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Michael Breed is the head golf professional at Sunningdale Country Club in Scarsdale, NY, and the host of The Golf Fix, which airs every Monday night LIVE on Golf Channel at 7 p.m. EST.

 

 

Tiger Flops In...Again

There must be something magical about the greenside rough at Muirfield Village, at least when it comes to Tiger Woods and the final round of the Memorial. Woods turned a near-impossible up and down into an eagle on Sunday, holing out from the greenside rough on No. 11 en route to a one-shot victory at the Memorial. The shot was reminiscent of 1999 and 2004, when Woods chipped-in for par on the 14th hole, also in the final round.
 
Tiger hit his approach shot long on the par-5 11th and drew a nasty, downhill lie in the thick stuff behind the green. Short-sided, Woods was only trying to carry the ball on the green and leave himself 'an easy chip back up the hill.' He did much better, lofting the ball high and soft and rolling it into the cup.
 
What made the shot even more remarkable was that Woods released his right hand off the club shortly after impact. This allowed him to make a big enough swing to generate the clubhead speed necessary to get the ball up and out, yet not transfer as much energy to the ball so he wouldn't air-mail the green. By removing his right hand from the club, he was able to keep the clubhead low to the ground – extending the flat spot – past impact. This way, he was able to move the club to the left and cut across the ball, creating more of a glancing blow.
 
It's not a technique I'd recommend to the average golfer or the faint of heart. If you find yourself in a similar situation – short-sided with little or no green to work with – weaken your grip some and open the clubface so it's pointing directly to the sky. Then, as you swing through, keep the clubhead traveling along the ground for as long as possible, cutting underneath the ball from right to left. You're not going to be able to create any spin from this lie (nor is Tiger, for that matter), so the only way you can stop or slow the ball down is with trajectory. Or by hitting the pin, if you're so lucky.
 
– Posted June 8
 

 

Straight Shooter

The last time Tiger Woods hit all 14 of his fairways in one round was six years ago. He nearly did it twice this past week at the Memorial, hitting a remarkable 49 of 56 fairways (87.5 percent). Heading into the Memorial, Woods was hitting about 60 percent of his fairways.
 
Switching to a more-lofted driver (10 degrees) helped, but the biggest contributor to Tiger's improved accuracy this week was his state of mind or, to be more specific, his peace of mind. Woods is finally at the point where he's trusting his surgically-repaired left knee, and that has allowed him to swing the club on a better path into the ball. Because Woods was being timid with his left knee, his shoulders were see-sawing back and forth during his swing. His right shoulder would drop back and his left shoulder rock upward, forcing the club too far under plane. This caused him to leave a lot of tee shots off to the right.
 
At some point in the last few weeks he's gained total trust in his knee again, and that's allowed him to rotate this shoulders on a more level plane through impact. His chest is no longer pointing up to the sky at impact, it's facing down toward the ground. This is a good image for anybody favoring a left knee or hip, or someone who falls back at impact. Get your chest to point down toward the ground, and you'll make much better contact.
 
– Posted June 8
 

 

Zach's Knockout Punch

The 12-foot birdie putt Zach Johnson made on the first playoff hole Sunday was set up by a magnificent punch 6-iron into the 18th green. Ironically, Johnson hit the identical club and shot on the same hole 15 minutes earlier, only to miss a putt which would’ve ended the Valero Texas Open in regulation.
 
The knockdown shot is a staple of Johnson’s game because he’s not a very handsy player. His finish is much more around and he releases the club with his body, not his hands, which reduces spin. It’s a very controlled shot, which is why many Tour players go to it under pressure or when they’re in-between clubs. It’s also a nice shot to have in your arsenal when you’re playing in windy conditions, as you often are in Texas.
 
Amateurs struggle to hit this shot because they take too big a backswing and decelerate coming into the ball. The body stops and the arm and hand action increases, which creates more clubface rotation. When you add face rotation, you tend to generate more underspin (which makes the ball fly higher and balloon in the wind) or sidespin. However, when you take face rotation away, you bring the spin rate down, which allows the ball to bore through the wind. The less spin on the ball, the easier it is to control the distance as well.
 
To execute the knockdown shot, try the following: 1) Play the ball farther back than normal in your stance, and put more weight on your forward leg. This will help deloft the face and shorten the length of your backswing. You’ll also have an easier time clearing your hips and rotating your body through into the finish. 2) Make a three-quarter length backswing; and 3) swing aggressively into the finish, rotating your chest around until it faces the target. If you’re in-between clubs, make sure to take the longer of the two clubs (i.e., 6-iron vs. 7-iron). Follow these three simple keys and you’ll be able to knock it down with regularity.
 
