The Local Knowlege

Instruction

How He Hit That: Jonas Blixt's cross-handed putting

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin looks at the putting style of Frys.com Open champion Jonas Blixt.

By Kevin Hinton

With his win at the Frys.com Open, Jonas Blixt became the third rookie to win on the PGA Tour this year. Jonas' superb putting made up for an average week of ball-striking, where he finished only T-59th in greens in regulation. Blixt led the field in total putts, with 25 putts in the final round and only 105 for the week. He also completed the event without a three-putt. Remarkably, this was Blixt's third consecutive event without three-putting. His last was 243 holes ago, during the third round of the Barclays on August 25th. Blixt currently leads the PGA Tour in the statistical putting category of stroke gained, which is considered to identify the tour's best putter.

blixt_470.jpgBelow we look at Blixt's cross-handed putting style, and whether it's something that might benefit your game.

Benefits to Cross-Handed Putting

Level is better
 
By putting "left-hand low," it becomes much easier to level your shoulders at address than with conventional putting. This will also help to level out your eyeline. Many people struggle with their putting simply because they have too much tilt at address.

Turn off the electricity

Similar to the variations of the "claw" grip, putting cross-handed can help eliminate the right hand from taking over at impact. The grip can definitely reduce a players' potential for yipping. The belly and long putters also attempt to counter any unwanted electricity at impact, but cross-handed often offers a much shorter learning curve than these other methods.

Winds of change

If you are struggling with your putting, the simplest fix can be just to change. Change your putter, change your grip, change your routine. . . change anything! Putting is so mental, and in theory should be so simple, sometimes all we need is a different perspective or a fresh loo. Switching to cross-handed just may provide that.  




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Instruction

How He Shot That: Branden Grace Fires a 60

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin describes how Branden Grace won for the fourth time this year on the European Tour by shooting a 60 at Kingsbarns enroute to capturing the Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday. Kevin offers his tips for going low and shooting your best possible score.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf



There are several things about Branden's swing I like, but one aspect in particular is the loose, free-swinging action he creates. One reason he can create this look is that he allows his left arm to bend in his backswing. Amateurs often report to me that their struggles are being caused by their failure to "keep the left arm straight," which closely trails only "I pulled my head up" as the most common complaint I hear.

The reality is, neither of those things are fundamentals to playing great golf. In addition to Branden, there are numerous examples of world-class players who have bent left arms at the top of the swing, as well as a few notable examples of great players whose left arm is bent at impact--Lee Westwood and Retief Goosen are the first that come to mind. Here are a few benefits you might notice by softening your left arm in your swing.

Lack of tension                                                                                                                    There is no easier way to add tension to your swing than by trying to keep your left arm unrealistically straight. Most people are not flexible enough to do so, and as they try, the tension in their swing builds. I'm not suggesting you bend your arm to the degree that the shaft rests on your shoulder, but it's important to find a middle ground. If you're working on straightening your left arm throughout your backswing, be certain to monitor your grip pressure and overall tension level. You might also realize that some stretching might be in order.

Better wrist hinge
In this video, you'll see that as Branden's left arm has reached parallel to the ground in his backswing, he has at least 90 degrees of wrist hinge. His left arm is not straight at this point. It's much easier to properly set the golf club when your left arm is "soft," not rigid or over-extended. By allowing his left arm to bend slightly, his right arm can fold, making it much easier to hinge the club.  

More clubhead speed
The first two points are essential to producing the final product of a golf swing that creates ample clubhead speed. If you are overly tense and do not allow your wrists to hinge and unhinge properly, your potential for speed is significantly limited. I certainly get the argument that a straighter left arm can lead to a wider "arc" to your swing, but I feel for many golfers that the risks outweigh the potential reward. Most amateurs will benefit more by loosening up and allowing the club to swing freely. Branden is a great example of this. ... Read
Instruction

