One of the great things about the game of golf is that, on occasion, all of us, even the highest handicapper, will hit a shot like a pro. It might be a well-struck drive, hitting a par-5 in two or holing out a bunker shot. Whatever the case, once in a while, the stars align, and for a brief moment, we pull off a Tour-quality shot.
Having been around Tour pros for many years, I can tell you that one thing is certain, however: There are things they consistently do on the golf course that you and I can’t. That’s why they’re the game’s greatest.
And yet, of course, you’re an expert in your respective field. Whether you’re a doctor, a chef or a real estate agent, in your work, you’re a Tour pro. There are things you know that most of us don’t.
Like you, Tour pros are good at their jobs, and there are shots they hit that we can’t always pull off when we play. That’s reality. But let’s look at what they do well and try to learn from them so we can improve our games.
…hit it 300 yards on a rope consistently
To crush it, you must use all your power sources (correct wrist action, a controlled arm swing and a full body pivot) effectively.
Start your downswing by uncoiling your lower body first so your club swings around your body on plane. This will help you hit it in the center of the clubface and help you square the club at impact.
…control your distance with all clubs
Tour pros know not only how far they hit each of their clubs, but also the distance gaps between them. The key, though, is how they fill the gaps between each club: by adjusting the length and speed of their swings. This ability to dial in shots helps Tour players make tons of birdies.
To shrink your distance gaps, work on making half and three-quarter swings. You’ll find that the distances the ball travels and the trajectory you have with different-length swings will help you control your distances much better.
When you see the pros hit the ball past the flag and then zip it back to the pin, it doesn’t happen because they got lucky.
Tour pros are great at making perfect contact with a descending blow into the ball, plus they use the right equipment. To spin your shots like a pro, use a soft-covered ball, keep your grooves sharp and make solid contact. Hitting into perfect turf on great greens doesn’t hurt either.
…curve the ball on command
If you want to move the ball from right to left, I suggest you strengthen your grip slightly at setup (see photograph at right). Turn both hands to the right a few degrees. The Vs created by your thumbs and forefingers should now be pointing toward your right shoulder. This stronger grip will encourage you to rotate your hands and wrists over through impact (see photograph at left), which will place a draw or hook spin on the ball and make it curve from right to left (for a right-handed player). If you’re a lefty, do the opposite.
To hit the ball from left to right, weaken your grip slightly. Turn both hands a few degrees to the left so that the Vs are pointing more toward your chin (see photo at left). This helps your hands and wrists hold off the club and keep the face open at impact (see photo at right). As a result, the ball will move from left to right. Make sure both hands match! For a slice, they both should rotate to your left; for a draw, they both should rotate to the right. This will help your hands and wrists work together.
…get out of trouble like Houdini
In the photo at left, you can see I’m stymied. Should I start the ball way left and slice it? Should I hit it over the tree? Can I fit it through the gap between the branches?
Here’s how to hit all three:
To slice it, take a less lofted club (this will help you curve it), weaken your grip slightly and aim safely to the left to get the ball started away from the trouble. Try to actually swing down from outside to inside the target line and make sure to hold the clubface open at impact. Here, the ball started left of the tree, and I curved it 30 yards.
To hit the high shot, play the ball a bit forward in your stance and keep your head well back of the ball at impact. Make sure you hit the turf and don’t flip your wrists at impact. In both photos, notice how low my right shoulder is. I’m definitely behind the ball, and that produces a high ballflight.
To punch the ball (here, through the gap between the rocks and the large branch), lean your weight slightly forward and commit to making a swing down into the turf to promote a low ballflight. Here I hit an 8-iron, played the ball slightly back in my stance and made sure the hands stayed in front of the clubhead as I struck the turf.
…lag it close from anywhere
Learning to lag putts close is a great way to save shots during your round. There’s a stat on Tour called 3 Putt Avoidance, and trust me, nobody wants to be near the bottom of it.
If you’re going to be a good distance putter, I believe you need to do two things very well. First, you need to be a good green reader. As you approach the green and survey your putt, look for high and low points in the green complex. Imagine where water would flow if it were dumped on the green. Remember, all greens are built for drainage, so look for those spots, and they’ll tell you where your ball is going.
The second (and most crucial element), however, is distance control. It doesn’t matter how well you read your putt if you leave it 15 feet short. In the photo at left, I’m faced with an uphill putt over a small tier. It also appears as if the ball is going to move a little from left to right. To make sure I get the ball to the hole on this uphill putt, I visualize a pin 10 feet past the hole so I can make sure I hit my putt with enough pace.
…make it all day from 3 to 6 feet
The key to making tons of short putts is to develop a consistent putting stroke. In my opinion, the simplest type of stroke should give you the best chance to make those so-called 3-6 foot knee knockers.
Here you can see I’m working with a training aid made by Momentus called the Inside Down the Line Putting Track to help me groove a stroke. You can use either this type of aid or any other tracks that help you get the feeling of what a good putting stroke should feel like.
One thing to remember while practicing either with or without a training aid: Tour pros work incredibly hard on these putts, and while it’s not as much fun as hitting drivers on the practice range, the time you put in on the green will pay big dividends on the course.
…chip it off the tightest lies
For many players, tight lies are the kiss of death. When the grass is really closely mown, you need to trust that your technique will give you perfect contact (remember you always want to hit the ball first, then the turf), or all sorts of things can happen: fat contact, skulled shots across the green or, worse yet, the chip yips. When we watch Tour pros play these shots, they don’t seem like that big a deal, but they are.
Don’t tell your greenskeeper (or mine), but a great way to gain confidence when playing off tight grass is to hit a couple chips off the practice green. To begin, first lay a club down a couple feet in front of your ball. The goal is to hit the ball over the club. If you aren’t confident with this shot, you’ll probably try to lift the ball, your wrists will flip, and the ball will skid into the club (see below right).
If your technique is good (see below left), however, you can make a confident stroke, pick the ball right off the green and control its trajectory, distance and spin. To do this, make a small swing with your weight leaned slightly forward before and throughout the swing. Wrist action is the enemy in this shot, so keep the left wrist flat at impact, and good contact will occur.
…Perform at the highest level in front of spectators
Part of a Tour pro’s job is to play in front of large crowds while television cameras and thousands (at times millions) are trained on his or her every move.
Although professionals do get nervous during tournaments, the consistency they have in their games (and the confidence that breeds) allows them to focus on the shot at hand and continue to pull off great shots. They’re no different than elite athletes in any other sport.
Great athletes are so mentally tough and focused that they can (most of the time) put all the outside elements aside and focus on their jobs.
Keep in mind, if you feel nervous while playing, that’s a good thing. It means you’re playing well, and the more often you play well, the easier it’ll get to play under pressure. Embrace your nervousness and let it help you play your best.
…average under 70 for a year on the world’s most difficult courses
Tour pros’ games are rarely satisfied with the state of their games. That’s one of the reasons why they work so hard at improving. The time they put into their games pays off too: They hit long, straight drives and controlled approach shots and have accurate short games. It’s easy to see why the world’s best players average under 70.
While you may not play as well as Tour players, take a close look at your game to identify areas that need the most work. Then set some goals as to how best to improve your game. With quality practice, you’re sure to get better.
Steve Dahlby, PGA, is the director of instruction at The Golf Club Scottsdale and Forest Highlands Golf Club. He has taught numerous Tour players.