The Local Knowlege

How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Bubba Watson's fairway bunker slash

Bubba Watson has hit more than his share of memorable shots. Almost every tee shot is a giant, soaring parabola with 30 yards of curve, and the shot he hit to win the 2012 Masters made an almost 90 degree curve from the trees. 

 

So the bunker shot Watson hit on the 13th hole might even be considered "boring" in the Bubba pantheon -- even if it would be spectacular for any mortal player. 

Situated 208 yards from the flag on TPC River Highlands' par-5 15th, Watson carved a 5-iron from the fairway bunker on the left to 40 feet, setting up an eagle putt that would prove important later on. Watson ended up tied in regulation with Paul Casey, and won his second Travelers title with a birdie on the second playoff hole. 

You might not have Bubba's power -- or unorthodox flair -- but being more in tune with the clubface like he is will improve your game, says top South Carolina teacher Brad Redding. "Bubba's swing is based on being able to control the face and the path with his hands," says Redding, who is based at the International Club in Myrtle Beach. "This is harder to do with a driver and its longer shaft and less loft, but it lets him hit some incredible recovery shots with his irons, like he did here. What you can take from this is not so much copying his technique on this shot, but stop thinking so much about what your body is doing and think about what you want to do with the face and path."

The result? You'll be using the tool to make the ball do what you want, not obsessing over body movements, says Redding.

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jordan Spieth's slam-saving 3-wood

The final, visceral memory of the U.S. Open is Dustin Johnson failing to at least two-putt from 12 feet, but the shot that ended up winning the tournament came 15 minutes earlier.

Jordan Spieth had 285 yards to the hole on the par-5 18th, and hit his 3-wood to 20 feet, setting up a delicate two-putt that gave him the eventual one-shot winning margin over Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen. 

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Spieth's double-major bonafides don't come from extreme power. He averaged 296 yards off the tee for the week, more than 30 yards behind Johnson. Spieth wins with both precision -- he hit the fifth most greens of the week -- and competitive determination. He isn't afraid of the shot in the biggest moment, and can't wait to pull it off. 

That's obviously easier to say than do, but Spieth accomplishes by being the same, not different. He doesn't grind over important shots longer than lower pressure ones, and executes his routine and his swing the same way. Trying to keep that sense of normalcy and pattern is great advice for any player.

Spieth's mechanics also lend themselves to shots that don't spray too far off line -- the miss from the 17th tee notwithstanding. "When he makes the transition into his downswing, he goes into a squat and his body lowers, but the center of his hips and the center of his upper body are still at 90 degrees to the ball," says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs, who is based at the X Golf School at Rock Hill Country Club on Long Island. "When the body starts to rotate open after that, he has a very consistent bottom of his swing. He's making consistent, flush contact, and producing the trajectory he wants every time." 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Dustin Johnson's trajectory control

It doesn't take an expert swing analyst -- or a super slo-mo camera -- to see that Dustin Johnson does things in his swing most don't. 

Aside from casually tossing off 375-yard tee shots with liquid athleticism no other tour players can match, Johnson gets his left wrist in an almost unique bent position at the top of his backswing.

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As idiosyncratic as that wrist position is, it serves a useful purpose -- and it's something you can copy. "At the top, he's not that different than a more 'orthodox' swing would be when the hands are halfway down in the downswing," says 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella, who is based at English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans. "Other players are rolling and turning their the left arm and wrist to get to that position, and he already has it there. It's a huge advantage for him at a place like Chambers Bay, when it's important to control trajectory, especially off the tee."

If Johnson wants to hit a lower shot, he simply keeps much of the wrist bend he created at the top. When he wants to hit it higher, he lets it go through the ball. Tuning his tee shots to suit the prevailing wind, Johnson hit every fairway in the third round on his way to an even-par 70 and a tie for the lead with Jason Day, Branden Grace and Jordan Spieth. 

By stealing some of that wrist bend, you can erase your 20-yard slice. "If you can twist the shaft closed on the backswing and get a little more bend in your wrist instead of a cup, that by itself might be enough to get rid of that slice for good," says Manzella. "You don't even need to get near where DJ is -- just halfway between where you are now and where he is should be plenty."

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How He Hit That: Jason Day's precise pitch

Jason Day had a lot to deal with Friday — an attack of vertigo on his 18th hole, in addition to the firm, fast conditions at Chambers Bay. 

