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How to legally carry more than 70 clubs in your bag

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Pop Quiz! Fill in the blanks below:

  • I am on the range working on my full _____________.
  • It is a chip _____.
  • It is a bunker _______.
  • It is a flop ________.
  • It is a bump-and-run ________.
  • It is a knockdown ________.
  • It is a pitch _______.

Are you seeing a trend in your answers?

The first answer should have been the word “swing.” The rest of the blanks should have been answered with the word “shot.” Hopefully everyone got a 100 percent on the quiz!

Part of golf is about having a good consistent, repeatable full swing that produces quality results. But most rounds only contain about 20-to-25 truly “stock” full swings, which I define as full swings that don’t have any special considerations like three-quarter shots or shots that golfers try to hit higher or lower than normal.

Those 20-to-25 stock shots occur on most tee shots (except on some par 3’s where you might be in between clubs) and approach shots where you have a perfect yardage. The rest of the swings during your round now will require you to play different shots.

Think about it this way: What if I took you out on your course and only allowed you to take full swings at full effort? On a par 5, you could hit a perfect driver and three wood, leaving you 85 yards to the flag. As you set up to hit your 85-yard approach, I remind you that you are only allowed a full swing. So you “pure” your approach shot with a sand wedge, which goes about 100 yards with a full swing, and it flies 5 yards over the green, takes a big bounce and goes right into a palmetto bush. That would never happen except in our little game, but it illustrates my point about full swings.

Full swings aren’t necessary for every shot during a round of golf — not even 50 percent of shots. We unavoidably face situations that do not call for full swings in every round and it is how we execute them that determines the score at the end of the day. If you’ve watched most golfers practice, however, you know that they tend to dedicate most of their time to their full swing.

A couple of years ago I was working with one of my new students who was a very good college player. He wanted to play professionally, so he came to me for help with his game. He was hitting perfect 54-degree wedge shots at our first target green. It was getting boring to watch, so I went to his bag and my bag and grabbed our 9 irons — time for a little competition! We played closest to the hole with 10 shots, first one to six wins with the 9 irons only. Who do you think won this little exercise? Yeah, me — and by a lot. Something like 6-1. This player had no “shots” other than a full swing!

In most of my training sessions, my students and I spend time on the full swing. With a lot of my better players, however, we spend an equal amount of time learning how to hit variety of shots with different clubs. It’s true that most tour players have grooved a controlled full swing with perfect rhythm and impact, but they also have a large arsenal of other shots.

The reality is that most golfers rely on 13 shots — one for every club in their bag (I’m not counting the putter). Comparatively, most tour players have at least 70 shots, or 70 “clubs” in their bag. How is that? If you hit all your shots full, or at 100 effort, you will struggle to develop your game. Swinging full bore at every shot makes you a less versatile player and your scores will tend to be higher.

If you learn to dial in your swing with each club at 90 percent with good rhythm, which means that you control the club, your body movements and distance at two distinct speeds, congrats! Now you have 26 shots, twice as many as you used to have. That gives you an extra 10 percent to use when you need a few extra yards out of a specific shot. Yes, you might sacrifice a little accuracy when you swing full bore, but if you need to carry that bunker in front of the green you can do it because of the extra speed leftover in your tank. That’s why “playing at 90 percent” is a great tip for most amateurs.

What happens when you learn to choke down 1 inch and swing the club with a three-quarters length backswing? The ball goes a little shorter than your 90-percent swing, and now you have 39 clubs in your bag. Are you seeing the value of learning different shots?

What about changing trajectories with the three swings above? That would give you 78 options if you can groove each swing with a low trajectory, and 107 shots if you can learn to hit each shot with a higher trajectory.

So are tour players really that good? Yes, but they’re also smarter than most golfers with their practice. They learn to “legally” carry more clubs in the bag than you do.

I’m not saying that it’s not important to groove a swing that is repeatable and consistent, but most golfers would play better if they practiced a few different shots each time they went to the range. During your next practice session, spend some time on the range working on different shots to go with your full-swing shot. The ones I listed above are a great place to start.

Remember that golf is not about having the best full swing; it is about moving your game piece (the golf ball) around the ever-changing outdoor board game. And if you can legally “break the rules” by having more shots in the bag, then you should play better golf, have more fun and have better-looking scores, too!

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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. br61

    Dec 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Rob,

    Great to see you posting. I agree with your article, very well written. I love playing different shots with a single club, it’s almost like cheating with additional clubs in your bag. I know Kevin Hall does the same. I had fun with him on a range at Traverse City, MI last summer. He was explaining to fellow golfers how to play different shots with a single club. (with my clubs!!)

    Cheers,

    Bill

  2. Geoffrey Holland

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Back when I could still physically play, I went most of a season with a bag that consisted of driver, another driver that was essentially a 2 wood, 3 wood, 6 iron, SW, LW, putter. I didn’t have a set of irons at the time, didn’t have the money to get one, and didn’t think I would be playing a lot that year so never bothered to even borrow one.

    I did end up playing quite a bit that year, and I rarely missed the rest of the irons. I practically wore that 6 iron out and had a lot of fun hitting different shots with it.

