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Q&A with Instructor Dennis Clark: Why golfers don’t improve and more



Editor’s Note: Dennis Clark, a PGA Master Professional, is the most widely read and commented instructor on the GolfWRX Featured Writers section. He has been writing instruction stories for GolfWRX since April — since that time he’s amassed more than 150,00 views and 350 comments on the front page and in the forums. For this Q&A, we sent him some of the most common instruction questions we see in the forums, as well as questions about his own teaching philosophies. Click here to view Clark’s Featured Writers Profile, where you can view his previous instruction stories. 

WRX:  Thanks to new technology, golfers and instructors know more about the golf swing than ever before. Strangely, handicaps have not gone down very much. Why do to think that is?

DC:  You can’t learn to play the game, you have to play it to learn. The traditional lesson where the teacher tells the student what to do is part of the problem.  There has to be more active learning where the teacher provides opportunities for the student to discover their way of doing it! Personal discovery, an “Aha!” moment, goes so much further than being told what to do and forgetting it by the time you get to the parking lot. Mike Hebron has done tremendous research in ths area.

WRX: You teach all kinds of golfers — everyone from the very beginner to golfers who are trying to make a living playing golf. But let’s talk about average golfers. What’s their No. 1 problem?

DC:  Well, shot wise it’s slicing, no question. 75 percent of all golfers slice in some form or another. But in a larger sense, the counter intuitiveness of the game is a tremendous obstacle. Most other sports are more intelligible in that what you should do is what you do!  Not golf.  It’s often the opposite of what you think. Take slicing for example.  When you stand facing 90 degrees to the right of your target, it SEEMS like you should swing left. And when you do, you slice. It’s maddening.

WRX:  Can you help anyone play better? Are their hopeless cases?

DC:  The hopeless case is rare. But often the student is their own worst enemy. Preconceived notions, impatience, unrealistic expectations, performance anxiety — these types of mindsets are hindrances to learning.  You have to realize that  you are often being asked to do something you’ve never done before and physical motions are so ingrained that it takes time and disciple to change it. Attitude is a much bigger impediment than lack of physical skill.

WRX: You have said you teach on an individual basis? Could you elaborate?

DC: Sure, lessons come in two kinds :

  1. Those you are going to correct
  2. Those you are going to create

Say a 15-handicap just started shanking and he goes to 20. Well, what he wants is to lose the shank and get back to 15, not a new swing. So I would work with him on correcting that shank, whatever that fix is. There are probably five reasons someone shanks. I have to find the right fix for him. Then comes a young gal for her first lesson and her goal is to play golf for a living someday — very different animal. Or a guy who just retired and he wants to be the senior club champ:

“Start from scratch pro, I’m all yours,” he says.

It’s like I have to build a foundation or repair the roof. How do I know which lesson to give? I ask them.

WRX: Does teaching get old?

DC:  No, never. If I taught golf it would get old, but I teach people to play golf. Big difference. Different personalities, learning styles and every hour a new puzzle to solve. If I was a method teacher, I imagine it would get old pretty quick.

WRX: How do you formulate lesson plans for your students?

DC:  John Jacobs taught us to diagnose the ball flight, explain the problem and correct it. It sounded pretty simple so I’ve stuck with it. Of course, now there are systems like FlightScope and Trackman that are essentially built-in ball flight detectors. We are less reliant on our eye today, but I still get a feel from watching the ball. And there is always one core fault that I have to find. Every move they make is based on that flaw. Very often it’s a reaction to a shot they usually hit so I try to change the shot hoping to get a different reaction. Get a slicer to draw the ball and I’ve got a friend for life! And I never give more than a few things in a lesson. One, two, three at the most. The game is hard enough!

WRX: What about seniors who have lost distance?

DC:  Speed is only partly physical. The other part is confidence. If I could measure practice swings, I’m betting they  would average 5 mph faster than one’s real swing at the ball. Why?  They lack confidence and put the breaks on through impact. Or they have been told to “slow your swing down” (one of the worst tips ever). They have to learn to play NATO golf — Not Attached To Outcome!  Stop worrying about where the ball is headed and take a good rip at it. Now, the other part of distance is correct impact. And this is where I find FlightScope and TrackMan to be quite valuable. We live in an age where I can tell exactly how far someone is hitting it and how far they are capable of hitting it. If someone is too steep or hitting the toe or using too little loft, then we can correct it. But we do lose speed as the musculature loses elasticity and strength, no doubt.

WRX: Do you give a lot of short game lessons?

DC:  Most of my students don’t ask for them, but they should. An 18 handicap hitting 3 or 4 greens per round might get up to 6 GIRs with full swing improvement.  He/she is still missing at least 12 or 13 greens a round. Do the math. And these are shots that you don’t need strength or speed to execute. Putting alone is over 40 percent of the game. Two out of every three shots most people play in a round are LESS THAN FULL SWINGS.

WRX: Everyone has hit a shank, which is probably the most embarrasing shot in golf. What’s the main cause for shanking?

DC:  Really, there’s three — a flat swing action, an in-to-out path and a very late release. It’s easy to confuse hosel plane with sweet spot plane. A perfect shot is less than an inch from the hosel. Tough game…

WRX: What’s the biggest word of advice you can give the average golfer?

DC:  Start young. To quote Jack Nicklaus:

“There is no such thing as a natural golfer. Don’t be too proud to take a lesson; I’m not!


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. 

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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. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]



  1. Nate

    Dec 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Wondering what would cause me to put high revs on my driver. Pretty open question, I know. I have a high ball fight and I’ve lost about fifty yards off the tee!

  2. Dale Houle

    Dec 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

    When talking about hitting greens, are you talking about hitting greens in regulation or simply the 150yrd and in shot. I’m a 9.9 index and really struggle on any course longer than say 6200yrds. I’m fairly consistent off the tee but at 180-230 from the green on my second shot feel I have little chance. 140yrd and in I’m fairly consistent at putting in on the dance floor, my 2 putt avg helps a ton. Avg drive’s are maybe 225.

    GIR is one thing but just making the 150 and in shot is another. Both have a huge impact on score. I think I’ll go practice swinging faster for more distance and the 150 and in shot for better control.

  3. Dave S

    Dec 17, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Long iron play is the one stat that separates good players from great. It’s trendy to say short game is the most important, but if you can hit GIRs from 150-200 yds out, you’re going to be much better.

    There was a GolfWRX article on this so I’m not just making it up. The one stat all of the greatest golfers shared was being top 10 in long iron play.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm

      I agree dave but 99% of the golf world will never be able to hit long irons, (that’s why they built hybrids) so for them the short game becomes even more vital. Thx for comment

  4. Saaam

    Dec 2, 2012 at 3:44 am

    Isn’t the shank mainly caused by arms crashing into the body hence sequencing is all over the place and the body doesn’t get out of the way of the club? Other than that I agree with every word good article.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      Lot of reason for a shank but hands running into the body would not be one of the main ones. Hand out AWAY from the body maybe…Sequencing is a sequential process, not a vector so I’m not sure what you mean by “all over the place”. Thx, DC

  5. Vincent Dice

    Nov 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Great article. Dennis is a true Rock Star in many golfing circles.

  6. Pingback: – Q&A with Instructor Dennis Clark: Why golfer's don't … | Golf Tips

  7. Romer Benitez

    Nov 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I had a privilege of a 3 day lesson with Dennis during my visit at Naples. It was the best golf lesson experience I ever had. He truly wants you to learn and he can make that happen!!! The rest lies on me…Cheers!

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What you can learn from Steve Elkington



When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf



I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle



We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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