The Local Knowlege

How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jamie Donaldson's Cup-winning wedge


Jamie Donaldson ended the Ryder Cup on his 15th hole Sunday, but it really was a mercy killing. Not only was the Welshman 4-up on Keegan Bradley, but the board was filled with European blue on a day when the Americans needed to win eight matches just to get close. 

Donaldson's pitching wedge to a foot from 146 yards capped a breakout week for the 38-year-old Cup rookie, who also went 2-1 as a part of partnership with Lee Westwood. Donaldson's simple, repeatable swing has produced three victories on the European Tour to go with what will probably go down as the most memorable pitching wedge of his career. 

"Jamie's arm and body motions put him in a position to hit extremely, powerful consistent shots," says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs, who is based at the X Golf School in Manorville, Long Island. "In the final phase of his downswing, his left arm hangs straight down from his shoulder. It shows his body has moved in the right sequence, and he's in a position where he can transfer all that speed from his wrists into the clubhead. If your left arm floats in a higher position, you waste a lot of that potential energy. That's why he's hitting super high 146-yard pitching wedges and most of us aren't." 

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Even if you can't produce a tour player's clubhead speed, you can get more distance and make more consistent contact if you try to copy that feeling of the lead arm hanging straight down through the last part of the downswing, says Jacobs, the 2012 Metropolitan Section PGA Teacher of the Year. "Get it right and your ball-strking will immediately improve, and you won't be so reliant on perfect timing. That's going to give you confidence when you're playing your own important rounds. 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Victor Dubuisson's accurate irons

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The American team had climbed within a point after the morning better ball, and Europe's Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell had the anchor job in the afternoon foursomes -- hold the line against the team of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. 

With three birdies on the first six holes, the Euros did just that, building a 5-up lead by the turn and showing the rest of the team the anchor point would never be in doubt. Dubuisson's "swashbuckling swing," as Gary Koch called it, produced two tap-in birdies on Saturday afternoon -- from 183 yards on the third and 214 yards on the par-3 10th.

ESPN Swing Coach Jerome Andrews says it's the Frenchman's efficient use of his body that produces the seemingly effortless -- and pressure-proof three-quarter action. "His swing starts back in line with his toes, and the club, arms, shoulders and hips all get to the top of the controlled, three-quarter backswing at the same time," says Andrews. " His club comes down exactly on plane, and the face is square for really long time pre- and post-impact without any manipulation from his hands. That lets him turn his shoulders and hips freely and produce maximum speed with little effort -- and no worry about the ball going offline.

"The more you have to rely on manipulating your hands to square the face, the more inconsistent your shots will potentially be," says Andrews, who is based at Spring Creek Golf Club in Charlottesville, VA. "You're also going to make it harder to perform under pressure. Dubuisson has stayed rock solid under Ryder Cup pressure, and his three-quarter backswing penetrating irons are perfect for the conditions. It's no mystery why he's been perfect so far as a rookie. He's putting on a ball-striking clinic."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jimmy Walker's heroic bunker shot

The Friday morning four-ball match was about to get away from Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. They were 2 down to Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer on the par-5 ninth, and Walker faced a tricky shot after reaching the greenside bunker in two. 



But Walker cut the European's lead in half with one swing, lofting a majestic sand wedge within a few feet of the hole and watching as it checked and trickled in for eagle. That clutch shot -- and big birdies on 16 and 18 -- allowed the Americans to salvage a critical half point. 

Consistent contact and spin are the keys to tour-caliber bunker shots, according to Top 50 teacher and short-game guru Stan Utley. "Tour players hit very close to the ball and take advantage of the bounce on the bottom of the club to produce that high spinning shot," says Utley, who is based at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale. "To get that consistent, precise close contact, the upper body needs to stay forward, toward the hole, while you get tall through the shot. The shaft needs to come back to vertical through the ball so that the bounce on the club is exposed. If the shaft is leaning forward, you're digging the club into the sand."

Under pressure, many amateur players instinctively try to help the ball up and out of the bunker by leaning back and scooping at it. "If you hang back, away from the hole, you're going to make contact with the sand where your weight is centered -- way behind the ball," Utley says. "That results in either a fat shot, or if you pull hard with your hands to try to save it, a skull."
 