How They Hit That: Ryder Cuppers from the Fairway Bunker

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin describes how three players in Sunday's compelling Ryder Cup matches hit key shots from the fairway bunker on the 18th hole. Jim Furyk, Francesco Molinari and--most importantly--Martin Kaymer all made solid strikes under tremendous pressure. Here are two tips to improve your fairway bunker play.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf

Kaymer.gifMartin Kaymer's lower body stays quiet as he propels the ball out of the 18th-hole fairway bunker onto the green. Photo by J.D. Cuban/Golf Digest

1. Protect against the left
It's extremely easy to over-hook fairway bunker shots. One reason is that it's difficult to keep your hips rotating through impact when you're standing in sand. Also, it's generally a good idea to purposely keep your lower body "quiet" to help ensure solid contact. However, the downside to a more passive lower body through impact is that your arms and hands can take over, causing the clubface to close and the ball to curve left. Knowing this, you might benefit by setting the face slightly open at address, or feeling as if you're hitting a small fade. If the lie is uphill or above your feet--it was both for Molinari--this will also encourage the ball to go left. Managing these variables, as well as the pressure, made the shots of Martin Kaymer, Molinari and Furyk on No. 18 very impressive.

2. It's OK to be shallow
In the downswing, it's important  to create a "shallow" angle of attack into the ball. Your chances of creating solid contact are greatly reduced if you hit down too sharply into the sand. It's much better to err on the side of picking the ball out of the bunker. A slightly thin shot will work fine unless you have a steep lip to hit over. If you imagine the letters "V" and "U," try to make the bottom of your swing look more like a "U." That will encourage a shallow approach into the ball. Notice how tour players don't take that much sand from fairway bunkers. It also can be helpful to analyze your divot after your shot. Ideally, the sand at the bottom of your divot will have similar coloring to that of the rest of the sand in the bunker. If the bottom of your divot is considerably darker, that means you have created too deep a divot and your club is approaching the bottom of the bunker.

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Instruction

How She Did That: Lydia Ko's Light-hearted Approach

By Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter
@RogerSchiffman

What is most striking about Lydia Ko's victory Sunday--she's the youngest champion on the LPGA Tour (sorry, Lexi Thompson) and the first amateur to win since JoAnn Carner in 1969--is the way in which she did it. By laughing and smiling, even at her bad shots, and joking with her local caddie, almost 50 years her senior, Ko birdied five of six holes in the final round to head off such major stars as Jiyai Shin, Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen.

But it's this same attitude and approach to the game that has produced a string of positive experiences--and victories--in the short career of this obvious child prodigy. Kudos to her New Zealand coach, says Kevin Hinton, who usually writes the Instruction Blog on Mondays. (We gave Kevin the week off.) Ko's young coach is someone you've probably never heard of, Guy Wilson. But you might be hearing a lot about him in the coming weeks, months and years. Hinton notes that it seems like he's done just about everything right in helping Lydia shape her flawless swing, short game and putting stroke, but more importantly her light-hearted approach to practice and play. This is difficult when building a teen phenom, Hinton says. Check out this video from a year ago, before she won the U.S. Women's Amateur and now the CN Canadian Women's Open.



And she seems to have her priorities in order: She's remaining an amateur for the foreseeable future, she says, but suggested that if she could have accepted the $300,000 first-place check, she would have bought a dog and given most of the money to the poor.

There's a lesson here for all of us, and especially anyone responsible for bringing a young player into golf. We need to remind ourselves what's truly important and what this game is all about. So far, Lydia and her coach are on the right path. Check out these video reports to not only see how perfectly on plane Lydia's swing is, and how perfectly paced her putting stroke is, but how perfectly in perspective they've been able to keep the game in her life. Let's hope it continues. Here's one more video, this one from when Lydia was 12.
 
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Instruction

How He Hit That: Rory's Stellar Bunker Shots

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin describes how PGA Champion Rory McIlroy takes dead aim on his greenside bunker shots. It's not just a matter of technique, but mental approach as well. His bunker play was stellar at Kiawah's Ocean course, which at times looked like one big sand bunker. If you're going to contend on this course, you better have your bunker game in top shape. In particular, the sand shots McIlroy made on 10 (to six inches to save par) and on 16 (from well below the green, setting up birdie), were all-world considering the pressure cooker he was playing in. Here's how you can improve your bunker play.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf

Here are a few thoughts on Rory's bunker game and what you can learn, plus a behind-the-scenes look at his personal backyard bunker course . . .

