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Opinion & Analysis

When golfers create their own reality

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“Great players always deflect it away,” Tom Weiskopf said during the 2015 U.S. Open broadcast.

His quote explains how many professional golfers deal with the difficult realities they face as a part of their job… without going crazy. Everyone wonders what goes on in the mind of the best players as they react to shots and rounds that contain both good and bad results. As a former tour pro, and now a golf instructor, I wanted to share my insights on the topic.

Here are some things great players think and some of the things I coach my students.

It is never their fault

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This is a common reaction of a many tour players (and many poor players, too). You’ll see a golfer miss a putt and immediately fix an old ball mark or tap down a spike mark that was supposedly in their line. Sometimes it is legit. Players see their ball do something they did not expect and blame a hidden imperfection on their green for the outcome. It allows golfers to tell themselves that they made the perfect stroke, and only missed the putt because of something outside their control. They can move on with their round without harming their confidence.

The flip side of the coin is when outside influences, such as the spotty greens at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, expose the mental insecurities of the player. You saw it with Billy Horschel and his putting. Never known as a really good putter, the green irregularities exposed that mental side of his game that needs everything to be perfect in order for it to succeed both inwardly and outwardly. When it is not perfect, it can lead to some quirky and unprofessional behavior.

Do I recommend this process? No, but I don’t want my golfers thinking about their stroke mechanics in a tournament, either.

Retroactive “wins”

A tour player came to work with me after spending the past two years with different coaches. He was hitting it awful and putting terrible for him. He was exempt on the PGA Tour Latin America circuit, and results from several years ago show he can go super low. We spent a half day together and improved his ball striking, showing him the practice path he needed to dial in his swing in for the long haul, and then tightened up his short game and got the putter hot again.

In his first tournament since we did all that work, his stats were solid with only two missed greens and one missed fairway. So we created our own “reality show” out of the ball striking. Where would he have finished if he had hit the ball that well at a recent PGA Tour LA event?

“I win by eight!” he said immediately.

I agreed, and told him that what we do is we count that as a “retroactive win.” It does not show up in his bio or his bank account as a win, but in his mind he knows that if he hits it like that he wins by a lot. I asked the same question of another tournament he recently played in, and he said if he hit the ball the same way he did in our practice session he would have won that one also. In his mind, he now has two wins. That gives him a jolt of confidence in his game that tells him he can win with what we are working on.

Fixing the bad shots and bad breaks

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This is the one that my dad struggled with the most to understand. It happens most to elite players, and it is called the “if scenario.” In a tournament practice rounds and casual rounds with him, I would finish and do a review of how I played. It would go something like this:

Dad: “Nice round, son. Your 68 was pretty solid today.”

Me: “Thanks, but if I don’t catch that bad lie on No. 4 and make bogey, and then get that one up and down on the par-5… and make those two 10-foot putts coming in then it is 64!”

Dad: “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts we would all have a Merry Christmas. If, if if.”

Yes, if! Dad didn’t understand that a golfer’s analysis is unreal to the point of creating a separate reality — we were just blink of an eye from three, four, or five shots better. We think we will get all of our shots to go our way, and sometimes they do. And if you only look at the dark side of the game, it will drive you crazy.

Try to look at your bad rounds through a different lens, and expect that things will go your way more often than not. At the very least, believe that the bad breaks will be evened out with good breaks… eventually. You’ll find yourself thinking positively more often, and for that reason you’ll shoot lower scores.

Par is not always par

Here is an example from junior golf. I coach two 9-year-old golfers who are fantastic players. In a recent tournament, both struggled to break 50 for nine holes. Why? Because that tournament setup the course WAY TOO LONG! The juniors could not reach any of the holes in regulation. None of them! So when we discussed the event, we created our own effective par, since the scorecard par of 36 was invalid. What we arrived at was that even par for them was 49. With the new par, both players shot either even par or a couple over. That is much more like how they normally play.

As you look at your course and the tee markers you prefer to play, check and see if you are playing a couple of holes that might make more sense at a different par. Then create your own realistic par and play to that score. You might just find yourself playing those holes better when you remove the stress of trying to make a normal par on a hole that’s too long or especially difficult for you.

