Pitch Shot from Greenside Rough

25 11 2011

What if I told you that you did not have to be perfect to hit a shot out of greenside rough?  You would then approach the shot with confidence.  Remember Tom Watson’s famous shot on the 71st hole of the 1982 U.S. Open?  Bruce Edwards, his caddie, said “Get it close” to which Watson responded “I’m going to hole it!”  And so he did.  Obviously Watson did it under the utmost pressure as he was battling Nicklaus for the victory and he was tied with Jack at the time.

The truth is that although these shots appear challenging, they are not that difficult.  I teach a forgiving short game technique on these shots where you slide the bounce of the club under the ball.  If you maintain constant loft on the club, the bounce will slide along the grass fro 10-12 inches providing a huge margin of error.  Take a practice swing and you will see the length of the brush mark.

Next time you get this shot, follow these steps:

1)    Take a lofted club like a lob wedge or sand wedge

2)    Play the ball forward in your stance

3)    Weaken your grip which will help keep the clubface open

4)    Firm up your wrists to keep the club from twisting in the grass

5)    Hit behind the ball

6)    Make a big swing

Distance control will come through practice.  Your confidence will grow as you increase your repetitions. Give yourself different lies and targets to simulate real golf conditions.  You have the forgiveness built in to the club and technique.  Go do it!

Josh Zander

How To Hit it Straight

20 09 2011

Hitting the ball straight is one of the biggest challenges facing every golfer.  There are so many variables that go into hitting it straight that it is a wonder we ever hit the ball straight at all.  In fact most tour players prefer to curve the ball in order to get it to the target.  Jack Nicklaus liked to fade the ball while Tom Watson likes to draw the ball.  Very few tour players try to hit the ball perfectly straight once they are hitting clubs longer than an eight iron.  Today’s equipment makes hitting the ball straight more feasible, nevertheless, it is a challenge.  I believe every golfer should know what it takes to hit it straight. The closer you get, the less curve you will get on your ball and your direction control will improve.

So what does it take to hit the ball straight?  Correct aim, a square clubface, and a centered hit are all part of the equation.  The last variable is club path and that may be the least understood by the average player.  The reason is that the swing is an inclined circle, like slightly tilted a hula hoop.  This means that as you hit down on a ball you will be striking the ball earlier on the circle which means your path will moving to the right at impact.  Conversely, when you hit up on the ball, the later you are hitting on the circle and the more left your path is moving at impact.  In short, the attack angle directly affects the path.  My video on how to hit it straight illustrates the adjustments necessary to neutralize your club path with different attack angles.

The one thing to remember is that every ball struck from the ground requires a downward strike to hit it solidly and straight.  Hitting up on a ball that is on the ground will result in a miss-hit.  When you tee the ball up, it is to your advantage to hit up on the ball as it will minimize the spin rate and give you more distance.  Although you can get away with hitting down on your driver I do not recommend it as it will increase your spin rate and cost you distance.

Just like it is difficult to learn the golf swing from a book, I will leave the aforementioned formula for hitting it straight to your local PGA teaching professional.  But remember that just working on aim, face and center hits will help, but understanding the concept of path as it relates to attack angle will be the final piece in the puzzle.

Josh Zander

The One-Plane Backswing

16 06 2011

By now you have probably heard the term “One-Plane Swing.”  The term was coined by my mentor Jim Hardy and has become part of the golf vernacular.  In the past, the one plane swing has been described as a flat swing.  Ben Hogan is the most famous example of this type of swing.   In his book, “Five Lessons, the Modern Fundamentals of Golf”, Hogan showed us that great image of the pane of glass.  At the top of his backswing, he shows how his left arm is on the same plane as his shoulders.  In his book, Ben Hogan stated: “At the top of his backswing, his (the golfer’s) left arm should be extended at the same angle as the glass.  Actually, his left arm would brush against the glass.”  This is what Jim Hardy describes as the One-Plane Backswing.  In other words, the left arm and shoulders are all on “one plane” at the top of the backswing.

