PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

How They Hit That

Three short-game lessons from an epic final round battle

Even when going absurdly low at Caves Valley, Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau provided lessons for the rest of us

Cliff Hawkins

Golf Digest Top 50 Teacher Bernie Najar had a front row seat at the BMW Championship: He's the director of instruction at Caves Valley, and the Tour taking over his facility gave him plenty of time to evaluate the action last week. He offers three important takeaways you can adapt to your game from the epic battle between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau.

1. Let the putter do the work

"I walked with Patrick, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele during their practice round Tuesday and Patrick has several skills that really stand out, even in that group of talented players," says Najar. "Every player gets on a roll with the putter, but what Cantlay does is special. His stroke has such a lovely change of direction, and the putter just falls on the ball. He's never accelerating at impact." That might sound counterintuitive—or dangerously close to the "deceleration" thing players have been warned about forever, but Najar says there is an important distinction. "What you want is a 'wrecking ball' putting stroke, where you're letting the club fall and do the work for you," says Najar. "It's when players try to add hit to the putt or steer things that it goes wrong, especially as the pressure ramps up. The attitude of his stroke is just so different because of that freedom. He's just focused on where he wants the ball to go."

2. Know when to putt instead of chip

Bryson DeChambeau notably chose to use his putter from thicker grass off the green all week instead of chipping—something uncharacteristic on the modern tour. That can be a good play for players at all levels, provided you take the necessary setup precautions. "When you choose to putt from thicker, fluffier grass, know that the ball will launch as if you chipped it," says Najar. "The difference is that it is probably landing in the rough, which means you could get a strange hop. You can neutralize some of that by playing the ball back in your stance. To make sure you make the best contact, make some practice swings to make sure the club is getting through the grass without snagging. You can also switch over to a lofted hybrid and make the same putting-style stroke. That head is more forgiving and the ball comes off more softly."

3. Keep it low when you can

It's also common to see tour players hit mega-lofted flop shots from trouble around the green. Caves Valley's challenging green complexes often forced players to make different choices, like DeChambeau's attempt to play this low shot into the mound so it would trickle onto the green. "What I like about this shot is that it seemed like he didn't pull it off, but it was really very smart—and something the average player would do well to understand," says Najar. "Bryson picked the shot that he had the best chance to make clean contact on the ball, and the one where even a mediocre shot would leave him something reasonable. If a 10-handicapper tried to flop that one from the downhill lie Bryson had, you're looking at the possibility of going right under the ball or blading it." Even a player who looks to hit the accelerator on virtually every shot knew when the odds weren't in his favor. "He hit the shot that suited the situation, and picked the one that fit his arsenal the best," says Najar. "He likes to keep the club very stable instead of throwing it, and he didn't try something crazy. There's a reason he was 27-under."