PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


Skills To Pay The Bills: Sure Shots To Come Through In The Clutch

August 24, 2017

Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

You're facing the most important drive of the round—or maybe your life—and you gotta find the fairway. What do you do? Here's what you don't do: Don't make a short, wristy swing and try to steer it in play. I've seen a lot of golfers suddenly change their driver swing when the pressure's on. That's a recipe for a big miss. This situation calls for commitment, meaning keeping your driver accelerating on a good arcing path low through the impact zone. The type of swing you would make if you were hitting a ball into the middle of a driving range.

Here's a drill to help get it done when it matters most. Place your ball on a tee and then stick four or five other tees in the turf on an arcing path on the target side of your ball. The first one should be on your target line and the others about a half-inch apart, arcing just inside of it. Now hit shots with the goal of striking the ball and then clipping as many of those other tees out of the ground as possible (below). Not only does this keep your club moving low, so you hit the ball in the center of the face, it gets you to accelerate the club through impact on the correct inside-to-inside path in relation to the target line. Best part? You can use the image of clipping the tees when you play, and that will help take your mind off worrying about the outcome. Just stick with the process.


Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

‘Take it back slow; finish the backswing. Then when you swing down, keep the clubhead moving low, even after the ball is struck.’

Mario Guerra, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, works at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Clutch short-game players are the envy of us all. One of the most obvious things you'll notice when they hit these shots is they swing with no fear of nuking one 30 yards over the green. They keep the clubhead moving long after the ball has spun off the face by using good body rotation—way more than the average golfer dares to turn, especially when it's a big shot.

The key to hitting a good pitch or chip is to minimize the role of the hands. Instead, use a more reliable method of turning your body toward the target to propel the club along the ground before and after impact. In other words, keep your chest turning through. I like the visual of pretending there is a long club with its grip attached to your chest. Your mission is to hit the shot by turning your body. If you don't turn your chest, the club doesn't move.

If you do turn, the butt end of the club should be pointing at your stomach at the finish like I'm demonstrating here (below).

Another thing that will help you hit short-game shots is how you set your hands. At address, lean the shaft slightly away from the target, so your left wrist feels slightly cupped and your right wrist flat. Maintain those wrist positions as you turn your chest toward the target, and you'll pull off the shot every time.


Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

‘When you hit a good pitch or chip shot, it will feel like you gave it a good body blow.’

Scott Chisholm, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, works at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.

When it comes to hitting greens down the stretch, nothing is more important than distance control. Think about it. Even a shot that's 20 yards off line might still be on the green if you hit it pin high. That's why you should really focus on solid contact when hitting your irons in the clutch.

I've got a simple tip that will cure a common negative tendency with your irons. When you get into your address position, focus on the front of the golf ball—the sliver closest to your target. Then, when you swing, stay focused on hitting that part of the ball. This will help delay the release of the club, so you make ball-first contact with a delofted clubface. That gets the iron to continue moving downward even after the ball is struck. You'll compress it.

A sure sign you're hitting your iron shots powerfully is the look and feel of the clubshaft at impact. It should be leaning toward your target like I'm demonstrating (below). Note how my left eye really looks like it's fixated on that front edge of the golf ball. That also will help get your mind off the weight of the moment.


‘The death move when you really need a good iron shot is to try and scoop the ball off the ground. avoid that by keeping the shaft leaning forward.’

Adam Kolloff, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, works at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., site of this year's Presidents Cup.

The three of us put our minds together to really determine the most important aspect of sinking a clutch putt. A soft grip and a smooth stroke back and through matter. But what we kept coming back to as the key to holing a crucial putt is a steady head. Any excessive head movement can cause you to roll the ball on a different line than you intended, or alter the face so it's no longer square to that line. We know you're anxious to see where the ball's going, and we know it's hard not to track the movement of the putter or ball with your eyes. But to make sure you give yourself the very best chance of making one, you've got to check your head. Keep it as still as possible. Just remember not to tense up simply because you've got this feeling of being in lockdown with your noggin. In fact, when you stand over the putt, don't make a stroke until you feel your shoulders and jaw bone relax. When the tension is gone, hit the putt and don't look up for at least a full second. You don't need to see it go in. It's way more illin' to hear the ball rattle around as you stare at your opponent.


Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

‘Don’t even think for a second to get it close. Get in the mind-set of I’m making this one.’ —The Boys