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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Derek Fathauer's mini-waggle

While the likes of Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk and Jim Furyk were duking it out for the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus, the real pressure was building on the Web.com Tour -- where 75 players essentially held a four-week race for 50 spots on the 2014-2015 PGA Tour. Dip to third in the FedEx Cup and you're still taking home $2 million. Miss out on the top spot in the Web.com race and you still get a card, but you're not guaranteed entry into any event on the big tour. 

Derek Fathauer had seen all sides of it. He made it to the PGA Tour through Q-school for the 2009 season before flaming out in an avalanche of missed cuts. This year, he made 19 cuts in 23 events, but picked the right week to win his first tournament as a professional. Fathauer opened with rounds of 65-66 at the Web.com Tour Championship and held off Zac Blair on the weekend to win by a shot and earn full PGA Tour status for next season.

"I was trying to force the first few events," said Fathauer, who had chances to win two of the other three Web.com Finals events before fading on the weekend. "I did a better job of staying patient this week and not looking too far ahead." 

Part of Fathaeur's mechanism for handling pressure is the mini-waggle he uses just before he pulls the trigger on every full shot. It simulates the feel and motion of his release, and helps keep him tension-free. "It's a combination of club positioning rehearsal and a little preview of the swing motion," says Top 50 teacher Brian Manzella, who is based at English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans. "It's probably something he does as a reminder to smooth out his move away from the ball. It's great in that it prevents him from being really static or ball bound before he makes his swing. You can see how he doesn't take much time from when he does that little move and when he goes ahead and hits it. He gets the feel, releases the tension and goes."

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Instruction

How She Hit That: Hyo Joo Kim's record-breaking swing

Before last Thursday, nobody had ever shot a round better than 62 in a major championship. South Korean teenager Hyo Joo Kim not only erased that record with her first-round 61 at the Evian Championship, she also birdied the 72nd hole Sunday afternoon to beat seven-time major champion Karrie Webb by a shot and win the title. 


Kim's free-flowing swing produces effortless power and accuracy to match from a 5-foot-3 frame. In France, she averaged 250 yards per drive and missed only nine fairways over four days. "Her swing works for two main reasons," says Michael Jacobs, the 2013 Metropolitan PGA Teacher of the Year. "It's because of how her arms travel 'up' in the backswing and the way she uses her lower body to turn her hips on the downswing.

"On the backswing, her left arm and hand travel up above her right shoulder," says Jacobs, who runs the X Golf School at Rock Hill Country Club in Manorville, Long Island. "If your arm moves too low across your chest, you're going to lose freedom and speed. On the downswing, she pushes with her right foot before the club has even reached the top, which initiates a powerful hip turn. Then she uses great left leg action to get her left hip out of the way. The result is a club moving through impact in a very fast and repeatable way."

To produce more speed in your swing, Jacobs says, check your position at the top of the backswing and make sure your left arm is either matched to the line of your shoulders or above it. On some smaller, slower swings, practice initiating your hip turn toward the target before the club reaches the top and feel your left hip move around and behind, giving your arms room to swing through. 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Sergio Garcia's chip into the water at the BMW

The stakes were high for Sergio Garcia, who trailed by two shots Sunday at the BMW Championship going into the reachable par-5 17th. A win would solidify his position in the FedEx Cup, but more importantly, clear some of the bad taste from a season of almosts -- nine top-10s without a win. 

Garcia decided to lay up in the thin Denver air, but hit his third shot over the green from 83 yards. Faced with a straightforward chip from an uphill lie, Garcia -- known for his terrific short game -- hit it thin. The ball rolled across the green and into the water, and Garcia ended up making a triple bogey. "You wouldn't hit it in that water if you gave him a thousand balls," said Johnny Miller on the telecast. "That is just a flat-out choke." Garcia finished tied for fourth, four behind Billy Horschel. 



Tension is a killer in the short game, says top teacher Shaun Webb, who is based at the David Toms Golf Academy in Shreveport, La. "With tournament pressure and water behind the flag, fear of failure can get to even the best players in the world," Webb says. "In this case, Sergio made the error of stopping the motion of his chest through impact, allowing the smaller muscles in his hands and wrists to take over this delicate shot."