In my video, I have demonstrated how to build a one-plane swing.  How do you know if this style of swing is correct for you?  Get in front of a mirror and look at your profile as you are hitting away from the mirror.  Make a backswing and hold it at the top.  Now look back at the mirror.  If your left arm is online with your shoulders, you are a one-planer.  If your left arm is higher than your shoulders you are a two-planer.  If you are one-planer, you should study this video in order to make your motion more fundamentally sound.

One of the best methods of learning is watching great players.  These days, the internet provides us with countless videos that we can use as models.  My favorite modern day one planers are Hunter Mahan, Sergio Garcia, and Trevor Immelman.  Tiger Woods is a great one planer when he hits his famous “stinger”.  The one-plane swing seems to be a trend on the tour these days.  This does not mean it is the only way to be successful; it is just one way to play golf.  As a teacher, I make sure my students stick to the fundamentals of a one-plane swing if they are one-planers.  There is a lot of confusing information out there.  Some of it is right for one-planers and some of it is correct for two-planers.  Figuring out which one you are will help you keep things simple and enjoy great golf.

Josh Zander


Trap your Wedges

3 05 2011

Trap it! No, that doesn’t mean put it in the trap. It means that great wedge players trap the ball between the clubface and the ground. The compression they create leads to wonderful distance control.

The biggest mistake I see amateurs make is to make full swings with their wedges and hit sky balls. Their distance control is too variable. The same swing with a 56 degree wedge  might produce anywhere from a 60 to 100 yard shot. This is not acceptable. After all, you are relying on your wedge to put you in range to make a putt and make a birdie or save par.

The reason for this inconsistent distance is because of the loft on the wedge. The increased loft leads to the ball rolling up the clubface at impact. This is much like what Phil Mickelson wants when he takes a full swing with a lob wedge and hits the ball 10 feet. Well, we don’t want this when we are trying to hit an 75 yard wedge shot. Tour players de-loft the clubface 20 degrees when they hit their wedges into greens from 75 to 125 yards. That means that they are turning their 56 degree club into a 36 degree club which makes the loft more like a 7 iron. The ball comes off with a penetrating flight and stops quickly due to backspin.

Make sure your technique is fundamentally sound with your wedges. First, make sure you keep your weight more on your front foot when you hit. As a right-handed golfer, I think about turning around my left leg. This guarantees that I will hit the golf ball before I hit the ground. This compression leads to very solid contact. Secondly, make a shallow 3/4 type swing into the ball. This shallower angle helps the ball rebound off the face as opposed to crawling up the face. Lastly, come into impact with a forward leaning shaft which de-lofts the clubface. This results in fantastic distance control. Never make full, all out, swings with your wedges. There is no need to. After all, if you need more distance, there is always a longer club you can use.

Grip it and Rip it

23 03 2011

Before you can rip it, you have to grip it. There are so many ways to grip the golf club and you need to find the one that works best for you. My recommendation is to match your grip to your desired ball flight. If you like to draw the ball, you should favor a stronger grip. If you want to fade the ball, go with a weaker grip. The “old school” way of shaping shots was to make the same swing and just change your grip on the club. I heard Nick Faldo one time making fun of Colin Montgomery’s golf academy. I am paraphrasing but he basically said, what they teach you there is turn your hands one way to hook it, turn your hands the other way to fade it and somewhere in the middle is straight. Now that will be $1,000! Can it be that simple? That might me a slight oversimplification because there are so many other factors involved but the concept is very true.

For those of you who have read my blogs before, you know that as an instructor, I will only make an adjustment to a student’s technique if it improves the ball flight or the quality of the impact. If you are already hitting it solidly and straight, don’t change your grip! Just because it is not neutral does not mean it is wrong. Paul Azinger and Freddy Couples both have extremely strong grips and they hit it great. I hope they never change. The golf swing is a mixture of all kinds of angles and in Paul and Freddy’s case, the strong grip matches the other aspects of their swings creating a neutral impact and a correct ball flight.