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If you are an avid Golf Channel viewer you are familiar with Rob Strano the Director of Instruction for the Strano Golf Academy at Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, FL. He has appeared in popular segments on Morning Drive and School of Golf and is known in studio as the “Pop Culture” coach for his fun and entertaining Golf Channel segments using things like movie scenes*, song lyrics* and familiar catch phrases to teach players. His Golf Channel Academy series "Where in the World is Rob?" showed him giving great tips from such historic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, on a Gondola in Venice, Tuscany Winery, the Roman Colissum and several other European locations. Rob played professionally for 15 years, competing on the PGA, Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide and NGA/Hooters Tours. Shortly after embarking on a teaching career, he became a Lead Instructor with the golf schools at Pine Needles Resort in Pinehurst, NC, opening the Strano Golf Academy in 2003. A native of St. Louis, MO, Rob is a four time honorable mention U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Youth Golf Instructor and has enjoyed great success with junior golfers, as more than 40 of his students have gone on to compete on the collegiate level at such established programs as Florida State, Florida and Southern Mississippi. During the 2017 season Coach Strano had a player win the DII National Championship and the prestigious Nicklaus Award. He has also taught a Super Bowl and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a two-time NCAA men’s basketball national championship coach, and several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players. His PGA Tour players have led such statistical categories as Driving Accuracy, Total Driving and 3-Putt Avoidance, just to name a few. In 2003 Rob developed a nationwide outreach program for Deaf children teaching them how to play golf in sign language. As the Director of the United States Deaf Golf Camps, Rob travels the country conducting instruction clinics for the Deaf at various PGA and LPGA Tour events. Rob is also a Level 2 certified AimPoint Express Level 2 green reading instructor and a member of the FlightScope Advisory Board, and is the developer of the Fuzion Dyn-A-line putting training aid. * Golf Channel segments have included: Caddyshack Top Gun Final Countdown Gangnam Style The Carlton Playing Quarters Pump You Up

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. mc3jack

    Feb 11, 2016 at 3:00 am

    Golfers are delusional. Humans are delusional. All the time. When we’re ‘picturing’ that 30 foot downhill, sidehill breaker rolling in the hole, we’re being delusional. It’s 25 to 1 shot, or worse. That’s reality.

    Many, many golfers show up at the course delusional. They’re dreaming that ‘today is the day’ they’ll finally play at the level of their delusions…and then reality crushes their delusion and they make themselves mad or sad. It’s dumb. But it’s very human.

    Here’s one of my favorite delusions: I’m the World’s Greatest Bogey Golfer. Yes, people line the fairways to watch my exhibitions of flawless bogey golf. I make it look so easy! Know what? WugBug (WGBG) as my legion of fans call me, makes tour-level number of bogey-birdies, and almost never makes a bogey-bogey. He pours on the Tour Sauce thick and rich, and by the end of the day his scorecard isn’t anywhere near 18 over.

  2. Dennis Clark

    Feb 10, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    i read all your posts on my articles M…

  3. Bob Jones

    Feb 10, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    I’m a good enough golfer to save my score after a bad shot, and a bad enough golfer to hit bad shots I can’t recover from. I hit good shots that have fabulous outcomes by sheer luck. I hit great shots that don’t turn out well because of bad bounces and the like. At the end of the round, I always get the score I deserved for that day. I have no need to fool myself and live in a false reality. That some touring pros that need to lie to themselves on the course makes me wonder how much that carries over into their personal life.

  4. Obee

    Feb 10, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Great article. Thank you. As an aging (I’m 48), competitive amateur, anything I can learn about the mental side of the game is helpful. And you’re certainly right about top players “creating their own realities.” I’ve seen it time and time again over the years with top ams — their mental processes are just a bit different than others’….

  5. Brian

    Feb 10, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Par is never setup for 1 putting. Hence why a par 3 allows for two putts. Par 4s allow for 2 putts. Par 5s allow for 2 putts. What in the world do you mean?

  6. steve

    Feb 10, 2016 at 8:32 am

    I don’t think they create their own reality. Its a impulse to blame something outside their control at the moment, but in “reality” they know they made a bad read or bad putt. This way of thinking is in all parts of life from sports to business, its never their fault. If you never take ownership of it, you never will learn and grow from it

  7. 2Short

    Feb 10, 2016 at 4:42 am

    Your reality is exactly what you think it is.

  8. Dave

    Feb 9, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    I understand what your getting at with this article but this is the same logic that 2 handicaps use to brainwash themselves into thinking they can play on tour.

    There’s a lot of guys spending 20-30 grand per year playing mini tours and q schools with no hope in hell.

  9. Cez

    Feb 9, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Eldrick most certainly created his own reality by ramming ho’s and then ramming his truck into the hydrant and thinking he can appear sorry for doing it all by making a grandiose speech to boast about it on TV.

  10. Rob Strano

    Feb 9, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    If this comment is directed at the last point of the article I suggest you reread it. The par 5’s were so long these kids could not reach the green with 4 of their best shots back-to-back. So they would hit the green with their 5th or 6th shot and one or two putt. Par was an unattainable number. Kind of like at Torrey Pines last weekend.

