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Physical limitations do not have to lead to poor golf shots

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Physical limitations do not have to equate to poor golf shots. They may equate to a loss of power, speed and distance, but that is not the same as poor golf shots. 

I work with some 800 senior golfers a year. The vast majority of them swing the driver club head under 90 MPH and are physically incapable of swinging much faster than that. This equates to shorter drives, it does not have to mean crooked drives. The vast majority of them have bad backs, arthritis, and limited range of motion. That does not mean they have to hit fat or thin shots, shanks, or chili dips. Not applying maximum force impact is quite a different issue than not applying correct force at impact.

Because the golf ball is not compressed the way a more physically capable player would compress it, does not have to mean a poor shot. “Poor shots” by definition are thin, fat, slices, hooks, pulls, pushes, toe hit or heel hits. Every one of those mistakes can be corrected for any level golfer without getting stronger, younger, less arthritic, and so on. Poor impact is defined exclusively as an open or closed face, a too steep or too shallow attack angle or an out-to-in or in-to-out swing path.

I advise my students, particularly the seniors I teach, to be honest, and not be too quick to blame their age or aches and pains for their poor shots. Let’s get to the real issues! Good golf demands brutal honesty with one’s self! I am a club professional, and as I head into my eighth (!) decade, I simply cannot hit the ball as I once did. But I do still hit the golf ball cleanly and solidly most of the time. It just doesn’t go as far (or as high, or spin as well)! But I do not hit behind it, top it, shank it, slice it or hook it — except when I do 🙂

That said, we do have to consider how certain limitations may negatively affect impact.  A classic example is restricted lower body motion. When I see a loss of mobility in the lower body limit a students ability to “get through the ball,” we have to see what is possible within the available range of motion.

I’m using this example because, as I said, I work with a lot of senior golfers and this is a common problem. One “solution” for this might be a more restricted, narrower backswing, which will allow a student to more centered over the ball. The wider the takeaway gets, the more off the ball the club head gets, and the harder it is to get the swing arc low point back in front of the ball. Where a bigger, wider arc might have been possible when the muscles were more supple, that may longer be the case. So a more restricted, more narrow arc may not be optimal, it is clearly more functional with aging or injury

Shoulder turn restriction on the backswing is another area seniors struggle with at times. Due to aging or injury, some players may not be able to make a full turn. If that’s the case, it may be more difficult to approach impact from inside, and a former draw might become a fade, but again, it is not a fate worse than death. Small changes in set up — such as slightly closed, rear shoulder drawn back a bit for a “head start” — might help a little.

But again a slight loss of distance is nothing that has to cause big numbers on the scorecard. Name one thing you can do at 70 better than you did at 30. If speed slows down, so what? A golf ball can be hit just as cleanly at 80 MPH as it can at 100 MPH. If flexibility decreases, so what? A golf ball can be hit just as cleanly with a smaller range of motion than a larger one.

The point is this: There is always somethings we can adjust to help get the golf club on the ball a little more solidly. It is easy to blame our bad golf on aging and injury, and I’m not saying these do not change things — they do! But in my many years of teaching, poor golf shots (as defined above) are less the result of aging than they are of poor swing habits.

If you’re a senior golfer beginning to see declines in distance or solid”ness” of contact, get with your pro, or get a video and take a close look. You may not be able to hold the club as you once did, or position the golf ball where it used to or even aim in the same direction. However, with some small changes to accommodate the natural aging, aches and pains process, you can still hit solid golf shots! And, after all, isn’t that the real fun of our game?

 

 

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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. .

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Dean Jarvis

    Jun 8, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Enjoyed your article very much!

    The vast majority of participants in The ParaLong Drive Cup have physical limitations (arm amputees, brachial plexus injuries, leg amputees, paralyzed, etc) and love the game of golf. Several are superb ball-strikers.

    Athletes that stretch regularly and integrate long drive training devices into their weekly routines have fared better retaining their swing speed, even at lighter training levels.

    Look forward to reading more articles about improving ball-striking, and retaining swing speed for golfers with physical limitations.

  2. Charlie

    Jun 7, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    I’m 73 and fairly healthy – 7iron 140yds these days – rotator cuff is marginal and my lower body just forgets to start the downswing too often – leading to fats and thins. I hook as often as I slice. YES- a seniors section will be welcome!

  3. Steve

    Jun 6, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Dennis, I will welcome a column devoted to senior players. I am luckier than most with (except my shoulder) no aches and pains at 62. Nevertheless, when I see PGA pros playing par 5s with a Driver and a 9-iron, I am watching a game that I love, but no longer relate to. Features on fitness, scoring (short game), equipment (like making the switch from Steel to graphite shafts, etc.) would be of value to me and I hope to many of your readers.

