The Local Knowlege

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."

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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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Instruction

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." 

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"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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How He Hit That

How She Hit That: Lydia Ko's $1.5 million precision

The LPGA's youngest multi-millionaire doesn't win by overpowering a golf course with raw speed.

Instead of a sledgehammer, Lydia Ko uses a scalpel. At the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, the 17-year-old from New Zealand wore out the field with her relentless fairways-and-greens approach, winning a three-way, four-hole playoff to collect both the $500,000 first prize and $1 million bonus for taking the season-long points race. 

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It was the largest single-day payday in LPGA history, and the soft-spoken teenager did it averaging about 250 yards off the tee--30 yards behind the longest hitters in the field. She hit all 14 fairways on Sunday and missed only one green, shooting 68 to get into a playoff with Carlota Ciganda and Julieta Granada. Appropriately enough, she made all pars in the extra holes until Ciganda finally fell away the fourth time they played the 18th. 

"The thing that jumps out at people is her great tempo, but I know plenty of people who have great tempo who hit it crooked," says Las Vegas-based instructor Joseph Mayo, better known by his nickname and Twitter handle--Trackman Maestro. "Her footwork is just beautiful. When you watch her hit short irons, her feet are so quiet. When she comes through impact, her right foot stays down. Even up into the finish, her right foot stays at a 45 degree angle, not spun up onto the toe."

Average players do too much thrusting and lunging on short irons, says Mayo, which produces a too-steep angle of attack and shaky control over distance and direction. "That right knee heads toward the ball and the hips spin out" says Mayo, who holds court at both TPC Summerlin in Vegas, where he's the director of instruction, and for his 10,000 followers on Twitter. "You want to copy what she's doing, especially on less-than full shots. Feel like your right foot is flat on the ground through impact, and feel it gently roll over as you go to the finish." 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Brooks Koepka's pressure-proof irons

Amid all the highlight reel-ready shots Brooks Koepka hit Sunday to shoot 65 and win his first European Tour event at the Turkish Airlines Open, it was a basic 9-iron on the last hole that stood out most prominently to Claude Harmon III, Koepka's teacher. 

"We've been talking for a year now how, under pressure, it's important to stay aggressive, keep his body speed up and hit it hard," says Harmon, one of Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers. "He had to punch out from behind a tree on 18, and he got up and ripped a 9-iron right at the flag, and hit it to 10 feet."

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Koepka would par the last hole--a relatively calm ending to a round that saw him make five birdies and an eagle against no bogeys. He hit a 250-yard hybrid to eight feet on the par-5 13th to set up the eagle that would give him a two-shot lead over Ian Poulter. Poulter missed a birdie putt on the last to give the 24-year-old Koepka his first win, and the inside track to the European Tour rookie of the year award. Koepka earned enough in 16 PGA Tour starts in 2014 to secure his card there as well, and he'll play both tours in 2015. 

"The best players really fire the body through impact," says Harmon, who is based at the Butch Harmon Floridian in Palm City, Fla. "They're increasing speed, not slowing down. Bad shots tend to happen when the body slows down and the hands take over through impact.

"I'll hear average players say all the time that their swing is 'too quick,' but really what they mean is that their arms are moving too fast but the body isn't moving fast enough, and they end up using all arms to hit the shot," says Harmon. "Take your setup without a ball, and go from address right up to the finish with no backswing, with as much speed as you can. Do that five times, then work your way back incrementally, until you get to a full backswing. The body movement and speed you need will start to happen much more naturally." 

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Instruction

How He Hit That: Bubba Watson's playoff-clinching bunker shot

Bubba Watson doesn't play like anybody else on the PGA Tour, and it isn't because he uses a pink driver. The lanky lefthander often curves his tee shots 40 yards from right to left, and his course-management strategy is improvisational on its best day. 



So it was fascinating to watch Watson secure a place in a playoff with Tim Clark at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China by holing a bunker shot he hit with an utterly conventional swing -- if he were playing from the fairway. "If you overlaid the swing he used there in the sand with one where he was hitting a soft pitch from the fairway, they'd look almost the same," says top Georgia teacher Brandon Stooksbury.  "He didn't do anything different because he was in the bunker.

"Bubba hit what I would call a chunk and run shot," says Stooksbury, who teaches at the Idle Hour Country Club in Macon. "His technique was specifically designed to take a lot of sand and produce a shot that came out and had some run to it. He moved the ball to the middle of his stance, instead of near his lead foot, so he could take a very steep angle of attack."

If Watson had hit the shot like a "standard" greenside bunker shot, with the ball forward in his stance and the goal of taking a thin cut of sand, the ball would have come out high with plenty of backspin before it checked and stopped. Instead, it rolled to the hole like a putt and got him into extra frames against Clark. He would birdie the first one to take home his first WGC title -- and $1.4 million. 

"It's a great lesson for the average player," Stooksbury says. "You don't have to change your swing a whole lot for the sand and do some kind of one-off thing. You just want to change your ball position to accommodate what you're trying to do. In this case, the goal is to trust the loft of the club to get the ball out and make a big enough swing to produce that big divot and move all that sand."  

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Instruction

How He Hit That: Ryan Moore's inside-out approach shots

Ryan Moore's swing is one of the PGA Tour's most idiosyncratic, with its early wrist hinge and upright move. It doesn't look "textbook," but, ironically, it's probably the best one for amateur players to copy -- and not just because the 31-year-old from Tacoma, Wash., won his fourth PGA Tour event over the weekend, defending his title at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. 

"Ninety percent of the slicers in the world start their takeaway by pulling the club way to the inside, and then they come way over the top on the downswing," says top Michigan teacher Jason Guss, who is the Director of Golf Performance at the Jason Guss Golf Academy at Hawk Hollow in Bath. "Ryan does the opposite. He hinges his wrists very early and gets the club in a vertical position, and his rhythm is so good at the top that he just lets his arms fall and the club comes naturally from the inside." 



On the 14th and 17th holes Sunday, Moore hit approach shots inside a foot, making two of the eight birdies he recorded on his way to a three-shot win over Gary Woodland, Kevin Na and Sergio Garcia. 

To get some of Moore's swing path in your swing, Guss suggests a simple visual cue. "Take a second ball and put it outside of your right foot, halfway between your toes and the target line," Guss says. "Hit some shots with a short iron and feel like you're bringing the club outside that ball on the way back and inside of it on the way down. Copy Ryan's rhythm as much as you can -- don't be in such a rush to make that transition at the top." 

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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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