– Posted May 18
 

 

Stenson Turns Players Upside Down

It was hard not to notice Henrik Stenson’s unique pre-shot routine on Sunday during the final round of The Players Championship. Before every tee shot, Stenson would turn his 3-wood upside down so he was holding the clubhead in his left hand, and then make some left-hand only swings. Stenson has utilized this routine before, most recently last December in South Africa when he ran away with the Sun City Challenge by nine shots. He picked up the routine again Sunday morning on the range at TPC Sawgrass, and then went out and fired a 6-under-par 66 to win by four shots.
 
Stenson said the left-handed swings help him get a better feel for the path of his swing. “I sort of paint the path of the swing, and it’s easy to do that without the resistance of the clubhead,” said Stenson in his post-round press conference.
 
There are a litany of players who have an unusual pre-shot routine: For example, Chris DiMarco waggles the club back twice before he starts his swing, stopping when the shaft is parallel to the ground; and Mike Weir’s waggle is even longer, as he brings the shaft to a vertical position in his backswing to see that the club is on-plane.
 
These routines accomplish two things: 1) They assist in helping the player accomplish a certain swing motion or feel, so they can better execute the shot at hand; and 2) they allow the player to stay in the moment. This is why I think such routines are good for amateur golfers, especially under pressure situations where they’re trying to shoot a career-low score or playing in their club’s Member Guest. It keeps your mind focused on one specific thing so that you’re not thinking about the out of bounds to the left or the water short of the green. The more specific your intention, the easier it is to perform under pressure.
 
– Posted May 11
 

 

Keep Company with Your 3-Wood

Henrik Stenson had about as good a weekend driving the golf ball as one can, and he did it almost exclusively using his 3-wood. Stenson called on his 13-degree Big Bertha wood on all but one driving hole Sunday – the par-5 11th – and hit 13 of 14 fairways en route to a bogey-free 66 and a four-shot victory at The Players Championship. He hit 26 of 28 fairways for the weekend playing a slight right-to-left draw, a shot perfectly suited for TPC Sawgrass’ fairways.
 
It was a wise move by Stenson for several reasons: 1) He’s had the 3-wood in his bag for several seasons, so obviously he has confidence in it; 2)it’s a much easier club to draw than a driver because it creates more launch and spin; and 3) because of the firmness of the fairways, he was able to get tons of roll and thus was sacrificing very little distance. Indeed, Stenson averaged 294.8 yards off the tee for the week, good for 18th.
 
Just because you’re hitting 3-wood off the tee doesn’t mean you’re giving up any yardage. And, if you are, isn’t it better to be in the fairway and have a shot at the green with one extra club versus hacking out of the trees?
 
If you favor a draw off the tee the 3-wood is an excellent option. Make sure to tee the ball a “little” higher – about one-quarter inch – than you normally would for a 3-wood. This ensures that the clubhead’s center of gravity will get underneath the center of the ball, creating a higher launch and more spin. The other reason I like the 3-wood for amateurs is because it creates a different mindset and a much better swing tempo than the driver. When most people get a driver in their hands, they try and hit the ball as far as they can; with a 3-wood, they’re just trying to put the ball in the fairway.
 
– Posted May 11
 

 

Improve Your GIR

How does one break a seven-year winless drought on the PGA Tour? He goes out and hits nearly 80 percent of his greens in regulation, as Jerry Kelly did this past week in the Big Easy. Kelly posted only four bogeys in 72 holes to capture the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, his first triumph on Tour since the Advil Western Open in 2002.
 
Most recreational golfers would be happy to hit half of their greens over the course of 18 holes. Here’s how you can hit this percentage and boost it even higher. First and foremost, keep your tee shots in play. You’re not going to reach the green if you’re hacking out of the trees. After that, it comes down to making smart decisions. Don’t always fire at the flag because more often than not, it’s not going to suit your shot shape. If, for example, you like to cut the ball and the pin is located on the far left portion of the green, you’re going to have to aim off the green (probably over trouble) to hit your target. That’s a tough deal. Instead, aim at the left edge of the green and bring the ball back to the middle of the green. Unless you’re a highly skilled player, your goal should be to land the ball anywhere on the green. If most amateurs played the game as if there were no flags on the green, they’d shoot lower scores. Guaranteed.
 
Finally, evaluate the distance before you pull a club. Is the shot playing uphill or downhill? Into the wind or downwind? How’s my lie? The GPS system or sprinkler head may say 150 yards but if the hole is uphill and into the wind it’s going to play more like 165 yards. Once you’ve factored in all of these conditions, commit to your target and fire away with confidence.
 
– Posted April 28
 

 

How to Manage Tight Fairways

That was a Tiger Woods-like performance by Brian Gay at the Verizon Heritage this past week. You don’t expect to see a guy ranked 96th in the World Golf Ranking (as Gay was heading into the Heritage) to lap the field by 10 shots. Tiger or Phil Mickelson? Sure. But Brian Gay? Gay not only had the perfect game for Harbour Town Golf Links, he had the inner-confidence that few players other than Woods possess. It was great to watch.
 
