The Local Knowlege

How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jimmy Walker's prime bunker touch

Early in the final round of the Valero Texas Open, it looked like Jimmy Walker would walk to his second tour title of the season

But bogeys on holes No. 4 and 7--and four consecutive late birdies by Jordan Spieth--made the birdie Walker saved with a great bunker shot in the par-5 8th extremely important. 



Walker played his second shot from scrubland 265 yards into the greenside bunker, but was left with an awkward sidehill lie to a pin 25 yards away. He carved the bunker shot perfectly, leaving himself four feet--and partially rebuilding his lead over Spieth. He ended up winning by four, and entering the top 10 in the world rankings. 

"When the ball is below your feet like that, it can be a challenge to get the club down through the sand," says top Maryland teacher Trillium Rose, who is based at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville. "He really dug his feet in and lowered his center of mass. If he didn't squat like that, he would have run the risk of topping the ball."

The distance of the bunker shot also required plenty of clubhead speed, which Walker produced by turning his torso. "It wasn't just an arms swing," says Rose. "He turned his torso and kept accelerating through the ball, just like he was striking a match."

To try it yourself, first make some practice swings outside the bunker, making sure to take an aggressive cut of grass down near the roots, says Rose. "When you get in and hit it, turn through so your belt buckle faces the target at the finish. You need body turn along with soft, fast arms."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Matt Every's efficient backswing

Matt Every won his first PGA Tour event last year at Bay Hill, but he didn't coast on it. Every went right to work on improving his swing with Sean Foley -- who had more time to dedicate after his relationship with Tiger Woods ended. 

If Every needed any extra verification that the work was worthwhile, he got it at a familiar place. Every shot a final-round 66 to successfully defend his Bay Hill title, and he did with some impressive shotmaking and grace under pressure. He made an 18-footer on the last hole to beat Henrik Stenson by a shot, and was the first to win with four rounds in the 60s at Bay Hill since 1987. 

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Every's quality ball-striking comes from a super clean takeaway that puts him in position to swing down through the ball with no compensations, says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs. "You hear people talking about a one piece takeaway or wanting to get a lot of body turn early in the backswing, but when you do that, you're running the risk of losing direction with the arms and getting the club into a crazy position in the backswing," says Jacobs, the 2012 Metropolitan New York Section Teacher of the Year. "Every starts his backswing by activating his arms right away, and lifting them -- which is why he has that great left arm extension at the top of his backswing. 

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"Average players have the club lower and pulled around behind them with bent arms. From there, your only options are to smash into the ground or re-route it over the top," says Jacobs, who runs the X Golf School at Rock Hill Country Club in Manorville, Long Island. Your goal should be to get your left hand in line with your back shoulder at the top of the backswing. It should look like your glove is covering your shoulder from the down-the-line view."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jordan Spieth's no-nerves pitch

The knock on Jordan Spieth after last year's Masters was that he had trouble closing the deal down the stretch.

That isn't a knock anymore. 

The 21-year-old won his second PGA Tour event with buckets of clutch, saving pars from an awkward bunker lie on 16 and from a short-sided spot behind a bunker on 18 to earn a spot in a three-man playoff. There, he made a 28-footer for birdie on the third playoff hole to beat Patrick Reed and Sean O'Hair. 




Spieth's pre-shot process and execution on the 18th hole pitch were especially impressive given the stakes. "He doesn't take any extra time before the shot," says 50 Best Teacher and tour short game guru Kevin Weeks. "He uses his normal routine, makes a quick practice swing and gets right to it. It wasn't a super hard shot from that wispy lie -- a tour player is within 10 feet 80 percent of the time on it -- but calming yourself down in that situation and pretending nobody is around there isn't a spot in a playoff on the line is a big deal."

Spieth's technique on the 30-yard pitch is pretty close to the same he uses on a full swing, says Weeks. "He's seeing the flagstick and trying to hit a high shot that wraps itself up in the flag itself and drops right by the hole," says Weeks. "The average player doesn't hit this shot with enough confidence to give it the speed it needs. Set up with the butt of the club pointed at your belly button, so you're using the true loft, and make a full swing to a full finish. You can see here that the club touches Jordan's left shoulder on the finish. The harder you swing, the higher the ball will go."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Dustin Johnson's identical irons

Dustin Johnson's winning margin over J.B. Holmes at the WGC Cadillac Championship was one shot. He earned that margin (and more) from two swings of his 7-iron on Doral's par-3 4th hole. 

On Saturday, both he and Holmes aced the hole from 207 yards. Then, on Sunday Johnson hit another laser from 202 yards that nearly holed out -- this time ending up a foot away. He tapped in for birdie and pulled within three of Holmes, his playing partner and third-round co-leader, who started with a five-shot lead but ended up shooting 75. 



"Yes, Dustin Johnson is a freak who can hit it longer and straighter than almost anybody, but you can learn something there that doesn't have anything to do with his swing," says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Jason Guss. "He had the same exact wind direction for both shots, and the pin on Sunday was 10 yards left of where it was the day before. He already had a great visual of the shot he was going to hit. He teed it up on the very left side of the tee box instead of the middle, visualized the same shot, and made the same swing."

Visualization isn't some squishy new age theory. It's a real skill that can help players at any level, says Guss. "It's an especially important one to have if you play the same course a lot," says Guss, who is based at the Jason Guss Golf Academy at Hawk Hollow in Bath Township, MI. "When you have a certain shot, go back into your memory banks and replay in your mind another good one you hit there in the same situation. You're priming your mind to do it again."

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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."

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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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