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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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Brandel Chamblee, a 15-year PGA Tour veteran and one of the most controversial people in golf media, joins The Gear Dive with Johnny Wunder. On the podcast, Chamblee speaks on his polarizing opinions of Tiger Woods’ downfall, the unthinkable comeback, pitfalls in modern teaching and what he would do differently as a player if he were playing today.

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

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Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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