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What golfers can learn from NCAA March Madness

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Golfers can absolutely learn from the buzzer beaters and crazy finishes that are sure to happen over the next few weeks at the March Madness basketball tournament.

In golf, like in basketball, you must learn to “score the ball” when the game or tournament is on the line.

For the players competing in March Madness, the pressure is at an all-time high, especially as time winds down in the games and their season hangs in the balance — but those moments aren’t new to them.

Hoops coaches often simulate pressure moments in practice, teaching players how to deal with scoring situations that arise during the final moments of a game. I am a huge fan of Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and have read several of Coach K’s books. He likes to set up creative pressure conditions for his players to react to, thereby ingraining the correct response come game time.

One time in practice, he set the scoreboard timer for 2 minutes and turned his three-point shooters loose trying to beat a target score. When they beat that, Coach K increased the target total, pushing his team to make as many three’s as possible in two minutes. Similarly, a basketball coach may put 10 seconds on the clock in practice, and have the offense run suicides if they don’t score the “winning shot” in time. These tactics prepare players for the heat of competition, and instill the ability to score as the pressure increases and the game is on the line!

This type of preparation for pressure moments can be useful in your golf practice sessions as well. 

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Golfers these days do not practice the way we did when I was younger. I can remember having chipping and putting contests with the other kids at my club in St. Louis. I grew up with the Haas and Goalby kids, and I can tell you no one wanted to lose. These were battles for candy bars and sodas and there was a lot of smack talk and chirping going on in every contest.

I don’t see that going on anymore. I do not see our members out there competing during practice, nor do I see any of the kids — not even my academy kids — doing this. I have to provoke the competition by telling them, “How about you two have a contest?”

I encourage golfers to gin up practice-area games with their buddies and play for something meaningful. Not only does that build some pressure, but it makes golfers focus, and will start to “pressure proof” your putting and short game. The old saying, “The hotter the fire the harder the steel,” surely applies here.

Brenden Steele and Keegan Bradley have a standing game of H-O-R-S-E on the putting green during practice rounds at PGA Tour events. I can tell you from watching lots of their competitions, although they’re friendly with each other, they DO NOT like to lose.

I had a player several years ago, who I was working with on the PGA Tour, and we used to have heated contests during practice. One time, we were on the back of the range at the TPC Stadium course working on wedge play. It became so intense that the last competition of the day required us to precisely measure the final shot to determine the winner — that’s how serious it was! Everyone needs more of this in their practice sessions.

When you practice, make up your own mini tournaments

Just like every other kid that went on to play professional golf, I would have practice sessions that were imaginary rounds at major championships. Throughout the years, I have won the Masters at least 23 times, as well as several dozen U.S. Opens, making me the greatest imaginary major champion of all time!

The point is, you should put added pressure on yourself during practice by setting up a challenge such as, “I have four holes to go and have a one shot lead and have to get it up and down from these four spots to beat Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.”

In golf, a chip-in, pitch-in or hole-out from the bunker can play like a three pointer in basketball. It is a big shot and can give you a big boost during the round. So don’t be afraid to give it a “fist pump” when you succeed in these imaginary showdowns.

Your mind cannot tell the difference between an experience that is real and imagined if the experience is intense enough to get your full attention. So go through your full routine and make it as real as possible.

Try to practice making the final putt to win a major or your club championship or for all the skins, with some consequence for missing (doing the dishes, maybe). This simulates game-like pressure, so when you have a chance to win the game, or win the tournament, it won’t be your first time taking the shot or hitting the putt. 

When you see a buzzer beater in the Men’s Basketball Championship tournament in the coming weeks, you’ll know that they’ve made that shot countless times in practice over the years. If you practice in pressure-packed situations on the golf course, you too will feel comfortable when a golf match is on the line.

My concluding thought is that there is an art to scoring in golf. It is a knack that you learn through the stress of practice and competition against others. We are so wrapped up in golf swing these days we forget that the objective is to “score the ball.” So make it a point this spring to work on this via great head-to-head battles with players you challenge!

Share your favorite head-to-head contest stories here — when you squared off with your buddies on the practice green or short game area. It is your chance to chirp about a victory!

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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

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. allen

    Mar 19, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    M Sizzle, scoring average is better because of equipment, not practice habits now. You should know that.

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