Nemacolin Blog
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Why can’t you fix that old, broken down swing?

I always enjoy going to the range and watching new players. They get a golf club, a bucket of balls and head to the tee. After some minutes of trying to fathom how to hold this alien object, and stand in such a way that there seems to be at least a fighting chance of reaching the ball, they are ready to hit the ball.

The first few swings are always predictable. They miss the ball, dig up turf, hit ground balls, shanks, you name it. But suddenly and without warning, they hit the ball and it goes in the air somewhere in the direction of the target! WOW, and at that very moment something very powerful happens in their sporting life... they become a golfer!

They were not golfers when they were missing the ball or hitting it on the ground, but now they have joined the fold. Now I’m not sure anyone would sponsor them on the PGA Tour at this point, but by definition of the game, they are officially golfers! Unfortunately, this is a bittersweet moment. The positive reinforcement that we all get from the golf ball behaving as it should, might be the curse of every single one of us. The new player is convinced that the series of motions they just went through HAD to be correct, because the golf ball behaved.

Motor skill learning is highly dependent on reinforcement, so the golfer repeats what were essentially a series of errors. The golfer who raises a foot above the ball in their backswing for example and drops down exactly a foot in the downswing will run into the ball... ON THAT SWING! Unfortunately, their chances of repeating that swing are poor at best. How compelling are those early efforts? Well after 30 years of teaching the game, I believe that at least some of them stay with us for the rest of our golfing life, even if we become expert players!

That is why golfers need guidance and professional instruction. The game, the actual act of hitting a golf ball is so counter intuitive that I know of few people who can teach themselves to do it well. It is the professional’s responsibility to let you know that although the result of a particular swing was successful, the process of achieving it may not have been. It is paradoxical, often confounding, and I see far too many people who give it up before they try to learn it the right way. Once the reinforcement kicks in and the old bad habits are entrenched in the swing it is difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of them completely.

Is this a doomsday forecast? Not really. The professional instructor can work with what you have and help you hit the ball better. This is what I refer to as a compensation lesson and I do them all the time. We are essentially trying to “balance your personal equation." But there is no substitute for learning the game the right way from the beginning.

Dennis Clark
PGA Master Professional
Director of Golf
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort


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