It goes without saying that the players who compete on the PGA Tour are the best in the world. Not only do they have impressive natural talent, but every guy out there spends a tremendous amount of time and effort working on his technique, strategy and fitness. For those of us not fortunate enough to be able to spend all day, every day improving our all-around game, this opportunity seems like a dream come true. For the players on Tour, however, it’s a job that they take seriously, and one that’s both extremely competitive and tough.
Recreation golfers who play the game for fun might not have the same level of talent or time to invest in the game of golf as Tour players do, but they can still learn a lot from the guys on Tour. When I teach my students, for example, I constantly use Tour swings to illustrate the proper techniques, regardless of whether the student in question has Tour-like ability. The point is, if you’re serious about learning to do it the right way, there’s no better place to learn than from the best, because the techniques they use have proven to work.
Get Down On It
Tour pros are extremely good at maintaining their posture during the swing. The obvious benefit of this is consistent contact with the center of the face, as well as outstanding arm extension and compressed iron shots. In contrast, amateurs tend to lose their spine angle both in the backswing and the downswing, which leads to a number of poor shots: becoming excessively bent over creates fat shots and chicken wings, while becoming too upright leads to shanks and thin shots. Ernie Els shows how it’s done correctly. His hips are rotating left to make room through impact while his chest stays out on top of the ball. This ensures the club will bottom out past the ball and create the space necessary to extend the arms after impact. Work on maintaining your spine angle throughout your swing, and your ballstriking should improve dramatically.
Tour players make a lot of birdies by reaching par-5s in two, largely because of their prodigious driving distance, but also because of their proficiency with fairway woods. To improve your fairway wood play, forget about drawing the ball and learn to hit a controlled fade. Not only is this shot easier to get airborne, but a fade lands more softly and has a better chance of staying on the green. Also, a cut shot is easier to control, and adding it to your arsenal will promote aggressive play. To execute a cut shot with a fairway wood, set up with a slightly open stance and place the ball a bit more forward than normal. Concentrate on making contact with the back of the ball, or even a bit on the outside of it, and try to swing slightly across the target line. Focus on making solid contact instead of swinging as hard as you can and you’ll be surprised how far this type of shot will travel. Even if you don’t reach the green, plenty of easy birdies will result.
Form Two Lines
In the moment just after impact, there are two key checkpoints that can determine if your swing is on-plane. In this picture of Justin Leonard, notice both the alignment of the clubshaft and the clubface. An extension of the clubshaft is still pointing at an extension of the target line, indicating a swing that has remained on-plane. In addition, the leading edge of the clubface is parallel to both the outside of his right arm and the target line. Getting these two alignments perfect doesn’t happen by accident, but the work it requires is well worth the effort.
Make Every Putt Straight
There are few shots more daunting for professionals and amateurs alike than a short left-to-right-breaking putt. Professionals deal with these putts much more successfully by turning them into straight putts instead of fighting the break. How do they do it? Simply by picking a target other than the hole that represents the apex of the break. In this putt, Tiger is aiming several cups to the left of the actual cup. He starts the ball directly at this target and allows the slope to work the ball into the hole. When you try this technique, keep in mind that the spot you pick is largely dependent on the speed at which you choose to roll the putt.
Hit It With Your Downswing
Stuart Appleby has become one of the best golfers in the world due to a great combination of power and accuracy, both of which are a result of his nearly perfect backswing. When looking at Appleby’s swing from this angle, you’ll notice two elements that epitomize the modern golf swing. First, he makes a great full turn with his torso without moving his legs out from underneath his body. His feet remain flat and both knees stay flexed despite the strong turn of the shoulders and hips. Next, his arm swing is short, leaving space between his right arm and right ear at the top of the backswing. This eliminates the possibility of overswinging and greatly improves his balance.
A shot that truly separates the amateurs from the pros is the soft lob that can travel over a hazard and still land softly. The reason so many amateurs lack the ability to execute this shot is because they don’t understand that the club must continue to accelerate all the way through the swing. Obviously, there are other key elements that make the soft lob possible, like a clubface that stays open and feet that aim left of the target, but in terms of actually executing the shot, it’s critical to focus on acceleration. Keep your arms loose and swing all the way through, and the shot will rise quickly and stop softly due to the trajectory of the shot rather than the amount of spin.
Three Right Hands
Ben Hogan said he wished he had three right hands to hit the ball. This advice has messed up golfers for decades because they misunderstood what he meant. In an attempt to involve the right hand too early, many golfers allow their arms to straighten and their wrists to flatten before impact. The typical result from this casting move is a lack of power and a lot of slices and over-the-top pulls. The correct technique for using the right hand is perfectly displayed by Kevin Na. Instead of straightening early, notice how his right arm remains bent at the elbow while his right wrist is bent back approaching impact. This combination effectively sustains the acceleration of the club while facilitating the correct rotation of the lower body, creating power with ease.
Make A Splash In The Sand
Aaron Baddeley illustrates proper bunker technique perfectly with his wide stance and flexed knees. Once he establishes this setup position, all that remains is to splash the club through the sand several inches behind the ball, allowing the bounce of the wedge to move the sand from underneath the ball.
Turn Your 7-iron Into A 4
Pros like Tommy Armour III know how to hit the ball with a descending blow and compress it against the clubface, which produces a hard, boring trajectory. Conversely, recreational golfers tend to hit iron shots on the upswing, which adds loft to the shot and robs distance. To produce pro-style trajectory, allow your hands to lead the clubhead into impact, turning your right palm toward the ground instead of toward the sky.