You probably aren't playing for $1.5 million, but everybody plays chip shots under some kind of pressure. Take these steps to avoid making this kind of mistake.

"First, if the grass is smooth, putt the ball if you can. It's the least risky option," Webb says. "If you chip, set up with your chest slightly open to the target line and hold the club with very light grip pressure. Make sure the butt of the club points at your belly button throughout the chip, which means you're keeping your chest rotating to support the club."


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Instruction

How He Hit That: Bernhard Langer's ageless swing

The testament to Bernhard Langer's dominance on the Champions Tour isn't that he has five victories this year and an almost $800,000 lead on the money list over No. 2 Colin Montgomerie. It's that his name is being inserted into the conversation as a candidate to be one of Paul McGinley's captain's picks for the European Ryder Cup that will play next month. 


The 56-year-old Langer probably won't make the team, but he still looks -- and plays -- like the guy who was a stalwart of the 1990s European squads.

At the Dick's Sporting Goods Open, Langer shot rounds of 67-67-66 to brush away Woody Austin and Mark O'Meara by a shot. It was his 24th win as a senior, and the fifth win of his 2014 season, tying his personal best for victories in a year set in 2010. Langer is on his way to winning his sixth money title in seven full years on the Champions Tour, and he's doing it by leading the tour in greens hit and converting on an average of 5.18 birdies per round -- also tops on tour. 

"The signature of Bernhard's swing is balance and coordination," says ESPN swing coach Jerome Andrews, who is based at Spring Creek Golf Club in Charlottesville, Va. "He has the club, arms and body all turning through impact together. There's not a lot to go wrong, and he's never going to hit the ball very crooked."

Add in the fact that Langer has once again solved the yips with an unconventional stroke and he's taking advantage of all the extra birdie looks he gets. 

"To be that precise, he doesn't use a lot of leg action," Andrews says. "The clubhead, shaft, hands and left arm swing together and track up an imaginary line in front of his toes to a controlled, three-quarter arm swing. The club comes back on an inside path to the target line, which gives him an ideal mix of distance, accuracy and balance."

Langer was never one of the longer hitters on the PGA Tour, but his fanatical fitness routine and efficient swing have proven to age well. He's 10th on the Champions Tour in driving distance at just under 280 yards -- almost 20 yards longer than he hit it during his regular-tour career. 

"A good start to getting some of what Langer has in your swing is to be in position from the start," Andrews says. "Get your upper body balanced on top of your lower body at address, and position your weight on the balls of your feet. If your shoulders are tilted or your weight is back on your heels, you're going to have to compensate with big body movements and lose that precision."

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Instruction

How He Hit That: Rory McIlroy's power-accuracy combination

By Matthew Rudy

If you're looking for the ideal statistical profile for the No. 1 player in the world, it's hard to beat Rory McIlroy's line. He led the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in driving distance (334.8 yards) and greens hit (79.2 percent), and he was 12th in driving accuracy. 

And there's the $3.2 million he has earned for back-to-back victories at the British Open and Firestone. 

When McIlroy is so dominant off the tee, he's the odds-on favorite every time he plays. The betting line is 5-to-1 for this week's PGA. 

"Driving the ball long and straight is a huge advantage, and nobody is doing that better than Rory McIlroy right now," says Garrett Chaussard, a Golf Digest top teacher in Illinois and instructor at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, Ill. "He has the ability to create a ton of speed with a relatively small frame all while returning the center of the club to the ball consistently -- which is the key to hitting it straight and being able to swing the driver with confidence on even the tightest hole."

Here's a video from this year's Honda Classic that helps illustrate just how Rory does this.



McIlroy punctuated his driving clinic at Firestone with his tee shot on the final hole, a narrow 464-yard par 4 with trees protecting the left side of the green. McIlroy hit his driver 324 yards into the center of an eight-yard window where he had a clear approach to the green. He hit a 140-yard sand wedge into the center of the green and finished with a routine two-putt to close out his 66 and beat Sergio Garcia by two strokes.

