The Loop

The Six Best Shots of 2016, and How You Can Hit Them

Steal some pointers from the best in the professional game

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December 26, 2016

The best shots of 2016 were inspiring in the emotional sense, but it doesn't have to stop there. Tour players are freaks, but you, too, can take some cues from their greatest shots and improve your own game. Here are a half dozen of 2016's best, and what you can incorporate from them the next time you play.

Dustin Johnson's 18th hole approach at the U.S. Open

Johnson's quantum leap to the U.S. Open title and Player of the Year came from making a subtle adjustment to his approach. He began hitting fades almost exclusively—and smashed two cold-blooded perfect ones at Oakmont's last punctuate his first major victory. Ironically, Johnson's famous bent left-wrist position can actually help you hit fewer fades, if you'e a chronic slicer. "If you can twist the shaft closed on the backswing and get a little more bend in your wrist instead of a cup, that by itself might be enough to get rid of that slice for good," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella. "You don't even need to get near where DJ is—just halfway between where you are now and where he is should be plenty."

Rory McIlroy's eagle approach at the Tour Championship

A cool $12 million payday might not mean as much to somebody in McIlroy's tax bracket, but holing out from the fairway to pull within a shot of the lead late Sunday afternoon would get anybody's juices flowing. When he's on, McIlroy is the best ball-striker on the planet, and this pitching wedge from 137 yards shows why. "Rory is so good at those iron shots—and he hits them so far—because he transfers his energy so efficiently into the ball," says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Michael Jacobs. "To get more of that in your swing, feel like your lead arm is hanging straight down through the last part of the downswing. Get it right and your ball-striking will immediately improve, and you won't be so reliant on perfect timing."

Henrik Stenson's Open Championship 3-Wood

Stenson had the putting week of his life at Royal Troon, but it was his smashing 3-wood that put him in position to convert all those birdies. Stenson routinely hit it 300 yards and as straight as his middle irons. The secret is square, flush contact time after time. Most players struggle with that in the effort to try to produce more speed. "Everybody is going to tell you to turn your hips more—especially because most players don't do it at all—but you're better off feeling a swing where your weight is on a stable right leg on the way back and on a stable left leg on the way down," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella. "That's going to produce better quality of contact than a lot of lower body motion. You aren't going to be hitting as much of a moving target, so to speak."

Brooke Henderson's eagle putt at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship

Henderson is a teenager, but she helped lock down her first major championship with a veteran play at the KPMG. Instead of chipping at the 11th hole at Sahalee C.C. in the final round, she used her putter to make a long fringe putt for eagle, pulling her within a shot of Lydia Ko. She would go on to win in a playoff. If you have a good lie in the fringe, you're almost always going to want to putt it," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Kevin Weeks, who is based at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Ill. "Keep your weight favoring your lead leg, make a nice, full swing, stay in your posture and concentrate on making solid contact with the center of the head. You don't have to pop it out of the fringe or add something at impact to get it through the longer grass. Just add a little more power to account for the fringe."

Jimmy Walker's bunker hole-out at the PGA Championship

Walker's progress had stalled on the long two-round Sunday at Baltusrol. He hadn't made a birdie yet, and was in the sand greenside at the 10th hole. He jarred that one for birdie and would go on to capture his first major championship. The secret to sand success? Producing enough speed. You need to use both your body and arms, says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Trillium Rose. "Turn through so your belt buckle faces the target at the finish," says Rose, who is based at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md. "You need body turn along with soft, fast arms. Accelerate through the ball like you're striking a match."

Patrick Reed's Ryder Cup Bomb

The eighth hole of Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy's Ryder Cup singles match at Hazeltine National was the absolute apex of competitive energy in 2016. McIlroy made a birdie putt from across the green, and Reed followed immediately by slamming his own birdie on top of McIlroy's from 25 feet away. The secret to hitting the shot when you need it doesn't come from mechanics, says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Corey Lundberg. It comes from attitude. "Plenty of research shows that performers who approach pressure with loss aversion—trying not to lose—tend to perform below their ability level, while players who frame the situation as a opportunity to gain may perform above their ability level as they become more focused on the potential positive reward," Lundberg says. "Create practice scenarios where you simulate the pressure of real situations—like games that require to you 'win' before you can leave the range. Then you're more familiar with how your body and mind respond, and you can practice techniques that help you cope with the pressure."