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Does a certain hole have you stuck in Groundhog Day?

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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.

Academy player

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 greeStranoGroundHogDay2n. 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 tStranoGroundHogDayhe 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!

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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

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Golfraven

    Feb 3, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    You would think it was common sense to play different shot if the usual strategy is not successful or consistent. BUT we golfers are nature of habit and just won’t accept change at times. I like the idea of playing same hole over and over again until you figured it out. I play same course 99% of time and at times I just don’t thing what I suppose to do because I play the usual shots rather being more creative or look at alternatives. Will get this advise t heart.

    • Rob Strano

      Feb 5, 2015 at 9:45 am

      You are right, we can become creatures of habit especially in golf. Have some fun next time you play that course. If you have a hole that has you stuck do something different with club or shot selection. One thing players tell me is that on some par 5’s they never go for it. Well go for it next time and you might surprise yourself and hit a memorable shot! Thanks for your comment…

  2. Doc Todd

    Feb 2, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Excellent article Rob! I have been having a similar conversation with my new club pro the past few weeks. My arch-nemesis hole at the club is our 16th and it is very similar to your academy player’s. For me, it is a medium length par four dog leg to the left with a large left sided water hazard (pond) that encroaches on the intended landing area for your tee ball. Predominate winds from the south push all shots toward the water hazard. If you choose driver from the tee you have a tiny landing area with water left and OB right. Most layup with a long iron to 3w which leaves you with a 150-180 yards to the green. The green has water nearly upto the fringe and the right side of the green has a large down slope from the cart path to the green. For me, I usually bailout to the right and play for the up and down rather than risk the draw/hook into the water. A nice knock down punch shot may fit the bill rather than play for the hill with a little draw.

    • Rob Strano

      Feb 5, 2015 at 9:41 am

      Thanks Doc for your comments. Like your thought about next time hitting a little punch shot in there. Get yourself out of Groundhog Day!

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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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Instruction

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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