|Left: Angel Cabrera 2009 Champ; Center: Trevor Immelman 2008 Champ; Right: Zach Johnson 2007 Champ|
One of the things I enjoy most in golf is the opportunity to travel to Augusta, Ga., for The Masters each spring. It’s truly an amazing event and one every golfing enthusiast should experience at least once in his or her lifetime. From the Par 3 Contest, to the magnolias in bloom, to the best back 9 in championship golf, The Masters is beyond compare in both style and competition. I love the tournament’s international flare, not to mention the unique array of champions who have donned the infamous green jacket. In this segment, I’ll break down some of the keys to victory of the tournament’s most recent champions: Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson. With these simple tips, you’ll find the keys to success to conquering golf’s greatest major!
Zach Johnson, 2007 Masters Champ
Score: 289, one over par
Margin Of Victory: One shot over Rory Sabbatini, Retief Goosen & Tiger Woods
How He Won: Destroyed par-5s by laying up to his perfect wedge range
His Shot: How to hit the 3__ã4 wedge
1. Set left
The key to feeling confident from a short distance is to make consistently solid contact. Players who allow their weight to shift away from the target generally have an inconsistent bottom to their swing arc. This produces both fat and thin hits.
On shots from within 100 yards, set your weight more toward your left side. As a result, your swing will, in essence, pivot around the left side post you’ve created. This left-sided stability will ensure you maintain your swing center and improve.
2. Control your length
A long, loose swing creates a wide shot dispersion. To tighten up your direction, you need to keep your swing length under control. Work on creating a go-to shot (a 3__ã4 swing is a good place to start).
Next, take a look at your swing from the face-on perspective. (I suggest either asking a friend to watch you or tape yourself with a video camera.) Once you swing as far back as you’d like and make some corresponding solid hits, measure how far you’re hitting the ball. That’s your go-to shot. Then do the same with swings of varying lengths to bolster your arsenal!
3. Hit firm with the correct wrist angle and pressure at impact
In golf, the knockdown shot is one in which the player creates a tight, piercing ballflight that can cut through strong headwinds.
To feel the same type of contact with your wedges, you want your hands to deliver a blow that’s firm and crisp in attitude. Feel the back of your left hand hit solidly into the hit with a clubface that strengthens in loft. De-lofting the clubface is a characteristic all great ballstrikers share. Adopt a knockdown attitude and you’ll be knocking down flagsticks as well!
4. Strike a match to create the right rhythm
The theme thus far has been to create a swing that’s crisp and under control. To seal the deal, adopt a rhythm that embodies the same mind-set. Your wedge rhythm should be aggressive and upbeat, like the attitude you have when striking a match. Make a rehearsal swing that has enough zip to start a fire at the bottom, and your ball will stop on a dime!
Conclusion: If you want to win The Masters, you need to be deadly accurate with your distance control into the green. Although each putting surface at Augusta may seem like a large target, a player must hit his shot to an area no larger than a typical bed sheet. During Zach Johnson’s impressive victory, he demonstrated how a player who doesn’t have home-run power can steal the green jacket with some precision wedge play.
Angel Cabrera, 2009 Champ
Score: 276, 12 under par
Margin Of Victory: Cabrera finished tied with Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry after 72 holes. Campbell bogeyed the first play-off hole to drop out. Cabrera then parred the second hole to win his first green jacket.
How He Won: Controlled his speed perfectly on Augusta’s slick greens
His Shot: Using the belly putter to drain putts
1. Set your anchor
The belly putter is great simply because it’s so simple to use. All you have to do is anchor the grip end of the putter to your midsection and you’re good to go.
I find that a spot just to the left of my navel works best. Once your anchor is set, the stroke operates just like a perfect pendulum, in rhythm, with the back- and through-swings about equal length.
