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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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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Rickie Fowler's clutch clinic

Rickie Fowler wasn't known as a closer. 

That's all changed, thanks to four birdies and an eagle over the final six holes--and another two birdies in four playoff holes--to win the Players Championship. 



In a stretch of obviously excellent golf, two shots stood out most. At the 16th, Fowler had 245 yards to the hole on the par 5, and took an aggressive line with his 3-wood over the water right at the flag. He left himself two feet for eagle, and converted to pull within two of the lead. Then, needing birdie on 18, Fowler again took an aggressive line, hammering his tee shot right down the water line with a slight draw, ending up 115 yards from the hole. 

"Rickie trusted his swing under maximum pressure against the best field in golf on one of the most demanding courses on tour," says top Maryland teacher Bernie Najar, who is the Director of Instruction at Caves Valley Golf Club in Ownings Mills. "That comes from sound mechanics and courage."

On the 3-wood at 16, Fowler made pure contact to produce the height required to both clear the water and stop on the green. "You can see him striking it with a slight descending blow, which produced that beautiful trajectory," says Najar. "If you're struggling with your fairway woods, it's probably because your impact is too shallow, and you're trying to help the ball in the air. Practice hitting these shots feeling like you're squeezing the ball off the turf and you'll start seeing your ball flight improve."

Here's another tip from Najar, on improving your bunker play:



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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Ian Woosnam's little-man power

Not only is Ian Woosnam 5-foot-4 (as he's certainly tired of hearing by now), he's also 57 years old. But even with his relative smallness and oldness, Woosnam averaged 275 yards off the tee last week at the Insperity Invitational -- and more importantly, shot weekend rounds of 66-68 to win his first senior title. 


It'd be nice to be 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds with 125 miles of clubhead speed, but the way Woosnam produces his power and accuracy is directly relatable to the average amateur player. Anybody can use some of his technique to get both longer and more accurate, says top New York teacher Mike Jacobs. 

"He can still hit the ball a long way consistently because he maximizes the energy he puts into the club," says Jacobs, who runs the X Golf School in Manorville, on Long Island. "His 'virtual spine,' an imaginary line through the center of his body that comes out through the tag on his shirt, is at 90 degrees when his hands get to about waist height in the downswing. He's in a position where his left shoulder can absorb a push from his feet off the ground down through the ball, which creates a tremendous amount of speed." 

Here's how you copy this move for yourself. "A great checkpoint to keep in mind is that when your hands get to that point in the downswing--waist high--you want the point of your left shoulder to be centered over your left thigh," says Jacobs. "If you tend to come over the top, your shoulder will probably be forward of your thigh at that point. If you tend to come from underneath and hook it, your shoulder will be behind the thigh. When these pieces get out of alignment, you create a hodgepodge of sequencing and turning problems in the downswing."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Justin Rose's balanced ball-striking

Justin Rose couldn't quite catch Jordan Spieth at Augusta, but his relentless ball-striking at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans two weeks later eventually earned him his seventh PGA Tour title, by a shot over hard-charging Cameron Tringale. 

Rose hit 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens Sunday on his way to a six-birdie 66. He also finished off a weather-delayed seven-birdie 65 earlier in the day to punctuate his bogey-free weekend. 



According to top Alabama teacher Tony Ruggiero, who worked with one of his own players two spaces down from Rose at the TPC Louisiana range last week, Rose's balance is one of the main keys to his ball-striking precision. "When you get your weight proportioned like he has it, and your spacing from the ball is so good, it makes it so much easier to make a consistent, repeatable turn back and through," says Ruggiero, who is based at the Country Club of Mobile. "The club moves so easily around him and is always right on plane. His shots always seem to start out exactly on line." 

To get some of Rose's balance in your game, get into an athletic setup position with no club and set your weight and feet so that if you jumped you'd go straight up in the air. "If your weight gets too much in your toes, you'd jump toward the ball," says Ruggiero, who also hosts the Dewsweepers Golf Show on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio. "If your weight is toward your heels, you'll jump backward."

Another takeaway from Rose's week in New Orleans? Persistence. "Working with Zack Sucher two spaces down from Justin, we were talking about how Justin missed 21 cuts in a row to start his pro career--and how everything is a process," says Ruggiero. "You'll get it, but it might take six or seven starts before it comes together. It takes hard work and patience, whether you're trying to make it on tour or do it at the club level." 

