Under pressure, hit the knockdown
After his miracle shot at the 14th hole on Sunday (holing a gap wedge from 115 yards for eagle to jump into the lead), D.A. Points suddenly realized the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was his to win -- or lose. A curious thing happened to his swing: His follow-through got shorter and shorter as he got closer and closer to the finish line.
Fortunately for him, his playing partner, Bill Murray, was keeping him loose with his own antics. But Points pulled two tee shots -- on 15 almost out-of-bounds, and on 16 well into the left rough. The last thing he wanted on 17 or 18 was to hit the ball left. He played those holes smartly, holding off his follow-through on his approach to 17, keeping the ball 20 feet right of the cup. Then he did the same on 18, with a hybrid off the tee to the right side of the fairway, a middle-iron layup (below) to 130 yards and a 9-iron approach safely away from the front-right bunker to the middle of the green.
*Points reverted to the safety of a knockdown shot down the stretch at Pebble.
Photo by J.D. Cuban*
His play reminded me of the way Paul Azinger won the same tournament 20 years ago in similar fashion. The last few holes at Pebble require accuracy, not distance. And hitting knockdowns is a great way to keep the ball in play. Said Azinger in a Golf Digest article he and I did together back in August of 1991: "When I won the AT&T this year, I knocked down nearly every shot on the last nine holes. Because the shot gives me more control, I hit the ball pin-high almost every time." Sound familiar?
I went back and found some key points from Azinger's article on hitting the knockdown. They are still valid today, and you can incorporate them into your game whenever you're feeling nervous, or you need extra control on your iron shots, or you're playing in a lot of wind and want to keep the ball down. So here's Paul's advice, in his own words...
--The knockdown doesn't go shorter, just lower. I can hit a knockdown 9-iron as far as a full 9-iron, but with more precision. The knockdown requires less hand rotation, more body rotation. With my strong grip, that's great for me. I don't have to manipulate my hands through impact. That's why it works under pressure.
--The knockdown is not a punch shot. A knockdown goes the same distance as a regular shot, only lower and with more spin. But a punch goes shorter than normal and lands more softly. My backswing for the knockdown is fairly full, like my normal backswing. For the punch shot, my backswing is shorter because I'm hitting the ball shorter. The biggest difference between the two shots is the follow-through. For the punch, my follow-through is higher, more like a standard swing.* *For the knockdown, I finish low to hit the ball low.
--Play the ball farther back in your stance. Put your weight more on your left side. For a regular iron shot, you should have about 55 percent of your weight left, but with the knockdown it should be between 60 and 70 percent left. This encourages a downward blow, the club striking the ball before the turf.
--Try this drill: Using the setup I described earlier and with a 9-iron, practice hitting shots only 20 yards. Notice the trajectory. Then with the same club, try hitting shots 30 yards, but with almost the same trajectory. Remember to finish low. Gradually lengthen your shots to 50, 75, 100 yards, always trying for the same ball flight.
--Practice: On the range or on the course when it's not busy, practice hitting shots under objects. Maybe there are tree branches on the side of the practice area. If there is a 100-yard sign out on the range, try to hit it with a shot that would go 150 yards. That would be a great knockdown trajectory.
This is solid advice from Paul Azinger. Let me know how it works for you. And follow me on Twitter @Roger.Schiffman.