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Stick to a scoring strategy when you find trouble

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No matter how many lessons you take and how good your swing may be, the game of golf boils down to one thing: strategy.

Do you have a good plan when you go out to play and do you stick to your plan no matter what? Or when times things go awry, do you have to alter and improvise on the fly?

In season, I spend a lot of time advising my competitive players on how to manage their games when they get out of position on the golf course. Normally, that involves a tee shot that goes offline into a dark, bad place. What happens from there is usually a calamity of errors and ill-advised shots that escalate your score and blood pressure.

Recently, I watched several of my players play in a qualifier for the Florida Open. In one group there were two out of seven of my players, so I hung with them for a few holes. They were both even par through 10 holes.

On No. 11, one of them pulled it left on a dogleg left into the trees. The player then made a poor decision and tried to get the ball on the green from jail with a low-percentage shot. What followed were shots that came off tree trunks so solidly that they sounded like home run swings in the Major Leagues. After three of those, he played out wisely, and carded a smooth nine.

I am always amazed when this happens in a tournament, especially since we have covered this scenario numerous times at the academy. I liken a player doing this to someone who, while running through the house, breaks a crystal lamp. They then pick up a vase and break that too. The final act of insanity is that they then throw a chair through a bay window. No one would do actually do that in a house (I hope), but golfers do something similar on the course all the time.

To avoid bad numbers from bad places on the golf course, here are two thoughts to keep in mind when you find your ball out of position.

Select the easiest shot possible and get back in play

When you get out of position, forget what you see on TV. The saying “these guys are good” exists for a reason. All they do is practice making the impossible possible. When in trouble, hit a shot that you know you can hit. When you make a wrong turn, do you take the easiest, most direct route back to where you need to go? Or do you keep making wrong turns and end up more lost than you originally were.

Remember: Pick the easiest shot you can play!

Play the hole backward from the green

When you get out of position, play the hole backward, not forward. What I mean is that you should find a way to leave yourself a par putt inside of 10 feet. Set a plan from where you are that gets you to that putt. Start from the 10-foot putt and work the shots back in your mind. Sometimes that means admitting that it’s not possible to hit the green on a par-4 in two shots or a par-5 in three swings. On that par-5, you might have to leave yourself a wedge shot from 60 yards for your fourth shot to get to that magical inside-10-feet number. On a par-4 you might have to play out to 120 yards and hit a 9 iron.

Remember: Work backward from the green in your mind and you’ll have a better chance of only making a bogey and limiting the damage, rather than recording a snowman or worse and face disaster.

If you follow these two thoughts when you find yourself in the timber (or worse), you will find that you will make fewer big numbers and your scores will drop.

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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

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. BD57

    Oct 26, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    The comments are good for some giggles …. 🙂

    Let’s see – you just hit a bad shot to put yourself in trouble, so, obviously, the thing to do is plan on hitting a GREAT shot to get yourself out of it …. yeah, right.

  2. John

    Oct 7, 2015 at 12:16 am

    Play aggressive and look at a birdie…. Lol. Unfortunately, if you keep your score for real, and don’t ‘pick up’ when you get to double, you would more likely be looking at a quad as opposed to a birdie. The comments in this article are exactly why amateur golfers scores have not come down even with all the advancements in equipment. Poor course management, and guys ‘going for it’, with a much larger chance at snowman/quad than birdie. Most guys will blow up the hole, chalk it up to an anomaly like it didn’t really happen. But if they happen to pull it off, they falsely believe that miracle shot is their ‘true game’, but the blowup hole is some anomaly that really doesn’t count. Poor course management has negated any equipment gains that have come out. Continue to go for it, and continue to have the same handicap year after year, wondering why you never get better.

  3. Conrad

    Oct 6, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I have always been great at hitting shots from tough areas. IMO there is no better feeling from making birdie from the trees!

    • John

      Oct 7, 2015 at 12:03 am

      This article is not about whether you are good or not at tough shots, or how good it feels to pull it off. It’s in reference to smart tournament play and taking away the chance at the big number.