To improve your own iron play, here's David Leadbetter on some short- and long-term fixes.


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How He Hit That

How She Hit That: Sei Young Kim's putter-free winning technique

Every player dreams of sinking the winning putt on the last hole. LPGA rookie Sei Young Kim got it done in a dramatically different way at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii. 

Kim recovered from a rinsed tee shot on the 18th hole by chipping in for par to force a playoff with Inbee Park. On the next hole, she jarred an 8-iron from 154 yards for eagle to win in sudden death. It was the 22-year-old's second win of the season, and it is unlikely she'll ever have another as pulse-pounding. 


On both shots, solid fundamentals put her in position for success under intense pressure. "On the chip, she gets herself almost into a putting position," says Lukas McNair, who teaches at the Hank Haney Vista Ridge Golf Ranch outside Dallas. "She has the shaft standing more upright, and her body weight is forward. The stroke is putter-like, and the ball gets rolling like one."

Kim's full swing is also pure. Her eyes stay level to the ground on both the back and forward swings, which helps her preserve a consistent swing plane, says McNair. "That's something you can practice yourself at home, with a mirror. Watch yourself as you slowly turn back and through. If you can keep your eyes level, you're going to hit much more solid and accurate shots."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jordan Spieth's Short Game Conviction

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For virtually every minute of Jordan Spieth's four-day championship romp at Augusta National, he looked vasty more mature than his 21 years. 

But nowhere might that have been more true than around the green, where Spieth's confident, nerveless chipping and pitching saved him the few times he missed in inconvenient places. 

On his last hole Saturday, Spieth hit his approach shot over the green and had a tricky downhill pitch over a bunker and across a tier. He clipped it perfectly and left himself a miraculous 10-footer, which he made to preserve his four-shot cushion over Justin Rose and right himself after a double on 17. 

"If you watch Jordan's pre-shot routine on short game shots, it doesn't look much different than any other tour player's, but where he excels is committing to the shot he wants to hit," says top short game teacher Brandon Stooksbury. "He makes a few practice swings, sets the club down and pulls the trigger. He doesn't give himself even a second of time to let doubt enter his mind or the motion."

Indecision and doubt are especially harmful in short game because the size and speed of the shot give the player plenty of time to override the motion in an effort to "control" the shot. "If you don't feel comfortable with the shot, the most likely scenario is that you're going to get your hands too active or you're going to decelerate through the ball," says Stooksbury, who is based at Idle Hour Golf & Country Club in Macon, Georgia. "That rarely works in the player's favor. Next time you play, take a page from Spieth's book and commit to picking the shot you want to hit, seeing it in your mind and hitting it without worrying where it might end up." 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jordan Spieth's Unconventional Grip Takes Hold of the Masters

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There's nothing remotely cookie-cutter about Jordan Spieth's swing, but his performance through three rounds has been right out of the Putting a Tournament Away textbook.

Spieth's grip is one of the more interesting ones on tour--a derivative of the standard overlapping grip 98 percent of PGA Tour players use and the interlock used by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. 

Instead of resting the little finger of his right hand on top of his left index finger or linking his pinkie and index fingers, Spieth lets that left index finger ride on top of the right hand and slightly interlock with his right pinkie. With that finger position--and an overall weak grip in general--Spieth doesn't have any trouble hitting draws or fades on command. 

"He's making the case for the one millionth time that there's no one 'right' way to swing the club," says top Pennsylvania teacher John Dunigan, who works with Sean O'Hair. "You need to hold the club in a way that gives you a sense for the club face and gives you repeatability. Jordan's grip does that."

By overlapping his left index finger, Spieth probably gets even more feel in his right hand. "You can think of it like a tennis racket," says Dunigan, who is the director of coaching at White Manor Country Club in Malvern, outside Philadelphia. "You have a great feel for what the face of the racket is doing because the handle is in your palm. The reverse overlap gives him that extra feel and control in his right palm."

A great way to increase your sense of clubface control is to practice with a split grip. Take your normal grip, then slide your right hand down so that it's completely separate from your left. "Start by hitting shots with that right hand perpendicular to the target line--so the palm is facing the target," says Dunigan. "Then experiment by adjusting your palm a little to the right and a little to the left. You're learning the secret of golf--which is the ability to say to yourself, I predict that when I do this, the ball will go there."
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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Tiger's wild tee shots really are coming from his glutes

As much as Tiger Woods is probably relieved that his basic short game shots haven't completely let him down this week, he has to be concerned about his continued problems with the longest clubs in his bag. 