But his miraculous birdie on his 10th hole was one of the shots of the day. Playing the par-5 first, day hit his second shot into the greenside bunker, but blasted out too far. The ball carried across the green and down into a collection area, leaving him a treacherous 30-yard pitch back up the hill from an extremely tight, firm lie.

Day jarred it. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the best players in the world, you’re still a little nervous when you have to hit a pitch shot from a super-tight, firm lie,” says 50 Best Teacher Kevin Weeks, who is based at Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, IL. “It’s one you have to be careful with.”

To play a pitch from what is essentially concrete, you need to engage the bounce on the bottom in the right way. “To hit it, play the ball forward in your stance and set the face square,” says Weeks. “If you open the face at all, you’ll expose more bounce, and the club will rebound off the turf and you’ll blade it. Play the face square, keep your weight mostly on your lead foot and pick the club up a little more than you normally would. You want to make a descending blow and make contact with the ground right behind the ball.”

The best (albeit controversial) way to get a feel for the shot? Practice hitting it from the practice green. "You didn't hear me say that, though," says Weeks.  

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How He Hit That: Bubba Watson's misguided fairway putt

It took one token look at Chambers Bay to know that U.S. Open competitors were going to have to contend with some unfamiliar conditions -- and hit some uncommon shots. 

Tight, hard-packed fairway grass blends seamlessly into most of the greens, making alternatives to traditional pitches and chips both possible and lower-risk. 

That is, unless you don't judge shot weight quite right. 

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Bubba Watson found that out on his first hole. Presented with a clear lane to the green from 30 yards away, he picked a hybrid to bump along the ground like a long putt. His shot didn't make it all the way up the hill at the front of the green, and his ball snaked back 50 yards into a collection area. He couldn't get up-and-down the next time, either, and ended up making double bogey. 

Top Alabama teacher Tony Ruggiero was at Chambers Bay earlier in the week, and saw a lot of players try in practice the shot Watson tried to pull off, with similar results. "Players would try that hybrid shot once or twice, but it they tended to lose control of the distance because the ball jumped up and started rolling with a lot of overspin," says Ruggiero, who was there with student Davis Riley, who will play at Alabama in the fall and made the field through local and sectional qualifying. "In those conditions, using the putter is probably the better option."

Your course might not look anything like Chambers Bay, but you can still adapt the same tricks. Instead of automatically reaching for your sand or lob wedge on greenside shots, go out and play a practice round and hit the same greenside shot with four or five different clubs. "You might be surprised which club consistently gets the ball the closest," says Ruggiero, who teaches at the Country Club of Mobile and Bay Point Resort in Panama City Beach, FL. "If you do decide to use the putter, keep in mind that the slopes closest to you are going to have much less impact on the speed and read than ones closer to the hole because the ball will be going a lot faster earlier. 
 

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How She Hit That: Inbee Park's everywoman consistency

Rory McIlroy has had an explosive start to his career, collecting four major championships by beating courses into submission with his overpowering long game. 

Over on the LPGA, another 26-year-old has had an even more impressive run, and has done it with a far less flashy set of tools. 

Inbee Park won her sixth major last week, at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, lulling the field to sleep with a mistake-free display of fairways, greens and fine putting. She played 56 holes without a bogey, and shot weekend rounds of 66-68 to beat Sei Young Kim by five and win her third consecutive Women's PGA. 



Park doesn't have a spectacular-looking swing, but it is simple and repeatable -- traits the amateur player would do well to copy, says top Virginia teacher Adam Smith. "She swings on one plane, her backswing goes back slowly and low to the ground and comes back to the ball the exact same way," says Smith, who is based at Salisbury Country Club, in Midlothian. "Her shoulders and hips turn together gracefully and powerfully, but she doesn't over-swing."

"Tempo" is a common catchword in instruction, but one that many amateur players forget about in their haste to smash the ball, says Smith. "You're far better off having a controlled, even three-quarter swing with good tempo," he says. "Every time Inbee finishes her swing, she's in perfect balance. The more simple you can keep it, the easier it is to keep the ball in play. Being a great putter is a big help, too."

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How He Hit That: David Lingmerth's persistent consistency

Winning on the PGA Tour is hard. Doing it in a playoff, at Jack Nickaus' event, against one of the tour's steadiest players in Justin Rose, is even harder. 

David Lingmerth won his first tour title in style, shooting a final-round 69 and outlasting Rose in a three-hole playoff. Lingmerth got up and down out of the bunker to save par on the second playoff hole, then striped his tee shot right down the middle on the third while Rose blocked himself behind some trees. 