  3. sixty7

    Dec 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    I used to agree with this logic but my life has changed and my game had to adapt. I played D1 golf and dabbled on some minitours on and off for about 5 years. Since getting my amateur status back and starting a company I struggled with consistency and started to dread playing in tournaments because I inevitably didn’t have to time needed to keep my arsenal of shots honed. I played well at times over the few years after I wasn’t playing professionally but mostly not up to the level I was used to playing. I decided to simplify and get really good at hitting some of the shots I found really important. I’ve always hit the ball far so I needed a go to driver shot which is a high draw. I used to work the ball well with my driver but I didn’t have the time to keep that up. I stuck with my most natural shot shape which was a high draw. Forget about working fairway woods and long irons at this point. I dropped a fairway wood and added a wedge so I would be able to maximize the amount of stock swings I could make during a round. I focused on hitting my middle irons solid enough to make due and really don’t try to work them much anymore either.

    Here is where I partially agree with your article. I think it is very important to be versatile with scoring clubs and I find it time well spent working on flighting wedges up or down and knocking yards off short irons. I think it is crazy to tell an amateur to learn 70 shots. At the end of the day I am a solid plus 2 handicap who plays 45 holes per week and I wouldn’t dare try to polish 70 shots enough to take them on the course anymore. I think if you take this article and apply it to the clubs you hit most often you will be better off than trying to mix it up and start trying to hit that many different shots.

    • Jay

      Dec 9, 2014 at 6:25 pm

      Are you really learning 70 shots? How much different is a 3/4 6 iron from a 3/4 5 iron. If you know your standard distances with each club – be it at 100% or 90%, you should have a good idea what 3/4 will get you with out tracking distances for every club at standard, 3/4, 3/4 low. 3/4 high, etc??

      • sixty7

        Dec 9, 2014 at 6:56 pm

        I’ve got a great 3/4 six iron that I like to call a seven iron.

        All kidding aside what I have done has worked really well for my work golf mix. If you’re trying to get on TV then you better know all 70 shots. If you want to get to a zero handicap get really good at the shots you need to hit and work on your short game. I know a lot of scratch golfers that can’t hit a low cut to a back right pin at will.

  4. Pat

    Dec 9, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Good article. However, I think it’s also equally as importantly to add a fade and draw to your arsenal. Once you can hit left to right and right to left shots on command, your handicap will drop significantly. I went from a 10 to a 5 handicap by learning how hit a fade and draw on command by changing my set up and swing path from a good friend of mine who is currently trying to get on the Web.com tour and plays to a +1 handicap. A golfer who is capable of hitting high, low, fade, and draws on command will have a much higher chance at lowering their scores compared to a golfer who only plays one type of shot all the time and hasn’t learned to hit a variety of shots.

    • sixty7

      Dec 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      I disagree. I don’t think it’s necessary for a 10 handicap to be able to hit a fade and a draw. I would be willing to bet that you dropped 5 shots because you started working on your game more. I’m sure you wanting to be able to hit a fade and a draw was the vehicle that got you on the range working on your game but I would bet that you would be a 5 if you were only to hit one or the other consistently.

      My home course is really hard and you could probably host a tour event there any day of the week and I really only hit a draw. Front right pins are always a pain for me but I don’t attack them, I choose my battles and live to fight another day.

      • Pat

        Dec 10, 2014 at 6:58 am

        Never said it’s necessary. It just makes you a much better golfer if you can hit draws and fades on command. Notice how the best players in the world can work the ball both ways. Bubba, Phil, Rory, Adam Scott, Sergio, etc. I’m not saying you can’t become a scratch or better if you only hit one stock shot, but being able to hit a variety of shots only helps elevate your game to the next level. My handicap didn’t drop because I practiced more. In fact, I’ve had less time in the last 2 years to dedicate to golf because of declining health and job.

        • sixty7

          Dec 10, 2014 at 9:21 am

          So you’ve practiced less, learned new shots and cut your handicap in half? That’s impressive.

  5. Mnmlist Golfr

    Dec 9, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    This is why it is not really necessary to carry 14 clubs. 6-8 clubs plus putter is enough if you can hit diffferent types of shots with each club.

    • Jay

      Dec 9, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      And you know it kills em when they are hitting wedge from 145 and cant get it inside the choled up 8

    • dapadre

      Dec 10, 2014 at 5:52 am

      This is SO true. Some weeks back shot my alltime best (78; +6) on a pretty tough course. I usually shoot in the low 80’s as I dont have much time to practice. Practice for me is 1 hour on Fridays and 30/45 min on the DR on Sat and or Sun before a round.

      Anyway on this particular day took a half set forged set I had laying around that I never played much. I had (7 clubs) W1, H4, 6,8,PW, SW and putter. Crazy as it sounds, it felt pretty simple. I would have scored better but had horrible putting (3 putted twice and even had 2 water balls!)

  6. Russ

    Dec 9, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Always cracks me up when i play with college age kids or even hard hitting high handicappers and stuff it to 6 feet from 135 yds. “You hit wedge”, me “nah, choked up 8″ and they look at me with incredulous eyes as i make the putt and take there money…. last round hit one right into the trees, had 85yds but only had a 9 and 7, no problem, opened the face on the 9 choked down 2” and hit a flop shot to 4 feet to make par… Be a student of this game and your handicap will go down.
    Raidernut1234

  7. AJ Jensen

    Dec 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Wow that was a great article, very well-written and fun to read, and most of all it’s a great insight on why the pros seem to have such an easy time negotiating the course, while us weekend warriors struggle so much.

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Instruction

WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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