InstructionApril 4, 2011

Tom Lehman's go-to shot

Tom Lehman, the winner of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic on Sunday, made an interesting comment about his swing about a half hour after hoisting the trophy. "What I have done well [throughout my career] is draw the ball, and so every teacher I ever had, every lesson I ever had, I always said 'don't ever, ever, ever try to get me to do anything where I can't draw the ball.' " Then Lehman went on to say that he told his teachers, "If you think I hook it too much, then make it less high or something, but I always want to hook it."

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He might have also mentioned that this go-to shot really works for him. At the Mississippi tournament, Lehman hit 35 of 42 fairways, or 83.3 percent, tied for second in the field. He also averaged 287.5 yards off the tee (10th in driving distance) and hit 76 percent of the greens in regulation (T14).

Lehman says only three people have influenced his swing over his lifetime: his father (who gave him the fundamentals), his coach at the University of Minnesota, Les Bolstad (who got him on the right path with his swing), and Golf Digest Teaching Professional Jim Flick (who for the past 20 years has kept him on the right path).

I spoke with Flick about Lehman's technique and how adopting some of Tom's principles might help the average golfer. Flick had a lot to say: "It's true that Tom told me not to change his basic draw ball-flight," Jim says. "The main thing I did

               with Tom when he first came to see me was have him set up more open and get the club a little more open at the top so he could release the club more without overhooking it. I didn't want him to get the club too inside going back. This also got him a bit more height on his trajectory."

Lehman's right-to-left ball-flight was a result of learning to play in the tough weather of Minnesota. Lehman felt a draw was simply a stronger shot, less affected by poor conditions. Flick also relates that Lehman always had that distinctive Byron Nelson style of knee dip through impact. Jim didn't give that to Tom, but he did have Tom stand a bit taller at address with less flex in his knees, so he could increase the flex coming down as a way of controlling the right-to-left ball flight.

"Everyone needs a go-to shot," Flick says. "You need a reliable shot pattern that under pressure eliminates one side of the golf course. Nicklaus and Trevino developed controlled fades, and Tom's is a right-to-left ball flight. He always has a very precise idea of his target, and he always sees the ball curving to that target from right-to-left. He does this not just on the course, but also in his practice sessions."

Speaking of practice, Flick says Lehman is one player who likes to use drills. Two in particular that Tom relies on are worth emulating by the average golfer as well as the better player:

--Make full-motion swings at half speed with the driver. That's how Lehman works on getting his leg and body action in sync with his arm swing. This gets him to draw the ball based on the path of his swing, not on timing the release of his arms and wrists.

--Hit balls with both thumbs off the shaft. This drill allows you to feel the weight of the club better so you have a sense of where the clubhead is throughout the swing. Because you are holding the club only in the fingers, you can truly feel the alignment of the clubface going back, at the top, and through impact. For Tom, it's a drill he uses to keep from getting laid off at the top.

Try these drills in your game. They will help you perfect your own go-to shot. And remember to follow me on Twitter @RogerSchiffman.

*Roger Schiffman

Managing Editor

Golf Digest

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(Photo by AP Photo/Sun Herald, Tim Isbell)

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