Harbour Town is notorious for its narrow fairways and small greens, yet Gay managed to hit 84 percent of his fairways and 66.7 percent of his greens for the week. Those are remarkable numbers on a course that is tighter than Paris Hilton’s waistline. How’d he do it? Here a few tips to help you the next time you play a super-tight golf course:
 
  • Pick high targets, not low ones. The lower your focus, the more aware you are of your surroundings (trees, out of bounds, water, etc.). By picking a higher target, like the top of a tree or mountain, the more in the periphery these surroundings are and the easier it is to swing away with confidence.
     
  • Let go. Make sure to swing to a full finish and be aggressive. Sometimes it helps to picture yourself hitting into a vast ocean, not a lean fairway. The more cautious you are with your swing, the more likely you are to steer or manipulate the club and miss your target.
     
  • Treat every drive like it’s your birthday. Ask yourself what it is you want to do. “I want to start the ball at this tree and fade it back to the fairway.” Give yourself a gift, don’t take it away by thinking about what you don’t want.
     
    – Posted April 21
     

     

    MJ and Bethpage

    Tiger Woods weighed in on Michael Jordan’s chances of breaking 100 at Bethpage Black—this year’s U.S. Open venue—during Monday’s AT&T National press conference in Washington. Tiger said MJ had “better hit it straight,” but didn’t say whether his friend would break 100 in Golf Digest’s U.S. Open Challenge.
     
    I’ve had the opportunity to play Bethpage Black several times and also see Jordan in action, and I don’t think he’ll have any trouble breaking 100. Ninety, on the other hand, that’s another story, especially if the greens are as firm and fast as they’ll be in the U.S. Open. The one thing about Bethpage is that there’s no real out of bounds. It’s long, but the course is fairly wide open and there are very few holes where you can lose a golf ball. He’ll have to play one good round of golf to break 90, but breaking 100 should be a slam dunk.
     
    – Posted April 21
     

     

    Tentative Stroke Dooms Lefty

    Phil Mickelson’s front nine on Sunday at Augusta was a thing of beauty, but his back-nine performance fell far short, due to a tentative putting stroke. Mickelson missed two golden opportunities inside five feet on holes 15 (for eagle) and 17 (for birdie), costing himself a shot at a third green jacket.
     
    Mickelson’s miss at the par-5 15th underscores the importance of being committed to your line, especially on putts inside six feet. Lefty was admittedly indecisive on his read and made a “tentative” stroke; as a result, he left the putterface open and missed the hole entirely. He wasn’t alone – Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry left some big putts short down the stretch as well.
     
    The tendency under pressure is to slow the putterhead down coming into the ball, which rotates the face open. Here are two ways to correct this: 1) Focus on the forward half of your stroke, accelerating the putterhead toward the hole. A good way to practice this is by practicing the Hole-y Roller Drill. Place a ball in front of your putter and, without making a backstroke, push the ball toward the hole. This will encourage the putterhead to release toward the hole and square up at impact. 2) Commit to your line or whatever it is you’re aiming at. If you see the putt as an “inside right edge” putt, then hit it to that spot. If it turns out your read is wrong, then so be it, but find out if it’s right or wrong. So long as you’re committed to your original read, you’ll make a better stroke and hit the ball more solidly.
     
    – Posted April 14
     

     

    What Could've Been

    Speaking of Mickelson, I don’t buy that he wins on Sunday if he doesn’t hit his tee shot in the water on the par-3 12th and makes double bogey there. I say that because those short putts he missed on Nos. 15 and 17 would’ve been much harder if he were 12-under par and in the lead at the time, or tied for the lead. Still, think about how close he was to shooting 61 or 62! If his ball stays up on No. 12, and he makes the 4-footer on No. 15 for eagle and the 5-footer on 17, he’s 10-under for the day heading into the closing hole. Let’s not forget his putt on No. 14 nearly dropped!
     
    – Posted April 14
     

     

    Cabrera Both Lucky and Good

    The old adage is that it’s better to be lucky than good. Angel Cabrera was both on Sunday. His second shot from the pine straw on the 72nd hole of regulation struck a tree and careened left, onto the 18th fairway, giving him a shot at getting his ball up and down and forcing a playoff. About an hour earlier Tiger Woods found himself in a similar predicament, only his shot hit a tree and pitched right, onto the adjacent 10th fairway.
     
    Cabrera, however, was able to stick his pitch shot to eight feet and make the putt for par, forcing a playoff with Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell that he’d eventually win on the second extra hole. Woods was unable to get his ball up and down. Cabrera converted the putts he had to make, including an 18-footer for birdie on No. 16 which kept him within striking distance of Perry. Despite falling three shots back and seemingly out of contention early on the back nine, he hung in there and stuck around long enough to steal his second major championship. Cabrera was 3-under par over his last six holes, which was better than Perry (Even), Campbell (-2), Woods (-1) and Phil Mickelson (-1).
     
