The best players in the world are as proficient as they are for very good reasons. Not only do they possess an incredibly high level of talent and athletic ability, but they also have sound fundamentals and outstanding overall technique. If you're going to learn from anyone, these are the guys you want to study. In every aspect of the game, PGA Tour players excel because they have spent untold hours on the practice range and the course honing their skills. Though most amateurs don't have the time to dedicate to this type of approach, I always have my students look closely at pro swings so they can get a clear picture of what proper technique looks like. I suggest you do the same with this story, keeping in mind what parts of your game are lacking and what you need to improve.
Shape Your Finish
Competing on the highest level of tournament golf requires players to make a lot of birdies. To get the ball close to the hole, Tour players are forced to curve the ball both ways (left to right, right to left) from tee to green and to do so on command. Though this may seem like a daunting task for most amateur players, understanding how your followthrough affects ballflight will go a long way toward becoming a shotmaker. Here, Stuart Appleby works toward the finish, with his right shoulder down and his left elbow higher than the right elbow (below, right). This position keeps the clubface square longer after impact, ensuring the ball will fade from left to right. In the inset photo (below, left), notice that his right shoulder comes out higher and his elbows are level. This combination of elements frees up the release of both his arms and the club, which increases clubhead speed and distance. Try mimicking these two finishes with both your woods and irons.
Power And Trajectory
Tour golf requires power and control. The key to both is in the release of the club through impact. K.J. Choi is known for piercing iron shots and a strong, left-to-right ballflight. Note how his arms and club go left immediately after impact (below, left). This keeps the trajectory of the shot lower and encourages a ball that falls softly to the right. In contrast, Luke Donald's release is built for power (below, right). His arms and club go out and away from his body after impact. This allows the club to pass his body, transferring the stored energy into the ball and maximizing power. Also, the shot's trajectory will tend to be higher while the outward direction of the club path helps to create a shot shape that moves right to left. Luke Donald maximizes his power by allowing his arms and clubhead to shoot out, away from his body.
|Luke Donald (right) maximizes his power by allowing his arms and clubhead to shoot out, away from his body.|
To practice both releases, lay a stick down parallel to the target line and try to hit both fades and draws. For a lower shot that moves left to right, try to move your hands immediately left after impact, with the shaft staying angled to the stick on the ground. This will prevent your forearms from rotating during impact and will keep the clubface slightly open. For a higher, right-to-left ballflight, let the clubhead pass your hands just after impact. This promotes a more inside attack while also allowing the clubface to rotate more actively during impact. As a result, more energy will be transferred into the ball, resulting in a higher, right-to-left shot.
Learning the proper release is a great way to develop your shotshaping ability. Don't be afraid to exaggerate at first.
Learn To Release The Putter
Putter release actually is a simple concept that entails keeping the butt end of the club pointed at a fixed point throughout the stroke. This is an important fundamental of putting as it allows the putterhead to swing on-plane while the putterface rotates naturally during the stroke. In a conventional stroke (above), the end of the grip always should be pointing at the navel. This is achieved by maintaining the bend in both elbows and wrists from address to finish. The putting strokes of Kevin Sutherland (right) and Carl Petterson (far right) follow the same principles, with slight differences. The belly putter is literally attached to the navel during the stroke. This makes it easy to release the putterhead and is a great practice tool if you want to continue putting conventionally. The long putter is also fixed at its end, but against the sternum instead of the belly. The putterhead releases easily with this method as well. Remember that the key for any type of putter is to keep the butt end pointed at a fixed spot, and you should be able to release freely.
|A belly putter can be a great help for those players who struggle to properly release the putterhead (middle). Once you understand how it works, a long putter can make shorter-length putts almost automatic (right).|
From The Ground Up And Back
In the game of golf, power means very little without consistency. To produce a reliable combination of both, the body must lead the motion on the downswing, and that motion must begin with the feet. At the top of the backswing, the weight should be in the right heel and ball of the left foot. Tour players move aggressively toward their front foot (without spinning) to begin the downswing. This keeps the club attacking on the proper angle and makes it possible to snap the clubhead into the ball through use of the body's pivot. Here, Brandt Snedeker is poised for a dynamic impact position (right). His hips are slightly open, his weight is moving out of the front of his left foot back toward his heel, and his right foot is beginning to come off the ground. Like most athletic movements, the swing is largely dependent on good footwork, and Snedeker knows how to make the most of it.
