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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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