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 toward improving your game. This week it's Mike Bender (pictured), a former PGA Tour player who is ranked among the Top 10 Greatest Teachers in America by Golf Digest.
Mike Bender Golf Academy at Timacuan Golf Club Lake Mary, FL
- Golf Digests 50 Greatest Teachers
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers in America
- 4-Time North Florida PGA Section Teacher of the Year
- PGA Tour player (1987-89)
Zach Johnson, Jonathan Bryd, Lee Janzen, Seon Hwa Lee, Vicky Hurst
To submit a question to Bender or one of our teachers, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered. Who knows, it just might be the impetus you need to shoot your best round ever come the weekend.
I understand that a few months prior to the 2007 Masters, you built Zach Johnson a wedge course at Timacuan?
Yes. It's really for everybody but I specifically wanted Zach to have a place to work on his wedges. With his length ' hes an average-length hitter [281.0 yards] ' he needs to be one of the best wedge players in the game. I played the PGA Tour in 1989 when Tom Kite was the leading money winner on Tour and I outdrove him because he was one of the shorter hitters out there. But he was one of the best wedge players of all time. He used to work on it by landing balls on towels. His dad would stand out there and verify that it landed on the towel.
To get better at your wedges, its all about having control over the distance the ball flies, not where it ends up. So rather than have towels out there, we built blocks (4 X 4 concrete plates) so we could see the ball bounce and hear it. Theyre set into upslopes so you can clearly see them, and theyre staggered all around so you have to turn yourself to shoot at different targets. There are eight plates in all, starting at 30 yards and going up to 100.
We have a course-record board. Lee Janzen has the PGA Tour record at 49 (49 attempts to hit all eight blocks). Zachs personal-best is 50. The overall record belongs to an Italian national team member [Nino Bertasio] at 38 shots. One day, Zach hit seven plates in his first 18 attempts. He had 30 chances to break Lees record and he couldnt do it. He was going crazy. He wound up hitting his very next block (No. 50).
Do you have a good wedge tip for the average golfer?
Play the ball back in your stance, much farther than you think. Amateurs dont play the ball back far enough, so the ball climbs up the face and they don't hit it enough distance. The best wedge players in the game hit their wedges low with lots of spin on them. There are two ways to stop the ball on the green ' with trajectory or spin. If you hit it lower with lots of spin on it youre going to control the distance better. Its relative to hitting a flop shot versus a 9-iron chip and run. Youre going to have much more control with your 9-iron.
Any advice for the weekend warrior? Something that may help them drop a shot or two during their Saturday or Sunday round?
Always hit the longest putts on the practice green before you go play. Usually people drop a few balls and attempt the sure putts, then they get on the first hole and have a 50-footer and three-putt. Youll be more prepared if you practice the longer putts, and youll get a better feel for the speed of the greens.
At the 2007 Masters, he wasnt hitting the ball particularly well on the range. I went up to him and said, Zach, I want you to make full swings with your driver and try and fly the ball about 200 yards.' There is this big net at the back of the range and all of the guys were hitting it more than halfway up. Zach is hitting these balls that are not even getting near the net, and you can hear the gallery behind us going, Look at that guy, he can't even hit the net. What is he doing? We thought that was pretty funny. Then he winds up winning the Masters.
His problem early in the week was that his tempo was very inconsistent. By making a full swing and trying to flight the ball 200 yards, it really slowed him down. Every day we did that it carried over to the course and he hit it better and better.
How would you suggest the average golfer work on tempo?
One of the things you should do warming up is always start with a pitching wedge. Whatever your full distance is ' lets say, you hit your pitching wedge120 yards ' hit several balls 105, 110 yards at the most. People who start on the driving range, they grab a 7-iron, 5-iron, driver, whatever, and swing full out right from the get-go. Start out with a pitching wedge, not a sand wedge, and hit more pitching wedges than any other club. Its one of the harder clubs to hit; you have to make great contact with it. This helps to get your rhythm going because you really dont expect to hit a pitching wedge that far anyway. Youre not expecting to see the ball go out there a long ways, which takes away the inclination to try and hit it as far as you can.
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