"Rory's speed comes from the ability to torque his upper and lower body against each other -- or, in other words, to turn his body really fast," Chaussard says. "At Cog Hill, we use Swing Catalyst's balance and force-plate software to measure a player's ability to shift and turn during the swing. Players who can shift their weight to their right foot early in the takeaway can then shift their weight back to the lead foot sooner. If you can make this move before the club has finished the backswing and the hips start to unwind, you can use the club like a whip through the ball, like Rory does." 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Tim Clark's precision short irons

By Matthew Rudy

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Tim Clark is never going to overpower a golf course. 

In fact, he's next to last out of all the players measured for driving distance on the PGA Tour in 2014, at just under 270 yards per tee shot. 

So if Clark is going to contend, he has to make the most of of his opportunities when he has short irons in his hand. He did that in Montreal, finishing with five birdies on the back nine Sunday to steal the RBC Canadian Open from Jim Furyk by a shot. 

The 12th hole, a 570-yard par-5, was a two-shot hole for a lot of players in the field. Clark hit his tee shot 260 yards, then laid up to 91 yards. From there, he hit his sand wedge to five feet to set up the birdie that would pull him within two shots of Furyk. 

"Tim Clark knows there's a premium on hitting very accurate short iron shots for him," says 2012 New York Metropolitan PGA Section Teacher of the Year Michael Jacobs. "He hits more downward with his wedges than any of his other clubs, and you can see by his setup that he understands this downward strike will skew the path of his club to the right of his initial aim. He sets up well left of the target."

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Jacobs uses GEARS three-dimensional imaging software to show exactly what Clark--and any amateur who comes to his X Golf School at Rock Hill Country Club on Long Island--does with his body during the swing. 

"His initial aim and downswing control the path of the clubhead, but the unwinding of Tim's body during the downswing keeps him from prematurely closing the clubface and spoiling the shot with a miss to the left," says Jacobs. "He actually starts shifting towards his left foot late in the backswing, and then uses the ground to help open his hips and shoulders well ahead of the strike." 

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The result? Clark is third on tour in greens hit from 75 to 100 yards, at just under 92 percent, and his average proximity from the hole on those shots is 14 feet.  

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How He Hit That

How She Hit That: Mo Martin's winning 3-wood at Birkdale

By Matthew Rudy

Eagles to win major championships are unlikely by themselves. Mo Martin's was even more unlikely than that. 

The diminutive Californian hit her 3-wood approach on the 18th at Birkdale from 240 yards in swirling winds and watched as it rolled toward the hole like a putt. It bounced off the pin and ended up six feet away. She sank the next for her first eagle of the 2014 season, and a one-shot victory at the Women's British Open.   




Wielding a wood for an approach is nothing new for Martin, who is one of the LPGA's shortest hitters at 233 yards per drive. She's also first in driving accuracy at more than 85 percent fairways hit, and comfortable hitting woods from tight fairway lies. Birkdale set up perfectly for her, with firm, fast fairways and room to roll shots onto greens.

Martin said the wind was full into her face and she had a left-to-right lie. She aimed left and let it fly. "When it was rolling on the ground I said 'Sit," and then I said "Go," and it looked perfect, so I didn't have anything more to say. It hit the pin and I could hear it from the fairway." Her eagle putt went right in the center, and she waited an hour as Shanshan Feng, Suzann Pettersen and Inbee Park tried unsuccessfully to catch her at one under. It was Martin's first victory of any kind since the 2011 Eagle Classic on the Symetra Tour.  

"She's so great at these shots because she treats them just like she's hitting a wedge," says ESPN swing coach Jerome Andrews. "Her neck, arms and shoulders are relaxed. It's not like she's trying to gear up and produce more speed or trying to lift the ball into the air." 

Amateurs often struggle with fairway woods -- especially from tight lies -- because they try to add speed and loft. "You're going for your regular rhythm and pace, which is going to promote solid contact," says Andrews, who teaches at Spring Creek Golf Club in Charlottesville, VA., and Altadena Golf Course in Altadena, CA -- Martin's hometown. "Keep your lower body quiet at the start and start the swing with the club head, hands and arms. This sequence will let the club and arms swing together with the shoulders and hips. Hit it solid and let the club do the work." 

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