His driving accuracy numbers this week look good on the surface--10 of 14 on Thursday and a similar result Friday--but the driver misses have been almost off the charts, which has caused him to gear down to 3-wood often and give up precious yardage. Woods' driver miss on No. 9 Thursday was nearly 60 yards off line and into the first fairway, to a spot nobody could remember seeing another player play from. 

The instructor-pundit-player chatter on Twitter has been about Woods' head dropping significantly on the downswing with longer clubs being the biggest obstacle to hitting good shots: 

Top New York instructor Michael Jacobs says complete analysis of Woods' body movements reveals that the true problem is farther down below. 

"The head is the easiest thing to see, but Tiger's head is just responding to what's happening with his pelvis in the downswing," says Jacobs, the 2012 PGA Met Section Teacher of the Year. "In the downswing, he has a tremendous amount of pelvis tilt and drop. His hips are opening and his pelvis is tilting, and as a result, his head is dropping. If all he does is try to keep his head stable, he isn't going to be addressing what is really going on."

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To see how the pelvis (and the rest of the body) should move on the downswing, Tiger can look in a familiar place--and it isn't even the VHS vault of his own historical swing he's been dipping into with Chris Como.

 "Tiger's niece, Cheyenne, has a great swing," says Jacobs, who is based at X Golf School in Manorville, Long Island. "She'd be a good model for anybody to copy. Look at how her pelvis tilts slightly, but nothing like the amount Tiger's does. As a result, her head isn't bouncing around." 

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Deactivated glutes are bad, but so is an overactive pelvis. Insert your favorite "between a rock and a hard place" joke here. 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jordan Spieth's back-nine tree escape

It didn't take until the 14th hole to know it was Jordan Spieth's day, but his approach shot there certainly confirmed it. 

Stuck with an obstructed view of the green after pushing his tee shot into the right rough, Spieth carved his approach around the offending tree trunk and sent it curving straight at the flag. It skipped onto the putting surface and bonked the flagstick, leaving him a three feet for one of the nine birdies he would make on his way to a 64. 

"I had a good 7-iron in there...hard shot, with the ball below my feet" said Spieth, who missed the course (and major championship) record by a shot. "I couldn't see what happened with it. I guess it hit the pin--I was lucky it landed so soft." 

Luck didn't have much to do with it, says top California teacher Jerome Andrews. 

"The way Jordan sets up for a normal shot makes hitting an intentional fade pretty simple," says Andrews, the ESPN Swing Coach. "He has his eyes right of the ball, which helps his weight stay back longer and promotes a fade. He also has a weak grip, and the way his right elbow comes through naturally also helps him fade it. It's no wonder he hit it close."

If you don't have Spieth's raw talent, you can make a few adjustments to your setup to go around an obstacle. "Set your shoulders, hips, knees and feet on the line you want the ball to start, and aim the clubface where you want the ball to end up," says Andrews, who is based at Altadena Golf Course. "The more you want the ball to curve, the more club--and more clubhead speed--you need to use." 


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How He Hit That

How She Hit That: Brittany Lincicome's eagle-producing 5-iron

It was familiar territory for Brittany Lincicome. 

The 29-year-old was 190 yards from the flag on Mission Hills' par-5 18th, needing an eagle to tie Stacy Lewis for the lead at the ANA Inspiration--the first major of the season. Back in 2009, Lincicome hit her hybrid from 210 yards to four feet to set up an eagle that would give her a one-shot win over Cristie Kerr and Kristy McPherson.
 
The result was almost identical this time. Lincicome left it 10 feet and made the putt, then outlasted Stacy Lewis in three playoff holes to earn her sixth career victory. 



"You can see why she's one of the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour," says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs, who is based at the X Golf School in Manorville. "She has a very dynamic, athletic move. There's no pausing, and her lower body is beginning the downswing while the club is still finishing the backswing."

Because she moves her body so well, Lincicome's club moves through the impact area and exits in ideal position, says Jacobs. She isn't working against her body to produce speed. "The down-the-line view is a great vantage point to see what she's doing right," says Jacobs. "When you look at your own swing, you want to see the club coming up in the follow-through and out of your left shoulder. If you aren't turning well, the exit will be much more vertical, and toward the target."

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