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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

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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Instruction

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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