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Proof that you can turn a Deaf ear to golf instruction

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“You might just go on to prove that the spoken word is useless in golf instruction.”

– Dr. Jim Suttie

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Dr. Suttie made that statement to me in 2004 when I started the most powerful outreach at my golf academy, and one I’m blessed to be a part of every year.

Now in its 11th year, the U.S. Deaf Golf Camps provide instruction to Deaf children all across America. Thousands of Deaf children have learned the game of golf entirely in their own language — American Sign Language — through our golf academy. I’m lucky to be the only professional doing this on such a large scale anywhere in the world, and yes, I learned Sign Language in order to teach Deaf children the game of golf. We have a lot of fun, and I always say that these camps are “the loudest quiet event in golf!”

Deaf children learn in a unique way, and their focus is different than that of non-hearing 8impaired children. Why? Because in Deaf Culture when you sign something, it’s rarely repeated. The eyes of the Deaf student are totally focused on not only what you’re saying, but your body language and expression. They very rarely miss anything you say.

With this in mind, visual learning and any drills or training aids that involve feel are great ways to teach them a golf swing. Because of the limited nature of this instruction, most of the kids that come to the events have zero golf experience swinging a club.

The point that Dr. Suttie made 11 years ago has proven itself in every camp I teach.

Gary Van Sickle of Sports Illustrated said it best. After watching an hour of the camp in Pittsburgh prior to the U.S. Open held in the area that week, he said to me during a break, “You mean to tell me that none of these kids have ever swung a club? This is amazing to see how good these swings are after an hour!”

So how do I make the spoken word useless and how does it help your game?

The main visual way I teach these kids is using what I call the “Circle of Seven.” I have seven poles, and Velcroed onto each pole is a picture of a posed position in the golf swing. Each picture represents a place in the swing that is important for the player to pass through. The kids rotate from picture-to-picture, posing to match the different positions. I go around and approve their poses, or give them some easy cues to pose correctly. When they have all met my standard for the poses, they rotate to the next image and repeat the process.

After doing this for all seven images, I bring the children together and spread them out all around me. We then drill the positions into their memory. On my command, I sign a number that represents a position from the pictures, and they all pose in the position. I say numbers in random order so that they have to think out of order at first. Eventually, I roll it all together sequentially and they move from setup to finish, and a golf swing is the final product.

I have always thought that your swing can only be as good as you can model, or pose, the places the swing passes through. If you struggle to model a certain position, there may be a physical limitation, which we work around. 

Here are the pictures that the kids see on the poles:

We can all learn a proper golf swing using this formula.

I suggest that you print a couple of the poses out, or pick one you struggle with. For the summer, spend some time each day with a club and just practice stopping in that position and holding for 10 seconds (you can even flip the image and make it like you are looking in a mirror if that helps). Try to get a feel for it.

This is not muscle memory, because there is no such thing! Muscles cannot remember because they do not have brain cells — but they can feel. What you’re trying to do is recreate feelings, and have those balanced feeling motions ingrained by repetition. I have seen some great swings grow out of this visual mirroring technique. It’s happened time and again in just one morning session with Deaf children all across the U.S. for the last 11 years!

Watch the video below to get a glimpse of what the U.S. Deaf Golf Camps are all about.

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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

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. tbag

    May 11, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Being hearing impaired, it is a great gift these kids are receiving. Teaching is returning a gift you received once. What a great statement of love of the game of golf.

  2. Al

    May 10, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Golf instruction, by spoken or written word, reminds me of learning magic from books. After the move/s are mastered, the instruction makes perfect sense.

  3. RG

    May 8, 2015 at 2:06 am

    Great article. Deaf children epitomize visual learning. Those of us with hearing could learn a lot from them. What’s that you ask? Be quiet and focus on what your seeing. Realize that you can’t talk yourself into a good shot, you have to visualize it and execute.

  4. Philip

    May 7, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Very enlightening, thank you

  5. GDP

    May 7, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Great read. I’m gonna use your pictures! Thanks.

  6. Greg V

    May 7, 2015 at 9:37 am

    That was a very interesting article, and food for thought.

    Thanks.

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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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Instruction

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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