The Local Knowlege

Instruction

How do tour players handle coming back early to finish a round?

It was super convenient, as far as three-hour rain delays go. 

The early downpour that created the delay at the British Open came first thing in the morning, so it essentially backed up every tee time by three hours -- which left leader Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth with five holes to play Saturday morning starting at 7 a.m.

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Since St. Andrews weather conditions are always a wildcard, it meant that Johnson, Spieth and the group of other players who didn't finish had something to think about as they walked off the course at 9:45 pm local time in total darkness. 

"You always hate to walk off the course if you're in a good rhythm, but it can also work for you if you're not playing great," says Shaun Webb, who works with David Toms on the PGA Tour. The key to handling the interruption and going out strong is to keep the warm-up routine as similar as possible, but with one key adjustment. "You want things to be business as usual, but you'd want to end your warm-up with the exact shot you were going to come back to on the course," says Webb, who is based at Toms' academy in Shreveport, La. "If you're coming back to a 5-iron from a certain lie, that's what you want to practice, down to the wind direction and lie." 

The delay in the morning and early wakeup call Saturday are just another part of a British Open experience that challenges every player's mental toughness. "It's so hard to play when the conditions are changing," says Webb. "You're hitting into the wind and then downwind. You're putting the rain jacket on and taking it off. Nothing feels consistent. The player who wins is the one who manages all those changes and distractions the best."

One thing that won't be much of a factor is the early wakeup call. Johnson and Spieth will be at the course by at least 6 am to get ready, but that's a basic part of the job. "I've never heard a tour player seriously complain about having to start early," says Webb. "You mentally prepare for that the night before, and it's something that happens pretty often. Plus, the stakes this week are really high."

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Instruction

How do you play out of the Road Hole Bunker without beaning yourself?

The 17th at St. Andrews is hard enough even if you were somehow able to erase the deep Road Hole Bunker from its spot protecting the front left of the green. It didn't give up a single birdie all day in the first round, and probably won't play much easier the rest of the week. 

But if a player does find himself looking at a five foot tall wall of sod, how does he (a) figure out if there's enough room to play a bunker shot straight toward the wall and the flag, and (b) actually execute it? 

Luke Donald and Jordan Spieth were two players who figured it out on Thursday. Donald was about two feet from the wall, but hit a perfect shot almost straight up in the air and ended up four feet from the pin. Spieth had a little more room, but executed just as well. 


"If you're a good bunker player, you know if you can get if over the lip or not -- either you can't make a stance and swing at it, or you can't hit it high enough," says short game guru Kevin Weeks, who is based at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, Ill. "If you think you can get it over -- which doesn't necessarily mean aiming straight at the flag --  the first thing you have to do is set loft on the club. Take your most lofted wedge, open the face, and then set the handle backwards, away from the ball, to add even more loft."

Then, you need to open your stance so the face is pointed at the target and your stance is aimed left, says Weeks. "The ball will end up off your left toe. Widen your stance and squat down, with your weight in your heels, then take the club back with a big turn and swing around you. The face needs to keep pointing at the sky as you follow through. It takes a big swing, because you've added so much loft that the ball is basically going to go straight up." 

The last piece? "Say a little prayer," Weeks adds. 

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Instruction

Three shots you'll see this week, and how to hit them

Plentiful rain has made St. Andrews look a little less tan than "normal," but the wind, turf and giant greens will still push players to hit different shots than they may be used to playing.

Below are three of them you'll see frequently during the telecast this week, along with some advice on how to hit them yourself. 

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Tom Watson won five British Opens from 1975 to 1983 by adapting his game to conditions. This little 5-iron chip is a great example. Instead of lofting the ball in the air, pop the ball up over the taller grass and get it rolling on the green right away. Choke down on the handle, lean the shaft slightly forward and use a putting stroke to hit it. 

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Many of the bunkers at St. Andrews  have steep faces, presenting a tall challenge when the ball nestles close to them. Aaron Baddeley's four keys to clearing a steep face are (1) widen your stance, (2) bend your knees, (3) lower the handle and (4) open the face. The faster you slide the club through the sand, the higher the ball will go. Some, like Hell Bunker on No. 14 or the Road Bunker on No. 17, will make you turn around and play out backward. 

