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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

What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching

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Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.

Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.

Broad-Spectrum Approach

Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.

I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.

There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.

Individual Transactional Coaching

Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.

What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.

For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.

Individual Transformative Coaching

Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.

Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.

Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.

Which One is Right for You?

It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.

Some things to consider when selecting a coach

  • Do they use technology?
  • What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
  • Do they make you a priority?

As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.

The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.

The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.

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The importance of arm structure

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How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.

To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.

I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.

From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.

@peterthomson

When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.

A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.

Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.

www.kelleygolf.com

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What is ground force in the golf swing?

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There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.

Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal

With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.

Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.

If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!

Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.

Welcome to the world of 3D!

Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.

While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).

  • Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
  • Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
  • Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.

While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.

In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.

I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.

 

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