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Does a certain hole have you stuck in Groundhog Day?

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What if I told you that you had to eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a month? Or you had to wear the same clothes for a month. Would you do it? Most of us would say “No way!” The iconic Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day presents just that situation. The “same old, same old” every day, such that you can predict the exact outcome.

It seems that one of the “game play” things I am consistently troubleshooting with my players is how they navigate the course. A lot of times it is with a member who is having trouble on a course they play several times a week, so there is an adverse familiarity with the layout — sometimes way too familiar. They tee the ball up in the same place (and the tee markers rarely move far enough to change the strategy/club selection), hit the same club and get stuck repeatedly with the same result. It’s like “Groundhog Day” every time they play that hole. They are stuck in an endless loop of the same error over and over again.

Below are two stories from two players of different skill sets — a PGA Tour player and a player at my academy course. They both had specific holes that gave them fits.

Academy player

Jerry is a member that I have worked with for several years and his handicap has progressively dropped from 12 to 5. He hits the ball with a nice little draw throughout his bag and has become a very consistent ball striker.

Recent history had him struggling with our 7th hole. It is a double-green, par-4 of average length with water all the way up the right side and a green that tilts toward the hazard on the right. It has a big runoff to a grass valley on the left of the greeStranoGroundHogDay2n. The low area, which sits several feet lower than the putting surface that runs away from you, is dead. Jerry hits that fairway nine times out of 10, but just can’t shake a miss to the left that leaves him in the valley of death. He would come up to me and tell me about his bogey or double on No. 7 from the middle of the fairway after every round.

On EVERY approach, he would have a full 7 or 8 iron and hit it left, no matter what he tried to do mentally. It was a hook or a pull into that spot like a magnet. It got to be such a joke that I told him if he did it again that the club was going to put a plaque there with his name on it.

So after one round, where he told me of another miss left, I asked him to go through the last few times he played that hole and his entire process for the approach. What he described was the same for every approach; visualize a nice high draw, take a practice swing and feel the shot, pick his target and then setup and swing. Invariably, the ball went left into the valley of doom. So I told him, let’s do something different. Familiarity can breed repetition if we are not careful. We just get into a robotic mode of making the same decision without conscious thoughts and analysis.

What I proposed was hitting a different approach shot. We chose a little knockdown shot for the next time he played the hole. Then the time after that I wanted him to hit a little cut in there. Then a draw. Then a three-quarter shot. It didn’t matter what it was, I just wanted a different shot into that green for the next five times he played the hole. And guess what — it worked! He started to hit the green regularly. We found a go-to shot where he’d consistently hit the green.

This helped him make a few pars and the occasional birdie. It got so much better we were forced to put the plaque on hold.

PGA Tour player

I was working with a player out on Tour a couple of years ago and we were at the Sanderson Farms Championship when it was played at Annandale GC. He was telling me of his continuous struggles with the 17th hole — I could tell it gave him nightmares. He loved the rest of tStranoGroundHogDayhe layout, but No. 17 really got under his skin for whatever reason. The tee shot just did not fit his eye, which subsequently made finding a workable ball flight and shot shape to play the hole a big issue. I always tell my players that every course will have a hole or two that gives you fits. You have to find a way to play those holes and avoid a double or triple bogey that will blow up your scorecard.

Here’s how we fixed it.

Instead of playing a full practice round, I suggested we play just that hole until he loved it. Why bother with the other ones you know you can play well? So we went out to No. 17 and discussed what has happened in the past.

  • What club he normally tried to hit?
  • What shot shape did he try to put out there?
  • What did he see as he visualized the shot?

After lots of data was shared, we chose several shot shapes with different clubs. I had his caddy pull out a few balls and we stood on the tee and hit four or five shots until he settled on a flight and shape with a club he felt would easily hit the fairway. Over the course of the event, he hit the fairway every time and made steady pars using the club, flight and shape we determined on the tee during the practice session.

So what’s the lesson? Next time you step on your “Groundhog Day” hole, commit to a different shot than the one you’re used to playing — one that makes you feel more comfortable. It may just open the floodgates for success on that hole in the future!

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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

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Golfraven

    Feb 3, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    You would think it was common sense to play different shot if the usual strategy is not successful or consistent. BUT we golfers are nature of habit and just won’t accept change at times. I like the idea of playing same hole over and over again until you figured it out. I play same course 99% of time and at times I just don’t thing what I suppose to do because I play the usual shots rather being more creative or look at alternatives. Will get this advise t heart.

