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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

More stroke-saving advice for seniors: Love thy hybrid

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Continuing our series for seniors, this is a topic I’ve written about before but it is so important to our senior games, it is worth revisiting.

Some of you may be aware of the “24/38 rule.” It deals with the idea that most golfers lose consistency with an iron that is less than 24 degrees of loft and over 38 inches long. That USED TO BE a 3-iron. And I always thought even that was marginal—a 3-iron for a middle handicap players has always been a bit “iffy.”

Then came the “juicing era” when manufacturers started making golf clubs with much less loft and some added length. Now, that “24/38” rule applies to 5-irons! The cavity back era gave way to some great innovations, particularly forgiveness, but it also introduced stronger lofts and added some length. For example, today’s 6-iron, on average is 31 degrees and 37.5-38.o inches. The point is this: Many golfers do not have sufficient speed to hit 5-irons, maybe even 6-irons, from the fairway!

This goes for golf in general, but in senior golf, it is even more important to remember!

What to do? Voila! The invention of HYBRIDS! We have to understand one simple golf impact principle:  Getting the golf ball airborne from the turf requires speed. If we lack that speed, we need clubs with a different construction. The HYBRIDS are built to help launch the golf ball. Basically, it works like this: when the center of gravity is further from the hitting area (face), it is easier to launch the golf ball. On an iron that CG is directly behind the ball. In a hybrid, it is moved back, so the ball can be launched higher. There are other factors, but basically, that’s it.

My personal recommendation is as follows

  • If your driver clubhead speed in under 85 MPH, your iron set might go 7-PW
  • Driver speed 85-90 MPH, your iron set might be 6-PW
  • Driver speed 90-100, your iron set might be 5-PW
  • Driver speed over 100, you can choose the set make-up with which you are comfortable

As this piece is largely for seniors, I’m assuming most of you are in one of the first two categories. If so, your game may be suffering from your set make-up. The most common swing issue I see in seniors is “hang back” or the inability to get weight through at impact. This is often the result of a club shaft too stiff, OR clubs too difficult to launch—example, a 3-iron. Please DO NOT beat yourself up! Use equipment that is easier to hit and particularly easier to launch.

The question invariably arises, what about fairway woods of similar loft?  They are fine if you do not mind the added length. The great thing about hybrids is they are only slightly longer than similarly lofted irons. My advice is to seniors is to get with a pro, get on a launch monitor, find your speed and launch conditions and go from there.

Note: I am NOT a fitter, and I DO NOT sell clubs of any kind. But I do know, as a teacher, that hybrids should be in most seniors’ bags.

 

Want more help with your swing? I have an on-line swing analysis service. If you are interested in a “look” here it is.

 

 

 

 

 

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Clement: Long and short bunker shots

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It happens to all of us where: We get short-sided and need to put a shot together to save the furniture. The short bunker shot can really be a challenge if you do not have the right task to perform it and can result in you wasting a shot in the bunker or letting the shot get away from you because you don’t want to leave that delicate shot in the bunker.

And of course, so many of you are afraid to put a full swing on a longer bunker shot because of the dreaded skull over the green!

We have the easy solutions to all of the above right here and the other videos I have, which are great complements to this one including an oldie but goodieand this one with Chantal, my yoga teacher.

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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