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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

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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