My swing coach, Pat Goss, has had me working on several speed drills to prepare for Augusta Nationals ultra-fast greens, and Ive been hitting a lot of chips into the grain because thats how they cut the grass around the greens there. The key for me this week, however, is going to be driving. I didnt come into the Masters last year swinging particularly well, and when Im struggling with my swing my long clubs generally suffer. I drove the ball very poorly and, as a result, I missed the cut for the first time at the Masters (in four appearances).
Since I first played Augusta National in 2005, the course has gotten increasingly longer and more narrow. Ten years ago, it was more of a second-shot course, but now your entire game has to be on. You have to drive it in the fairway, control your irons and chips into the greens and putt extremely well. I happen to be putting pretty good right now (T-5 on the PGA Tour in putts per GIR), but my driving accuracy (55.8 percent) is down, and I need to clean that up to have a chance this week.
Ive been working extremely hard on my ball-striking, trying to get my clubface in a squarer position at the top of the backswing by cupping my left wrist more. This will get the clubface to match my left forearm position at the top. My left wrist tends to get too bowed at times, which causes the club to become laid off (points left of the target) and the face to close. The more square the clubface is at the top, the better my transition is and the easier time I have keeping my body and club in sync on the downswing. Im also trying to slow my legs down on the downswing because they have a tendency to race out in front of me, which can create some ball-striking issues.
Even though I missed the cut last year, I feel much better about my chances now than I did in my first Masters in 2005, when I tied for third. Yes, the course is playing longer, because you get no roll on the fairways, but the premium is on accuracy. Theyve added some trees and the rough is thicker, so if you hit the ball slightly off the fairway youre going to find yourself in trouble. Because theres a penalty now for missing the fairway, its taken the advantage away from those players who stand up there and hit the ball as hard as they want. The medium-length hitters, like myself, now have a fighting chance. Thats evident by the last two winners at Augusta ' Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson. Neither hits the ball tremendously far, but both are very good iron players.
From an equipment standpoint, I put a new sand wedge in the bag last week at the Shell Houston Open and I may be adding a lob wedge for the Masters. The grooves on my wedges are getting a little worn down and it will be good to get some fresh grooves in play, so I can control the ball better.
It was the first time I played in the Houston event. While I didnt make the cut, it was great preparation for Augusta because of the way the course was set up ' fast, sloping greens, and shaved banks around the greens. A lot of the top players were there for that very reason. It also gave me a chance to practice some shots off of uneven lies. There are quite a few shots at Augusta National where the ball is above or below your feet, like the second shots on 10 and 13. You will not see many flat lies out there.
Of course, if I'm in the middle of the fairway, I won't mind these lies so much. If my driving comes around, it will be a fun week. I can't wait to get it started.
Editors Note: Two-time PGA Tour winner and European Ryder Cup team member Luke Donald will be writing a monthly column for GolfChannel.com 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.