  4. joro

    Jun 6, 2019 at 9:08 am

    Dennis, you are going in the right direction with us Seniors. I am a retired PGA Pro who was once a +4 hip and now at 80 and after 2 hips, Open Heart Surgery, and a stroke and several other little problems I am a 22. Anyway due to injuries and other problems the game is not what it used to be but I still love it. I taught also and dealt with Sr. problems daily and had to improvise a lot depending on the students condition. Good on you.

    And there is one thing I can do better today than I could at 30 and that is relax and fall asleep at any time of day.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 8, 2019 at 7:32 am

      The part of this comment i like is “I still love it”….just as life itself, take what the game gives you and keep golfing your ball until it goes in the hole!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 7, 2019 at 12:29 pm

      The falling asleep part is after your round i hope.

  5. stephen anfang

    Jun 5, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    What can I do when I cant put much pressure on my left (front) leg in follow-thru????

  6. Dennis Clark

    Jun 5, 2019 at 9:22 am

    If this article was helpful, stay tuned. I’m going to do a series dedicated to senior golf specifically.

    • Canes fan

      Jun 6, 2019 at 8:11 am

      Yes, DC. It was helpful. Us Sr’s with limited flexibility, different goals than a person their 20’s should have our own tailored instruction. Look forward to it.

  7. Canes fan

    Jun 4, 2019 at 6:57 am

    Good stuff Denis. You said, a fade is a better idea. But, also suggested a closed stance. Are you suggesting to hit a fade from a draw stance?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Fade is better? Where is that? I was surprised when you wrote it so I went back and re read…I don’t see. A fade is NOT bettter for seniors. Whenever possible I teach them to draw it fir a little more run out. Now by comp, a fade is better than a top or shank or slice????

      • Canes fan

        Jun 4, 2019 at 5:47 pm

        Thanks, Dennis. Perhaps, I was having a Sr moment, lol. But, I thought you meant a fade from a closed stance: “If that’s the case, it may be more difficult to approach impact from inside, and a former draw might become a fade, but again, it is not a fate worse than death. Small changes in set up — such as slightly closed, rear shoulder drawn back a bit for a “head start” — might help a little.” Either way, I tinkered with setting up a fade from a close stance and was striking it well!

        • Dennis Clark

          Jun 4, 2019 at 8:23 pm

          Fade from a closed stance IS possible, just less likely. I do have in-and-over students who set up closed and loop it out coming down. But to try to get a draw, I do close many seniors. The comment you’re referring to was regarding getting through the ball. For seniors who cannot turn through, I sometimes set them open to get less “stuck”. And that CAN cause fade but it is better than drop kicks or quick hooks which are the result of being stuck too far inside and not able to clear lower body. The whole idea of teaching seniors is finding a way to help them play more “functional” golf knowing that “optimal” is not likely. thx DC

  8. M

    Jun 4, 2019 at 2:35 am

    But mental limitations do ha

  9. JANICE Byers

    Jun 3, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    You’re way too good looking and spry to be going into your 8th decade! :0)

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:46 pm

      Exterior not so bad
      Interior oh so sad
      ??????

  10. Greg V

    Jun 3, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    Should we have a section on this site devoted to senior golfers? Club head speed less than 92 mph (or 90 mph), lets exchange ideas on drivers, irons, and wedge play.

    A separate heading – Senior Golfers!

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 3, 2019 at 8:43 pm

      Sure. Great idea. I’ll speak to editors.

    • G

      Jun 3, 2019 at 10:11 pm

      You mean Geriatrics.
      Senior just means Over 50, and that might include people who are still scratch and can shoot low scores because they’re still players.
      It should be either called Geriatrics or Super Seniors.

      • Dennis Clark

        Jun 4, 2019 at 5:27 am

        50 is an arbitrary number chosen by the USGA….I shot my age two days ago. This article applies to anyone at any age who has realized changes in their game due to aging or physical issues.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Fade is better? Where is that? I was surprised when you wrote it so I went back and re read…I don’t see. A fade is NOT bettter for seniors. Whenever possible I teach them to draw it fir a little more run out. Now by comp, a fade is better than a top or shank or slice????

    • Dennis clark

      Jun 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      Stay tuned. Good senior-specific stuff headed this way?

  11. underachiever

    Jun 3, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Should we start by telling the dude in the picture that he bought the wrong handed glove… #limitations

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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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