If you get a chance to see the Stanford University women's golf team play, one thing you'll notice is that they've got guts. They're not afraid to try tough shots in competition. I helped their coach, Anne Walker, lead the team to the Pac-12 conference championship last year, and this year's team is equally gifted.
I asked some of their top players to recall a gutsy shot they hit in a tournament and demonstrate it. I'll explain what they did to execute these shots, because you, too, have to face them from time to time. Now you'll be able to pull them off.
STIFFING THE 40-YARD BUNKER SHOT
Quirine Eijkenboom, Sophomore, Starnberg, Germany
At the Stanford Intercollegiate in October, Quirine was looking at a 40-yard bunker shot to a back-left pin to save par on the 13th hole. She could have babied the shot and just put it on the green. Instead, she got aggressive. "I played it like a normal fairway pitch—ball-first contact," she says. If she had purposely hit behind the ball, like a regular greenside bunker shot, she'd have had to use a longer club or a harder swing to get it close. But clipping the ball allowed her to take her most lofted wedge and swing normally.
To play this shot, stay centered over the ball as you make a half backswing. And when you swing down, shift a little toward the target (above). This will move the bottom of the swing arc in front of the ball so you can clip it before taking any sand. "Mine came out perfectly and rolled up near the hole," Quirine says.
FLOPPING IT OFF A DOWNSLOPE
Casey Danielson, Sophomore, Osceola, Wis.
Casey's approach on the final hole of the Pac-12 Championship last year went over the green and left her with a downhill lie from the rough to a hole cut near a ledge. Leave it short, and she'd have another shot from the rough. Hit it a hair too long, and it would roll to the other side of the green. "I had to swing hard to get the ball up and stop it quick," she says. "But if I didn't get the club under the ball, I'd blade it."
Casey made some adjustments to execute this shot. She moved the ball back in her stance a little to make sure she didn't chunk the shot. She also opened the face of the wedge and lowered the shaft to get the ball to come out high and straight. Finally, she made a smooth swing, accelerating through the grass and down the slope well into her follow-through (pictured). Swinging with the slope is the big key.
"The ball popped out softly and stopped four feet from the cup," she says. "I made the putt."
FLUSHING IT FROM A SLICE LIE
Mariah Stackhouse, Junior, Riverdale, Ga.
If you're not careful, a downhill, sidehill lie will make you hit a weak slice. Mariah knew that when she faced this situation late in the round at an alternate-shot tournament a few years back. "My partner knocked it in the water off the tee on a par 5," she says. "After the drop, I could still reach the green, but the ball was below my feet."
When you face this lie, focus on two things: (1) Close your stance so your body is aligned well right of the green. You might think this will make a slice worse, but what it does is promote an in-to-out swing path that counters the effects of the lie. (2) Keep some flex in your knees and use your rear end as a counterbalance to swing in control. When the ball is below your feet, it's difficult to catch it solidly if you alter your posture.
Mariah made these tweaks and even drew the ball. "It rolled up to about five feet," she says.
Lauren Kim, Junior, Los Altos, Calif.
Hitting it arrow-straight might not seem like a specialty shot, but even Ben Hogan said he struggled to do it. Lauren needed this kind of precision on the 18th hole at an event at Stanford this past fall. "I drove it into trouble, tried to punch out, but my ball hit a branch and bounced down," she says. "I had to try to get up and down from 140 out to a tucked pin. I had to take dead aim." When you're in a situation where you can't afford to spray it, remember the keys to hitting it straight: an on-plane swing and center-face contact. Hitting it in the middle of the face reduces clubhead twisting that can cause the shot to curve.
For the swing plane, here's a great thought: Get the shaft in a mirror-image position at halfway back and halfway through. Matching the angle of the shaft (pictured) at these points helps you stay on plane and hit it flush. Rehearse this mirror-image swing a few times, then step up and repeat it. The closer you come to matching, the more precise your shot. "My ball ended up nearly hole high, and I managed to save par," Lauren says.