Monday Swing Analysis: Own your shot shape like K.J. Choi
Editor's note: Every week, PGA professional Kevin Hinton examines the swing of a recent tour winner and tells you what you can learn. A Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, Kevin is the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Golf Club, Locust Valley, N.Y., and is a Lead Master Instructor for the Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Resort & Spa. He also teaches at Drive 495 in New York. He has seen thousands of swings, and has helped golfers of all abilities, from rank beginners to tour players. This week, he looks at the swing of K.J. Choi, who won the Players Championship in a dramatic sudden-death playoff with David Toms.
Last week during the Monday Swing Analysis, we examined how Tom Lehman's "draw" swing can help average players finally cure their slice. This week we take a look at the "fade" swing of The 2011 Players Championship winner, K.J. Choi, whose swing is close to a polar opposite of Lehman's. Take a look at Choi's swing from down the line, at the U.S. Open last June.
The first lesson we can take from Choi's swing is how effective a fade can be for an advanced player to hit as a regular shot, especially under pressure. The most defining characteristic of Choi's swing is his transition from the top of the backswing into the downswing. As he starts down, his arms and hands move outward in what is often called an over-the-top or "casting" motion. In reality, all he is doing is setting the club to swing down on an outside-to-in path that will produce a left-to-right ball flight. Slicers all over the world make this move everyday.
Like many things in golf, however, it's a matter of degree. Many top players prefer a fade as their shot of choice, but what differentiates them from the average player is the amount to which they do it. Essentially, their ball will rarely slice. If you are a low-handicapper who is much more likely to be held back by the occasional hook than a slice, try working a fade into your repertoire of shots. You'll find it reliable under pressure, and you might make it your shot of choice, as K.J. Choi does.
The second lesson is the importance of committing to a consistent ball flight and routinely trying to create that shape. It's often said that a straight shot is the hardest shot in golf to hit. The combination of variables that must align for a ball to start exactly at the target and fly without any curve is daunting. The negative in trying to hit straight shots is that all day long you'll be hitting shots that are not doing what you want them to do. Essentially, you'll be failing on every shot.
Hitting a consistent shape is an achievable goal. If you like to see the ball draw, every time your ball starts somewhere out to the right of your target and curves left, you have succeeded in hitting your desired shot. For a fade, the opposite ball flight is your goal. Your chances for success are much greater.
Finally, stick with that shot under pressure, even if the hole doesn't set up great for that shape. As K.J. Choi and David Toms got to the 18th hole at the TPC of Sawgrass yesterday, a hole that turns left and calls for a draw, they both stuck with their natural fade and didn't try to hit the shot they are not as comfortable with. Choi hit a fairway wood that curved slightly into the right side of the fairway, and Toms hit a bullet fade down the left-hand water line that also landed safely in the fairway (unfortunately, it finished in a divot, but that's a tip for another time). Both players got the ball in play under pressure going with their regular shot shape.
Just as it is important to stick with our pre-shot routines under pressure, it is equally important to stick with the shot shape that we practice the most and is the easiest for us to create. Do this and you will own your shape as well.