What if I told you that you had to eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a month? Or you had to wear the same clothes for a month. Would you do it? Most of us would say “No way!” The iconic Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day presents just that situation. The “same old, same old” every day, such that you can predict the exact outcome.
It seems that one of the “game play” things I am consistently troubleshooting with my players is how they navigate the course. A lot of times it is with a member who is having trouble on a course they play several times a week, so there is an adverse familiarity with the layout — sometimes way too familiar. They tee the ball up in the same place (and the tee markers rarely move far enough to change the strategy/club selection), hit the same club and get stuck repeatedly with the same result. It’s like “Groundhog Day” every time they play that hole. They are stuck in an endless loop of the same error over and over again.
Below are two stories from two players of different skill sets — a PGA Tour player and a player at my academy course. They both had specific holes that gave them fits.
Jerry is a member that I have worked with for several years and his handicap has progressively dropped from 12 to 5. He hits the ball with a nice little draw throughout his bag and has become a very consistent ball striker.
Recent history had him struggling with our 7th hole. It is a double-green, par-4 of average length with water all the way up the right side and a green that tilts toward the hazard on the right. It has a big runoff to a grass valley on the left of the green. The low area, which sits several feet lower than the putting surface that runs away from you, is dead. Jerry hits that fairway nine times out of 10, but just can’t shake a miss to the left that leaves him in the valley of death. He would come up to me and tell me about his bogey or double on No. 7 from the middle of the fairway after every round.
On EVERY approach, he would have a full 7 or 8 iron and hit it left, no matter what he tried to do mentally. It was a hook or a pull into that spot like a magnet. It got to be such a joke that I told him if he did it again that the club was going to put a plaque there with his name on it.
So after one round, where he told me of another miss left, I asked him to go through the last few times he played that hole and his entire process for the approach. What he described was the same for every approach; visualize a nice high draw, take a practice swing and feel the shot, pick his target and then setup and swing. Invariably, the ball went left into the valley of doom. So I told him, let’s do something different. Familiarity can breed repetition if we are not careful. We just get into a robotic mode of making the same decision without conscious thoughts and analysis.
What I proposed was hitting a different approach shot. We chose a little knockdown shot for the next time he played the hole. Then the time after that I wanted him to hit a little cut in there. Then a draw. Then a three-quarter shot. It didn’t matter what it was, I just wanted a different shot into that green for the next five times he played the hole. And guess what — it worked! He started to hit the green regularly. We found a go-to shot where he’d consistently hit the green.
This helped him make a few pars and the occasional birdie. It got so much better we were forced to put the plaque on hold.
PGA Tour player
I was working with a player out on Tour a couple of years ago and we were at the Sanderson Farms Championship when it was played at Annandale GC. He was telling me of his continuous struggles with the 17th hole — I could tell it gave him nightmares. He loved the rest of the layout, but No. 17 really got under his skin for whatever reason. The tee shot just did not fit his eye, which subsequently made finding a workable ball flight and shot shape to play the hole a big issue. I always tell my players that every course will have a hole or two that gives you fits. You have to find a way to play those holes and avoid a double or triple bogey that will blow up your scorecard.
Here’s how we fixed it.
Instead of playing a full practice round, I suggested we play just that hole until he loved it. Why bother with the other ones you know you can play well? So we went out to No. 17 and discussed what has happened in the past.
- What club he normally tried to hit?
- What shot shape did he try to put out there?
- What did he see as he visualized the shot?
After lots of data was shared, we chose several shot shapes with different clubs. I had his caddy pull out a few balls and we stood on the tee and hit four or five shots until he settled on a flight and shape with a club he felt would easily hit the fairway. Over the course of the event, he hit the fairway every time and made steady pars using the club, flight and shape we determined on the tee during the practice session.
So what’s the lesson? Next time you step on your “Groundhog Day” hole, commit to a different shot than the one you’re used to playing — one that makes you feel more comfortable. It may just open the floodgates for success on that hole in the future!
The value of video
In the age of radar and 3-D measuring systems, video analysis has somewhat taken a backseat. I think that’s unfortunate for a few reasons. First of all, video is still a great assist to learning, and secondly, it is readily available and it can be accessed continually.
Of course, it has limitations, that is a given. It is ultimately a 2-D image of a three-dimensional motion. The camera cannot detect true path, see plane, and can be misleading if not positioned properly. That said, I still use it on every lesson, because, in my experience, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
Things like posture, ball position, and aim can all be seen clearly when the camera is positioned exactly as it should be. In swing observations such as maintenance of posture, club angles, arms in relation to body, over the top, under, early release can all be a great help to any student.
But the real value is in the “feel versus real” area! None of us, from professional to beginner, can know what we are actually doing. The very first reaction I get upon viewing, is “wow, I’m doing that?” Yes, you are. You did NOT pick up your head as you thought you were doing, you ARE lifting well out of your posture, you are NOT coming “over the top”, your aim is well left of where you think you’re aiming, your club is pointing well right of your aim point at the top of the swing, your transition is excessively steep, your lead arm is very bent at impact, the clubhead is past your hands, your wrists are cupped or bowed and on and on!
Some of these positions may be a problem; some may be irrelevant. It’s all about impact, and how you’re getting there that matters. The chicken wing that is causing you to top the ball may very well be the result of a very early release, or a steep transition, or too much waist bend etc. The weight hanging back on the rear leg may be the result of the club so far across the line at the top, and so on.
I never evaluate video without knowledge of ball flight or impact. If one were to observe a less-than-conventional swing, perhaps a Jim Furyk, with knowing how he put matching components together, it might seem like a problem area. Great players have matching components, lesser players do not! IMPACT is king!
I have a video analysis program, as I’m sure your instructor, or someone in your area, does as well. It can only help to take a good, close slow motion look at what is actually happening in your swing. It takes very little time, and the results can be massively beneficial to your golf swing.
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Happy Father’s Day weekend and U.S. Open weekend at none other than Pebble Beach weekend! Whoa, cannot wait to see the golf action today!
In this video, we talk about how to deal with hip, knee and ankle injuries to your lead side as this one is PIVOTAL (pardon the pun) to the success of any kinetic chain in a human. This kinetic chain is a golf swing. Now, what most of you don’t get is that you were born with action; like a dolphin was born to swim. Just watch 2-year-olds swinging a club! You wish you had that swing and guess what, it is in there. But you keep hiding it trying to hit the ball and being careful to manipulate the club into positions that are absolutely, positively sure to snuff out this action.
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