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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Ian Poulter's Honda-dooming shank

Like "yips," "shank" is a word PGA Tour players don't even like to say, never mind actually do.


Ian Poulter can avoid saying "shank" if he chooses, but video from the final round at the Honda tells the story. On the tee at the par-3, 174-yard fifth hole, Poulter shanked his 8-iron dead right. The ball bounced on the cart path and into the water, leading to a double bogey that dropped him from the lead permanently. He ended up shooting 74 and missing the Padraig Harrington-Daniel Berger playoff by a shot.

"Tour players usually hit a shank--when the ball hits the hosel and comes off sideways--when they apply force a little differently in the downswing, like trying to hit it harder or softer," says 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella. "Poulter said after his round that the shank--and some of the other bad shots he hit--came when he was trying to take something off it."

The most common shank for the average player comes on a shorter shot, or one where the player consciously opens the clubface a bit more in an effort to produce some height. "Take a wedge shot," says Manzella. "If you open the face, it can make it so that it feels like the shaft itself--and the hosel--is the sweet spot. Then you swing down feeling like the point for center contact is at the end of the shaft, when really it's offset from that."

If you find yourself out there hitting shanks in the middle of the round, focus on turning your lead arm down, toward the ball, on the downswing. "Turning that arm down should automatically make your arms start moving toward your body," says Manzella, who is based at English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans. "That will cure a vast majority of shanks the average player gets." 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: James Hahn's cold-blooded putting

Being best known for a great attitude and a willingness to do the Gangnam Style dance isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's far better to be known as a PGA Tour winner. 

James Hahn did that with his 23-foot birdie putt on the third hole of a playoff at Riviera to win for the first time. He beat two more seasoned competitors in Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson, and earned his first trip to the Masters in the process.

Hahn survived the first playoff hole after hitting a flop shot over a greenside bunker on the first one to save par. On the second, he made it from 13 feet after Johnson put his approach for birdie to three feet. Then came the dagger that ended up winning the tournament when Johnson missed his own 12-footer for birdie. 

The two keys to staying under control when you're standing over a putt you have to make are oxygen and routine, says tour short game guru Stan Utley. "Routines are both physical and mental, and they're equally important," says Utley, who is based at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale. "Those routines are something you can lean on when you get under pressure. But without oxygen, the body doesn't respond too well."

Don't change your routine and slow it down to breathe when you get in a tight spot. Instead, prepare ahead of time by building a routine for every shot that has breathing as an intentional component. "Then it becomes automatic," says Utley. "It doesn't mean you'll never miss a putt. But you'll miss them for golf reasons, not because the moment got too big."  

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jason Day's freewheeling driver

Jason Day's raw talent has always been evident. The athletic Australian has three runner-up finishes in majors and won last year's WGC World Match Play, but his biggest battle has been staying healthy. A thumb injury cost him three months last season, and a lingering back injury ruined his FedEx Cup. 

Fully healthy in San Diego, he parred the second hole of a playoff to beat J.B. Holmes, Harris English and Scott Stallings and claim his third PGA Tour title. 

Day's game thrives on a mixture of power and accuracy, says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Shaun Webb. Day averaged 308 yards per drive while hitting 70 percent of his greens in regulation in San Diego. Day isn't huge -- six feet and 165 pounds -- but he uses a free arm swing to produce high, long shots. "More than 20 percent of all your clubhead speed comes from the arms," says Webb, who teaches David Toms and is based at Toms' golf academy in Shreveport, La. "You can't afford to give that speed away by using your arms incorrectly. Jason lets his arms elevate away from his chest at the top of the backswing, which increases his potential energy. He has time and space to produce more speed through the ball."

To add speed to your swing, set up with a mirror to your right and make your backswing. "Instead of thinking about your turn, concentrate on getting your left arm higher, at least to the level of your right shoulder," says Webb. "You'll not only get more speed, but put yourself in position to take a better path down to the ball." 


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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Brooks Koepka's 18th hole driver bomb

Watch Brooks Koepka on the range and it's easy to see why insiders have been predicting big things for the 24-year-old since he got out of Florida State in 2012. 

Koepka validated the prognostication Sunday, shooting a final-round 66 to take the Waste Management Phoenix Open by a stroke. The two key shots both came about thanks to Koepka's hyperdrive clubhead speed. At the par-5 15th, he hit driver, 6-iron to 50 feet and converted the eagle putt to take the lead. Then, on the intimidating 18th hole, he nuked his tee shot 331 yards dead center, airmailing the water and bunkers that torment those with regular speed. 

The three-time All-American took a slightly circuitous route to the PGA Tour, playing on the European Challenge and regular Tours the last two seasons before breaking through at the Turkish Airlines Open in November. Now, he's in the top 20 and looks to be staying for awhile.