    • Rob Strano

      Feb 5, 2015 at 9:45 am

      You are right, we can become creatures of habit especially in golf. Have some fun next time you play that course. If you have a hole that has you stuck do something different with club or shot selection. One thing players tell me is that on some par 5’s they never go for it. Well go for it next time and you might surprise yourself and hit a memorable shot! Thanks for your comment…

  2. Doc Todd

    Feb 2, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Excellent article Rob! I have been having a similar conversation with my new club pro the past few weeks. My arch-nemesis hole at the club is our 16th and it is very similar to your academy player’s. For me, it is a medium length par four dog leg to the left with a large left sided water hazard (pond) that encroaches on the intended landing area for your tee ball. Predominate winds from the south push all shots toward the water hazard. If you choose driver from the tee you have a tiny landing area with water left and OB right. Most layup with a long iron to 3w which leaves you with a 150-180 yards to the green. The green has water nearly upto the fringe and the right side of the green has a large down slope from the cart path to the green. For me, I usually bailout to the right and play for the up and down rather than risk the draw/hook into the water. A nice knock down punch shot may fit the bill rather than play for the hill with a little draw.

    • Rob Strano

      Feb 5, 2015 at 9:41 am

      Thanks Doc for your comments. Like your thought about next time hitting a little punch shot in there. Get yourself out of Groundhog Day!

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Clement: Find big power in the flying elbow!

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Matt Wolff, Bubba Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and so many more have been criticized for their golf swings and the flying elbow has been a subject of those criticisms.

When you watch a baseball hitter, a baseball pitcher, a tennis player, a lumberjack and so many more sports and disciplines, you realize they were all good to go all along!

This video will hopefully nudge you to experience this power for yourself too!

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This video is chock full of fairway wood wisdom that will allow you to understand several things including why a low spinning 5-wood would go much farther and what to focus on feel wise and sound wise with the SOLE of the club through the turf and ground. At least four solid nuggets throughout this video that will be sure to sharpen your fairway woods and hybrids!

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The Wedge Guy: Chipping away strokes

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I’ve always admired golfers who can really chip the ball well. Through my years in golf, I have seen players of all handicaps who are excellent chippers, and all tour professionals are masters of chipping it close. But for such a simple little stroke and challenge, chipping seems to be a part of the game that eludes many of us.

A good short game just cannot be achieved without a commitment to both learning and practicing. In watching the best chippers, it seems that their technique or chipping “stroke” is very similar to their putting stroke in style, form and pace. I think that’s because both chipping and putting are primarily “feel” shots. Yes, technique is important, but I’ve seen good chippers with all kinds of form and fundamentals.

This brings to mind two of my golf buddies who are both good chippers of the ball while employing totally different styles, but each one closely resembles their individual putting style. One uses a more stiff-wristed technique and quicker pace and tempo — just like his putting. The other, who is a doctor with a delicate touch, uses a more rhythmical pace not dissimilar from his syrupy smooth putting stroke.

Now let’s talk about techniques.

I personally prefer to use two different chipping techniques, depending on the chip I am facing. If I simply have to carry a few feet of collar and then get the ball rolling, I’ll choose a mid-iron or short iron, depending on the balance of carry and roll, and grip down on the club so that I can essentially “putt” the ball with the club I’ve chosen.

In employing this technique, however, realize that the club you are “putting” with weighs much less than your putter, so you want to grip the club much lighter to make the club feel heavier. It takes just a little practice to see what different clubs will do with this putt/chip technique.

On chips where the ball has to be carried more than just a few feet, I prefer a chipping technique that is more like a short pitching swing. I position the ball back of center of my stance to ensure clean contact and set up more like a short pitch shot. I usually hit this kind of chip with one of my wedges, depending on the balance of carry and roll needed to get the ball to the hole.

On that note, I read the green and pick an exact spot where I want the ball to land, and from there until impact, I forget the hole location and focus my “aim” on that spot. Your eyes guide your swing speed on chips and short pitch shots, and if you return your eyes to the hole, you are “programming” your body to fly the ball to the hole.

So, while sizing up the shot, I find a very distinct spot on the green where I think the ball needs to land to roll out with the club/trajectory I envision. From that point on, my complete focus is on that spot, NOT the hole. That loads my brain with the input it needs to tap into my eye/hand coordination. I think many golfers chip long too often because they focus on the hole, rather than where the shot needs to land, so their “wiring” imparts too much power. Just my thinking there.

One of my favorite drills for practicing chipping like this is to take a bucket/bag of balls to the end of the range where no one is hitting, and practice chipping to different spots – divots, pieces of turf, etc. – at various ranges, from 2-3 feet out to 20-30. I do this with different wedges and practice achieving different trajectories, just to load my memory banks with the feel of hitting to a spot with different clubs. Then, when I face a chip on the course, I’m prepared.

I’m totally convinced the majority of recreational golfers can make the quickest and biggest improvement in our scoring if we will just dedicate the time to learn good chipping technique and to practicing that technique with a purpose.

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