Justin Rose is known as a terrific ballstriker, especially with his long irons. (Hallowell/Getty Images)
By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, PGA TOUR Academy
The similarities between Ben Hogan’s famous 1-iron and Justin Rose’s 4-iron on the 72nd hole of yesterday’s U.S. Open are striking. Both players needed to make par on the very difficult 18th hole at Merion — Hogan to force a playoff in the 1950 U.S. Open, which he’d go on to win, and Rose to hold onto a slim one-shot advantage.
And both players faced long approach shots — Hogan from 213 yards, and Rose from 229. Neither player flinched, as Hogan hit his approach to 40 feet and two-putted for his par, while Rose threw a dart at the flag that ran through the green and left him with a fairly simple up-and-down for his first major championship title.
Hogan was considered the best ballstriker of his time. He was fond of finding it in the dirt. And Rose is earning quite a reputation as a ballstriker as well. When he absolutely needed to find the short grass on No. 18 yesterday, he split the middle of the fairway. Then, under tremendous pressure, he delivered the shot of his life into the 18th green. Not a single player made birdie on the 18th hole this weekend at Merion, and Rose’s third shot came within inches of dropping in the hole for a 3.
For the week, Rose tied for first in par-4 birdies (10), was second in fairways hit (75 percent), and tied for seventh in greens in regulation (69.44 percent). It should probably come as no surprise that Rose hit those two clutch shots on 18, since he leads the PGA TOUR in both total driving and GIR percentage from 200+ yards (60.42 percent) this season. He’s also sixth in GIR (69.81 percent) and third in ball striking, a combination of GIR and total driving.
What makes Rose such an exceptional ball-striker, especially with his longer irons, is his ability to differentiate his upper and lower body at impact. He’s able to shift his weight into his lead foot, which moves the low point of his swing forward, to the ball, and he maintains his side tilt away from the ball. This is essential to hitting green-hugging long irons because it allows you to stay behind the ball and utilize the true loft on the clubface, so the ball launches higher and lands softer.
The most common mistake that amateurs make with their longer clubs is that when they shift their weight left on the downswing, their upper body goes with it. There’s no differentiation between the upper and lower body, and they typically come over-the-top of the ball and hit it to the right, or mishit it off the toe, which shoots it low and to the left.
On the flip side, if they try to stay behind the ball with their upper body, their weight stays on their back foot and they hit behind it. With no differentiation, they may still hit their short irons okay (because of the loft), but they’ll launch their longer irons, hybrids, and fairway woods too low. Here are two drills to help you create this differentiation and improve your ball striking.
DRILL 1: PRE-SET IMPACT
Take your setup with a 5-iron or hybrid and, from there, assume a good impact position. Move your weight into your lead foot and open your hips, but keep your spine tilted to the right, behind the ball, as it was at address. You should feel a good stretch between your upper and lower body, and your shoulders should be closed relative to your hips. Hold this position for a second or two, and then return to your address position and swing, trying to recreate the differentiation you felt between your upper and lower body at impact.
DRILL 2: USE THE GROUND
Place a towel or sponge (something that offers a little resistance) under your lead foot, and as you swing down, feel as if you’re applying pressure from the left foot into the ground, through that towel. This drill will teach you to shift your weight forward, so that the clubhead doesn’t bottom out too soon and you hit the ball solidly, with the club’s full loft. If you watch Rose’s practice swings, you can see him rehearsing this move.
He swings the club to the top, and then very deliberately transfers his weight forward, applying pressure into the ground with his left foot. From there he uses his left foot as leverage to turns through and complete his swing. Copy this move and your ballstriking should improve as well.
Travis Fulton is the Director of Instruction at the TOUR Academies at TPC Sawgrass and the World Golf Village. For more information on the TOUR Academy, click here.