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If the wind blows as expected over the weekend -- at 25 or 30 mph -- players will forced to account for it on every shot. If you don't want to balloon one into the teeth of it, follow Tom Watson's advice for a "wind cheater" and (1) lower the lead shoulder at address, (2) play the ball back in the stance two or three inches and (3) swing to a controlled, lower finish. Shots will fly lower, with less backspin, and will run out more. 

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Instruction

The next best thing to being Jordan Spieth on the quest for the Grand Slam is to be his instructor

It's not just Jordan Spieth whose profile is on the rise as he looks to continue his pursuit of the Grand Slam next week at the British Open. Joining him for the ride is his long-time instructor, Cameron McCormick.

In nurturing his prized student from blue-chip junior to collegiate sensation to breakout PGA Tour star, McCormick has seen his standing in the game expand beyond just being a go-to instructor in and around Dallas.

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McCormick's reputation is likely to grow further upon recently accepting the job as Director of Instruction at Trinity Forest Golf Club, a new Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design in Dallas set to open in spring 2016. The PGA Tour has already tapped the facility to host the AT&T Byron Nelson once the course is completed and more fully matured.

"It's an amazing opportunity for many reasons," McCormick said. "A large part is all the people involved [with the facility], and the backing [it has] from the city of Dallas. There's almost a civic responsibility that feels important and special."

A native of Australia, McCormick is known among his peers for his science-based approach to instruction. He's part of a network of like-minded teachers that goes by the name the Proponent Group. "I'm a measure twice, cut once type of coach," jokes the 41-year-old.

Related: Cameron McCormick helps explain the short game

Indeed, McCormick has integrated biomechanics, motor learning and psychology into his teaching, utilizing TrackMan and other technology to provide direction and feedback. It reflects an analytic way of thinking that arose early in his career.

McCormick played college golf in the U.S., ultimately attending Texas Tech and graduating in 1997 with aspirations of being a tour pro. He spent two years making a go of it, twice entering Q school in Australia before running out of money and changing directions.

Eventually McCormick returned to Texas, taking an assistant job at the Lakes at Castle Hills outside of Dallas, a club affiliated with an Arnold Palmer Academy. It was there that his teaching career began in earnest.

Appreciating that as a player he got too wrapped up in technique, emphasizing style over skill, he began to turn that equation around. "When you're looking at the best players in the world, generally they're not the players with the most perfect swing," McCormick says. The difference in better players is what McCormick calls "micro-level" skills, such as the ability to find the center of the clubface and find the appropriate swing path. In turn, McCormick tailors much of his instruction around skill performance and creating games that grow these skills.

Related: Cameron McCormick helps you beat the shanks

McCormick moved on to Dallas Country Club, cultivating a following -- among the golfers he has taught is former President George W. Bush -- that carried over when he went to work at Brook Hollow Country Club in 2003 as a full-time teaching pro.

It was at Brook Hollow that McCormick connected with Spieth, then a 12-year-old who had never had a formal golf lesson and was still splitting between golf, baseball and other pursuits. McCormick's first lesson with Spieth was July 2005.

"I had a big loop in my swing, a very weak grip, misaligned, shoulders open and hit kind of push draws," Jordan told Golf World in 2013. "I went to Cam, and he asked me what my goals were. I said I want to be the best player in the world someday. He said, 'OK, then we're going to have to make some changes, and it's going to be difficult. It's probably going to take a little while and you may not play your best golf for a while.' "

"It was fascinating to see," McCormick recalled. "A kid of immense skill, you don't want to screw him up but, still, he was very one-dimensional. I'd only been teaching for five years at that point, and this was the most talented man I'd ever come across. Over time it's always been about softening the excessiveness of his tendencies while still enabling the athlete to produce the outcomes that he wants to produce."

It's a formula that allowed Spieth to succeed at every level, claiming two U.S. Junior Amateur titles, leading the University of Texas to an NCAA team title, and becoming a two-time major winner at just 21.

As Spieth has raised his game in 2015, McCormick says he's has had to do the same. "I have to stay ahead of the curve and be able to provide him the challenge that he's looking for," McCormick says.

Whatever the outcome next week at St. Andrews, McCormick is appreciative of the journey, knowing even getting this far in the chase for the Grand Slam is something few instructors have had the chance to experience.

"It's been exciting and inspiring," McCormick says.

And hopefully something that continues.

Photo: Chris Stanford

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Instruction

How He Hit That: Roll the rock with your wedge like Robert Streb

Top 50 teacher Kevin Weeks works with a half dozen tour players on their putting, but the technique Robert Streb used at The Greenbrier Classic was one Weeks usually only teaches on the practice green.

