The Local Knowlege

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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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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