Down And Out, Not Up And In
Tiger is a perfect example of a great ballstriker who knows how to work the club through the impact area on the proper plane, traveling down and out, not up and in. The down and out path is the one the club needs to travel on in order to create the proper impact alignments that produce maximum distance and accuracy. Many amateurs attempt to help the ball go toward the target by moving the club up and in toward their body through impact. Instead of achieving the tremendous extension seen in Tiger’s swing, their misguided efforts at impact produce the ugly, power-draining chicken wing that features bent, jammed arms. Follow Tiger’s lead and avoid trying to add power at impact with your arm muscles. Instead, simply let the arms extend down and through the impact zone.
Any golfer who regularly watches PGA Tour events knows that pros rarely make mistakes when they find themselves in trouble. In contrast, recreational golfers often go from bad to worse in these situations and wind up making big numbers. To avoid these blow-ups in your game, make sure you first analyze the trouble and pick a club that you know can clear whatever hazard you’re facing. If you have to go over a tree limb, don’t get greedy and take a club that’s too strong, and if you have to go under an obstacle, be certain you choose a club that you can hit low. In addition, take the time to plan where around the green or fairway you want your recovery shot to land. There’s no point hitting a solid shot only to find you’re facing another difficult situation that will cost you strokes.
The Lies Have It
Greenside pitches are shots that recreational golfers tend to struggle with largely because they deal with them all the same way instead adapting to the specific conditions of each shot. On the other hand, Tour players are experienced enough to know that the lie dictates the type of shot they can play, as well as with what club they can play it. When the ball is in a tight lie, allow your hands to be slightly ahead of the club and choose a wedge with less bounce. Don’t open the clubface too much, and concentrate on letting the leading edge of the club contact the ground. When faced with a fluffy lie, keep your hands back a bit further and open the clubface. Also, use a wedge with more bounce, as you’ll need it to repel the long grass. Note: Don’t always automatically choose your lob wedge for these shots—sometimes a less-lofted club is actually easier to control.
It sounds simple, but choosing the right side of the tee box to hit from can be a critical decision that significantly affects driving success. Pros are well aware of this fact, and pay close attention to the shape of the hole and the type of shot they feel comfortable playing. When you walk up to the tee, consider these factors and be realistic about what type of shot you can execute and where your misses tend to go. If you tend to miss to the right, as many amateurs do, make sure you account for that fact in your planning, and aim accordingly.
One of the most common, and costly, mistakes recreational golfers tend to make is leaving themselves in bad positions on the green. If you’ve ever hit a chip or lag putt in the basic direction of the hole, only to find you’re facing a tricky downhill or sidehill putt, you know what I’m talking about. Instead of doing this to yourself, follow the pros’ lead and take the time to figure out where on the green will provide a relatively flat or uphill putt and concentrate on getting the ball to that spot. Remember that the faster and more severe the green, the more important it is to plan ahead.
Drive It Low
If you ever watch professional golfers in person (not on TV), one of the first things you notice is how low they hit their scoring shots. The simple reason for this is that a low wedge shot is much more controllable and accurate than one that floats in the air, and is much easier to execute on a consistent basis. If you want to add this shot to your repertoire, try moving the ball slightly back in your stance and place your hands slightly ahead of the clubhead at address. During the swing, you should feel you’re covering the ball with your right side, which effectively takes loft off the shot and forces the ball to come out low. Keep your body ahead of the club all the way, and you should find it relatively easy to compress the ball and get it going toward the target. Don’t make the mistake of swinging too hard at these shots, and let the loft of the club do the work.
Play Your Shot
Though today’s Tour players benefit from improved technology and hit the ball straighter than ever before, few players actually play for a straight shot. Fred Couples is a classic fader of the golf ball, and he doesn’t try to fight it. He knows a left-to-right shot is his natural shot shape and he embraces it. From his setup position, which has his feet aiming well to the left of the target, to his delivery position seen here, Couples not only plays for a fade, but he actually encourages it. If a fade is your shot, too, don’t fight it—set up for it and let it rip.
Practice With A Purpose
Notice how Steve Lowery checks the position of the club on the takeaway. By placing a shaft in the ground and utilizing it to check his backswing position, he’s effectively developing a more upright backswing rather than one that travels too much to the inside. The shaft in the ground lets him know where the club actually is instead of where it feels like it is. Follow Lowery’s lead and work on specific goals during your practice sessions; don’t just bang balls.
At the top, I want to see the hands directly under the club, with the shaft of the club parallel to the target line. Most amateurs make the mistake of pointing the club to the right of the target at the top of the swing, which contributes to an over-the-top, outside-in swing path and a lot of slicing errors. In the position approaching impact, I want the butt of the club to be pointing at the ball, not inside it. This is on-plane.
Notice how Jonathan Byrd’s weight has moved into his left heel. This enviable position is the result of the proper rotation of the hips on the downswing. His right foot is being pulled up by this powerful rotation, and his left leg is straight, eerily similar to that of his idol, Ben Hogan. While most of us will never get our legs to work quite this well, implementing some of this terrific action can greatly improve your swingspeed.
When you take the time to go to the range and practice, don’t waste the effort by mindlessly hitting balls. Instead, be like a professional golfer and have specific goals when you practice. One good method for helping ensure solid results from range time is to set up an organized, pro-style practice station every time you hit balls. Begin by laying one club along your toe line, parallel to the target line, and then place another club parallel to that, on the outside of your impact area. In addition, I recommend placing another club perpendicular to your toe line to monitor ball position.
PGA Professional and GT Senior Instruction Editor Brady Riggs works with professional and amateur students at Woodley Lakes G.C.