    • steve

      Feb 10, 2016 at 8:51 am

      who cares what par is? your in a tournament what place you end up in matters. you created a fake reality for the kids, that was a mistake. if you shoot 10 over and win, are you upset because you shoot 10 over on a tough long course. I would have compared their games to where they placed in the tournament, that is what matters nothing else. did you give them a participation trophy?

      • Scott

        Feb 11, 2016 at 10:49 am

        Golf is a game of you against the course. All else being equal, when the bounces go your way you can win, and when they don’t you lose. When courses are set up unfairly for the players playing, that is a different story. I help my wife set realistic goal on the course also. Most courses have holes that she can not reach in regulation. She is not fixated on score, but it does make her feel better to “par” a par 4 with a 5.

        • steve

          Feb 11, 2016 at 2:17 pm

          I understand what you are saying. But playing in a tournament is different. You compare yourself to the field, not the scorecard. It is hard for me to think of a course being setup unfair if everyone is playing the same course. Will there be bad breaks, like when it is windy and raining in the morning and calm and sunny in the afternoon, yes. But that is not course setup. I rather win ugly then lose pretty. Why would he tell kids to change par and give them a “fake reality”. Why not just look at tournament average score and compare to that?

  11. Dev

    Feb 9, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    This was seriously one of the best articles I have read on the mental game of serious golf in a long time. It goes well with some tips I read last week about choosing what time of day you are going to have.

    I am not a great golfer by any means but things like this can always be helpful to lower scores. I made a decision this year that I want to get good. Most likely not tour good but get down to shooting par or better. Even though deep down I know what I should be thinking its always good to have someone else remind you.

    Thanks for a great read.

    • Rob Strano

      Feb 9, 2016 at 7:56 pm

      Dev, thanks for your note and comments. Appreciate your decision to want to get good at the game and seeking the information to do it! The mental game is important to improving and you read the article and grasped my points. Many others will read it and still not get it and that puts you ahead of the game. Have a great 2016 working on getting better every day.

  12. Dennis Clark

    Feb 9, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    It’s always a fine line between positive thinking and denial. And we all walk it. Good job, Rob.

    • Rob Strano

      Feb 9, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks Dennis…You are right, it is a fine line, and those of us who have played the game and posted scores in big tournaments understand where that line is and how to deal with it and improve off of it.

    • Rob Strano

      Feb 9, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      Dennis, thanks for the note and the supportive comment. You are right it is a fine line. Those of us that have played and posted scores in big tournaments or coach players that do that easily understand the points of the article and how to walk that line and use it to motivate/improve. Hopefully this will help outsiders get the same insights we know to be true.

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Opinion & Analysis

Pick three golfers to build the ultimate scramble team. Who you got?

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It’s officially scramble season. Whether it’s a corporate outing or charity event, surely you’ve either been invited to play in or have already played in a scramble this year.

If you don’t know the rules of the scramble format, here’s how it works: All four golfers hit their drives, then the group elects the best shot. From there, all four golfers hit the shot, and the best of the bunch is chosen once again. The hole continues in this fashion until the golf ball is holed.

The best scramble players are those who hit the ball really far and/or stick it close with the irons and/or hole a lot of putts. The point is to make as many birdies and eagles as possible.

With this in mind, inside GolfWRX Headquarters, we got to discussing who would be on the ultimate scramble team. Obviously, Tiger-Jack-Daly was brought up immediately, so there needed to be a caveat to make it more challenging.

Thus, the following hypothetical was born. We assigned each golfer below a dollar value, and said that we had to build a three player scramble team (plus yourself) for $8 or less.

Here are the answers from the content team here at GolfWRX:

Ben Alberstadt

Tiger Woods ($5): This is obvious. From a scramble standpoint, Tiger gives you everything you want: Long, accurate, and strategic off the tee (in his prime). Woods, sets the team up for optimal approach shots (he was pretty good at those too)…and of course, arguably the greatest pressure putter of all time.
David Duval ($2): I’m thinking of Double D’s machine-like approach play in his prime. Tour-leader in GIR in 1999, and 26th in driving accuracy that year, Duval ought to stick second shots when TW doesn’t and is an asset off the tee.
Corey Pavin ($1): A superb putter and dogged competitor, Pavin’s a great value at $1. Ryder Cup moxy. Plus, he’ll always give you a ball in the fairway off the tee (albeit a short one), much needed in scramble play.