1. Make a 'normal' swing
Many of the students I see impart far too much slice spin onto their bunker shots, often because they have been taught to do so. They aim their bodies way to the left, set the clubface quite open, then cut across the ball to excess. This makes it difficult to get the ball started on the intended line. The ball will also spin to the right once it hits the green, again reducing the chances of the ball tracking toward the hole.

I find that all this effort does not seem to add that much loft to the shot, and it also presents a challenge in controlling distance when such a glancing blow is applied. I don't see tour players doing so except in extreme situations. The average player would do much better by setting the body and clubface only slightly open, and then making a normal-feeling swing.

2. Take dead aim
If your goal is to get the ball out of the bunker, that is likely the best you'll do. If your goal, however, is to hole every bunker shot, you'll likely do so quite rarely, but I guarantee you'll hit a lot more stiff. It's the same idea as when sport psychologist  Dr. Bob Rotella asks his tour players to hole every shot within 100 yards. It doesn't happen that often, but setting high standards and narrowing your focus can significantly tighten your shot dispersion. A great short-game practice drill is to hit a routine greenside shot until you hole it, be it a chip, pitch or bunker shot. You'll be amazed how quickly it can happen. If you are a higher handicapper, make your goal to get the ball within a grip's length. Before long, you'll be holing out shots in practice and taking your increased confidence onto the golf course.

Click here to check out Rory's own backyard bunker course.
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Instruction

How He Putted That: Pros and Cons of Keegan's belly method

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin discusses both sides of the belly putting controversy and analyzes why the method that World Series of Golf winner Keegan Bradley uses might work for you.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf

To "belly" or not to "belly"....that is the question

First, the case for anchored putters:

We've heard the statistics. Rounds of golf are down in the U.S. One reason often cited is that golf is too hard and that golfers are not getting better, thus it isn't fun. So if one of the jobs of the USGA is to ensure the health of the game, why eliminate a tool that might keep people playing? On the professional front, non-traditional putters have extended the career of many well-known and popular players. Would it really be better for golf if the viewing audience didn't get to see players like Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, and Ernie Els keep playing?
     
No doubt the long putter has helped Ernie Els and Adam Scott, but both of their putting stats for the week were average at best. Their putting was definitely not the reason they finished first and second. Here is the thing....non-traditional putters help to improve bad putting and to extend careers, but the best putters use traditional putters. The statistics fully support that. Currently, there is no one on tour who ranks in the Top 10 who uses a belly or long putter. Until the statistics support it, you cannot make the argument that it is a superior way to putt. Thus, why the debate? And even then, who cares...let everyone use one. It's fun to make putts...or maybe we should go back to hickory shafts and feathery golf balls. That would really help golf's popularity.

Second, the case against anchored putters:

It's out of control. All the big tournaments are being won by non-traditional putters: three of the last four majors and two of the last three Players Championships. There have already been six wins on tour this year. The fundamental issue with these putters is that it guarantees a perfect pendulum putting stroke. Once attached to the body, it greatly reduces the effect that a player's nerves or yipping has on the stroke. Dealing with nerves and controlling the putterface is a huge part of the challenge of putting. These putters eliminate nearly all of the "human factor." It is unfair to the players who have learned to deal with these challenges without resorting to the belly or long putters.

Technique:
While the belly putter remains legal, here are some tips to help you use it properly. There is also a chance that it will be deemed illegal only for professional golfers. The amateur player might still be allowed to use them.

1. Get fit 
I see many golfers using belly putters that don't fit them properly. If the putter is too long, it becomes difficult to get your eyes over the line of your putt. If it's too short, it becomes difficult to keep it anchored in your stomach and your posture might suffer. Many of the manufacturers have adjustable-fitting putters that make it much easier to find the correct length for you. .

