Laying Up Not Hard to Do at Hazeltine


I havent played Hazeltine National since I won the NCAA individual title back in 1999. That seems like forever ago, but I cant imagine its changed that much. From what I remember, its similar to many of the courses we play in the U.S. ' its long and it has plenty of rough, so you have to manage your way around the course and take advantage of the opportunities when you get them.
Of course, the buzz is that its playing longer now than it did in 2002 (the last time the PGA Championship was held at Hazeltine). There are three par 5s over 600 yards, but that could be a good thing. Now, nearly everyone in the field is going to have to lay up. I dont see many players reaching these par 5s in two. That plays to my advantage because I have a strong wedge game, and Ill be laying up anyway. Ill look to wedge it close and make that 10-, 15-footer for birdie.
This strategy worked well for Zach Johnson a few years ago at the Masters. He laid up on every par 5 and made a ton of birdies. It just goes to show you theres more ways to win a major than just hitting the ball far. I wasnt a very long hitter when I won at Hazeltine in 99. I remember playing with both Charles Howell and Ryuji Imada, and they were hitting their tee shots a good 20 yards past me. But I was able to control my ball and stay out of the rough, which you have to do around here.
Luke Donald finished T5th at Turnberry.
Luke Donald has made more than 98 percent of his putts inside five feet this year.
Since my strategy is to lay up on the par 5s, its important that I leave myself a manageable distance into the green for my third shot. If the greens are firm ' and Im expecting they will be ' or the pins are tucked away, Ill lay up to a full club distance. A full lob wedge for me is about 85 yards; and a full sand iron 105 yards. This will give me the best chance to flight the ball high and stop it on the green. I expect theyll get those Midwest bent greens rolling pretty fast, so I will have to hit my approach shots in the right positions to give myself a good run at birdie.
Putting, of course, will be critical, as it is at every major. My putting stats have been really good this year (Donald ranks No. 2 on the PGA Tour in putting from inside 5 feet -- 592 of 603 putts made, or 98.2 percent), and hopefully Ill have the putter going this week.
I work quite on bit on drills from four to eight feet, which is probably why Ive been pretty tidy around the hole this season. One of my favorite drills is to putt to four different holes, placing balls down 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 feet away from each hole. I make sure each hole is different so I have some putts that break left to right, right to left, uphill and downhill. My goal is to make 15 of 20, or 75 percent, which is slightly better than the Tour average from four to eight feet. If I dont make 15 out of 20, I start from scratch and keep going until I do. I havent made all 20 yet, but I did make 19 once only to miss the last putt. That hurt!
I need to keep trying; Ill get there.
Editors Note: Two-time PGA Tour winner and European Ryder Cup team member Luke Donald will be writing a monthly column for throughout the remainder of the 2009 season. The focus of the column will be What Im Working On, and will give you an inside look into life on the PGA Tour from one of the games elite players.