The Best Lessons Of 2014

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The Best Lessons Of 2014

December 21, 2014

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1. Sometimes you shouldn't play hurt.Tiger Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic with a back injury, played four rounds at Doral, then missed four months after back surgery. He came back two months earlier than normal from the procedure and struggled some more at the British and PGA before shutting it down for the year in August. Part of the reason he switched instructors was to find a swing easier on his body.

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2. Curving the ball a lot is OK.Nothing Bubba Watson does on the golf course is conventional, from the pink shafts on his driver to the way he plays 40 yards of curve on tee shots. At the Masters, he saw giant parabolas that nobody else in the field considered, shortening every hole and earning him his second green jacket.How He Hit That: Bubba's Curveball

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3. Play the final pairing like match play.The LPGA's new next teenaged big thing, Lexi Thompson, was paired in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco with the last teenaged star, Michelle Wie. Nerves would have been natural, but Thompson showed none. While Wie played conservatively, Thompson put the pressure on with booming drivers and a barrage of birdies. She opened a five-shot lead at the turn and coasted to her first major win.

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4. It takes courage to make big swing changes.Martin Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship and moved to No. 1 in the World Rankings shortly after. He completely remade his swing so he could reliably work the ball both ways and struggled three years before changing back to his old action. It was a good decision. Kaymer conquered both the Players Championship and the U.S. Open in 2014.How He Hit That: Martin Kaymer's New Old Swing

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5. Use a putting style that's comfortable.Putting has never been the strongest part of Michelle Wie's game. This year, she adopted a strange table-top bend-at-the-waist style that won't win any style points but gets the job done. She went 72 holes without a three-putt at the Women's U.S. Open to capture her first major.

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6. The best swing information sometimes clicks immediately.Kevin Streelman had won on the PGA Tour before 2014, but had been struggling with his game. He connected with teacher Wayne DeFrancesco the week before the Travelers in Hartford and liked the Ben Hogan-flavored information he received. So much so that an immediately comfortable Streelman went out and birdied the last seven holes at TPC River Highlands to win by a stroke.

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7. Play to your strengths.Matt Kuchar is not the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, but he's accurate, and is one of the tour's best sand players. At Harbour Town, he missed the last green on Sunday, but in a place where he got a good look at the hole from the sand. He jarred the shot and preserved a one-shot victory.How He Hit That: Matt Kuchar's Plaid-Clinching Bunker Shot

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8. Off-course routine is important.Rory McIlroy's march to the top of the golf world got interrupted by two significant off-course distractions. He switched clubs, from Titleist to Nike, and had a well-publicized romance (and breakup) with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Once the equipment was tuned to his liking and the stories about his personal life died down, McIlroy dominated the summer, winning the British and PGA and helping Europe keep the Ryder Cup.

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9. If you can't be long, be straight.Mo Martin might have been the most unlikely major winner in pro golf in 2014. One of the LPGA's shortest hitters, Martin faced a 240-yard shot into the green on Birkdale's 18th at the British Open. But the tiny Californian is used to hitting fairway woods into greens, and she hit her best ever. The shot hit the pin, and she sunk the eagle putt to win the tournament.How She Hit That: Mo Martin's Winning 3-Wood At Birkdale

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10. Power solves a lot of problems.Rory McIlroy wasn't at his sharpest during the final round of the PGA. Stuck in neutral and trailing Rickie Fowler, McIlroy picked 3-wood for his second shot on usually unreachable par-5 10th. He hit a laser to seven feet, setting up the eagle that would put him ahead to stay.

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11. Forgetting your bad shots is one key to playing great.Billy Horschel was in perfect position to reach the par-5 18th hole at the TPC Boston in two shots on Sunday afternoon to set up at worst a tying birdie. It didn't go according to plan. Horschel chunked his 6-iron and lost the tournament to Chris Kirk. But Horschel came back immediately and won the BMW and Tour Championships the next two weeks to emphatically erase the bad taste in his mouth.How He Hit That: Billy Horschel's Chunk at Deutsche Bank

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12. Leg action is the key to good short irons.Unlike Lexi Thompson or Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko isn't a young player who dominates with power. The New Zealand teenager wins with precision, like she did at the season-ending Tour Championship. Ko's smooth, metronomic leg action and quiet feet helped her earn the largest single-day payday in women's golf history.How She Hit That: Lydia Ko's $1.5 Million Precision

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