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Senior golf: Let’s tackle the back nine!

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Editor’s Note: This article is the first in Dennis Clark’s new “Senior Series.” If there’s anyone qualified to write about senior golf and golf instruction, it’s this PGA Master Professional who coaches more than 800 seniors annually. In the series, Clark is collaborating with Darin Hovis, Titleist Performance Institute certified trainer in Naples, Florida. Darin owns and operates Par 4 Fitness and works extensively with senior golfers. He is licensed in athletic training and has certifications through the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) in Medical 3, Junior 2, Power 2, and Fitness. He also holds a Full Body certificate from Active Release Techniques, Boditrak Ground Mechanics, KVest 3D Biomechanics, and Precision Nutrition. 

Lee Trevino once said: “The older I get, the better I used to be!” Even though golf is our game, most all of us have our fisherman tales as well! How good we were is no longer relevant; how good we are is a function of our conditioning.  When we’re young, exercise can be an option, as we age it is a necessity!

So first, we take a good look at where the swing and game is right now. You may get with an instructor to diagnose the current state of the swing and game. I think video is the best way to take a good, close look at what is actually happening (as opposed to what he/she feels might be happening). When the problem has been identified, we need to decide if the issue is physical, that is a limitation due to aging or injury OR, if the swing flaw is an old poor habit (not necessarily related to age).  If we are dealing with a poor habit, we make suggestions for improvement. If the problem is physical, we can address the restrictions with the aid of a fitness professional. I make this distinction because too many of my senior students are too quick to blame age for the problem. Age might be the problem, but poor swing habits are likely involved as well.

Senior golf is the time when we begin to attempt to compensate!  No one, regardless of how good of condition they are in, for their age, can do at 70 what they could at 30. The arc of the swing becomes shorter, the swing speed decreases, we cannot transfer weight as well as we once could, and as we are now learning, we certainly cannot push off the ground as a younger person might. As a result, it is not unusual to throw the clubhead at the ball from the top in an attempt to get back the lost distance; it is not unusual to “hang back” on the rear leg in an attempt to get back lost trajectory, the list goes on and on.

Case in point: I have chronic back issues, as many near my age do. Arthritis and a severely herniated disc create a fair amount of discomfort much of the time. These do not allow me to turn or move as freely as once I did. These issues have forced me to find ways to swing as pain-free as possible, which is a problem. One thing I noticed clearly on my video was a loss of posture in the backswing. It is difficult for me to maintain my posture as I turn, so I raise my torso to make the turn easier.  I could not feel that and was surprised to see it on video. I was a good couple of inches taller at the top of my swing, creating all kinds of issues particularly in my iron play. I now do yoga, stretching and work with Darin Hovis to stay as flexible as my aging body will allow. We can play better and feel better about it, if

  • We know the problem.
  • Are willing to change.
  • Have realistic expectations.
  • Are willing to improve physical fitness.

Returning to the focus of this series: Let’s start at the beginning. Turning is a critical component is any golf swing. It is critical to approach the ball from inside, and a very often a good turn away with the torso allows one the opportunity to get there. Hitting from inside is difficult, if not impossible, without a good backswing turn. Same goes for turning in the downswing.  Again the path is an arc, from inside and back to inside. The hip turn in the downswing swings the club back to the inside. I have asked Darin Hovis, of Par 4 Fitness to demonstrate a few drills that can increase one’s ability to turn at any age.

Let’s get started. Watch the video here and get to work on your swing issues, and your body as well. Remember, the alternative is to put the clubs in a garage sale, but if this game is in your blood like it’s in mine, I’ll take the exercise alternative!

Check out Dennis Clark’s online video analysis service.

 

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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. .

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Tom Lewis

    Jul 3, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    Dennis, great stuff! Please continue…my biggest fault is the example you gave where your head at the top of the backswing is at being higher than address…I regularly video my swing and its been eye opening.
    Thanks again.
    Tom

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 4, 2019 at 7:28 pm

      Great, glad you enjoyed it. The problem we are having, if you’ve identified it on video, is generally a physical aging issue. If this was ALWAYS the case, then it’s a swing fault. In either case, the exercises Darin offered are an absolute must!

  2. Darin Hovis

    Jul 3, 2019 at 9:25 am

    This is such great advice from Dennis. Senior golfers often struggle with creating adequate movement in the swing. Therefore, they lose the stretch of the muscles and resulting contraction. Exercise and proper stretching is the easiest way to tap into this lost mobility.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Jul 2, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    Seniors often want golf drills but fail to connect the dots with the exercise link. It is an integral part of senior golf, I’m constantly trying to get my senior students to recognize that.

  4. Ray Bob

    Jul 1, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you for this series. It seems most of the golf instruction, equipment, etc. is focused on younger players. Old golf guys need love, too. Looking forward to learning more.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 2, 2019 at 12:42 pm

      Ray, I will run a few of these and see if we generate interest. This first article had limited views and responses, so we’ll have to see…I’m here to help senior golfers IF there is interest. Thx

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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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Instruction

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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