Sang-Moon Bae had already won once on the PGA Tour -- at the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship -- but you wouldn't have known it by the results leading up to the 2014-15 season opener at the Frys.com Open.
The 28-year-old South Korean hadn't recorded a top-10 finish since the Nelson triumph, and his time out of the spotlight showed early on the back nine Sunday. Bae bogeyed the 11th, 13th and 14th holes with three-putts as he saw four of the six-stroke advantage he had built disappear with Steven Bowditch safely in the clubhouse after shooting a closing 67.
But on the par-5 16th, Bae made a clutch up-and-down from deep greenside grass to save par, preserve his lead and, ultimately, pave the way to his second tour victory. "Under pressure, you'll see a lot of players struggle with that shot from deep grass to a relatively close pin, even on tour," says top Georgia teacher Brandon Stooksbury, who is the director of instruction at Idle Hour Club in Macon. "It takes some speed on the clubhead to make it through the deeper grass, and the player is afraid to make that big of a swing under the circumstances."
But with the right club and setup -- a 56-degree wedge with 8 to 12 degrees of bounce, played open with the ball in the middle of the stance -- you can reduce the risk that comes from swinging with more speed. "The two things that are important to pulling off the shot are using the bounce on the bottom of the club effectively and coming in at a steep angle of attack," Stooksbury says. "You want to think of the swing shape as a V. Hinge your wrists quickly on the backswing until the club gets to parallel with the ground, then deliver the club quickly and sharply to the back of the ball. If you come in too shallow or slow, the clubhead will get caught in the grass."
With the clubface open, more clubhead speed will produce more height without a lot of extra distance -- another safety buffer that should help you swing more freely. "Look how big Bae's backswing was compared to the follow-through," Stooksbury says. "The grass absorbed all the energy from the swing. He also had some room to let the shot roll out. If it had been a tighter pin, he could have made an even bigger swing and hit a higher shot. You just have to trust the loft of the club." Follow @RudyWriter