With the weekend warrior in mind we created Bump and Run, a weekly Q&A with some of the game's top instructors. Each Friday, a teaching professional will occupy this space and answer questions directed at improving your game. This week it's Pat Goss, head coach and director of golf at Northwestern University and one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America.
Head coach & director of golf, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
- Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America
- Golf Digest's Best Teachers in State (Illinois)
- Four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001)
Students (past and present)
- Luke Donald, Jess Daley, Tom Johnson, Dillon Dougherty
Goss, in his 14th season at NU, has coached the Wildcats to four Big Ten titles (1999-2001, '06) and three top-10 finishes in the NCAA Championships (1997, '98, '99). Led by the school's lone NCAA champion, Luke Donald, Northwestern took third in '99.
Goss continues to coach Donald, and has helped the native of England become one of the world's top players (Donald was ranked as high as No. 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2006). Currently 27th in the world rankings, Donald ranked No. 1 on the PGA Tour in sand save percentage (64.4 percent) and No. 4 in putts per GIR (1.729) in 2009.
'Over the years, what we've found with Luke is that as his short-game stats have improved, he's been more successful,' said Goss, 'even if he's had poor ball-striking stats. That's to be expected. Some of it has been a gradual focus and improvement over a period of five or six years, really working on short-game fundamentals, being committed to it and understanding how important it is.'
To submit a question to Goss or one of our teachers, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered.
Luke was top 10 on the PGA Tour in a lot of putting stats this past year (putts from 4-8 feet, inside 10 feet, 10-15 feet). Why has he improved in that area so much over the years?
The biggest change he's made is go from what I call a 'rock and blocker' – meaning he putted too much with his shoulders, thus causing the putter to become delofted on the backstroke – to someone who putts more with his arms. He's letting his body swing in response to the swinging of the clubhead, effectively maintaining the loft on the putterhead. As a result, he’s able to roll it more online.
How are the new USGA regulations on groove size and edge sharpness going to affect Luke on shots inside 30 yards?In general, he’s going to end up with 2 to 3 feet more runout around the greens (with his wedges), whether it’s a bunker shot or a pitch. Guys who depend on the low, spinning pitch and don’t have real good fundamentals, they’re going to have a bigger adjustment. If you’re the bomb-and-gouge type who’s trying to hit the ball as far as you can, then hack your wedge out of the rough, it's going to be hard to hit that spinning pitch when you've short-sided yourself. The guys who know how to use the bounce correctly and have good pitching fundamentals – and create spin the right way – will be impacted less.
The average golfer won't be affected much by the groove change, because he has trouble spinning the ball out of the rough to begin with. He needs to rely on trajectory to stop the ball. How do you pitch the ball close when you've short-sided yourself?
First of all, course strategy is going to be critical. You have to really look at the odds and understand what your percentage of getting the ball up and down is. A lot of times when you’re short-sided, the only real play – the smart play – is to pitch the ball 25 feet past the hole, make your two-putt and don’t allow yourself to make a double bogey. You’ve got to take your medicine.
What do you mean by 'releasing' the club in this instance?
You’re trying to get the face to stay open as the toe slides under the ball, but you don’t do it by holding the face open. If you watch good players do it, they release the club, rehinge it, and finish with the club right by their left hip pocket. There’s no trying to hold the face to the sky.
On a normal full-swing shot you’re trying to create a lot of face rotation, and the face is rotating over. When you’re releasing on a high pitch shot you’re sliding the toe under. The easiest way I could explain it is if there were a couple of eyes on the face of your lob wedge, when you release it, those two eyes should be looking back at your head at the finish. The face of the club should be pointed back at your head, whereas in a full shot it would be pointed way around and released.
How many wedges do you recommend the average golfer carry, and should one of them be a lob wedge?I think it depends on the person, but you also have to tie that into the rest of their game. The thing we do see with the average player is they have three or four clubs toward the end of their bag (5-wood, 7-wood, 3-iron, 4-iron, etc.) that they hit the same distance. I think most players, if they wanted to go to four wedges, could easily do it just by eliminating a club at the end of their bag.
You should carry a 58- or 60-degree wedge and learn how to use it. The biggest thing I hear from average golfers who don’t is that the club creates too many problems for them. They mishit it too often. But if you learn how to use this club properly it’s such a great advantage.
Many golfers who find themselves short-sided prefer to have a little grass, or cushion, under the ball. Why is that?
The true measure of someone’s pitching fundamentals always comes down to this question. If you prefer your ball to be in the first cut of rough rather than in the fairway, then you’re not hitting the shot correctly. Usually what it means is you’re hitting too much up on the ball. When that ball is in the first cut of grass you can swing underneath the ball, hit it on ascending angle, and pop it up nicely.
So if you have no grass under your ball (a tight lie), and you've got to hit a high, soft pitch over a bunker, how do you do it?
To be able to do it from the fairway, a couple of things become important. Again, ball position has to be forward of center (in your stance) and the handle centered, not leaning forward. To create a little height you want to use the natural loft of the club.
The big thing from there becomes hinging the club up on plane, so that it (the clubhead) is in line with your hands going back or just outside your hands. Swing the club down on a descending angle, allowing the momentum of the club to pull your weight forward.
How important is it to keep the clubhead accelerating through impact?
We talk to our players a lot about accelerating without feeling like you hit (the ball). You want to keep the clubhead moving all the way to the finish without feeling such a direct hit at impact. That will make the ball come off a lot softer. The handle should finish by your left hip.
What's the biggest fault you see with amateurs in the short game?
We were all told not to scoop, and the way we were taught not to scoop is to put the ball back in our stance and lean the handle forward. That’s a good setup to ensure solid contact but it can’t produce any height. Then what happens is when you go to hit a shot where you need to create height, the only way you can do it is by backing up your body and hitting up on the ball. You’ve created a setup that doesn’t generate any loft, so in your swing you have to create loft the wrong way, going backwards, which is a recipe for hitting fat or thin shots.