After breaking his putter with a careless toss toward his bag behind the ninth green, Streb was forced to putt with his 56-degree sand wedge. It apparently wasn't much of a handicap. Streb made five birdies with the alternative flatstick, and made it into a playoff with Danny Lee, David Hearn and Kevin Kisner.

"Some people go with driver, some people go with hybrid, but I think he made the right call using wedge there," says Weeks, who is based at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, Ill. "If you're going to try it, take your normal putting setup and normal putting grip, and favor your lead leg while tilting your spine slightly back. Move the ball slightly forward in your stance to make sure you hit up on the ball with the leading edge of the wedge, then make your same putting stroke."

If you hit the ball near the equator, it will come off the leading edge of the wedge and roll just like it would with a putter. "It's actually a great way to practice even if you have your putter with you," Weeks says. "If you can consistently hit the equator of the ball with your wedge, you're doing lots of nice things with your putting stroke. You aren't flipping your hands or hitting down on the ball, and you're staying nice and quiet with your body." 

Streb was able to replace his putter before the playoff, but he didn't get a chance to try the new blade. He missed the green on the first hole, and watched Hearn and Lee make birdie putts that knocked him out. 

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Instruction

20 Top teachers fixed a lot more than slices this week in Memphis

Buttoning up a couple cartloads of swings always makes for a good day, but 20 of the best teachers in the world made even more of an impact at a Memphis charity event this week. 

Top teacher Rob Akins brings in 19 of his instructor friends every year in advance of the FedEx St. Jude Classic tour stop to participate in the Gurus of Golf -- a unique benefit for the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital.


Instead of running a traditional pro-am where everybody goes out and plays for a score with a celebrity partner, Akins pairs 20 amateur foursomes with their own swing guru for the day. The group gets a nine-hole playing lesson in the morning, private instruction in the middle of the day, and then a nine-hole playing lesson to finish out in the afternoon. This year's roster was a virtual who's-who of the Golf Digest 50 Best Teachers list -- Chuck Cook, Mike Bender, Mike Adams, Stan Utley, Randy Smith, Jack Lumpkin, Brian Mogg, Mike Shannon, Todd Sones and Charlie King all supervised groups at Spring Creek Ranch, as did Tom Stickney, Scott Davenport, Mark Wood, Kathy Hart Wood, Kip Puterbaugh, John Elliott, Don Sargent, Tom Ness and Mark Hackett.   

Each amateur foursome paid $10,000 for unlimited access to their guru -- as well as access to all the other instructional firepower on hand. During the lunch break, players actively cross-pollinated, moving from Utley's short game clinic at the practice green to Cook and Adams' stations at the range. 

Out on the course, Smith and the other teachers mixed concrete swing tips with strategy advice and volumes of stories about tour life behind the scenes. Smith made quick work of his team, tuning up turns and fixing grips early in the day and seeing immediate results. His only concern? "I get a little nervous when a guy tells me he has his member-guest coming up next week," he said. "That's not usually the best time to be making a bunch of changes."

The combination of entry fees and proceeds from a charity auction the night before at Lexus of Memphis raised more than $250,000 for Le Bonheur's childrens programs -- a resounding success by any measure. But for the teachers, it is Akins' homespun hospitality -- and the legendary closing barbecue he always cooks -- that has made them block off space and give their time. "It's a great cause, but we do it for Rob," says Utley, one of many of the instructors who has been coming since the event started in 2009. "It's one of the highlights of the year."

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Instruction

How are you supposed to hit golf's true breakfast ball?

TPC Sawgrass is best known in TV land for its island 17th green, but from a player's-eye view, the plentiful bunkers and waste areas dish out far more potential punishment. 

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As the Tour's self-run flagship event, the Players almost always has ideal course conditions. But weather has a way of intervening. Mix tour-quality sand with some rain--like the forecast calls for on Friday--and you have the potential for some "fried egg" lies in those bunkers.

In perfect conditions, a ball will rest mostly on top of the sand in the bunker. But when the sand is too soft and fluffy or damp from steady rain, the ball can hit and stay in its own crater. That fried egg situation makes for a much dicier shot. Players can't hit shots as high or with as much spin from that lie--which makes Sawgrass' notoriously hard and fast greens even more of a factor. 

With help from Blair O'Neal and Golf's Sexiest Shots, here's how you can copy what the tour players do when faced with golf's true breakfast ball. 


