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Getting from the lesson tee to the 1st tee

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The longest walk in golf is from the lesson tee to the first tee. How can you retain what you have learned and take it to the course?

This is a true story: I had a lady in my school in Palm Springs, Calif., many years ago who topped almost very shot. This was because she was over the top and late —  lack of radius tops I call them.

Every time she topped the ball she would say, “Oh there I go again, I picked my head up,” to which I would reply, “No, you moved your body well before you got your arms down and extended. On this next swing, let’s get your arms and club down to the bottom of the ball.”

Sure enough by Tuesday or so, she was behind the ball, extending her arms and hitting most every shot in the air. Later in the week, I was actually able to talk to her about the body turning through on the downswing as well. These were 5-day schools at that time and long story short, she had a good week with GREAT improvement. So on Friday we would give them a review. I asked if she understood the nature of her swing flaw and she said she was good to go.

“I can’t believe I hit that many balls in the air this week,” she said.

I left California and came back home to New Jersey for the spring and summer season.  About a month after I was back, the woman from the school called.  She said, “We just got home to Pennsylvania for the season and I can’t stop topping the ball.”She asked if she could come out for a lesson. Sure, I said.

After watching her top five in a row, I asked her why she was doing that and she said — wait for it — “I must have picked up my head!” 

It was then and there I knew I’d never be out of work! Golfers have great memories; they are just short. Why can’t you take it to the course? Why does “it” leave when the pro leaves? How many times have you had a GREAT lesson and walked away and started slicing or shanking again?  Too often I’m sure.  This is the bane of the amateur golfer, so we need to take a look at why.

Im going to make a short list of the things I see that are a hindrance to learning and that create a poor learning environment. In my experience, thay are the root cause of not retaining information.

Nerves: Most golfers are really uptight when they arrive for the first lesson. They fear failure and being embarrassed in front of a pro as if their swing is the worst I have ever seen. It’s so bad at times that I think the first 15 minutes or so of a lesson are a total waste of time.

Preconceived notions: Most golfers come to a lesson thinking they already know what the problem is. The golf propaganda lingo is so entrenched in their brains, I often wonder why they need us teachers?  If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they are picking their head up or “coming over it,” I could buy a new car. Cash.

Adversity to change: I’m sure the teachers reading this will agree that if the student could see the lesson through our eyes, they would relalize how resistent they are to change. It’s like rigormortis has set in to live humans. Frail, gentle souls become beasts with a club in their hands. Tension the terrible.

External distractions: As a student, you are filled with the internal distractions I mentoned.  The last thing you need are EXTERNAL distractions. These might include everything from a busy driving range to bad weather to cell phones or distracting noises — anything that make it hard to concentrate on what you’re learning.

Passive learning: Many times the student becomes too dependent on the teacher to “tell” them what to do; somehow he/she will connect the dots for me. Even if it’s not working yet, I’ll get it later. This is passive learning, bump on a log waiting for osmosis or some divine intervention.

Here are a few suggestions for taking lessons that i think are more effective.

Relax: You dont have the worst swing in the world, you are just fine. Pat yourself on the back for being out there and trying to improve. I admire anyone who has the courage to say, “HELP”! I have been teaching for a very long time and believe me, whatever you’re going to show me, I have seen it before! Let’s have FUN, let’s play … this is golf not a life threatening illness. If the doctor says “get your affairs in order,” that’s time worry. Don’t worry about a golf lesson!

Leave your own swing theories at the door: Most likely you are victim of the 19th hole lesson syndrome. Golf is the only game with more teachers than players. Your friends are well intended, but not always well informed. Open your mind to what the instructor suggests and don’t try to tell him/her what your problem is. There’s a good chance they already know.

Be ready to change: Stay open to all suggestions, and try anything the teacher asks. The old way wasn’t working. That’s why you signed up. My favorite line is:

“That feels strange.”

Of course it feels strange; you have been doing it another way for 20 years and this way for 20 minutes. My experience tells me that only those really willing to change are going to improve.

Peace and quiet: You are better off with a serene, quiet lesson place away from the maddening crowds of other golfers or any other signs of civilization. The internal distractions are numerous, eliminate the EXTERNAL ones.  You have to be able to hear and converse clearly with your teacher and focus on what youre learning.

Be an active learner: Example: The teacher says, you have to hit more from the inside; try this. Did it work?  If not, ask for another way to feel it. Did it work? If not, ask for another way to feel it. Sooner or later you are both going to arrive on a way for YOU to feel the inside.  That’s when you can move on. You must abandon the “I’ll get it later” mentality and learn to get it now! 

My goal for every one of my students is to understand WHY they did not succeed on a given shot. You are not going to hit great shots every swing — that cat is already out of the bag — but, if you know WHY you failed BEFORE you leave the lesson, you have a much better chance of retaining it.

Finally, look around you. You are playing the greatest game in the world in a beautiful setting among friends. What could be better than that? Relax and enjoy, it will make you’re lesson easier to understand and retain.

By the way, I am writing this on the evening of the big lottery drawing, like a zillion bucks or something, And if I win, guess what I’m going to do tomorrow?  Yea you got it, I’m gonna play and teach golf!

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]

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Brian Huston

    Dec 14, 2012 at 1:34 am

    I am a young aspiring teacher of golf and this article has really given me a better understanding as to why some of my students are just not understanding some of my teachings. I believe I am knowledgeable in the golf swing and I am improving with every lesson that I teach. This article has just given me a better understanding as to why some students are not improving. I always tell them that golf is not a sport anyone can just pick up and expect to be good. It takes time and practice to understand the game. Knowing the key points to this article will help me improve in my teachings. Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it; if I can be of any help with your teaching career, feel free to contact me.

  2. JC

    Dec 4, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    For me, I feel like it’s not that I resist to change, it’s just simply difficult to break a habit. In fact, I believe most students like myself WANT to change, and that’s why we pay more hundreds and thousands of dollars on lessons.

    It takes great effort, concentration, and discipline, and a few weeks of practice before I can really make any significant changes in my swing. However, during this process, I occasionally get a few glimpses of hope, and hit a few very pure shots with the new and better swing, and that helps me believe that I am doing the right thing.

    As a student, I found out that by being exceptionally courageous, bold, creative, and sometimes ‘humorous’ help me make changes in my swing. What I mean is that when I’m asked to make some adjustments, I’d like to experiment by doing exaggerations or by doing things that look silly. Basically, as long as I’m doing some completely different from my normal swing, I am hopefully getting closer to breaking the bad habit, and getting closer to the new changes.

    One good example is that I’m recently working on my hip turn. At home, I would practice the hip turn with some exaggerations, and I basically look like I’m sexually thrusting something, and my girlfriend would just laugh non-stop. However, after a few weeks, I stopped slicing by about 80%, and I’ve gained 5~10 yards per club due to a more consistent draw ball flight and purer impact.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Exaggeration is a great learning tool. Try the new move to the point of absurd. you can always back off

  3. Jack Marston

    Dec 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks Dennis–This really hits home. I’ll keep this memo close by!

  4. Turn & Release

    Dec 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Great article. I think my problem taking my range swing to the first tee is, and has always been, nervous energy. I cant seem to forget that the swing on the first tee counts. I have always thought that the freedom in the swing came with confidence.
    How can I get the same confidence I feel on the range, knowing that there is another ball just waiting to be hit and not counted?

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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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

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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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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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