Lingmerth isn't big at 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, but he gets power and accuracy from his simple, consistent swing. "He stays very centered on the backswing, pivoting around his pelvis," says Golf Digest 50 Best teacher Mike Adams, who is based at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, NJ. "He sets the club early, which really gives him great control over the club."



No matter your size, you can get some of Lingmerth's pop in your shots by using the ground better, says Adams. "As he starts down, he loads his verticals by squatting with his legs," says Adams. "He's using the ground brilliantly to push up as he hits the shot. That's a dramatic power producer."


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How He Hit That: Steven Bowditch's power combination

Steven Bowditch has long been known as one of the pure power ball-strikers, coming out of Australia around the same time as Adam Scott. But some health problems slowed his ascent to the top tier of the game. 

After collecting his second title in 14 months, at the Byron Nelson, he's validated all the early promise. 


At the Nelson, Bowditch ripped his simple rotary swing around TPC Four Seasons on his way to a final round 64 and a four-shot win over Jimmy Walker, Charley Hoffman and Scott Pinckney. 

The key to Bowditch's action is matching his grip to his body motion says top Louisiana teacher Shaun Webb, who is based at the David Toms 265 Academy in Shreveport. "He has a strong grip, but it goes with how he really rotates his body though instead of sliding toward the target, says Webb. "It's definitely a great combination for power."

To dial your slice back into a power fade, make sure you're using a grip that is set strong enough. "I like for at least two knuckles on the left hand to be showing when you look down," says Webb. "It will really help you square the face through impact."


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How He Hit That: Colin Montgomerie's major precision

Colin Montgomerie had to hear plenty of "best player to never win a major talk" during his years on the regular tours. 

That's over now, literally and figuratively. 


Monty won his third senior major in 10 starts, repeating at the Senior PGA Championship with a dominating four-shot win over Esteban Toledo. Montgomerie finished 8-under par for the week, and was one of only five players in red figures at the fierce Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Indiana.

Precise iron play in windy conditions led to five birdies in an eight hole stretch on Sunday afternoon, expanding a 2-shot lead over Toledo to cruise-in width. 

"Monty has always been an incredible ball-striker, and it's because of how stable he is down through the ball," says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs, who is based at X Golf School at Rock Hill Country Club in Manorville, on Long Island. "He repeats that 'execution phase' over and over again, and he makes such good contact that wind doesn't really bother his shots."

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To get more of Monty's precision in your game, try to copy his left arm position down through impact, says Jacobs. "As he comes down to the ball, his left arm is hanging straight down. Most people have their arm raised up, either because the club is coming from the outside or they're trying to pull it around from the inside," says Jacobs. "That straight down position when the club is about waist high in the downswing is a great checkpoint position for anybody. When Monty is there, he basically can't miss."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Rory McIlroy's bomber ball speed

Rory McIlroy winning a tournament wasn't big or surprising news. He's done that a bunch in the last five years. 

And the fact that he bombed his driver wasn't really new, either. He has long been the deadliest combination of distance and accuracy on the PGA Tour. 

But it was the way he overpowered Quail Hollow on Saturday on his way to a course-record 62 that put an exclamation point on his ability to dominate when he's on his game. 



On a 7,500-yard course, McIlroy hit a club longer than 9-iron into just two greens--both of them par-3s longer than 200 yards. Nine of his birdies came with 9-iron or wedge in his hand--a ridiculous advantage to give a player who already has so many. 

There isn’t a magic switch any teacher can flip to give an average amateur 340 yards of horsepower off the tee, but there are things you can take from McIlroy’s swing, says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs. “For his size, Rory McIlroy is off the charts in everything--clubhead speed, hip speed, body speed, ball speed,” says Jacobs, who runs the X Golf School at Rock Hill Country Club in Manorville, on Long Island. “No teacher would expect you to be able to copy that, but you can take something very important from it. Rory certainly uses all that speed to generate huge power, but a big factor in the ball speed he’s able to produce is the ability to hit the center of the face time after time. That’s something anybody can learn to do better.”

McIlroy is able to make consistent contact with huge speed because he’s never in a position where he has to manipulate the club in compensation. He’s essentially free throughout his swing to pour on the speed. “He definitely has some checkpoints you can copy,” says Jacobs. “At the halfway point of his backswing, his left arm is parallel to the ground and his hands are in line with the buttons on his shirt. Most people have their hands way lower at this point. At the top, his hands are above his right shoulder, and if you drew a circle around them at that point, they’d reappear in the same circle when they come down and around in the through swing. They’re taking a consistent trip time after time."


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