To me, the John Deere Classic could quite easily undergo a name change and become The Steve Stricker Classic without anyone, including John Deere, taking much offense.
Stricker has absolutely owned the event, winning the title for three years running, and he is an amazing 104 under par since 2000, when the event moved to TPC Deere Run.
How does he do it?
In short, with the scoring clubs -- the putter and the wedges. Stricker’s putting stroke is the envy of many PGA TOUR regulars, and a lot of them would happily let Strick putt for them when the chips were down. To me however, his performance with a wedge (inside 120 yards) is even more impressive than his proficiency with the putter.
In the first round on Thursday, Stricker holed a wedge shot from 80 yards on the 14th hole for eagle. The eagle was the catalyst to a stretch of five holes played in 4 under, and he wound up with a 65. That one pitch turned an ordinary round into one that gave him a shot at four in a row.
So if you want to make consistently good scores, improve your putting statistics, and hit those wedges a little closer to the target. Steve Stricker is a really good model to copy, and there are a few things that he does with a wedge in his hand that you can incorporate in your technique to aid in getting those wedge shots closer to the hole:
Quiet hands and wrists: One thing that Stricker does that lends itself to accuracy and good distance control is use a minimal amount of wrist hinge and hand action. Emulate this as you swing to hit your scoring clubs more consistently. As you swing the wedges, hinge your wrists less and make a three-quarter backswing. This reduction in wrist hinge will help to quiet the hands through the impact area and this should assist in squaring the clubface and controlling its speed – a sure-fire way to hitting wedge shots that are accurate, both in terms of distance and direction.
Quiet feet and legs: Good balance and good timing are crucial to delivering the clubface squarely and consistently into the back of the ball. To improve both of these components you must ensure that your swing has a sound foundation and a stable lower body action will go a long way to producing that. Watch Steve Stricker hit a wedge and you will see how he uses his lower body in a very sedate and controlled fashion. Emulate this as you swing and you will find it a lot easier to make consistent strikes with your short clubs.
Don’t overpower your scoring clubs: The worst thing you can do is try to hit your scoring clubs too far. By definition, the short irons are meant to move the ball a short distance, so be true to that whenever you have one in your hand. There is no benefit whatsoever to hitting a sand-wedge instead of a wedge to a target so resist every urge to do so. Swing the scoring clubs with control and poise, ala Stricker, and you will find you will put the ball closer to the target a lot more often.
Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.