Confused About Playing Golf?

By: Bob Duncan

It's no wonder we're all confused about playing golf, since there are so many good 'tips' out there: Like keeping your left arm straight and your head down - actually, there's probably not a better way to slice the ball! In fact, two of the top players of the late 1990s and early 2000s both looked up before they hit the ball - Annika Sorenstam and David Duval.

The chances are that many of the tips you've received from friends and "how-to" magazines conflict with your ability to hit the ball solid and straight. Take the tips that you're supposed to "extend down the line" through impact and "roll your wrists." Darn - that makes the ball go high right if you don't roll the wrists or low left if you do, not to mention the abnormal physical stresses it puts on your arms and wrists.

How about hitting down on the ball to make it go up, but let the loft of the club do the work? If hitting down made the ball go up then hitting down on a "punch shot" would produce a much higher shot, when it really produces a lower shot. Sure, backspin provides lift, but hitting down de-lofts the clubface producing a lower launch angle.

One of my favorites is when players say that since the ball is slicing then the shaft is too flexible and can't keep up with their power and speed. Does that extra stiff driver shaft really prevent a slice? Sorry boys, but if the shaft is too flexible you'll miss it farther left!

As a 25-year PGA professional, having custom-fit over $1.6 million in golf clubs, achieving the Master Clubfitter award, and giving over 8,000 hours of instruction, I've found that most problems with players' swings are caused by conflicting ideas about both the swing and the clubs. In fact, many pros still give swing lessons without testing the golf clubs, not knowing whether the lie angle, flex, weight, or length is preventing what they're actually trying to teach!

Can the right golf club actually fix a golf swing? Absolutely. And the wrong specs can easily cause your swing problems. Just as you wouldn't give a beginner an 8-degree driver to learn with, you shouldn't assume that fixing the swing is the only answer. There are two parts to hitting a ball - you and the club. If the club doesn't fit because of length, lie angle, weight, flex and head design - there are actually even more specs, then you must learn to compensate for the club. Compensations for poorly-fitted clubs are the reason why there are so many tips!

But let's get back to the golf swing. Vijay Singh is one of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, and he regularly uses the "headcover drill" to hit balls (he puts a headcover under his left arm and hits balls without dropping the headcover). Of course if he extended down the line he would lose the headcover, so those two tips conflict. What does the headcover drill do? It teaches a proper release of the club to the finish where the left forearm and the shaft form a 90-degree angle, meaning your wrists to "un-cock." Of the thousands of players I've seen, fewer than 15% actually reach this fully released position.

As a further example, if you play tennis and try hitting a ball by extending down the line toward your target you'll lose power and risk hurting your elbow. The elbow must bend after impact for power and accuracy, and in tennis you can put topspin on it as well.

Regarding clubs, how many players are using a 10.5-degree driver with swing speeds lower than 90 mph? Singh swings at about 120 mph, and he has used a 10.5-degree driver extensively. So the math suggests that if my speed is lower, then for more distance I have to raise the launch angle. So getting more distance usually means getting a driver with MORE loft, not less. Many tour pros have found that a higher tee shot goes farther and have been using higher lofts to get there. To maximize distance on those high shots they're looking for the specifications that produce very low backspin rates. For maximum distance, raise the launch and lower the backspin. And if your backspin rate is lower, your sidespin rate probably is too!

With so many conflicting tips, how do you know what's right for you? You need to find a golf pro who observes the pro's "Hippocratic Oath": If they can get it airborne, don't mess it up! Which means the pro is supposed to make you a better player. The pro should use any and all equipment at his/her disposal to help you play the game better, which includes testing golf clubs. Also, find one who goes beyond conventional instruction into the things that support that 90 degree 'released' finish.

Only then can you progress beyond the golf swing and actually learn to play the game!

Bob Duncan is a 25-year PGA Golf Professional from Redmond, OR, with a strong player-coach philosophy. Bob is the author and developer of the new Critical Golf eCoach, a personal coaching guide for high school -college players and teams based on 15 life success lessons and on-course coaching. Bob has given over 8,000 hours of golf instruction and coaching and has custom-fit over $1.6 million in golf clubs. Visit or email Bob at