The Local Knowlege

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."


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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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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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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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."

Streb 1.jpg

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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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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 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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How He Hit That: Oliver Wilson's controlled iron shots

Oliver Wilson took the long way to win his first European Tour title at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Not only did the 34-year-old Brit go 227 events into his professional career before his first victory, he also had to hold off Rory McIlroy in a nail-biter at the home of golf -- St. Andrews -- to do it. 


It wasn't until McIlroy putted into the Road Hole bunker on the 17th hole and made bogey that Wilson was a shot clear. Wilson controlled his emotions -- and his game -- to close out the tournament and complete a career renaissance. Ranked 792nd in the world, Wilson lost his card two years ago and was playing on a sponsor's exemption. He wasn't even in the top 100 on the European Tour's minor-league circuit before cashing his $800,000 first-place check and earning a two-year European Tour exemption.

"Oliver Wilson is the quintessential journeyman, and a great example of how perseverance and grit are rewarded," says top Illinois teacher Joe Bosco. "He found the winner's circle for the first time because he was able to control his emotions and control the trajectory of his iron shots on a cold, windy day." 

Wearing a stocking cap and a long-sleeve undershirt, Wilson showed off a variety of short-backswing wedges and short irons Sunday. He hit low-trajectory shots that bounced, check and rolled on St. Andrews' famously large and undulating greens.

"Oliver used the big muscles of the body to control his swing, which both produces a lower-flying shot and also makes for a more pressure-proof motion," Bosco says. "It's a pivot-centric swing that uses the body to bring the club through with forward shaft lean -- the shaft leaning toward the target. Amateurs usually do the opposite, which is they get the arms and hands over-involved and flip the ball up in the air or skull it. 

"To hit shots like these, set up with the ball centered and your weight favoring your lead leg," Bosco says. "Let your arms follow your body turn back and through. Instead of feeling like you're stretching your arms out after impact and swinging high into the air, let them move passively around your body and end up near your left hip. Nobody hits any shot with their follow-through."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jamie Donaldson's Cup-winning wedge

Jamie Donaldson ended the Ryder Cup on his 15th hole Sunday, but it really was a mercy killing. Not only was the Welshman 4-up on Keegan Bradley, but the board was filled with European blue on a day when the Americans needed to win eight matches just to get close. 

Donaldson's pitching wedge to a foot from 146 yards capped a breakout week for the 38-year-old Cup rookie, who also went 2-1 as a part of partnership with Lee Westwood. Donaldson's simple, repeatable swing has produced three victories on the European Tour to go with what will probably go down as the most memorable pitching wedge of his career. 

"Jamie's arm and body motions put him in a position to hit extremely, powerful consistent shots," says top New York teacher Michael Jacobs, who is based at the X Golf School in Manorville, Long Island. "In the final phase of his downswing, his left arm hangs straight down from his shoulder. It shows his body has moved in the right sequence, and he's in a position where he can transfer all that speed from his wrists into the clubhead. If your left arm floats in a higher position, you waste a lot of that potential energy. That's why he's hitting super high 146-yard pitching wedges and most of us aren't." 


Even if you can't produce a tour player's clubhead speed, you can get more distance and make more consistent contact if you try to copy that feeling of the lead arm hanging straight down through the last part of the downswing, says Jacobs, the 2012 Metropolitan Section PGA Teacher of the Year. "Get it right and your ball-strking will immediately improve, and you won't be so reliant on perfect timing. That's going to give you confidence when you're playing your own important rounds. 

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Victor Dubuisson's accurate irons


The American team had climbed within a point after the morning better ball, and Europe's Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell had the anchor job in the afternoon foursomes -- hold the line against the team of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. 

With three birdies on the first six holes, the Euros did just that, building a 5-up lead by the turn and showing the rest of the team the anchor point would never be in doubt. Dubuisson's "swashbuckling swing," as Gary Koch called it, produced two tap-in birdies on Saturday afternoon -- from 183 yards on the third and 214 yards on the par-3 10th.

ESPN Swing Coach Jerome Andrews says it's the Frenchman's efficient use of his body that produces the seemingly effortless -- and pressure-proof three-quarter action. "His swing starts back in line with his toes, and the club, arms, shoulders and hips all get to the top of the controlled, three-quarter backswing at the same time," says Andrews. " His club comes down exactly on plane, and the face is square for really long time pre- and post-impact without any manipulation from his hands. That lets him turn his shoulders and hips freely and produce maximum speed with little effort -- and no worry about the ball going offline.

"The more you have to rely on manipulating your hands to square the face, the more inconsistent your shots will potentially be," says Andrews, who is based at Spring Creek Golf Club in Charlottesville, VA. "You're also going to make it harder to perform under pressure. Dubuisson has stayed rock solid under Ryder Cup pressure, and his three-quarter backswing penetrating irons are perfect for the conditions. It's no mystery why he's been perfect so far as a rookie. He's putting on a ball-striking clinic."

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How He Hit That

How He Hit That: Jimmy Walker's heroic bunker shot

The Friday morning four-ball match was about to get away from Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. They were 2 down to Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer on the par-5 ninth, and Walker faced a tricky shot after reaching the greenside bunker in two. 

But Walker cut the European's lead in half with one swing, lofting a majestic sand wedge within a few feet of the hole and watching as it checked and trickled in for eagle. That clutch shot -- and big birdies on 16 and 18 -- allowed the Americans to salvage a critical half point. 

Consistent contact and spin are the keys to tour-caliber bunker shots, according to Top 50 teacher and short-game guru Stan Utley. "Tour players hit very close to the ball and take advantage of the bounce on the bottom of the club to produce that high spinning shot," says Utley, who is based at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale. "To get that consistent, precise close contact, the upper body needs to stay forward, toward the hole, while you get tall through the shot. The shaft needs to come back to vertical through the ball so that the bounce on the club is exposed. If the shaft is leaning forward, you're digging the club into the sand."

Under pressure, many amateur players instinctively try to help the ball up and out of the bunker by leaning back and scooping at it. "If you hang back, away from the hole, you're going to make contact with the sand where your weight is centered -- way behind the ball," Utley says. "That results in either a fat shot, or if you pull hard with your hands to try to save it, a skull."
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