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Clark: Let fairway bunkers help you learn

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Almost every new player I have ever taught has a misconception of the mechanics of hitting a golf ball into the air. They are victims trying to be intuitive when trying to hit the golf ball-and this part of the game, in fact, most of the game is counterintuitive!

That mentality has slowed more progress in learning the game than any that I know of.  The mentality which I am referring to is this: The golf ball is on the ground; I know it has to be lifted into the air. It would seem all too logical to swing UP to help the golf club launch the ball.  On the other hand, it is quite illogical to hit DOWN to get the ball up-that just makes no sense! I call this the “scoop” habit, AKA club head throwaway, early release, and probably a variety of other names.  I have met very few new players who do not fall victim to this inclination at first. And it is completely wrong,

Every one of them had to be taught the proper ballistics of impact-the golf club strikes the ball and continues downward for several inches before it begins to ascend. The scoop problem is exacerbated if it is not addressed early in one’s playing days. Once the “scoop” method is employed for even a short while, it is very difficult to change it.

There are studies that show “average” golfers (10-19 handicap) actually have a swing bottom (lowest point of the swing arc) that averages two inches behind the golf ball for all shots from the turf, whereas tour pros average is three to five inches in front of the ball (NOTE: “in front of” refers to the target side of the ball).

The only way to accomplish a swing bottom that is consistently in front of the golf ball is first be shown what is required to do it and secondly, develop a sequence that allows YOU to do it.  That is why it is essential for every golfer, when first taking up the game, or for those who are in the very early days of playing, to go no further in their learning until this concept has been internalized. This is not to say that it cannot be learned after some years of doing it incorrectly, but it is very difficult, to say the least. In fact, I spend a lot of my teaching day working around “scooping” because honestly, it is futile to try to affect any real change after 20 years or so of playing golf that way.

For parents introducing their children to golf, I cannot state strongly enough that they get the proper guidance on this issue from the very outset.

Let’s talk about a few things that might help…

After one learns to grip the club, get into a balanced posture, position the golf correctly and aim at a target, I suggest learning very short chips or pitches, perhaps no more than 20-30 yards. Learn that the hands must be positioned in front of the head of the clubhead with the shaft of the club leaning “forward” or toward the target. The palm of the rear hand (right for right-handed players) will be facing the ground, the lead wrist (left for right-handed players) will be flat and, most importantly, the right wrist will be dorsiflexed (bent slightly back) at impact.

I cannot say this next part too strongly: I would not have a junior player move on to full swings until they have fully learned this chipping/pitching position!!!

Secondly, there are a variety of teaching aids that can be quite helpful, but the oldest and I still feel the best way to learn the correct method would be to go into a fairway bunker and hit full irons until you can consistently hit the ball first and the sand after it.

Draw a line in the sand, place the golf ball on the line and do whatever it takes to hit in front of that line after having struck the ball.  What I like about this practice drill is the instant biofeedback one gets from it. Like everything else in golf there is no one way to accomplish this task. If we look at the top players, we see many different swing styles, tempos, planes, grips, backswing, etc but every single one of them will hit the golf ball first and the sand after it.

Why is the fairway bunker shot so simple for the professionals and so hard for average amateurs? Swing bottom! Becoming one’s own teacher is the most effective learning, bar none! Immediate feedback clearly accelerates learning. So if you are struggling with thin or fat shots from the ground, stop right now, find a fairway bunker, and hit balls until your hands bleed!

The first time you can feel the impact compression from a sufficiently steep attack angle, and hit ball then sand — and later, turf, of course — you will realize what a well-struck golf shot feels like! You will love the feeling and will want to repeat it, believe me!

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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. .

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Pete S

    Aug 12, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    Now where to I just find a random fairway bunker to hit full shots from?

  2. Frank

    Aug 12, 2021 at 1:27 am

    This is how Seve became such a great golfer at a very young age compared to most greats. He trained everyday off the beach in his hometown village in Spain, had only a 3 iron to practice with and hit millions of shots off the sand there. An even better way with this drill would be to do it with eyes closed ala George Knudson (he shot 67 at Glen Abbey with eyes closed on every full shot).

    • Dennis clark

      Aug 12, 2021 at 11:50 am

      True that! Although Seve hit a few fat one too (15 Augusta 1986 Masters Sunday). But he was a special talent, the hands of a locksmith and the heart of a lion RIP Seve and thx fir the memories.

  3. Acemandrake

    Aug 11, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    I’m a “picker” of the ball. I don’t scoop but I also don’t take much of a divot.

    A “hit down on it” swing thought causes all kinds of problems with my swing.

    • Take A Lesson

      Aug 11, 2021 at 2:52 pm

      So what you are saying is…rather than try and be better by working on your swing you’ll just settle for mediocre.

      • Dennis Clark

        Aug 11, 2021 at 3:17 pm

        what I’m saying is…if you’ve been an early releaser of the club for some time, you’re not likely to develop a ton of lag. But you do not necessarily need to play better golf. Tom Watson comes to mind as one who has done pretty well sans the Hogan-Garcia late lag. What IS required is forward shaft lean at impact-that can be learned with work and knowing what you’re trying to do.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 11, 2021 at 3:06 pm

      Yea the thought works for some not all. You can also be a picker with forward shaft lean ala Steve Stricker…shallow attack angles are still possible with hands leading.

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Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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An awesome drill for lag that works with the ball!

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Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!

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