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Stick to a scoring strategy when you find trouble



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/ 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



  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


      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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The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo



One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.


If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots



You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?



As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.


  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]





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