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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

Fantasy Preview: The 2018 Open Championship

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The 147th Open Championship gets underway this week as 156 players launch their quest to capture the Claret Jug. The oldest and for many, most prestigious event returns to Scotland, where Carnoustie will host the tournament for the eighth time in its history.

The last time Carnoustie hosted The Open was 10 years ago when Padraig Harrington finished tied with Sergio Garcia at 7-under par after 72 holes. Harrington went on to outlast Garcia in a dramatic playoff to capture his first of two-straight Open Championships.

The weather is expected to be kind this year and the rough will less penal than it was in 2007, which should offer more birdies than it did in 2007. Carnoustie will measure just over 7,400 yards. With the course playing fast and firm, however, distance is not going to be an issue.

Strategy will be vitally important, and we’ve heard that players will be able to lay up on some of the holes by taking short irons off the tee. The likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy have all stated that they will be taking driver off the tee to eliminate many of the pot bunkers on the course. The reason for this comes down to the fact that the rough is playable this year, which allows for attacking golf. As with any Open Championship, players will need to have every single part of their game in shape for the difficult challenge that links golf always provides.

Last year, Jordan Spieth won the Claret Jug by playing his final five holes in 5-under to post 12-under and beat runner-up Matt Kuchar by three strokes.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 12/1
  • Justin Rose 16/1
  • Rickie Fowler 18/1
  • Rory McIlroy 18/1
  • Jon Rahm 20/1
  • Jordan Spieth 20/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 22/1

Considerably cheaper in salary than both Spieth and Mcilroy, and only marginally more expensive than Fowler, Jon Rahm (20/1, DK Price $9,800) looks to offer excellent value this week at the top of the board. The Spaniard has shown he can play links golf very well, as he once again performed excellently in Ireland, posting a top-5 finish two weeks ago. Rahm now turns his attention to Carnoustie where he’ll be gunning for his first major championship victory.

Rahm comes into this event with a clear strategy. He’s going to play as aggressive as always and hit driver off the tee at every opportunity. Rahm believes the course layout and conditions will suit his explosive game. When you listen to his assessment of Carnoustie this year, it’s difficult to disagree with him. Speaking to the media this week, Rahm said:

“If you hit a good one with a driver, you’re going to have nothing to the green. If you hit the rough this year, it’s not as thick as other years. You actually get a lot of good lies, so you can still hit the green with confidence.”

With playable rough, Rahm should feel every bit as confident as he sounds about his chances this week, as the only thing that prevented him from winning in Ireland was the odd blow-up hole. But with his power allowing him to take the pot bunkers almost entirely out of play, combined with light rough, Carnoustie should be an excellent fit for him. Rahm’s experience in contention at Augusta earlier in the year should put him in good shape mentally as he attempts to win his first major championship, and if he can keep his volatile temperament in check, then Rahm has every chance of claiming the Claret Jug.

From the middle of the range prices this week, Francesco Molinari (33/1, DK Price $8,600) may be the safest man to add to your lineups. The Italian has been in imperious form lately, winning twice and finishing runner-up twice in his last five events. Molinari leads the field in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his previous 24 rounds and sits third in ball striking over the same period.

Molinari’s Open Championship record has been solid, making the cut in five of his last six appearances at this event. His best finish at this event is a T9 back in 2013 at Muirfield, where the conditions were also dry. Molinari enters this event in the form of his life, and the way he is hitting the ball right now, he looks primed for his best Open Championship performance yet.

A links specialist, Marc Leishman (50/1, DK Price $8,000) has performed excellently at this event in recent years. Leishman has recorded three top-10 finishes at the Open Championship in his last four appearances, and he looks reasonably priced to go well once again this week. An excellent wind player, Leishman will relish any wind that may descend on Carnoustie. With him being so adept at playing links golf, taking an expert at $8,000 seems a prudent play.

Leishman’s immediate form hasn’t been spectacular, but he has made five cuts from his last six events, including a runner-up finish at the Byron Nelson where he shot a brilliant 61 in the opening round. The Australian finished T13 at his previous outing at the Quicken Loans National, which shows his game is in solid shape. With his expertise on links courses, Leishman may well be able to conquer Carnoustie and finally get his hands on the Claret Jug.

Emiliano Grillo (200/1, DK Price $6,800) is undervalued this week. On DraftKings, with the books, everywhere. Grillo has been playing terrific golf lately, and Carnoustie should suit the Argentine’s clinical ball striking. Over his previous 24 rounds, Grillo sits 15th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, fifth in Strokes Gained-Putting, 17th in ball striking and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. Grillo has three top-25 finishes in his last four events, and he has shown he can produce his best golf at this event in the past, finishing T12 at Royal Troon back in 2016. At 200/1 and $6,800 on DraftKings, Emiliano Grillo looks the value play of the week.

Recommended Plays

  • Jon Rahm 20/1, DK Price $9,800
  • Francesco Molinari 33/1, DK Price $8,600
  • Marc Leishman 50/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Emiliano Grillo 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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