2. Use it properly
If you use the belly putter, you are essentially buying into the belief that it is a superior method. You are saying that the less influence you can have on where the ball rolls, the better. Because the putter is anchored, it's difficult to adjust the putter during the stroke. That is only a good thing if we have set up properly to begin with. You'll only make more putts if you have set up properly. Typically, you cannot play the ball as far forward in your stance as in normal putting. If you anchor the putter in your belly button, the ball needs to be placed in the middle of your stance. Otherwise, the shaft of the putter will be leaning back and adding loft to the putter. If you like to play the ball in front of middle, you must anchor the putter forward of your belly button.

3. Experiment
There is no one way to use the belly putter. Keegan Bradley and Ernie Els are great examples. Keegan stands much farther from the ball and bends over quite a bit, still allowing him to get his eyes over the line of the putt. Just prior to the British Open, Ernie began standing much closer to the ball and much taller. It certainly seemed to help him. As long as you pay attention to your ball position and the length of the putter, you have a lot of freedom to experiment with what feels most comfortable.
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Instruction

How He Hit That: Zach's zinger from the fairway bunker

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin looks at Zach Johnson's masterful fairway bunker shot in the sudden-death playoff with Troy Matteson at the John Deere Classic. The ball finished within tap-in distance for an easy birdie and the victory.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf

First, let's go to the videotape:



Here are the keys you need to hit great fairway bunker shots, like Zach Johnson did.

Setup
Be certain to dig your feet into the sand enough to solidify your base, but not excessively. Because you have effectively lowered yourself, you'll need to grip down a bit on the club. Play the ball in its normal starting position, with your shaft and weight leaning slightly toward your front foot. Be careful not to overdo this. Otherwise you'll create too steep of an angle of attack into the sand. In general, your setup should feel quite "normal."

Backswing
Zach hit 6-iron from 194 yards. The ball flew about 185, and released the rest of the way, rolling to within 12 inches of the cup. This was a fairly full 6-iron for Zach, but for the average player, it's a good idea to take one extra club. This will allow for a slight mis-hit, as well as encourage a more controlled swing. An important key to this shot is sound footwork. Zach does this very well throughout this swing, starting with keeping his left foot planted in the backswing. This helps maintain the space between his knees, preventing excessive movement.

Downswing
The most important aspect to the downswing is to create a "shallow" angle of attack into the ball. Your margin for error is dramatically reduced if you hit down too sharply into the sand. It is much better to err on the side of picking the ball out of the bunker. A slightly thin shot will work fine, as long as you have a little extra loft to clear the lip. If you imagine the letters "V" and "U," try to make the bottom of your swing look more like a "U." That will encourage a shallow approach into the ball. Zach definitely took a sandy divot after contact, but it was not too deep or large. Here's a hint: If the color of the sand at the bottom of your divot is considerably darker than the sand your ball was originally sitting on, you've likely made too steep a swing and have dug too deeply into the bunker.
  
Finish
Make certain to get to a full finish, just like you would on a normal shot from the fairway. I often see golfers staying completely flat-footed throughout the swing, never getting off the back foot. This will definitely lead to fat shots. Zach has great footwork and finishes in perfect balance. His finish is somewhat shorter than that of other players, but it replicates his normal finish on regular iron shots.
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Instruction

How He Hit That: Like Tiger, control your irons

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin examines Tiger Woods' masterfully controlled 9-iron (from 180 yards!) to the 18th green, key to his two-stroke victory in the AT&T National at Congressional.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf

Despite the fact that Tiger was hitting his irons massive distances throughout the week, including the 180-yard 9-iron on 18 Sunday, he did it with a controlled, three-quarter follow-through. At times we have seen Tiger ripping to a full finish when hitting the ball such distances. But his current look seems to be adding control, and helping to keep the ball flight down. Here are a few things we can take from Tiger's shorter finish: Try it, and you might just find that needed combination of accuracy and power that Tiger showed us at Congressional.