    To show you just how unpredictable Augusta National can be, and how luck often plays a big role in winning a green jacket, Phil Mickelson’s tee shot on the par-3 12th on Sunday landed in virtually the same place as Fred Couples’ shot did 17 years earlier. Couples’ ball miraculously stayed up on the bank and he wound up winning his one and only green jacket; Mickelson’s ball trickled down into Rae’s Creek, leading to a double bogey and dealing a major blow to his chances for a third green jacket.
     
    – Posted April 13
     

     

    Brittany's Soft Approach

    That was some finish to the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Sunday. And one very courageous shot by Brittany Lincicome. Not only did she need to make eagle on the 72nd hole to win the tournament, but she had to post a birdie to have a chance at even making a playoff. Under the circumstances, it was one heck of a golf shot!
     
    The one thing I like about the hybrid club in that situation is that it allows you to swing more aggressively. You can really strike down on the ball, which is much easier to do than sweeping it off the turf under pressure. Brittany went after the ball hard with her 22-degree hybrid and, with a little help from the back slope on the 18th green, put it four feet from the hole.
     
    The mistake amateurs typically make with their hybrids is they play the ball too far forward in their stance, as if they were hitting a 5-wood. This creates a flatter angle of approach into the ball and not the descending strike you need to launch the ball high into the air, as Brittany did. Your hybrids are shorter and more similar in length to your irons than your woods; therefore, the lie angle is steeper and so is your angle of attack. Position the ball further back in your stance, as if you were hitting a 5-iron, and you’ll make the right golf swing and hit the ball more solidly.
     
    – Posted April 6
     

     

    Masters Forecast: Lots of Roars and Rory

    It’s hard to pick against Tiger or Phil this week, but keep an eye out for young Rory McIlroy. The 19-year-old from Northern Ireland has all of the shots to win at Augusta National his first time out. More importantly, he’s got the confidence to win at Augusta. He strikes me as a guy who enjoys challenges. He’s comfortable in uncomfortable situations, which is the sign of a champion. Forget about the inexperience factor and this being his first Masters. The Masters is unlike any other major tournament venue because you see it every year. The players know what all the holes look and play like because they’ve been watching the event on TV since they were 5 years old. I don’t think he’ll be intimidated.
     
    This could be the most eagerly anticipated Masters in years. Everything seems to be coming together for golf: Tiger is back healthy again; you’ve got young guns like Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas and McIlroy playing well, and old guys like Fred Couples and Greg Norman in the mix; and Augusta National seems to be making a concerted effort to bring the roars back by shortening a few holes. I think we’ll see some late birdies on Sunday and someone making a charge, which is just the way the Masters should be.
     
    – Posted April 6
     



     

    How to Be Like Mr. Clutch

    Was there ever any doubt? Anybody else, you’re saying they’ve got a chance to make a 16-footer on the 72nd hole of regulation (in the dark, no less) to win a tournament, but with Tiger, you know he’s going to make it. The man is the best player of all time, which not only makes him the best clutch putter in the game but the best clutch everything. He hit the perfect approach shot into No. 18 at Bay Hill on Sunday, leaving himself the perfect putt. It was certainly more manageable than the 24-footer he sunk for birdie on the same hole to win last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, although just as dramatic.
     
    Tiger wasn’t at his best from tee to green this past week – he was 51st in driving accuracy and 50th in greens in regulation – but he was able to snatch victory away from Sean O’Hair on the strength of his putting game, which was remarkable. For the week, Woods averaged just 25.3 putts per round. He had a string of six consecutive one-putts in his first round and 11 one-putt greens on Sunday, many of the clutch variety. In addition to the tournament-clincher on 18, he sank a 25-footer for birdie on 15 and a 13 ½-footer to save par on 14 after burying his ball in the greenside bunker. And, had he not made a 25-foot bogey save on 18 the previous day, he would not have been playing in the final group with O’Hair on Sunday.
     
    What makes Tiger such a clutch putter? No. 1, his routine is the same every time. It never varies. He takes a complete picture of the putt and visualizes what he sees before he starts his stroke. He’s not looking up for the sake of looking up. No. 2, he doesn’t hit until he’s ready to; if he’s not ready, he backs off. No. 3, he’s not afraid to hit the ball past the hole. Very rarely do you see Tiger leave a putt short. He hits his putts with enough speed to get them to the hole.
     
    From a technique standpoint, he keeps his head virtually still through the stroke. It’s as if he’s seeing the putter go past him before he looks up. I call this “seeing the ground under the ball.” You do this, and you’ll strike your putts more solidly and keep them online.
     
