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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

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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