1. Finish Low and Left
In addition to being more of a three-quarter finish, Tiger keeps the club working left through impact, in the way the club is supposed to arc around the body. Darren Clarke showed us a similar finish en-route to last year's British Open victory. A "high right" finish is the opposite of what we want. This makes trajectory control difficult, as well as jeopardizing ball contact.
 
2. Finish your body turn
Tiger's club might have an abbreviated look to its finish, but his body has rotated fully. Tiger unwinds his hips and torso beautifully through impact. This helps him make solid contact and, again, control the ball flight. Be sure not to confuse a three-quarter finish of the arms and club with passive body action. Allowing your body to stall out through impact will lead to disaster.

3. Swing three-quarter to hit it full
Tiger certainly doesn't lose any distance with his shortened follow-through, and from my experience, the average player often hits it farther. Many of my students notice that their impact conditions improve to the point that a three-quarter finish leads to better contact, and thus more distance. This can be especially true in their higher-lofted irons. A more compressed ball will likely fly much farther.
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Instruction

How She Played That: Brittany tames a par 5

Lang.gif

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin notes that Brittany Lang birdied the par-5 18th hole three times en-route to her sudden-death playoff victory Sunday in the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. (At left she's getting up and down from the bunker for her third birdie.) Hinton gives you some par-5 strategies to help you lower your scores on these holes.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf

Zone in your wedges
To make the most of the par 5s, it's essential to know two things: (1) exactly how far your wedges fly, and (2) your most comfortable distance.  Practice your wedges to specific distances; don't just hit them into a target-less driving range having no idea the distance they are flying. Use a range-finder to confirm your wedge distances. From quality practice, you'll find your ideal layup distance. I hit my sand wedge most accurately from 85 yards. So every time I lay up on a par 5, I try to leave myself this distance for my third shot.

Think of risk/reward
If you are contemplating going for a par 5 in two, do a quick risk/reward analysis. Imagine you've hit your 3-wood 220 yards, and you now have 250 yards left for your second shot. In this scenario you have HIGH risk (hitting 3-wood isn't easy) and ZERO reward (you can't get the ball on the green). You should always lay up in this situation...ideally to your best wedge distance. Even if you do pull off the 3-wood and manage to miss all the trouble, most people are worse from 30 yards than they are from 80 or 100.

If you're at a yardage from which you can reach the green, we can now have a conversation about going for it. First, try to honestly assess how many times out of 10 you'll get the ball on the green. If it's less than five out of 10, it should be an automatic layup. If it's more than five, then you should think about going for it. You also have to evaluate how penalizing the miss is. If you're going for an island green, the miss is extremely severe. If your miss leaves you in a bunker or some other manageable situation, going for it is likely a prudent move.

Short game is the key to par-5 birdies
For Brittany Lang to birdie the par-5 18th three straight times is an extremely impressive feat. Her last birdie is evidence of how important a great short game is to birdieing par 5s. Practice everything from greenside pitches and bunker shots, to more challenging situations like handling deep rough conditions, and even flop shots. If you like going for par 5s in two, these are the shots you'll often encounter.

To see Brittany's swing, see below:



Photograph by Getty Images

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Instruction

How He Hits That: Webb Simpson's free-flowing swing

After Webb Simpson shot a pair of closing 68s to capture the U.S. Open Championship from a group of seasoned veterans--and a few fresh faces--we were hard-pressed to single out any one shot that won the tournament for him. Yes, the chip from a scruffy lie on 18 to save par was key. But so were several important tee shots, including a bullet on the long par-5 16th that Jim Furyk wishes he could have duplicated. And there were several pinpoint irons shots by Simpson that resulted in important birdies. Of course, Simpson's cross-handed belly putting will have many in the USGA wondering why that method is still legal (click the link here to see how he does it). But Kevin Hinton, one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers and the Teaching Professional at Piping Rock on Long Island, recalls his analysis from last year of Simpson's full swing. Click on the link here for Kevin's thoughts and to see slow motion video of Simpson's beautifully repeating swing.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter @RogerSchiffman

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