I want to make this blog helpful so if you don’t have an instructor, follow these simple recommendations as to when to change your grip:

Make your grip stronger if:

1. You are slicing

2. You have thin contact

Make your grip weaker if:

1. You are hooking

2. You have deep divots

Your grip is your one connection to the club. Making a change can be a difficult experience. If you decide to make the change, bring a club into your house and do your repetitions away from the golf course.

Now go grip it and rip it!

Hold your finish. It’s not just for show.

1 02 2011

Why is the finish so important? After all, isn’t the ball gone? This is a comment I get sometimes from some students. The finish is the result of having done correct fundamentals along the way. Watching the 2010 Masters, I was so impressed by runner-up Lee Westwood’s balance at the end of his powerful golf swing. Westwood’s balance is the result of an on-plane motion which allows him to deliver an efficient blow to the golf ball without having his body compensate for any loops in his swing.

The finish is also the result of trying to hit a ball with a specific flight. If you want to hit the ball low, your finish should be low, If you want to hit the ball high, your finish should be high. If you want your ball to fade as a right-handed golfer, your hands should finish more left and away from the target line.  If you want your ball to draw, your hands should finish closer to the target line.

The bottom line is that the golf swing is over in less than two seconds and you don’t have time to think about all the positions along the way. If you rehearse a swing that ends in balance and has one of the aforementioned finish positions, you have a good chance of hitting correct positions along the way. My students are so psyched when I have them do follow-through drill that improves their backswing positions. Give yourself some credit. You are a better athlete than you thought!

Make it part of your routine to rehearse the finish you want based on the ball flight you desire. Hold it for a few seconds to feel your balance and to tell your brain what ball flight you want. Feeling it will get you there more often than just thinking about it. I have my juniors always hold their finish for a count of five. Lastly, swing as fast as you can as long as you can hold your pose. After all, it’s fun to hit it far and you can’t get distance without clubhead speed.

Josh Zander

Develop a “Go To” Shot

2 01 2011

Now that it is winter, many of us are taking a break from golf for a while. Like many other golfers, just because I am not playing doesn’t mean I am not thinking about it. One of the ideas you may want to consider is developing a “Go To” shot. Tour players often call this their stock shot. This is a shot shape that you know you can do produce on command.

There are nine shots in golf. You can choose a straight ball, a draw, or a fade and then pick a low, medium or high version of each one. My “Go To” shot happens to be a medium draw. My scores improved significantly once I decided to stick to my “Go To” shot.  The only time I stray is when the situation on the golf course dictates something completely different. Nicklaus’ “Go To” shot was a high fade. History shows that worked out pretty well for him.

Why is a “Go To” shot so important? The answer is predictability. As a golf instructor, my students are always asking me how to be more consistent. A stock shot will help you plan and give you a good idea of where your shot is going to go. Think about your tee shot to a 40 yard wide fairway. Nicklaus would tee his ball up on the right side of the tee box and aim down the left hand side of the fairway. He could fade it up to 39 yards and still be in the fairway. If you tee it up in the middle of the tee box and try to hit it down the middle of the fairway without knowing how your ball is going to curve, you now have only half the fairway to work with. In other words, if you fade or hook your ball 21 yards, you have now missed the fairway.

Tour players have a stock shot and their goal is to never have their shot cross the target line. This means that a player like Zach Johnson who’s “Go To” shot is a draw, always starts his ball right of the target line and draws the ball back to the target. His goal is to never start his ball left of his target line and never to hook his ball across the target line. When he accomplishes this, he will have a great ball-striking week. Remember, there are two shots that don’t work in golf as a right-handed player, a hook that starts left and a slice that starts right! Get a “Go To” shot in your arsenal and you cannot help but be a better player. Spring will be here before you know it.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 135 other followers