Brian Knudson

Rory McIlroy ($4): I am willing to bet their are only a handful of par 5’s in the world that he can’t hit in in two shots. You need a guy who can flat out overpower a course and put you in short iron situations on every hole. His iron play is a thing of beauty, with a high trajectory that makes going after any sucker pin a possibility.
Jordan Spieth ($3): Was there a guy who putted from mid-range better than him just a couple years ago? If there was, he isn’t on this list. Scrambles need a guy who can drain everything on the green and after watching 3 putts to get the read, he won’t miss. His solid wedge game will also help us get up and down from those short yardages on the Par 4’s.
Corey Pavin ($1): Fear the STACHE!! The former Ryder Cup captain will keep the whole team playing their best and motivated to make birdies and eagles. If we have 228 yards to the flag we know he is pulling that 4 wood out and giving us a short putt for birdie. He will of course be our safety net, hitting the “safe shot,” allowing the rest of us to get aggressive!

Ronald Montesano

Dustin Johnson ($4) – Bombmeister!!!
Lee Trevino ($2) — Funny as hell (and I speak Mexican).
Sergio Garcia ($1) – The greatest iron player (I speak Spanish, too).

Tom Stickney

Dustin Johnson ($4)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Lee Trevino ($2)
DJ is longer than I-10, Seve can dig it out of the woods, and Trevino can shape it into any pin.

Andrew Tursky

Dustin Johnson ($4)
Jordan Spieth ($2)
Anthony Kim ($1)
Are all the old timers gonna be mad at me for taking young guys? Doesn’t matter. DJ has to be the best driver ever, as long as he’s hitting that butter cut. With Jordan, it’s hard to tell whether he’s better with his irons or with his putter — remember, we’re talking Jordan in his prime, not the guy who misses putts from 8 inches. Then, Anthony Kim has to be on the team in case the alcohol gets going since, you know, it’s a scramble; remember when he was out all night (allegedly) before the Presidents Cup and still won his match? I need that kind of ability on my squad. Plus AK will get us in the fairway when me, DJ and Spieth each inevitably hit it sideways.

Michael Williams

Tiger Woods ($5)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)

Corey Pavin ($1)

Tiger is a no-brainer. Seve is maybe the most creative player ever and would enjoy playing HORSE with Tiger. Pavin is the only $1 player who wouldn’t be scared stiff to be paired with the first two.

Johnny Wunder

Tiger Woods ($5): His Mind/Overall Game

Seve Ballesteros ($2): His creativity/fire in a team format/inside 100

Anthony Kim ($1): Team swagger/he’s streaky/will hit fairways under the gun.
A scramble requires 3 things: Power, Putting and Momentum. These 3 guys as a team complete the whole package. Tiger is a one man scramble team but will get himself in trouble, which is where Seve comes in. In the case where the momentum is going forward like a freight train, nobody rattles a cage into the zone better than AK. It’s the perfect team and the team I’d want out there if my life was on the line. I’d trust my kids with this team.
Who would you pick on your team, and why? See what GolfWRX Members are saying in the forums.
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Opinion & Analysis

Is equipment really to blame for the distance problem in golf?

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It’s 2018, we’re more than a quarter of the way through Major Season, and there are 58 players on the PGA Tour averaging over 300 yards off the tee. Trey Mullinax is leading the PGA Tour through the Wells Fargo Championship with an average driving distance of 320 yards. Much discussion has been had about the difficulty such averages are placing on the golf courses across the country. Sewn into the fabric of the distance discussion are suggestions by current and past giants of the game to roll back the golf ball.

In a single segment on an episode of Live From The Masters, Brandel Chamblee said, “There’s a correlation from when the ProV1 was introduced and driving distance spiked,” followed a few minutes later by this: “The equipment isn’t the source of the distance, it’s the athletes.”

So which is it? Does it have to be one or the other? Is there a problem at all?

Several things of interest happened on the PGA Tour in the early 2000s, most of which were entirely driven by the single most dominant athlete of the last 30. First, we saw Tiger Woods win four consecutive majors, the first and only person to do that in the modern era of what are now considered the majors. Second, that same athlete drew enough eyeballs so that Tim Finchem could exponentially increase the prize money golfers were playing for each week. Third, but often the most overlooked, Tiger Woods ushered in fitness to the mainstream of golf. Tiger took what Gary Player and Greg Norman had preached their whole careers and amped it up like he did everything else.

In 1980, Dan Pohl was the longest player on the PGA Tour. He averaged 274 yards off the tee with a 5-foot, 11-inch and 175-pound frame. By 2000, the average distance for all players on the PGA Tour was 274 yards. The leader of the pack that year was John Daly, who was the only man to average over 300 yards. Tiger Woods came in right behind him at 298 yards.