    Finally, he loves to practice putting. During most non-tournament weeks, Tiger is out there on the practice green twice a day, usually after a short game or driving session. Most golfers don’t practice putting enough and could take a cue from the game’s best putter: Practice!
     
    – Posted March 30
     

     

    Be Wary of the Cold Air

    Both Tiger Woods and Sean O’Hair admitted to mis-clubbing late in the final round on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, just after the sun went down. Woods’ 4-iron on the par-3 17th was “flushed” but wound up burying under the lip of the bunker, leading to a bogey which dropped him back into a tie for the lead with O’Hair at 4-under par. “I hit it perfect, and it obviously didn’t carry,” said Woods.
     
    O’Hair’s miss may have been more pivotal. Standing in the fairway on the difficult par-4 16th, his approach shot ballooned on him and found the water, leading to a bogey and dropping him a shot behind Woods. It was quite a turn of events, considering that Woods’ tee shot on 16 found the rough and he was forced to lay up. Yet, it was Woods who picked up a stroke on O’Hair.
     
    “It still should have carried [onto the green],” said O’Hair. “But I think what happened was the sun was going down a little bit, and the ball wasn’t going quite as far. It was a stock 7-iron that I hit solid and didn’t get there.”
     
    O’Hair took one more club off the tee on 17 and for his approach shot on 18, and Woods did the same on 18, playing a cut 7-iron from 160 yards “because the ball wasn’t flying.”
     
    What you can learn from this? Simply, be aware of the fact that when it’s colder outside, the ball won’t compress as much and travel as far, so adjust accordingly. For most amateurs, it’s usually a good idea to hit one more club into the green anyhow. This just serves as a good reminder.
     
    – Posted March 30
     

     

    Yes! He Can

    Retief Goosen admittedly has been struggling with the putter the last few years, so I wasn't surprised to see him experimenting with several different putters at last year's PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda. Fast forward to Sunday at the Transitions Championship: Just what was in Goosen's hands as he ran a delicate 5-foot putt in on the 72nd hole of regulation? Of course, it was the old reliable Yes! C-Groove Tracy putter he used to win two U.S. Open titles with.
     
    Nothing gives you more confidence standing over a pressure-packed 5-footer like a putter you've won many wars with, or have had great success with in the past. The positive experiences Goosen had with that putter had more to do with that ball going in the hole on Sunday than any stroke he put on it.
     
    Goosen flirted with a belly putter for several weeks and even played three events with it, but went back to the shorter putter the week prior to the WGC-CA Championship. I'm not a big fan of the belly putter because it forces you to hinge your wrists, but sometimes it does your game – or, in this case, putting stroke – some good when you make a club switch because it forces you to look at what you're doing differently. You go back to being more reactionary than analytical, which is a good thing. Even Goosen suggested that the belly putter was a 'good training aid' in his post-round press conference on Sunday.
     
    But I go back to something he also said in his remarks. Goosen said of the old C-Groove putter: 'Pretty much all of the tournaments I won, I won with that putter. So it seems to be behaving again.' Notice he didn't talk about the events he lost with that putter. It doesn't hurt to experiment every now and then, but if you have a club that has performed outstandingly for you in the past, keep it in your bag. More often than not your struggles have nothing to do with the club. It's more in your head.
     
    – Posted March 23
     

     

    How to 'Phil' it up

    Phil Mickelson chipped in from off the green four times in his first 36 holes at last week’s WGC-CA Championship. He needed every one of them, too, holding off Nick Watney by one shot on Sunday to win his 36th PGA Tour title and first WGC event. Mickelson is a magician with his wedges. His talent with these clubs, in particular his lob wedge, allows him to aggressively fire at flags that most pros won’t dare go at because he’s not afraid to miss the green.
     
    There are two theories when it comes to chipping: 1) You chip with a variety of different clubs and get the ball rolling on the ground as quickly as possible; and 2) you use one club to chip and you learn how to make that club work for you. Mickelson is in the latter camp. He chips almost exclusively with his 60-degree lob wedge, because he’s figured out how to make that club do what he wants. He understands spin and how the ball is going to react coming off the clubface, and he can dictate the trajectory and amount of carry and roll he wants, which is crucial in the short game.
     
    Most amateurs chip with only one club – usually, a sand wedge – but either their technique is bad or they haven’t spent enough time practicing with it to get a sense of what it can do. If you’re only going to use one club, make sure you practice with it enough so that you know how it's going to perform on a consistent basis.
     
    From a technique standpoint, keep the handle of the club forward of the clubhead at address and through impact. If you watch Mickelson, you’ll see that his hands are well forward through the extension of impact and beyond. He’s got the shaft leaning towards the hole and maintains that angle through impact. Amateurs have a hard time keeping this angle, especially with a lob or sand wedge, because they’re inclined to help the ball up in the air. Phil delofts the club significantly through the shot. If you want to learn how Lefty does it, head out to the chipping area and see how low you can hit the ball. This will force you to keep your hands ahead and the shaft leaning forward, so you’ll hit the ball with more spin and control.
     
