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Get a grip on your club face at impact

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“The golf ball doesn’t lie.” As an instructor, that’s something I commonly say to my students — or at least what I’m thinking.

The way the ball flies tells us nearly everything we need to know about impact. The problem is, players often look to tear apart their swing entirely to fix a ball flight issue, when in reality it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Fixing your ball flight can be as simple as straightening out your grip to achieve the flight you desire.

Recently, one of my players who’s preparing to turn professional came to me with a problem — all of his driver shots were flaring to the right. At 6 foot 4 inches tall with a solid frame, this player generates a ton of power. His driver speed has been clocked at upwards of 130 mph.

Now, when you’re working with an elite talent with a great swing, the first thing you do is look for the obvious. It’s the Occam’s Razor effect of golf instruction. Occam’s Razor is basically a principle that states “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”

How does that apply to instruction? Let’s put it this way: If you’re driving down the highway and your car suddenly sputters and stops, do you immediately decide that you need to rip out the engine and put in a new one? Do you call roadside assistance and tell them “bring me a new engine!” Or do you first look for the obvious and check your gas gauge? Of course, you look for the simplest explanation; I’m out of gas. It’s the same concept when working with an elite golfer.

So when he came for a session hitting this odd shot I looked for simple first. Here were his numbers from our radar testing:

RobStranoArticle-4[Leland]

The FlightScope data above shows the before (swings 1-5) and after (6-10).

You can see how wide open the club face was at impact, with a face-to-target pointing between 3.6 and 6.5 degrees right. Also, he was hitting it a mile in the air with too much spin, and lots of horizontal launch to the right. His path numbers were solid, so I began to mentally peel away at the logical variables that might be affecting his driver outcome.

We began to analyze his swing on video, focusing on how his hands moved from setup and through impact, changing the angle of the face.

It was apparent that his hands had slipped into a weak position at setup, putting the face in an open position at the top of his backswing. So we looked at the data and video, and using Occam’s Razor concept, deduced that his hands needed to slide toward the stronger side of the grip. That small grip change produced drastically different numbers, as seen by swings 6-10. His speed jumped, his face squared and ball flight and spin dropped to much more playable numbers. The dramatic change in carry and distance was astounding. Also, his horizontal launch straightened out significantly — it looks like we may have solved the riddle.

Growing up, I played at a country club full of tour players, including a past Masters champion, and if I heard this once, I heard it a million times: “The back of the left hand controls the club face.” What I did with my player above was put his hand in a position that required zero change in how he released the club. The back of the left hand just oriented the face in a different direction at impact and straightened out the ball flight.

So if you feel like you are swinging well, but the ball is flying offline in a certain direction, look to make the following adjustments before revamping your swing:

  • If you are missing right, turn your left hand to the right more (Clockwise for a RH player) and the face will point more to the left at impact.
  • If you are missing it left, give your left hand a little turn to the left (Counterclockwise for RH player) and the face will point a little more rightward at impact.

Start with small changes in hand position because a little goes a long way here — a tenth of a degree can make a drastic difference at impact. So don’t overdo it, more is not better in this instance.

With a simple grip change and a good swing path, you will see the ball on line more often, and have the confidence to swing faster through impact.

Moral of the story? Don’t immediately try to overhaul your entire swing, when something as simple as moving your grip a touch can make all the difference!

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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

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. other paul

    Aug 20, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    I have a pull hook that is so bad right now. Face is totally shut to path. I hit a 9i with a 50 yard hook. Totally driving me crazy. I was just glad the hole played the same way and I was still in the fairway. If I hit the fw on my first shot I made par or birdie. If I missed it was a double bogey because the ball is gone forever.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 21, 2015 at 9:12 am

      Paul-
      Thanks for your note and I have seen this issue many times.
      I want you to try this simple thing.
      Almost everyone that does what you describe end up aiming huge to the right to cover the total curve of the shot and keep it in play. I want you to do the OPPOSITE…Aim up the left edge of the fairway and do this determined to keep the ball to the right. Over time your internal sense of target and aim will recalibrate and you will start to push the ball back to the right. One more thing, do this with less power in the swing. Shut it down to 75% to start with so you can feel the club face and control it to make the path go more to the right.
      I have seen this simple thought work on the practice area all the time where I have someone aim at a flag straight ahead but try to hit the ball to an alternate target 50 yards to the right. I tell them do not let the ball go left at any price.
      Hope this helps!