  4. Arkie

    Oct 6, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Great article. Too often I’ve found myself in trouble with a small window and I try to make that “hero” shot. I look at it this way – there’s not a paycheck on the line for me so I might as well just punch out to the short grass and go to work from there.

    • Scooter McGavin

      Oct 6, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      You could actually look at it from the other side the same way. There’s not a paycheck at risk for you, so go for it! 🙂

  5. Doc Todd

    Oct 6, 2015 at 7:40 am

    Good reminder article, Rob. I should have read this as reinforcement before my round yesterday. I pushed a tee shot into the trees on a short par 4 and told myself to chip back out the whole time I was heading to look for my ball. I find the tee shot, and hallelujah I think I can snake a little 6i up and over some trees to get on in regulation. WRONG! Its like that old commercial…just chip it out!

  6. other paul

    Oct 5, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    I was playing a short par 4 with some friends the other day. 320 yards. My strategy for the day was to aim for a easy pitching wedge in. So instead of pulling driver, I grabbed my 9 iron for the tee shot. My friend looks at me and says “I’m hitting driver, you?”
    Me “9iron I think”
    Him “What the hell are you thinking?”
    Me “Course management, you?”
    Him “uhhhhhh”

    I hit 9i 170 and ended up hitting gap wedge to 10′ for birdie. He double bogeyed it when he swung so hard it went almost as far right as forward.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Oct 6, 2015 at 11:27 am

      170 yard 9 iron! Downhill, downwind, concrete-like fairways?

    • Sam

      Oct 6, 2015 at 11:30 am

      I think you were looking at a “6” upside down when you hit your “9i” 170 yards. To top it off you hit a 150y Gap Wedge? Please tell me how it’s like playing on the PGA tour.

      • Scooter McGavin

        Oct 6, 2015 at 8:38 pm

        It’s not unheard of to have a really long amateur. I know a guy that’s probably a scratch or 1hdcp and drives it about 320, and hits his 6 iron 210-215. These guys are the minority, but they’re out there.

  7. Joey5Picks

    Oct 5, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    …Says the 18-handicapper

  8. Snowman

    Oct 5, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Good strategy for most Handicap players is: “Bogeys are ok; Doubles are not” This will serve to give perspective when you are out of position. For Higher Handicaps, maybe “Doubles are OK, but “Others” are not…….”

  9. Mike

    Oct 5, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks for this article. Plenty of people reading it on a Monday could use it after replaying bad decisions over the weekend.

    What country club did you grow up at? I’m from St. Louis.

    • Rob Strano

      Oct 5, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      Mike –

      Thanks for the comment and you made me laugh thinking about all the bad over the weekend decisions on the golf course! I grew up at St. Clair Country Club in Belleville just across the river from St. Louis.
      Go Redbirds!!!

      • Double Mocha Man

        Oct 6, 2015 at 11:31 am

        I played college golf near Belleville, at Sunset Hills Country Club. Go Cards!

  10. Philip

    Oct 5, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    I’m getting better at this thanks to way too much practice from trouble situations. I actually think and survey my options for the highest percentage shot before walking up and pulling the trigger, and as a result, I’m able to get my recovery shot in play 80-90% of the time and walk away with a boogie, while still having a chance for a par.

  11. Ian

    Oct 5, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks for the advice Rob. I often find that I loose my cool when I realize I can’t make a green in regulation (coz it generally means a dropped shot). I then go for the hero shot, fail, find myself in heaps more trouble and ultimately wish I had only dropped one shot… Lol

    • Rob Strano

      Oct 5, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      Ian-

      Thanks for the comment and you hit the nail on the head with why folks struggle to choose the right option. They lose their cool! I call this the “Bogey from the tee” mentality. We know that because of one swing we are going to struggle and have to work hard to make a par, so that makes us mad and we then choose the too risky aggressive approach. I can tell you from playing professionally. When I got in trouble, and took a deep breath and calmed my mind down, I normally played a really smart “aggressive” shot and made par the hard way!

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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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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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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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