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Instruction

How Babe Ruth helped popularize one of golf's most common practice drills

In addition to being a celebrity golf pioneer -- oh, and probably the greatest baseball player ever -- Babe Ruth is indirectly responsible for a lot of good golf swings.

Related: Babe Ruth's history as a celebrity golfer

Have you ever seen a golfer tuck a glove or something under their arm during practice and hit balls? Probably. In fact, there's a good chance you've tried it yourself on the range. Here's the King of Practice, Vijay Singh, doing it:

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We're not sure if Ruth invented the drill, but he certainly played a large role in it spreading through the golf community. You see, Ruth played on the Yankees alongside a player named Sam Byrd. During that time Ruth taught Byrd the trick, using a handkerchief, in order to keep his left or front arm (for Ruth, it would have been his right arm since he played golf lefty) connected to his body throughout the swing.

Byrd retired after a mediocre seven years in baseball, often serving as Ruth's pinch-runner, and then had a solid career on what would become the PGA Tour. He won six events and finished third at the 1941 Masters and runner-up to Byron Nelson at the 1945 PGA Championship.

Related: Pictures of PGA Tour wives and girlfriends

In 1960, Byrd hired a 17-year-old Jimmy Ballard to work at his par-3 course and driving range in Birmingham, Ala. Byrd passed on the Babe's philosophy about achieving connectivity through the drill (players like Tiger Woods also practice with a glove tucked under their right or back arm) and Ballard, in turn, passed it on to many of his students as he became an acclaimed instructor to major champions like Curtis Strange, Hal Sutton and Sandy Lyle. For more on this and on Jimmy Ballard's often overlooked career, check out James Dodson's 2010 feature.

And the next time you're at the range, give the drill a try. Hey, if it was good enough for the Sultan of Swat. . .

(h/t Brandel Chamblee)

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Instruction

So did Tiger Woods find a short game miracle or what?

When Tiger Woods disappeared from the PGA Tour after the Farmers Insurance Open in February because his game was "uncompetitive," a potentially fatal case of the chipping yips was the most obvious diagnosis. 

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The reports coming from Florida and Tiger's practice rounds -- and then from Augusta the week before the tournament -- weren't hugely more comforting. He was getting better, but still hitting some squirrelly shots. 

But at Augusta, with the golf world holding its collective breath, he not only chipped well but his short game actually saved him over the course of a choppy ball-striking week. He wasn't perfect -- he thinned one chip and bladed another out of the bunker -- but it was a world of improvement over the last time we saw him. 


So does that mean he's fixed, or were the yips just dormant for a week? 

Top 50 teacher Kevin Weeks says Woods' technique is dramatically different now than it was at the beginning of 2015 -- to the point that he could well have bypassed any yips issue by creating a new mental pattern. Making a dramatic technical change -- and putting new wedges with more bounce into play -- was a critically important decision. Had he decided to try to grind it out with his old technique, he would probably still be in layaway in Jupiter, Fla. 

Weeks made the video below to illustrate the main technical differences between his old and new chipping motions — namely, different body motion and maintaining the true loft on the club through impact with less forward shaft lean.


"He looks like a different guy," says Weeks, who is the director of instruction at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, Ill., and is a short-game teacher to a half dozen PGA Tour players. "His shoulders used to be very steep, and he didn't have much wrist hinge. His swing was V-shaped, and he had to push his hands forward to try to create a longer flat spot at the bottom of the swing. But when the hands are forward like that, it exposes the leading edge of the club to the ground. If you hit the ground too early, you're going to dig in and chunk it."

Now, Woods is using a much "flatter" short-game swing. His shoulders are working more horizontally, and he's turning his body much more. The butt of the club stays pointed at the center of his body throughout the swing, which keeps the true loft on the club and the bounce exposed to the ground. "Now, he can make contact with no manipulation of his hands. His strikes at Augusta were really clean, with no divot, which means he was really using the bounce."

Other teachers, like Hank Haney, were impressed with the improvements, but say the jury is still out on whether the yips are gone -- or just on vacation. "Tiger had a great short game. He still does have a great short game -- when he doesn't yip it," Haney said in the April Golf Digest. "Even if he has days where it looks like it's improving, it doesn't mean the yips are gone. They might go into remission, but they're still there."

It'll be hard to truly know until the end of the spring, when Woods finally tees it up again, most likely at the Players. 

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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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