A lot of my improvement as a PGA Tour rookie has come from observation, followed by trial-and-error sessions in which I work something new into my game. It was this process that was key to my first tour victory this year at Torrey Pines.
Like a lot of young power players, I had a preference on short-iron and wedge approach shots to come in high with a lot of spin, especially to firm greens. But what I learned—sometimes the hard way—is that wind and slope can make the margin of error on those high approaches very small. Early this year on the West Coast, where there is usually wind and the greens can be soft, I noticed that veteran tour pros I was paired with tended to hit their irons lower and with less spin. Often that shot would end up closer to the hole than the one I had tried.
So I made a point of incorporating a three-quarter shot into my game. Unless the wind is really strong, the longest club I use this shot with is a 7-iron, simply because the ball tends to fly too low using anything longer. The adjustments I make for this sensible shot are pretty simple. I put the ball back in my stance slightly, and make a shorter backswing with less wrist cock. To prevent a steep path that can shoot the ball too low, I make sure to rotate my body away from the target enough to shallow the angle of attack. You also can see here that I've turned through fully, but my finish with the club looks a little shorter than normal. This is a position to copy to flight the ball lower. Also keep in mind that the ball is not going to fly as far. For me, it's about 10 yards less than if I made a full swing with the same club.
The three-quarter shot, because it creates less spin, might not be the choice when I need to stuff an approach into a tight pin and force a birdie. But I've also learned that those situations are not the norm. The three-quarter shot is easier to hit the right distance, and easier to hit straight, which makes it more reliable. Basically, less can go wrong, and it has reduced the "soft" bogeys that can mess up low rounds and be really annoying. I recently heard that Lee Trevino used to say, "Hit the ball only as high as you need to." Now I have a better idea of what he meant. —With Jaime Diaz
Jon Rahm, a rookie on the PGA Tour, won the Farmers Insurance Open in January and is fourth on tour in strokes gained/tee-to-green.