The Local Knowlege

Instruction

How He Hit That: Robert Streb's playoff-winning iron

If the goal in a sudden-death playoff is to put pressure on your opponent, Robert Streb accomplished that and more at the McGladrey Classic.

On a day when he made nine birdies to shoot 63 and get into a playoff with Will MacKenzie and Brendon de Jonge, Streb hit an 8-iron to four feet on the 170-yard, par-3 17th hole to set up yet another. When he rolled in the putt, the 27-year-old former Kansas State standout had his first career victory in just over two seasons on tour.


"The key to Rob's success is the shape of his overall swing," says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs. "He makes a key move in his backswing, and at the beginning of the downswing, that regular players don't. You can see it in the two simulated images I made here, which trace the route his clubhead takes during the swing."

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"On the backswing, the handle of the club stays in front of his chest, and by the time he gets to the top, it's above his right bicep," says Jacobs, who runs the X Golf School at Long Island's Rock Hill Country Club in Manorville, N.Y. "When he makes a good body transition on the way down, the club lays down a little bit and moves to a flatter position, which you can see in the yellow line. Average players do the opposite; they bring the handle back low and to the inside, and the only option at the top is to throw the club out toward the ball."

Streb's transition move produces the repeatable power and accuracy players have at the PGA Tour level. It's why he can hit a super-high, 170-yard 8-iron in a situation when average players are thinking about using a hybrid.

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Ben Martin's cross-country eagle putt

Ben Martin was feeling the pressure. 

A three-shot lead at the beginning of the final round of the Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas had disappeared, and Martin was tied with Kevin Streelman as he walked to the 16th tee. At stake was a chance at his first PGA Tour victory -- and the freedom to play through this season and next without worrying about his status.  



After reaching the green of the 560-yard par-5 in two, the 27-year-old Martin faced a 46-foot eagle putt with four feet of right-to-left break. He died it into the hole perfectly, giving himself the two-shot buffer over Kevin Streelman that he would carry through to the end.

"When you have a long putt like Ben's, you're usually playing from a spot on the green that is on a different plateau than the hole," says ESPN Swing Coach Jerome Andrews. "The better you understand how the two areas connect, the better your result is going to be. As you walk up to the green from the fairway, pay attention to the overall contours of the entire green complex to get a sense for the ebbs and flows.

When it's time to read and roll the putt, use your eyes and mind to trace the route the ball will take to the hole, says Andrews, who is based at the Spring Creek Golf Club in Charlottesville, Va. "In terms of setup, play the ball more forward in your stance to let the putter release and to promote solid contact. Lastly, relax your neck, arms and shoulders and trust your read. Ben looked like he was rolling a putt during a practice round -- not on the back nine on Sunday under huge pressure."

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Instruction

How He Hit That: Sang-Moon Bae's pressure-proof deep-grass chip

Sang-Moon Bae had already won once on the PGA Tour -- at the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship -- but you wouldn't have known it by the results leading up to the 2014-15 season opener at the Frys.com Open. 

The 28-year-old South Korean hadn't recorded a top-10 finish since the Nelson triumph, and his time out of the spotlight showed early on the back nine Sunday. Bae bogeyed the 11th, 13th and 14th holes with three-putts as he saw four of the six-stroke advantage he had built disappear with Steven Bowditch safely in the clubhouse after shooting a closing 67.

But on the par-5 16th, Bae made a clutch up-and-down from deep greenside grass to save par, preserve his lead and, ultimately, pave the way to his second tour victory. "Under pressure, you'll see a lot of players struggle with that shot from deep grass to a relatively close pin, even on tour," says top Georgia teacher Brandon Stooksbury, who is the director of instruction at Idle Hour Club in Macon. "It takes some speed on the clubhead to make it through the deeper grass, and the player is afraid to make that big of a swing under the circumstances."



But with the right club and setup -- a 56-degree wedge with 8 to 12 degrees of bounce, played open with the ball in the middle of the stance -- you can reduce the risk that comes from swinging with more speed. "The two things that are important to pulling off the shot are using the bounce on the bottom of the club effectively and coming in at a steep angle of attack," Stooksbury says. "You want to think of the swing shape as a V. Hinge your wrists quickly on the backswing until the club gets to parallel with the ground, then deliver the club quickly and sharply to the back of the ball. If you come in too shallow or slow, the clubhead will get caught in the grass."

With the clubface open, more clubhead speed will produce more height without a lot of extra distance -- another safety buffer that should help you swing more freely. "Look how big Bae's backswing was compared to the follow-through," Stooksbury says. "The grass absorbed all the energy from the swing. He also had some room to let the shot roll out. If it had been a tighter pin, he could have made an even bigger swing and hit a higher shot. You just have to trust the loft of the club."
    
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Instruction

How He Hit That: Oliver Wilson's controlled iron shots

Oliver Wilson took the long way to win his first European Tour title at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Not only did the 34-year-old Brit go 227 events into his professional career before his first victory, he also had to hold off Rory McIlroy in a nail-biter at the home of golf -- St. Andrews -- to do it. 

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It wasn't until McIlroy putted into the Road Hole bunker on the 17th hole and made bogey that Wilson was a shot clear. Wilson controlled his emotions -- and his game -- to close out the tournament and complete a career renaissance. Ranked 792nd in the world, Wilson lost his card two years ago and was playing on a sponsor's exemption. He wasn't even in the top 100 on the European Tour's minor-league circuit before cashing his $800,000 first-place check and earning a two-year European Tour exemption.

"Oliver Wilson is the quintessential journeyman, and a great example of how perseverance and grit are rewarded," says top Illinois teacher Joe Bosco. "He found the winner's circle for the first time because he was able to control his emotions and control the trajectory of his iron shots on a cold, windy day." 

Wearing a stocking cap and a long-sleeve undershirt, Wilson showed off a variety of short-backswing wedges and short irons Sunday. He hit low-trajectory shots that bounced, check and rolled on St. Andrews' famously large and undulating greens.

"Oliver used the big muscles of the body to control his swing, which both produces a lower-flying shot and also makes for a more pressure-proof motion," Bosco says. "It's a pivot-centric swing that uses the body to bring the club through with forward shaft lean -- the shaft leaning toward the target. Amateurs usually do the opposite, which is they get the arms and hands over-involved and flip the ball up in the air or skull it. 

"To hit shots like these, set up with the ball centered and your weight favoring your lead leg," Bosco says. "Let your arms follow your body turn back and through. Instead of feeling like you're stretching your arms out after impact and swinging high into the air, let them move passively around your body and end up near your left hip. Nobody hits any shot with their follow-through."

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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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