2. Fold your elbows so they’re high on your hips
The next step is to put your hands on the putter so that your arm swing can stay relaxed and fluid. Instead of having your arms long and rigid, place your hands high on the shaft, forcing your elbows to fold up and into your body. As you make your stroke, this folded-arm position will allow your joints to naturally flex in response to the swinging putterhead.
3. Feel some flow
To control how far you hit your putts, you must feel a proper-sized stroke. From your anchored position, make some strokes with your right arm only. With this one-handed action, you’ll be able to feel the putterhead swing naturally, and judging distance will be as simple as tossing a ball to the cup. Make a smooth start and keep your rhythm even and you’ll think these belly putters should be illegal!
4. Stay at home
The final quality you need to make a great belly putter stroke is to stay at home. By that I mean the proximity of your arms to your body throughout the motion.
At address, feel your arms touching the sides of your midsection, with your elbows settling just above your hips. As you make your stroke, maintain your arm/body connection by staying at home. This means not allowing your arms to stray away from your torso. Even at the end of the stroke, your arms and body will have a gentle connection.
Conclusion: It’s no secret that to win at Augusta, you have to be able to roll the rock. Over the course of four rounds, you’re sure to be faced with your share of slippery knee knockers, so making a stable, reliable stroke is a must. For guaranteed success with the flat stick, I recommend trying the foolproof belly putter method employed by 2009 champ, Angel Cabrera.
Trevor Immelman, 2008 Champ
Score: 280, eight under par
Margin Of Victory: Three shots over Tiger Woods
How He Won: Found the right location on the greens, and that set up aggressive putting opportunities
His Shot: The well-struck iron
1. Set Your Posture
First, get into a strong spine-angle position. I like my players to bend forward so that their spine and shaft are at a 90-degree angle to each other at address. A chest that’s too tall is up and away from the ball and will lead to a retreat when you swing. Lean over, get engaged with the turf into an attack-driven posture and you’ll be in a position to create maximum pressure on your golf ball.
2. Do the logo drill
Once your posture is set, it’s all up to the arms to create your golf swing’s shape. Get your arms to swing around your torso by smashing your golf shirt’s logo on the backswing with your left arm. On the followthrough, swing your right arm back across your chest, replicating the path you traveled with your left. With a solid posture and this simple tip, your swing will always be on a reasonable plane and yield consistent results.
Conclusion: With bunkers, water and nasty slopes guarding the green (not to mention some of the longest approaches in golf), every Masters champion needs a rock-solid iron game. Take a page out of Trevor Immelman’s arsenal and you’ll be on your way to your own awards ceremony!
2009 Masters Champion, Angel Cabrera
After two years of abuse from Mother Nature, Augusta National returned to its placid spring conditions. El Pato not only hit a lot of greens (70.42%), but also made putts when it counted, averaging 1.58 strokes per hole for a total of 112 putts over the four-day tournament.
2008 Masters Champion, Trevor Immelman
The South African not only won by a decisive three-stroke margin, but also dominated the statistics leaderboard. Immelman was first in driving accuracy (hitting 48 of 56), second in GIR (51 of 72), fourth in driving distance (287.5 yards) and fourth in overall putts with 112.
2007 Masters Champion, Zach Johnson
As the mercury plunged into the low 40s on Saturday, and the wind gusted, Johnson remained cool and composed. While hitting 61% of his greens, the native Iowan dominated the par-5s, shooting an impressive 11 under on those holes. He always putted the lights out. Johnson averaged 1.56 putts per hole and 112 total.
Editor’s Note: It doesn’t hurt to hit the ball long and straight at Augusta, but when you look at the past three winners’ stats, it’s clear that you need a hot putter to win a green jacket. Consider that all three men took the same number of strokes with their flatstick, 112. That’s 32 fewer over four days than if they had two-putted every green.
Jeff Ritter, PGA, teaches at the ASU Karsten Golf Academy in Tempe, Ariz., and is the author of Golf by Design. Visit golfbydesign.net.