Analysis of the driving distance stats on the PGA Tour since 1980 show a few important statistics: Over the last 38 seasons, the average driving distance for all players on the PGA Tour has increased an average of 1.1 yards per year. When depicted on a graph, it looks like this:

The disparity between the shortest and the longest hitter on the PGA Tour has increased 0.53 yards per year, which means the longest hitters are increasing the gap between themselves and the shortest hitters. The disparity chart fluctuates considerably more than the average distance chart, but the increase from 1980 to 2018 is staggering.

In 1980, there was 35.6 yards between Dan Pohl (longest) and Michael Brannan (shortest – driving distance 238.7 yards). In 2018, the difference between Trey Mullinax and Ken Duke is 55.9 yards. Another point to consider is that in 1980, Michael Brannan was 25. Ken Duke is currently 49 years of age.

The question has not been, “Is there a distance problem?” It’s been, “How do we solve the distance problem?” The data is clear that distance has increased — not so much at an exponential rate, but at a consistent clip over the last four decades — and also that equipment is only a fraction of the equation.

Jack Nicklaus was over-the-hill in 1986 when he won the Masters. It came completely out of nowhere. Players in past decades didn’t hit their prime until they were in their early thirties, and then it was gone by their early forties. Today, it’s routine for players to continue playing until they are over 50 on the PGA Tour. In 2017, Steve Stricker joined the PGA Tour Champions. In 2016, he averaged 278 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour. With that number, he’d have topped the charts in 1980 by nearly four yards.

If equipment was the only reason distance had increased, then the disparity between the longest and shortest hitters would have decreased. If it was all equipment, then Ken Duke should be averaging something more like 280 yards instead of 266.

There are several things at play. First and foremost, golfers are simply better athletes these days. That’s not to say that the players of yesteryear weren’t good athletes, but the best athletes on the planet forty years ago didn’t play golf; they played football and basketball and baseball. Equipment definitely helped those super athletes hit the ball straighter, but the power is organic.

The other thing to consider is that the total tournament purse for the 1980 Tour Championship was $440,000 ($1,370,833 in today’s dollars). The winner’s share for an opposite-field event, such as the one played in Puerto Rico this year, is over $1 million. Along with the fitness era, Tiger Woods ushered in the era of huge paydays for golfers. This year, the U.S. Open prize purse will be $12 milion with $2.1 million of that going to the winner. If you’re a super athlete with the skills to be a golfer, it makes good business sense to go into golf these days. That wasn’t the case four decades ago.

Sure, equipment has something to do with the distance boom, but the core of the increase is about the athletes themselves. Let’s start giving credit where credit is due.

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Opinion & Analysis

Golf swing videos: What you absolutely need to know

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Let’s start with a game. Below are 5 different swing videos. I want you to study them and decide which of them is the best swing. Take your time, this is important…

Please, write your answer down. Which one was it?

Now, I am going to tell you a little secret; they are all the exact same swing filmed simultaneously from 5 various positions. JM1 is on the hand line but higher, JM2 is on the hand line but lower, JM3 is on the foot line, JM4 is on the hand line and JM5 is on the target line. Same swing, very different results!

So, what did we learn? Camera angle has an enormous impact on the way the swing looks.

“If you really want to see what is going on with video, it is crucial to have the camera in the right position,” said Bishops Gate Director of Instruction and Top 100 teacher Kevin Smeltz. “As you can see, if it is off just a little it makes a significant difference.”

According to PGA Tour Coach Dan Carraher: “Proper camera angles are extremely important, but almost more important is consistent camera angles. If you’re going to compare swings they need to be shot from the same camera angles to make sure you’re not trying to fix something that isn’t really a problem. Set the camera up at the same height and distance from the target line and player every time. The more exact the better.”

For high school players who are sending golf swing videos to college coaches, the content of the swing video is also very important. You have 5-15 seconds to impress the coach, so make sure you showcase the most impressive part of your game. For example, if you bomb it, show some drivers and make sure the frame is tight to demonstrate your speed/athleticism. Likewise, if you have a great swing but not a whole lot of power, start the video with a 5 or 6 iron swing to showcase your move. Either way, show coaches your strengths, and make sure to intrigue them!

Now that you have something that represents your skills, you need to consider how to format it so coaches are most likely to open it. I would recommend uploading the swings to YouTube and including a link in the email; a link allows the coach to simply click to see the video, rather than having to mess with opening any specific program or unknown file.

When formatting the email, always lead with your best information. For example, if you want a high-end academic school and have 1550 on the SAT lead with that. Likewise, if you have a powerful swing, lead with the YouTube link.

Although these tips do not guarantee responses, they will increase your odds!

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