"Brooks isn't a giant guy, but he produces huge power--170 miles per hour of ball speed," says top South Carolina teacher Brad Redding, who is based at the International Club in Myrtle Beach. "Amateurs try to drive their legs toward the target, which makes it hard to control the angle the club swings on. Brooks uses his legs to push into the ground, which stabilizes his body and gives him the chance to rotate his body really fast."

That stability lets Koepka go at the ball virtually as hard as he likes and not worry about losing control. "You can add some of that speed to your swing, too," says Redding. "Get into good posture by bending from your hips, not the waist. Feel the inside muscles of your legs tighten to help push into the ground. When you coil in the backswing, use all the muscle groups--back, chest, shoulders and lower body--to explode the turning of your hips in the downswing."
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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Bill Haas' awkward lie escape

Sometimes winning isn't pretty, and Bill Haas proved that at the Humana Challenge--even as he was signing for an aggregate score of 22-under. 

Haas hit his tee shot on the final hole right, and his ball perched on on the grass just above the lip of a steep fairway bunker. When Haas took his stance, the ball was nearly waist high. The mission was simple: Advance the ball to a position where he could reach the green in regulation without shanking it, or pull hooking it across the fairway into the water.

Using a middle iron, he caught the ball cleanly with a baseball swing and left himself a straightforward third shot into the green. He made his par and preserved a one-shot victory over five other players. 

"Bill made all the right decisions there," says top Georgia teacher Mike Granato. "Even though he was only trying to advance the ball a short distance, he picked a lower-lofted iron, which reduced the chance of the shot shooting off to the left from such a severe lie. And when he swung, he was thinking single instead of home run. He resisted the temptation to try to push the ball farther down the fairway. He picked a 6-iron, choked down and made a controlled swing to promote clean contact--which is way more important than total distance."

Your next bad lie situation might not match Haas', but you can still make the same good strategy choices. "Another thing to take in consideration is what the shaft is going to do through impact," says Granato, who is based in White, Ga. "On every shot you hit, the shaft droops--or bends slightly downward--through impact. When the ball is above your feet, the drooping effect is increased. Plan for it, and address the ball a little higher than normal."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jimmy Walker's super-straight irons

It's been a terrific -- and lucrative -- Hawaiian holiday for Jimmy Walker. 

After losing in a playoff to Patrick Reed at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions last week, Walker went one place better at the Sony Open, dominating to the tune of a nine-shot win over Scott Piercy. 

Walker hit 16 greens Sunday and made seven birdies, and none of his par putts were longer than eight feet. The precision comes in part from Walker's ability to swing through impact with very little clubhead manipulation. 

"Ultimately, you control the ball by how well you control the clubface," says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Shaun Webb, who is based at the David Toms Golf Academy in Shreveport, La. "Jimmy gets the clubface in a great position at the top of the swing, which lets him deliver the club into the ball without having to manipulate it with his hands to make any corrections. At the top, the face matches his left forearm, which is a great reference point for a neutral or square position. You can see it in the yellow figure below."


Many players get to the top of the backswing with the club in an open position, shown in the blue figure above. The face either comes through open, producing a left-to-right shot, or the player has to try to manipulate the face closed with good timing. 

Any player can use a mirror to improve that top-of-backswing clubface position, says Webb, and see benefits without making any conscious, major swing changes. "Start by making sure you can see at least two knuckles on your left hand at address," says Webb. "With a mirror to your right, make a backswing and check the image when you get to the top. When you can get the face to consistently match the angle of your left forearm, you're going hit more shots where you're aiming."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Patrick Reed's eagle wedge shot

Patrick Reed has no shortage of confidence. At the Tournament of Champions, he backed his words up with wedges--specifically this 83-yard lob wedge on the short 16th at Kapalua. 

Reed stuck his approach four feet beyond the hole and watched it back up into the cup, pulling him within two of Jimmy Walker. Reed birdied 18 to tie, then made another birdie on the first playoff hole to beat Walker and earn his fourth PGA Tour title. 

The precise distance and direction control in Reed's wedge game comes from preserving the loft on the face of the club through impact, says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs. "In the wedge game, you don't want to have the forearms rolling the clubhead a lot through impact, like you might with the driver," says Jacobs, who is based at the X Golf School in Manorville, Long Island. "You want the release to feel like it happens later, and softer. You won't get that appearance of really turning down the face to 'cover' like the ball."

Reed's top-of-backswing position on this shot is a great one for the average player to copy not just in the wedge game but for all irons. "He turns and gets his hands in line with his trail shoulder, and he makes a shoulder to shoulder hand motion without getting his arms trapped behind his body," says Jacobs, co-author of the new instruction book Swing Tips You Should Forget. "By letting working his left shoulder down instead of around on the backswing, he has room to make a simple, free downswing."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Lee Westwood's precision ball-striking

Disagreements with his putter or other short game clubs have cost Lee Westwood some chances to win his first major championship, but few players hit the ball as purely.