    – Posted March 16
     

     

    Water pressure

    Nursing a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole of regulation in Sunday’s Honda Classic, Y.E. Yang laid up on the par-5 but still faced a nail-biting approach shot into a green surrounded by water. Yang hit his approach farther from the flag than he intended, but still found dry land and two-putted from 50 feet for his first victory on the PGA Tour.
     
    Water is everywhere on PGA National’s Champion Course (26 water hazards in all), and will make even the best players in the world a little squeamish. More often than not, however, they manage to keep the ball safe. The average golfer does not. The mere presence of water is hazardous to their health. Here are a few tips designed to keep your ball dry:
     
    No. 1, remove the word “don’t” from your vocabulary. If your last thought before taking the club back is, “I don’t want to go left” or “I don’t want to miss short,” then guess what, you’re probably going to wind up left or short, and in the drink. Acknowledge the possibility that you “can” hit a good shot, and go about the business of executing that shot. Always make your last thought a positive one.
     
    Secondly, pick the highest target you can. The farther up a tree you look the less likely you are to see water. If the flag is the highest target you can shoot for, focus on the top of the stick, not the bottom. When you’re on the driving range, make it a practice to pick out high targets.
     
    And finally, make sure you complete both sides of your swing. Most nervous swings result in an incomplete backswing or follow-through and a wet ball. Swing back and through all the way and you have a much better chance of making solid contact.
     
    – Posted March 9
     

     

    Time to go left-hand low?

    Before I talk about this week’s Honda winner, Y.E. Yang, I wanted to comment about something I saw at the previous week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya – Cancun. I happened to be working that event for Golf Channel, and watched in awe as eventual winner Mark Wilson sank one big putt after another in the middle of his final round. He made a 20-footer for par on No. 8, a 25-footer for birdie on No. 9, another 20-footer for par on 10, and an 8-footer for par on 11. For the week, Wilson averaged 27.8 putts per round and 1.667 putts per GIR, ranking 4th overall.
     
    Wilson, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, has a magnificent tempo to his stroke, and he just so happens to putt with his left hand low. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Let me explain. When you putt left-hand low, it naturally forces more weight onto your front foot, providing better stability. It also helps square your shoulders at address so the putterhead travels more down the line through the stroke, instead of cutting across the ball. You almost never see a left-hand low putter with their shoulders open. What I also like about this technique is that it promotes a steadier head throughout the stroke and puts more forward lean on the shaft, so the ball rolls truer (end over end) coming off the face.
     
    Do I recommend that everyone switch to left-hand low? No. You've got to go with what gives you the best results. But before you switch to a belly putter or long putter make sure you try this method first. Players with good technique generally have outstanding tempo, and putting left-hand low promotes the proper technique.
     
    – Posted March 9
     

     

    Ogilvy takes high road to victory

    Geoff Ogilvy certainly took a step up in class when he captured his second WGC-Accenture Match Play championship in four years on Sunday. No longer can the 31-year-old Australian be considered an after thought at The Masters or any of the majors, because when you mention the elite players in the game behind Tiger Woods, he’s right in the mix. The guy has tremendous tempo and poise, an unbelievable short game (which was evident at Winged Foot a few years back), and he can putt.
     
    He also flights his irons very high, which is what allows him to hold the greens and is why I think he’ll be a contender at Augusta. In order to hit the ball high, Ogilvy gets the shaft of the club to follow through high after impact. His elbows fold and his wrists rehinge very quickly, which throws the ball up in the air on a higher trajectory. Try it the next time you need to produce a high approach shot. As you swing through impact, focus on following through high with the shaft perpendicular to the ground. This will encourage the left elbow to fold and your wrists to hinge upward, adding loft to the club and producing a shot that flies higher and lands softer.
     
    – Posted March 2
     

     

    The skinny on Ogilvy’s divots

    Another thought on Ogilvy’s swing: He does not take a divot with his irons; the clubhead skims the turf. This contrasts to say, Tiger Woods, and most other PGA Tour players, who cut a nice-sized pelt with their irons. Ogilvy picks the ball fairly clean because he plays from an open-clubface position at the top of his backswing. In order for him to hit the ball straight, he has to shallow out his path on the downswing. That shallow path is what creates little to no divot.
     
    Most amateurs who play from an open-face position slice the ball, because their downswing path is too steep and from the outside and they can’t square the face. A more shallow approach will promote a freer release and less sidespin.
     
