What We Learned In 2011

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What We Learned In 2011

December 19, 2011

Photo By: Walter Iooss Jr.

Photo By: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Photo By: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Photo By: Walter Iooss Jr.

Photo By: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Photo By: Stephen Szurlej

Photo By: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Photo By: Walter Iooss Jr.

Photo By: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Photo By: AP Photo

Take the hands out of the strokeWebb Simpson, the breakout star -- along with Keegan Bradley -- of 2011, has been using a belly putter since his freshman year at Wake Forest. The big benefit of the belly is that it takes hand actionout of the stroke. If you like the sound of that but don't want to switch putters, you can mimic the belly putter's benefit with a conventional-length model. Here's how: Set up with the grip end of your putter pointing just left of your belly button and keep it pointing at that spot as you swing the putter back and through. That's the same action you get from a belly, without the long shaft.

Photo By: Walter Iooss Jr.

Stick With The PlanTiger Woods has long been the king of vague answers about progress he might/might not be making with his golf swing. When he previously worked on swing changes under Butch Harmon and later Hank Haney, he was coming off such great highs in his career that people wondered why he would mess with things. The stakes seemed huge. Now, with the world watching for a comeback, the pressure of those other times must feel like nothing by comparison. Tiger has stuck with teacher Sean Foley (left) since summer 2010, and he got his first win in two years at the Chevron World Challengein December. Moral: Be patient, and let your work pay off.

Photo By: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Don't Make Two Mistakes In A RowStanding on the 10th tee on Masters Sunday with the lead, Rory McIlroy yanked a drive so far left he wound up in a yard between two cabins. After a pitch-out, he took another aggressive rip with a fairway wood, which also sailed way left, then pitched into a tree, and so on. The result? A triple bogey that led to a final-round 80 and a T-15. A la Phil Mickelson on the last hole at Winged Foot in 2006, the impossible seemed to be happening before our eyes. The lesson here for average golfers is, when you're going along nicely but suddenly hit a freakishly bad shot, step back, take a breath and play conservatively. Don't let the mistakes pile up and lead to a...triple.

Photo By: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Force your arms and body to work togetherWith a two-shot lead and the PGA Championship on the line, Keegan Bradley hit one of the most memorable iron shots of the year -- a 197-yard 6-iron that wound up 18 feet from the hole and helped him secure a playoff victory over Jason Dufner. How did he do it? Bradley said he has been working on improving the path and timing of his swing by forcing his arms and body to turn back and through together. One of his favorite drills is to stuff a headcover under his left armpit (left) and hit shots while keeping the headcover under his arm until well past impact. It's a great drill to sync up your swing, too.

Photo By: Walter Iooss Jr.

Be True To Your StyleGolfers usually adjust how they approach a golf course when trying to protect a lead. Yani Tseng, though, like Tiger Woods in his heyday, never seems content with her margin over the rest of the field. It's not that the top-ranked women's golfer goes for broke on every shot, but for the most part, she sticks to her agressive game planno matter what the situation. There was no better example than the LPGA Championship in June, where her final-round 66 gave her a 10-shot victory. Playing that way may not work for everyone, but judging by her record in 2011 -- 12 wins worldwide, including two majors -- perhaps more people should follow her, um, lead.

Photo By: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Get (and stay) wide for powerWe've known about Alexis Thompson's golf talent ever since she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open as a 12-year-old. Now 16, "Lexi" is quickly gaining a reputation as the longest hitter in women's professional golf -- even longer than Michelle Wie. When she debuts as a full-fledged member of the LPGA Tour next year, expect some 300-yard drives, or longer. A key to her length is that she takes the club back with very little wrist hinge initially. This creates a wider swing arc that she maintains as she swings through the ball. The wider the arc, the more power that can be generated.

Photo By: Stephen Szurlej

Keep it simple for better resultsSwing thoughts can be useful, but too many can get in the way. To produce the biggest win of his career, a three-shot victory at the British Open, Darren Clarke avoided them altogether. Renknowned sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella suggested his client go "unconscious"and that's what Clarke did. Instead of thinking about technique, Clarke blocked out a lifetime of lessons and just hit the ball. The result was a masterful display of ball-striking that even a balky putter at times couldn't ruin. Of course, talent and a swing grooved through years of practice gave Clarke a leg up, but the overall concept that sometimes less is more when it comes to swinging the club is still something every golfer can embrace.

Photo By: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Let Your Lead Hand control the putting strokeMany top professionals come to Dave Stockton for some sophisticated advice on putting, but what he tells them is quite simple -- the lead hand (left for right-handed players) controls the putting stroke. Other than chipping, it's the only shot in golf where your dominant arm doesn't control the stroke. The left serves as a guide to keep your putts on line. Stockton says you should even practice by hitting left-hand-only putts(left) to get a better feel for how this arm is the key to making more putts. Perhaps no one exemplified this method in 2011 better than Rory McIlroy during his eight-shot win at the U.S. Open.

Photo By: Walter Iooss Jr.

Waggle to relieve tensionIf not for his stellar performance in the PGA Championship (he lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley), hardly anyone would have noticed that PGA Tour journeyman Jason Dufner has a very noticeable preshot routine. Dufner waggles -- a lot. Before hitting any shot, you can count on Dufner moving the club back and forth over the ball with a flick of his wrists several times before hitting a shot. The waggle has been a part of golf for centuries, but many current pros no longer use it. Dufner says he does it to relieve tension in his arms and hands before swinging the club. If you tend to freeze over the ball before hitting a shot, wagging can help you put some fluidity back in your golf swing.

Photo By: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Prepare for the unpredictableOK, so we're not expecting you to find a nearby lake to practice explosion shots, but there's a simple explanation why pros pull off "miracle" recovery shots like Bill Haas at the Tour Championship(left) and it's not just because they're that much better than the average golfer. While that certainly helps, they're also much better at practicing than the average golfer. While most of us define working on our game as hitting a small bucket off balls off a mat, the pros spend hour upon hour working on their short games, as well as trying shots from every lie imaginable so that they're prepared for any situation. So when Haas found his ball only half submerged under water, what did he see? An opportunity.

Photo By: AP Photo

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