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Bump and Run Mike Bender

We know it's difficult to find time to practice during the week. When a Saturday or Sunday tee time rolls around, you're hoping to find some spark or productive swing thought that will help you break 100, 90, 80 or whatever your scoring goal may be.

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, swing coach for 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, and the 2009 PGA National Teacher of the Year.
Mike Bender 2009 PGA Teacher of the YearMIKE BENDER
Owner, Mike Bender Golf Academy at Timacuan Golf Club, Lake Mary, Fla.

- Golf Digest's 50 Greatest Teachers
- Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America
- PGA National Teacher of the Year (2009)
- 4-time North Florida PGA Section Teacher of the Year
- PGA Tour player (1987-'89)

Students (past and present)
Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd,
Lee Janzen, Seon Hwa Lee, Vicky Hurst

Web Site:
Contact: 1-407-321-0444

Johnson is coming off his best year in 2009, having finished fourth in the FedEx Cup point standings and fourth on the PGA Tour's official money list, with $4,714,813 in earnings. He also finished fourth in scoring average (69.60), thanks in part to a strong iron game. Johnson finished seventh in GIR percentage (71.33) on shots from 150 to 175 yards and 28th overall, at 67.81 percent.

To submit a question to Bender or one of our teachers, please e-mail and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered.
We know how strong his wedge game is based on his play at the 2007 Masters. What makes Zach such a good iron player?

I would say it's because he hits one shot 98 or 99 percent of the time. He tries to hit a draw on every shot and one of his major goals is to never cross his line. So if he’s hitting a draw, he wants to start the ball to the right of his target and curve left, but not go across the target line.

We have games that we play on the range where we pick a target and a parameter to the right, and try and land the ball in that area seven or more times out of 10. We’re trying to get some good results on the range so that when we go to the course it transfers.

What are these parameters?

Let’s use a green, for instance. If the pin were in the middle of the green, and we used the right edge of the green as a parameter to the right, we’re trying to have the ball land between the right edge of the green and the flag. We’re trying to do that seven or more times out of 10.

It’s very important for amateurs to know we’re not aiming right to hit a draw. We’re not going to close the stance to hit a draw. The swing is going to produce a draw from a square stance, parallel left of the target. You create the draw because the clubhead comes from the inside and the face is relatively square at impact. If the clubhead was coming from the inside 10 degrees and the face was 8 degrees open at impact, you’d hit a slight draw because the face is closed to the line you’re swinging on.

People on the driving range are trying to hit the ball straight, that’s their first mistake. They’re not out there working on trying to curve their ball; only the better players are because they understand they can’t hit it straight. Mid- and high-handicap players think they can’t curve it so they try and hit everything straight.

Better players have a starting direction and finish point, and want the ball to finish between those two?

A great little game to play is to go out there and play nine holes, and identify a start line and a finish line. If the ball goes left of the finish line, you get an X on the card. If it stays to the right, you get a check mark. Do that for your tee shots and shots into the green and count them up at the end of nine holes to see how many more checks you get. The objective is to not cross your line so you eliminate half of the golf course, which gives you confidence.
Why is it that the average golfer struggles to hit greens?

First of all, they don’t have the proper concept of what they’re trying to do with the ball. Secondly, if they do have the proper concept, then they have to develop a swing to produce that shot, and they don’t do that. When they take golf lessons, they don’t go to the golf lesson with the intent on how to curve the ball. I’ve never had a guy come to me and say, 'I want to work on my draw or my fade and the consistency of it.' That’s what they should be saying, though. There’s nobody who can do it two, three times in a row.

Zach is so accurate on approach shots of more than 150 yards. What would be some keys to hitting more greens from this distance?

If you have to hit the ball one way – either to the right or to the left – make the ball curves more than what you think. If you aim 30 yards left to hit a big slice, you have a better chance hitting the green than if you aimed 15 yards left because it’s easier to hit more curve then less.

The only other thing that makes you hit good iron shots is your contact, hitting down on the ball instead of sweeping the ball.

There are a lot of sweepers of the ball. Why is it so hard for some golfers to take divots?

What happens is their left wrist breaks down, or cups. There’s a cupping motion of the left wrist because that’s the kind of release that they need to have because they’re coming at the ball at the wrong angle. The whole game of golf is a game of spin, and spin is created through angles, so if you have a steep, outside-in swing you’re going to have a cupped wrist through the ball. The left wrist flipping and clubhead releasing early is why golfers don’t take divots. If the left wrist is bowing, then the leading edge will be going down and will hit down into the ground.

What is the angle you want to take into the ball to carve out a good divot?

You have to be coming from the inside. To take a proper divot you have to be coming in on-plane from the inside. That’s the bottom line.
What's the ideal size and shape of a divot?

The depth of the divot is determined by the club. A divot for a wedge is going to be deeper and longer than a divot with a 3- or 4-iron. An ideal divot is square; it starts square in the back and the end of the divot is square.

What does a slicer's divot look like?

Their divots go left, and the heel side of the divot is typically longer than the toe. It’s ahead of the toe side. Someone who hits a lot of hooks, the toe side would be longer than the heel side because they have a lot of rotation of the clubhead through the ball.

One of the most popular expressions on the course is 'thin to win.' What's a good fix for someone who consistently hits the ball thin, and can't take a divot?

The best way to fix this is to go into a sand trap and draw three lines. Each line represents the ball position. Go up there with a 7-iron and set up to the line in the sand, make a swing and try and thump the sand with no follow-through or as short a follow-through as possible. The divot has to start on the line or just after the line. The mark will show you exactly where the club is hitting the ground.

Train yourself to hit in the same place every time. I do one line with my left hand only, one with my right hand, and one line with both hands. You should get about 20 swings per line. You can also see the direction of the divot, so if the divot is running left you’re cheating it by getting steep. If it’s straight or to the right it’s coming in on plane and the shaft is being delivered on the right angle.

Any advice for hitting the longer (5- and 6-) irons?

The reason golfers have trouble hitting long clubs is because their swing is too steep. If you have a shallow swing – the clubshaft works more horizontal to the ground – you can hit a driver off the fairway. The longer the club the more it requires a shallow angle of approach.

What happens is they have a steep angle, which works okay for shorter clubs, but when you get to longer clubs they don’t work anymore. There’s not enough loft on them to go straight. If people want to hit their long clubs better they need to learn how to swing more shallow.   

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