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Golf is not a game of consistent

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into a small hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the task.” -Winston S. Churchill

In general terms, the golf club is covering perhaps a 30-degree arc, traveling at maybe 90 mph, attempting to hit a ball lying on the ground that is 1.68″ in diameter in less than two seconds. If that isn’t enough, we are expected to strike it with a golf club that is three-feet or longer, and we have to hit precisely in the middle of the face of that club, an area comprising maybe one square inch. To boot, we stand well above the ball, to the side of it and in a variety of lies and an even wider variety of weather conditions. In that light, Churchill’s comment seems pretty spot on.

And yet, the number one comment I have heard over my 35-plus years of teaching is: “I just want to be consistent.”

Now when we come right down to it, getting consistent results in golf is pretty much mission impossible.  Yes, there are degrees of consistent, but when the great Jack Nicklaus says that in his best days, he hit maybe three or four “perfect” shots in a round, where does that leave the rest of us?

Yet we still long for “consistency,” knowing full well that if the strike is just one inch (or less) from the center, the shot will go awry.  Or if the swing direction does not match the attack angle or the face does not complement the path, we hit some degree of a foul ball.  What is consistent is the sequence of motions, but not the strike of the golf ball.  During the .0004 seconds of impact a whole lot can, and usually does, go awry.

The bottom line is this:  Golf is not a game of consistent (results). and to expect it of ourselves is unfair, damaging to our learning process and our level of enjoyment.  Expect and accept the unexpected and you will not be disappointed.  We see the greatest players in the world every weekend hit foul balls.  Of course, they are more consistent than average golfers, but ask them how many times they execute the actual shot they are trying to hit, and you might be shocked by the answer.  The best we can say is that their bad shots, the shots that come off with less than desired results, are still very playable.  And therein lies the key: improving at golf for anyone is simply hitting “better bad shots” yet aware that a poor one will come sometimes.  Accept it, learn from it (the darkest hour is just before dawn) and play your next shot.

Anticipating  some unreasonable level of consistency is unrealistic at best, and down-right frustrating at worst.  The unknown is what makes our game so wonderful.  Heck, even really well-hit shots do not always have the desired outcome, let alone the misses.  For more perspective on it, consider that the best in the world miss five or six greens every round, and miss more putts than they make from eight feet! I have always loved the unexpected, the “where did that come from moment”…it is what gives golf its mystery, its lure, and above all the pure joy of excitement we all get when the occasional great shot does come off.

Golf cannot be won, only played” Bagger Vance told us, and so we keep playing.  So we keep trying to master a game no one will ever master, and we have our brief glimpses of brilliance followed by hours of mediocrity and inconsistency, and we accept the whole game, not just the success we have at it. Let the foul balls be a teacher, not a frustrator.  Learn to love mystique and the wonder of the game.  It is, after all, the greatest of games because of that magic.

The next time you hit a foul ball, don’t look away in disgust, and think, “that’s not me.” Instead, think “that’s golf, and I love it.”

 

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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. .

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. RBImGuy

    Feb 13, 2019 at 11:20 am

    once your swing path is the same you will be consistent like Moe Norman was and as long as Mike Austin was.
    Yes coming a how to

  2. hal

    Feb 11, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    As Tiger Woods said; Golf is a game of misses, he who has the smallest misses usually wins!!

    • Peter McGill

      Feb 12, 2019 at 6:45 am

      Good misses usually make for a good round.

  3. Juststeve

    Feb 11, 2019 at 8:31 am

    Dennis:

    I’ve read your previous posts with interest and usually find them spot on. With this one however I think you are way off target. You have conflated perfection, which is unattainable, with consistency which has been attained, to a greater or lesser degree, by every good player. Were it not for consistency we wouldn’t know how far our next 7 iron would fly. We do know because we have attained enough consistency to know at least roughly what to expect when we hit the club. Consistency is how we know that club to pull. I would venture to say that in almost ever case the better player is the one who hits the ball more consistently. When people come to-you looking for consistency they are looking fir the right thing, the thing that will make them better.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 11, 2019 at 11:27 am

      I agree. Better players are more consistent, almost by definition. But it’s still a game that the “out of nowhere”shot is never far away. I played some years ago with a very good player (I’ll not say name) who hit me in the back of the leg with a SHANK! He shot 67 that day! Thx for reading and the comment.

    • Mel

      Feb 11, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      I agree, Juststeve. In most cases (within the article) if “perfect” replaced “consistent” it would have been more helpful to me. And less incongruous too. The author/instructor mentions how few perfect shots touring pros hit while almost in the same breath admits they’re more consistent golfers than amateurs. We’ve all achieved some level of consistency and our time on the driving range, in my opinion anyway, is to increase that consistency and not necessarily to increase the number of perfect shots. Although we love those! Anyway, I won’t let this article dissuade me from trying to improve my consistency. To be fair, there were several helpful concepts which I appreciated.

  4. Mike Duranko - GolfToons

    Feb 11, 2019 at 5:22 am

    Fantastic. Thank you
    I do get inspiration watching the pro mistakes during tournaments, not to see them fail but for the encouragement. 1/2 the 8 footers are missed by pros!!!
    My game is not so bad.

  5. John

    Feb 9, 2019 at 11:30 pm

    Best article I have read on here in a long time. Spot on. Thank you, Dennis.

  6. Nack Jicklaus

    Feb 9, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    If only I could remember this article next time I flail a tee ball over the trees and into the next fairway… Golf really is a lot more enjoyable when I don’t beat myself up over bad shots.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 9, 2019 at 9:24 pm

      And…it detracts from your ability to correct the foul balls.

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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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