    – Posted March 2
     



     

    Lefty's swing change

    What a roller-coaster ride of a week it was for Phil Mickelson! After an opening-round 63, Lefty yo-yoed back and forth with rounds of 72, 62 and 72 on the weekend, avoiding a near-collapse on Sunday with two late birdies to rally past Steve Stricker and win the Northern Trust Open. The inconsistency we witnessed from Mickelson was typical of a player undergoing significant changes in their golf swing. We saw times when Mickelson was confident and hitting fairways, and other times when he wasn’t so comfortable and spraying the ball all over Riviera. We even saw these variations mid-round on Sunday, when Mickelson seemed to figure out what was ailing his swing with a few holes to go.
     
    Making swing changes is a process, and it takes time. Swing coach Butch Harmon is trying to get Mickelson to set up with his hips and shoulders more square to the target at address, so he’s less likely to spin them open at impact. That’s why you often see that big pull-hook of Mickelson’s or a weak slice, because his path gets too out-to-in. Mickelson wants to hit a release cut, and the more he’s able to delay his hips and shoulders—especially his shoulders--on the downswing, the easier it is for him to execute that shot. If those shoulders open too quickly, he has to try and save the shot with his hands and that leads to some big misses.
     
    One thing I really like about Butch is that he fixes things in the preswing, before the club starts moving. That’s a good tip for the average golfer. Most people assume their swing is at fault when something goes wrong, instead of taking the time to see if they’re in the correct positions at address. If you’re struggling with a slice or a severe out-to-in path, as Mickelson has on occasion, make sure your shoulders are parallel to your feet, knees and hips at address, and the ball is opposite your lead armpit. (Many amateurs play the ball too far forward, which encourages the shoulders to be open at impact.) Also make sure to place your right hand on the club from underneath the shaft, which promotes a stronger grip.
     
    One final thought for any slicers out there: To keep your shoulders from spinning open, swing your back to the target and keep it facing the target for as long as possible on the downswing. The longer you keep your back to the target, the more likely you are to swing the clubhead on the correct path (inside-out) and release the club.
     
    – Posted Feb. 23
     

     

    Tiger won't disappoint

    Like everyone else, I was thrilled to death to learn of Tiger’s decision yesterday that he would be playing in next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Was I surprised he picked the match play event for his return from knee surgery? Not really. He does have a relationship with title sponsor Accenture, but Tiger is clearly much smarter than that. I mean, when has the guy ever made a bad decision?
     
    I think it was more a case of Tiger being ready to play again in his mind. The WGC event will be a little less grueling initially (which is not to say it can’t become grueling later on if he winds up playing seven matches), because you’re not always having to play out every match or hole. He could win his first match Wednesday in 14 holes. The other thing is that if he does make it all the way to Sunday and win, it’s like playing two tournaments. Add that to Doral and Bay Hill and he’ll be well-prepped heading into Augusta.
     
    A lot of people have asked me if I think Tiger will have to make any adjustments to his swing to take the pressure off his surgically repaired left knee, or if he’ll be the same player after his nine-month hiatus from competition. First of all, you can’t make the assumption that he has to radically change anything in his swing. He could have hurt his knee a lot of different ways (the report is he tore his ACL running in the summer of 2007), not just playing golf. Also, Tiger made sure he took enough time to get his knee rehabbed, and then get his game in shape. I worked with a guy, Sean Cain, who had a similar surgery and once his knee was rehabbed, he was out playing golf again. He didn’t care what he shot, he was just happy to be on the course. Tiger’s knee could have been fully healed three months ago, but he took his time and made sure his game was ready.
     
    Will he win next week? Why not? The thing about Tiger is that he’s always over-performing. He ALWAYS makes the putt on No. 18. What would make anyone think that he wouldn’t over-perform next week? It wouldn’t be surprised if he won his first four tournaments out.
     
    The guy is a beast and I think he’s going to continue to play like a beast. I think he’s been playing these guys with a bum knee for a lot longer than people think. This guy is just a phenomenal athlete—not just a great golfer, but a tremendous athlete.
     
    – Posted Feb. 20
     

    The tall truth

    Forty years ago, being tall was viewed as a big disadvantage on the PGA Tour because players didn’t have access to club-fitting systems; they had to adjust to their clubs. Players had to manufacture a swing to create the preferred trajectory or ball flight they desired. Nowadays, manufacturers can accommodate the swings of all players, whether they stand 5-foot-8 or 6-foot-4, like this weekend’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am champion Dustin Johnson.
     
    Players such as Johnson, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson now hold an advantage because of their height, especially off the tee, since they can make the clubhead travel on a longer, wider arc. Since it travels a greater distance, there’s more time to make the club go faster. That’s why Johnson is able to generate ball speeds of 190 miles per hour.
     