Westwood showed off both skills in Thailand, making seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch to beat a star-studded field and earn his 42nd career title--and 14th in Asia. 

The 41-year-old Englishman makes such flush contact time after time because of the way he releases the club," says Top 50 Teacher Brian Manzella. 

"Lee has a great lead arm sequence on the backswing and into the downswing," says Manzella, who is based at English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans. "He has that bent left arm on the way down, which lets him 'throw' the club hard through impact without over-rolling the face. Jordan Spieth has that same look." 

The key to Westwood's release--and the element average players should copy--is the direction the wrists move and the time in the backswing it happens. "Lee's right hand works under his left on its way through the ball--not over it or around it, which are the common mistakes players make," says Manzella. "If you took a still picture of his swing at impact, it would look like he's shoving the handle forward, toward the target, but in real life, the handle is slightly forward while he's in the middle of a full release of the clubhead. His right wrist is bent late, and then hie's throwing it under the left hard. He's not trying to "hold on" to any lag, or drag the handle forward through the ball."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Tiger Woods' short game breakdown

It was a good news/bad news kind of a comeback week for Tiger Woods at the Hero World Challenge. 

The good news? He played 72 holes with no pain, and showed off a much looser, freer swing. He hit the ball longer and higher, and swung full speed with his driver and hit some good shots with it. 

The bad? Short game, and it was really bad. For probably the first time since he was a beginner, Woods chunked or bladed 10 chips, pitches and bunker shots in one tournament, including a three-chip hockey match on a single hole Thursday. The prevailing commentary on Twitter was that Tiger had grown a case of chipping yips while he was away. 

Woods attributed the troubles to rust, tough Isleworth grass and a change in the "release pattern" he is developing with swing consultant Chris Como, and said it's something he would clean up before his next start, in early 2015. 

Top New York teacher Michael Jacobs says Woods doesn't have the yips, but it will take time to change the way his wrists work through the ball--and the problem is magnified on smaller, more delicate shots. "Golf teaching in general is in love with the idea that you should make a little backswing, freeze your wrists and put forward lean on the shaft on the way through as you strike down on the ball," says Jacobs, who addresses that myth in his new book, Swing Tips You Should Forget. "If you bend your right wrist and arch your left and keep them frozen that way, the only way to get to the ball is to push and drive your hands down. Great pitchers of the ball have soft arms that come towards them as they go through the ball. Tiger's arms are extending, and he's pushing the club into the ground."

Tiger Pitch.jpg

That pushing move has become so ingrained in Woods' swing that it can feel like a yip as he tries to change it with Como, says Jacobs, who is based at the X Golf School in Manorville, Long Island. "The clubhead isn't releasing naturally, so your muscles start driving the handle. You can have pockets of good chipping and pitching if you have great athleticism--like Tiger does--but it will eventually catch up to you. He's trying to work his way out of that frozen wrist condition, and it's tough to break that habit."

To improve your chipping and pitching, take your 7-iron and head to the practice green. Hit some small chip shots from the tight surface, experimenting with the best way to cleanly pick the ball off the grass. "You're trying to compress the ball the right way instead of driving your hands down," says Jacobs. "Let the club do the work."

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How He Hit That: Jordan Spieth's wind-proof swing

Any PGA Tour player has the skill to go really low. But some low rounds are held in more esteem than others, and Jordan Spieth's Sunday 63 to win the Australian Open is one of them. 

It wasn't just the eight birdies Spieth made against no bogeys at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney. The 21-year-old American did it in high winds against extremely difficult hole locations, when 67 was the next best score. Spieth called it the best round he'd ever played, and he quickly outpaced Greg Chalmers and Brett Rumford, with whom he was tied for the lead after three rounds. Spieth ended up winning by six and moved to 11th in the world rankings. 

"Jordan Spieth doesn't have the most conventional swing in terms of what you see on the PGA Tour, but the name of the game is controlling the ball, which is something he does very well," says top Louisiana teacher Shaun Webb, who is based at the David Toms Golf Academy in Shreveport. "Jordan makes a full turn at the top of his swing, but he does it without swaying his lower body to the right. This lets him transition correctly into the downswing and move in good sequence."

Spieth's elite ball-striking comes in part because he rotates both his upper and lower body so well through the downswing. "Most amateurs have the tendency to stop their body rotation leading into impact," Webb says. "That hurts accuracy and power and leads to mis-hits. Here, you can see how much more he's turned at impact than the average 20-handicapper, on the right." 


"To get the feel of a good transition and improved body rotation in your swing, start without a ball and your feet together," Webb says. "Before you get to the top, step toward the target with your lead foot and swing through to the finish."

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