Down And Out
This is a great drill to feel the proper sequence on the downswing. To begin, hold a medicine ball (or soccer ball) with both hands and begin your downswing with your feet and legs driving the movement of your arms. As you approach the bottom of the swing, throw the ball down and out and into the ground. Since the ball is relatively heavy, you should really feel the need to heave it with the muscles in your core rather than your arms and hands. This will give you the feel of the proper sequence of movements starting the downswing and produce the snap needed for power and consistency. If you want a great example of proper sequence from the top, take a good look at Steve Flesch (right). Pay particular attention to how his knees have remained flexed while he shifts his weight toward the target. This allows his hips to rotate slightly and sets up a powerful position to deliver the club down and out into impact. There's no upper-body thrust in this move, and there shouldn't be in yours either.
|Sergio has the clubshaft right on his forearm as he nears delivery. This indicates an inside approach.|
Sergio Garcia is in the perfect delivery position approaching impact (right). The club is on-plane, running through his right forearm. His knees are flexed, and both the clubface and his left arm are perpendicular to the ground. The key to this position is keeping the shoulders closed to the target while the lower body shifts weight to the front heel and begins to rotate. Proper left-arm alignment is key—if the shoulders spin open to begin the downswing, the arm will shoot out, creating an outside-in attack, which leads to pulls and slices. With the arm perpendicular, squaring the clubface at impact is easier because the hips, shoulders and arms are working in sync. Because this alignment is so neutral, it makes working the ball in both directions easier. More importantly, getting the club on the proper plane in the downswing is critical to solid ballstriking, distance and accuracy.
|Justin Rose is right on top of the ball through impact, which leads to tons of compression and a nice, crisp sound.|
Cover The Ball
Tour players' iron shots make a unique sound because they consistently make ball-first contact (ball, then grass). This type of contact creates compression, meaning the ball is squeezed between the clubface and the turf. This is the real key to the tremendous distance Tour players create with seemingly little effort, as well as their impressive control and accuracy. The impact position of Justin Rose is ideal for creating the desired, pro-style contact (right). Notice how he maintains the forward bend of his upper body with his chest over his stomach. This is critical—it enables the hands to lead the clubhead through impact, producing solid, compressed shots. There are no glancing blows created with this impact position, which goes a long way to eliminating variances in both distance and direction. If you want to be a real player, mimicking this position is key.
Move The Sand, Not The Ball
The most proficient bunker players on Tour get up and down about two out of three times from the sand. This is a testament to both their skill and the relative ease of the shot. The key to good bunker play is understanding that the ball has to be moved out of the sand by the sand, not the club. A nice thing about this is that it allows more room for error, as the shot can be struck less than perfectly and still be successful. In the photos below, you can clearly see that the ball is riding a wave of sand out of the bunker, which is the only way it's going to get onto the green. A great way to instill the proper feeling of slapping the sand instead of trying to hit the ball is to practice hitting just sand out of the bunker and onto the green. If you can get the feeling of consistently flopping a sheet of sand onto the green, you'll quickly learn to do so with a ball present. The swing should be aggressive, with a commitment to maintaining the speed of the clubhead to the followthrough.
|Here, you can see that Rose has made a solid thump through the sand, which carries the ball into the air.||From this angle, you can see how the ball is carried out of the bunker on a layer of sand.|
|Vijay is one of the hardest workers in golf, and it pays off because he practices like he intends to play.|
Taking It To The Course
One of the many differences between Tour players and amateurs is the Tour player's ability to take his game from the range to the golf course. A big reason for this is pure talent, but the way in which professional players practice also contributes heavily to this ability. Tour players tend to spend a percentage of time on the range working on mechanics and another portion of their time rehearsing actual shots they will need on the course. A great example of a player who does this particularly well is Vijay Singh. Obviously, he spends a great deal of time on the range with training aids, practicing drills and working with heavy clubs. This reinforces the proper mechanics he needs to swing well. However, Vijay also spends a large amount of time hitting shots that he'll need when he's actually playing the game. These two types of practice are distinctly different, and you need both if you want to play your best.
Brady Riggs, PGA, is a Golf Tips Senior Instruction Editor and one of the most sought-after teachers in southern California. He's located at Woodley Lakes, G.C. in Van Nuys, CA._Ê