Hit 18 Greens
Why my goal for golf's critical stat should also be yours
O.K., it's pretty rare when I, or anyone else, hits every green in regulation. But it's a useful attitude to bring to the first tee. Bagging a ton of GIRs has as much to do with how you're thinking, as how you're swinging.
Most greens today are big. Play the correct tees, and it's possible to hit every one with less-than-perfect approaches. The key is mental discipline. At the end of a round, you should be able to say you had an exact yardage to the center of the fat portion of each green. Even if your distance control isn't that precise, the odds are in your favor when you make this extra effort.
Fire at flags only when the time is right. I hope the following swing tips will make those times come more often for you.
LONG IRON SHOT
BLAST IT HIGHIt pays to be able to hit a long iron high. You can hold greens that are guarded in front, as well as take advantage of downwind breezes.
Here I'm swinging a 4-iron. When I want to hit it higher, I play the ball forward in my stance so it's just inside my front foot. My hands are just behind the ball so the shaft leans back. I stay relaxed. Too many amateurs get tense when they alter their setup to try a special trajectory.
Although my hands are behind the ball at address, I still want to strike the ball, not the turf, first. I ensure this by aggressively shifting my weight forward in the downswing. Look how my feet are rolling toward the target.
My only other thought: Extend the right arm. My right arm and shaft form a line after impact. This gets it launching high.
> STRATEGY1. If the hole is near the back of a green, don't take an extra club. Better to face a long lag putt from the front than an impossible up-and-down.
2. Wind acts differently above the trees. Get a course map and know the day's prevailing wind direction so you won't get fooled.
SHORT IRON SHOT
ALMOST BRUSH YOUR THIGH ON THE TAKEAWAY
I like this thought on every full swing, but it's especially good with short irons: My hands almost touch my right thigh when I draw the club back.
Obviously, you don't want actual contact--in addition to destroying your rhythm, you would be crowding the ball--but letting your hands barely miss your thigh will lead to good things. First, it causes the clubhead to stay outside your hands so it tracks squarely going back. It's when the hands move away from the body to start the takeaway (bad) that the club tends to fan open and snap inside. Second, it helps you stay "connected"--your arms stop swinging exactly when you complete your shoulder turn. Once you're connected, you can really start to control ball flight.
> STRATEGY1. On shots to elevated greens the ball releases more; on shots to greens below you the ball tends to spin back.
2. Between yardages? Choke down on the longer iron and make a controlled swing.
FAIRWAY BUNKER SHOT
DIG IN JUST RIGHT
From fairway bunkers, I often see amateurs overdo digging their feet in. They twist and twist until they've dug themselves into a pit!
You want firm footing, but you also need lower-body rotation. If your feet are buried, this constricts your hip turn and leads to a weak, arms-only swing. You don't want an aggressive weight shift on this shot, but you still need to turn like normal.
When the fairway sand is very firm, you almost can't overdo digging in. But if there's a lot of fluffy sand (inset), think lively hips and knees as you take your stance. Try to get level, which might mean digging one foot in deeper than the other. Then pick it clean.
> STRATEGY1. It makes no sense to risk hitting the lip on a par 5 when you can't reach the green. Just wedge out to a yardage you like.
2. Don't hit into fairway bunkers! Use your 3-wood or hybrid off the tee to stay short.
RICKIE FOWLER, a Golf Digest Playing Editor, is hitting 68 percent of greens in regulation on the PGA Tour.