    Most tall golfers I know can’t dream of producing that kind of clubhead speed and power because they’re not properly fitted for their clubs. In most cases, they’re buying their clubs off the rack. Tall people everywhere: If you want to hit longer shots with greater consistency then you MUST go see your local PGA professional and get fit for a set of clubs (and that includes your driver!). The second you have to accommodate the club to your height and swing, you lose your advantage.
     
    When you address the ball, you should be able to stand tall with your back relatively straight and your arms relaxed, hanging under your shoulders. If you find that you have to bend over a lot to reach the ball, or your arms are outstretched and stiff, then your clubs are too short for you. Once you’re fit into a set of clubs that suits your height and swing, then you’ll be able to get that extra width and distance you’ve been expecting.
     
    – Posted Feb. 17
     

    It won’t come easy for Wiesy

    Michelle Wie couldn’t close the deal on Saturday, blowing a three-shot lead with eight holes to go and losing by three shots to Angela Stanford at the season-opening SBS Open in Hawaii. But should we have expected anything else? I’m not being hard on Michelle, it’s just that winning is extremely difficult out there, and Michelle hasn’t won for a very, very long time – since the 2003 USGA Women’s Amateur Public Links, to be exact. She’s going to have to learn how to win, and that’s something she will do in time (I think she’ll win several events by year’s end), but not before she goes through a few more growing pains like Saturday.
     
    The good news is that Wie seems to have found a permanent home on the LPGA Tour, which can only help in her quest to get back in the winner’s circle. Her schedule in previous years put her in no position to do that. It was a joke. You’re not going to learn how to win playing in a PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour event where your goal is to shoot 2-under par and make the cut. It’s a whole different mindset for her now, because her focus is on winning, not being slightly above average. She’s definitely on the right track.
     
    – Posted Feb. 16
     

    Wie standing taller

    Having watched Michelle Wie this weekend, I see a notable improvement in her posture from the previous few years. She’s standing much taller at address, which allows her to swing her arms on a higher, more efficient plane. There’s much more freedom and athleticism to her swing than before, which leads to more control – she’s not having to manipulate the club as much on the downswing – consistency and clubhead speed. Michelle’s posture had become too bent over in recent years and, as a result, the club would often get trapped behind her. She had to work twice as hard to get her arms and the club back on plane on the downswing. Now, with her posture taller again (think “back straight” at address), Wie can swing her arms freely again and generate the kind of power that once awed us all when she was a 13-year-old.
     
    – Posted Feb. 16
     

    Why not “one-putt?”

    I have a few additional thoughts on the topic of lag putting, which I wrote about in my initial blog entry yesterday. First off, ditch the phrase “three-putting” from your vocabulary. Too many golfers approach a putt of 30 feet or more with the attitude that they want to get the ball close enough to the hole to avoid three-putting. Well, with that negative approach, it’s no wonder why they almost always leave their first putts short of the hole. I like to use the analogy that if you’re driving your new car with the sole focus of not getting in a car accident, then how do you expect to get to your eventual destination? Take a more positive approach and think about “one-putting.” Note your final destination, or target (the hole), and hit the putt with enough pace to get the ball there.
     
    Secondly, I hate it when I read instruction articles suggesting that you try and putt to a three-foot circle around the hole (six feet in diameter). I mean REALLY, if you’re saying that three feet is acceptable, that’s like telling your child a grade of C is okay even though an A or a B is certainly attainable. When was the last time a student got into Duke with a C average? You can do better: Expect that you’ll make the putt on your first attempt. The more you envision this happening, the more it will.
     
    – Posted Feb. 10
     

    It’s all about pace

    Nick Watney’s 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 16th hole at Torrey Pines on Sunday was sweet redemption for a three-putt he had from a similar distance during the final round of last year’s U.S. Open. Watney’s putt broke sharply from right to left and then appeared to veer right at the last second and catch the left edge of the cup, helping him seize the momentum and overtake John Rollins for a one-stroke victory at the Buick Invitational.
     
    Watney’s putt had the perfect pace on it, something most amateurs overlook when preparing to lag putt. Most of their focus is on the line, and where they’re going to hit the ball along this line, not on speed and the total distance the ball has to travel. They’re also thinking about how not to three-putt, which makes them more cautious and, more often than not, leads to a putt that stops well short of the hole.
     
    Here’s a drill I call “Lag for Break,” which will improve your distance control on putts of 15 feet or more. Lay down a shaft horizontally about 15 feet away, and putt three balls toward the shaft, trying to get each ball to finish as close to the goal line (my name for the shaft) as possible without touching it. Once you get good at lagging each putt within inches of the goal line, change your target to two tees and then finally a spot, such as an old filled-in cup or tuft of green. Lag to distances of 25 and 35 feet, but no more. The more consistent your pace is on long putts, the better your green-reading skills will be and the more you’ll think about holing out in one putt, just as Watney did on Sunday.
     
    – Posted on Feb. 9