Kapalua always presents tremendous eye candy for the golf fan—from the gorgeous mountain-meets-ocean views to the avalanche of birdies at the champions-only Sentry. But there's still plenty the average player can take away from the golf action and put directly into play next time out. Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Mark Blackburn identified five of the most relatable shots from the tournament—from winner Cameron Smith's sidehill-downhill hybrid to Jon Rahm's precision wedges.
Sloping lies: Reorient your low point
"TV doesn't do justice to the slopes at places like Kapalua or Augusta," says Blackburn, who works with Max Homa, Charley Hoffman and Gary Woodland among other players. "There's basically not a flat lie anywhere. Even if your course isn't as sloping, you still have to contend with non-flat lies. But where are you doing most of your practicing? At the flat driving range!" The secret to playing from non-flat surfaces is first acknowledging you can't just do the same thing when the ball isn't level with your feet. "Slope changes your low point, or where the club reaches the ground. You have to adjust your setup to account for that," says Blackburn. "If you're downhill like Cam Smith is here, the ball has to go back slightly, and you adjust your aim because the tendency is for a shot like this to fade. You also need to play more loft, because the slope is taking loft off the club."
Flighted wedge: Replicate the club at address
"When you watch a player like Jon Rahm hit an approach wedge, you're seeing a surgeon at work with a scalpel," says Blackburn. "He's using more club and swinging within himself, and really controlling the face and loft through impact to produce low trajectory and high spin. The average player sees a yardage, picks the club that maxes out at that number and swings hard, relying on height to make the ball stop." At address, shift the ball slightly back of center and set up with your hands closer to the target. By making a shorter, more controlled backswing and follow-through, you have a much better chance of bringing the club through with the shaft leaning toward the target at impact. "His club exits to the left and the ball hits the green and one-stops," says Blackburn. "He's not smashing the ball like you would with a hammer. That's how tour players pepper the flag with their short clubs."
Roll-out pitch: Use the body to control the swing
"Many times, getting better is more than just technique. Look at the shot Bryson DeChambeau has here," says Blackburn. "He has a lot of room on the green, so he hits a pitch shot that he wants to run out to the hole like a putt." To make the ball run vs. check, the key move is to avoid lots of wrist set going back and to drive the downswing with body turn. "When you open the face and use hand speed, that produces more spin," says Blackburn. "Move a little closer to the ball at address, which will also help promote clean contact—and remember that pin location dictates the shot selection. Having choices in your technique is what makes a player a player."
Deep grass pitch: Don't get cute
"This seems like a lucky break for Billy Horschel—banging one in off the pin. But everything he does on this shot stacks the deck in his favor," says Blackburn. "There's less predictability when there's more grass around the ball. Billy is trying to make sure he has a putt for par. If he gets too cute, he puts it in the bunker or even leaves it in the rough. So he makes sure he has enough angle and speed to where at worst he's 10 or 15 feet by the hole with a chance to make a putt."As the grass around the ball gets thicker, your swing needs to come down at a steeper angle closer to the ball, with more speed. Get tentative and you can get the club caught up in the grass and leave the ball in the bunker or sand. "This means more wrist hinge and acceleration, like you're hitting a bunker shot," says Blackburn. "Just don't get sloppy with your low point and hit way behind the ball."
Fringe putting: When it doubt, roll it
"Chipping might feel like the shot choice for a good player around the green, but if you don't have any kind of bump or obstacle in front of you, why would you ever do anything but putt it?" says Blackburn. "Matt Jones just set the 36-hole scoring record for the PGA Tour, and he was fine with rolling it. You should be, too." The best part of this technique is that it isn't any different than what you already do. You just need to account for slightly more grass by adding more energy. "If you tend to hit down on your putts, move the ball up in your stance slightly, but mostly it's a speed adjustment," says Blackburn, who is based at Greyston Golf & Country Club in Birmhingham, Ala. "If you do have a bit of stuff in front of you? You can still putt, but just use your hybrid. I'd also suggest actually practicing these shots—which most people never do. Add it to your pre-round warm-up routine so you aren't going in blind when confronted with the chance to use it during the round."