  2. agolfman

    Aug 19, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Rob, agree wholeheartedly with identifying the simplest answer to what can seem like a complex problem…many things in life would benefit from that approach.

    I had a similar observation via my Flightscope earlier in the summer, with almost exactly the same path and face issues, granted at 100mph club head speed. My fix was along these same lines of simplicity (I’m old school weaker grip though). I was able to switch my club head to a draw setting while at the same time closing my stance slightly. Straightened my driver out instantly. Keep up the good work!

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 19, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for the note and I loved one specific line you typed…
      “I was able to switch my club head to a draw setting”…Think about that comment for a second! As of about 5 years ago you would have never been able to say that. Aren’t adjustable clubheads just awesome…!!!

  3. Steve

    Aug 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Do you think that teaching pros are cutting their own throats, Using trackman, flightscope etc. One would think it is only a matter of time that one could go to a golf lab, for lack of better words. Where they could put you on a swing analyzer and the computer could generate what problems there are and ways to fix it. Wouldnt need a teacher, just some kid to put the data in. It happened years ago in the music industry with Pro Sounds, which made working musicians obsolete.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 19, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      Steve
      Thanks for the note and thoughts.
      I disagree with your future prognostication.
      Golf instruction is an art form and it takes a good keen eye, lot of experience and a person who knows what the influences of the changes are on the person. Also, a great instructor works to build a swing that the player can perform and recognizes all the limiting factors on a non-tour player who loves to play the game. The tech is there to verify only. I do not think the tech is cutting our throats as you say. I have one tour player I coach and we never use the tech…NEVER…I can see what he is doing and dial him in from what I know and see of his tendencies. That is why a cookie cutter coach struggles with some players not being able to make the swing they are coaching. They simply cannot perform the motion! So using a computer and golf tech to cookie cutter a solution simply will never work in golf.
      Also… Not all past players make great coaches but I can tell you that my experience as a player is a huge asset in coaching others to improve. Cannot get that from input plugged into a computer. The best of us will always us the tech but we understand how to use it and when to use it! Thanks again and play great the rest of the year!

      • Steve

        Aug 19, 2015 at 1:31 pm

        Your in the buisness and no more then me. But for the average joe looking to find out swing flaws. I think it would appeal to them. For aspiring elite and elite golfers another set of eyes will help. Maybe i am a tainted golfer, i took lessons and hear lessons being given and it is all cookie cutter. I have watch teachers, teaching a group on a chipping tell ” ok i will be back in awhile”. Really thanks for taking my money and driving away

        • Rob Strano

          Aug 19, 2015 at 3:48 pm

          That’s just brutal Steve…
          Not what happens at my academy with me and my students.
          When I am awake staring at the ceiling thinking about my players games my wife will tell me the next day….”You care more about their games than they do!”

  4. Alex

    Aug 18, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Is it possible for the instructor to just diagnose and make the change without going through the flightscope and video sessions first? I mean, old school.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 18, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Alex
      Thanks for the comment.
      And the answer is yes and that is what we did in this case. I only ran the Flightscope to show him the evidence that what we were doing was correcting his issue. Kind of like if a tire on your car won’t hold air and you take it in to have then replace it and when they take it off the car they show you the nail in the tread. You know it’s leaking you just cannot see why. This helps the player see the leak and know there are not multiple problems.

  5. vince guest

    Aug 18, 2015 at 5:08 am

    Lee Trevino built his own unique swing around his grip and controlling the relationship between the club face and the back of his left hand.Turned out he knew what he was doing.

    • Rob Strano

      Aug 18, 2015 at 10:05 am

      One time I heard Lee say – “When I want to hit the ball to the right I push it over there and when I want to hit it to the left I pull it over there”
      Same thing we are saying Vince….Clubface and back of LH control
      Thanks for the note and play well

  6. Mat

    Aug 17, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    It’s difficult to make small adjustments to single concepts because it takes a longer time. After you’ve beat a couple hundred balls, you wonder if it’s the adjustment or if you’re tired. Discipline like this is what separates players, and I try to have it… it is a very tough challenge.

  7. OKMrazor

    Aug 17, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    I can’t fault this logic.

  8. TR1PTIK

    Aug 17, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    I was having issues similar to that of your student – though exponentially worse – and while I was on the range yesterday I discovered that a small change in my setup and gripping the club a little stronger with my right hand (only) resulted in significantly better driving. I still don’t have the swing that I would like to have, but at least I can go out and shoot a reasonable score. Sometimes, that’s enough.

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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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