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Swing advice is not one size fits all

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I have written a number of instructional articles over the years, and created quite a few “how-to” videos as well. I always enjoy sharing tips with my readers and students and I am grateful when a number of them respond that I have helped with their game.

But I am here to issue a word of caution: It is very difficult to learn the game of golf from a written word or even watching instructional videos. When doing so, you have to be very careful about how you internalize the information. When instructors write these tips, we are doing so very generically, to mass audiences who we have never seen swing the club. So it is incumbent upon the readers to know which tips apply to them and, conversely, which ones do not and can actually hurt their game. This is a fine line we walk and caution is the order of the day.

If you look in the World Golf Hall of Fame, you will see every kind of swing imaginable; flat, upright, long, short, quick, slow, etc. I can think of nothing that every single great player does or has done over the years. If a flying elbow is bad, Jack Nicklaus would not be the great champion he is. If a flat swing is bad, no one would have ever heard of Lee Trevino. If the club is to be swung slowly, Tom Watson would be still playing in Kansas City. This list could go on forever.

Every time I read or watch a suggestion for a position in which a player “should be,” I can find some great golfer who is not in that position. We see many of the greats roll their arms through impact, supinating the left hand; yet Paul Azinger finished “knuckles up.” Freddie takes it outside, Ray Floyd took it way inside. Even if we look at the modern players, those coming up in the Launch Monitor era with coaches, videos, Motion systems, etc., we still see a wide variety of methods employed; from Fowler’s flatness to DJ’s straight up style, there is no end to the differences! What do they have in common? They all square the club face at the right time.

If anyone saw Jim Furyk’s video and didn’t know it was Furyk, they would find fault and make any number of suggestions to correct it. Unless they looked very closely at the club at impact, a fan might think: “Why is he doing that?” But the trained eye thinks: “How did he do that?”

If we look at little closer at Furyk’s move, it’s a stroke of pure genius. I have had a lot of people say, “I hate that swing!” I’m always quick to point out that I would love to have that impact position consistently. The point is simple: It’s a series of moves — a sequence of motions that works. The strange movements in Furyk’s swing don’t matter. One move complements the other. It is a compatible variation!

When I see unique swings like Fuyrk’s I’m not looking at what he does wrong, only how did he match the disparate parts? I love that singularity and want to find out all I can about how he did it. When my students arrive on the lesson tee, they have an incompatible variation, and that’s why they are there. I have to make the parts match. But I need to see it live and in-person to do that completely. I am simply amazed when criticism is offered before the ball flight is known. My very first question to a student: “What is the ball doing?” That’s all that matters. When I am sent a video to analyze, I have to know something about shot patterns, or all I’m suggesting are classic positions. What good are those?

Learning from an article is fine if it is of the “If-this-then-that” nature. If you do this, then try doing that. That’s the way I teach, and I believe it’s the only way to develop a personal style that allows you the freedom to do what comes naturally. IF the swing is wide going back, it has to narrow coming down. If it goes outside going back, it has to loop back under coming down. And the reverse works as well. I personally think Sergio has one of the purest moves in the game. How he got there, only he and his father (his teacher) really know. And the look of it matters not one bit — all that matters is that the ball reacts as he wants it to. But again, if one were sent a video of his swing, comments like laid off, too much lag, hands too low and others might be the typical responses.

“Golf is what the ball does,” the great John Jacobs reminded us, and as an instructor, I let that be my first guide. Writing articles, as I do for this site, are very general suggestions. I remind students and readers that if you want to find your personal problem and get correction for it, see your instructor. He or she will work with what you have, and try to improve on it; at least I do. Look for the “if you do this” approach when sifting through the massive volume of material on the blogosphere about learning golf. And see your teacher to bounce your new findings off — It may keep you from going down a wrong path.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction and Academy” forum.

 

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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. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Mike Leether

    Jan 31, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Amen to that!, a couple years back I developed a bit of a “loopy” swing with an instructor as a way of counter acting some bad swing flaws I previously had. It has some Furyk-esque qualities. I broke par for the first time six weeks later. In the years since I’ve tried to hit some balls with a more “conventional” swing and it just doesn’t work for me. People constantly tell me how “weird” i look, until I beat them….

  2. Dennis Clark

    Jan 30, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    The reason I advocate live, 1 on 1 lessons is obvious I think. The instructor can manage your swing as he/she sees it unfold right in front of them “Your ball did this; that’s because you did that-feel the correlation.

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Great advice as always Dennis,

    You’re right, it is difficult to learn off written words no question. At the very least you need to see a video of a specific instruction being performed.

    Nothing beats a live golf lesson from a qualified instructor explaining the elements of the golf swing.

    Cheer

  4. Martin

    Jan 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    We are really getting spoiled by your good articles Dennis! Big Thanks!
    Your article got my thinking. I recently saw a video instruction by Jim Mclean where he tells us how good and reliable it is to hit a power fade with the driver, and informed us that Hogan, Lietzke and Nicklaus achieved great success with this shot and nowadays we can see how Tiger is working towards finding the power fade from the tee. BUT I have never met an instructor here in Sweden (and I think swedish teachers generally have good reputation) who has tried to teach me a fade as my basic swing. It also seems like most of the instruction in magazines or in books (for example the slot swing by Jim Mclean, Hardys the plane truth) encourages a in-square-in movement in the swing which ideally would result in a straight shot or maybe a slight draw. Why? If its easier to hit a fade, why dont the pros try to teach us this, maybe a lot of us recreational golfers would benefit from it? Or would it be to difficult for us to understand? When I am driving the ball bad from tee, I set up my body to the left, and the clubface at the target, and try to get the club out in front of me in the backswing and then from the top I basically just turn and the good result is a fade, and the less good result is a push that most of the time finds the right side of the fairway or maybe the light rough. I showed this shot to a coach ones and he just said he didnt like it, that it wasnt the way he wanted me to swing… Are the majority of the pros to obsessed with giving is a traditional swing with the right setup, right angles, correct plane etc.? Are they to obsessed with the perfect swing?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      well i think the draw has always been the coveted shot for amateurs. It usually goes futher because it is launched lower and runs out more; that is, comes in at a shallower landing angle. Fades can get high and short when the attack angle gets too steep.

      • Martin

        Jan 31, 2013 at 6:48 am

        ok, thank you Dennis. I see your point, and I like your arguments. You have to really know what you are doing to start fading with power and maybe it mixes up alignment, posture, backswing etc to much and makes the game even harder…and who wants that:)
        Thanks a lot!

  5. Matt Newby, PGA

    Jan 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Dennis,

    Very well said. Nowadays I find more of my students are over-informed rather than under-informed. While much of the information available is good information (of course not always) most people do not understand what should/should not apply to them specifically. I often use the analogy that a cast is very good for a broken leg, but if your leg isn’t broke a cast is probably only going to hurt your performance.

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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