avoiding the horrible shot! Thx for reading…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Breakthrough mental tools to play the golf of your dreams

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Incredibly important talk! A must listen to the words of Dr. Karl Morris, ham-and-egging with the golf imperfections trio. Like listening to top athletes around a campfire. This talk will helps all ages and skills in any sport.

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Homa Wins! And how to avoid “paralysis by analysis”!

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This week’s episode covers a wide array of topics from the world of golf including Max Homa’s win on the PGA Tour, golf course architecture, and how to avoid “paralysis by analysis” when it comes to your golf game.

This week’s show also covers the important topic of mental health, with the catalyst for the conversation being a recent interview published by PGA Tour with Bubba Watson and his struggles.

 

 

 

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