N’awlins, The Big Easy, The Crescent City, NOLA … New Orleans has many nicknames, but it has one identity: A vibrant city with a distinctive culture of food and music. Its people are carefree and easygoing and their hospitality and the vibe of the city make New Orleans a favorite stop for the PGA TOUR and the players.
The 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans boasted a strong field, and the week’s competition certainly made for compelling viewing. In fact, the final nine holes of competition were riveting as some of the TOUR’S up-and-coming stars vied for the title.
After a long rain delay, young Billy Horschel surged to the top of the leaderboard with six straight birdies from holes No. 7 through No. 12. Shell Houston Open champion D.A. Points kept pace with four straight birdies of his own and, in the end, it came down to the final green. Clinging to a one-shot lead and with Points just 6 feet away from a potentially tying birdie, Horschel faced a 29-foot birdie attempt for the title. He summoned all of his nerve and drew on all of his past experiences and hit the career-defining putt. The ball disappeared into the cup, the vocal gallery went crazy and Horschel celebrated emphatically as he recorded his first win on TOUR.
In truth, Horschel has been superb since the end of March. His win on the bayou was really just the culmination of some incredible play. Since the Shell Houston Open, Horschel is an incredible 49 under and has logged finishes of T2, T3, T9 and a win. Sublime stuff from the young Florida Gator, and there are a couple of lessons we can learn from his play:
Manage your emotions: Horschel is an animated, energetic young man who wears his heart on his sleeve. In fact, that very tendency caught up with him last season in the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island. After entering the final round just one stroke out of the lead -- and in the final group -- he imploded for a final round 75. By his own admission he did not behave very well during that final round and his family and close friends “called him out” on his petulance and on-course manner. Since then he has made a conscious push to maintain his poise and emotional control and his results have shown marked improvement.
Realize this very simple point: The golf swing is a fluid and timed mechanism that requires a sequence of events to transpire correctly to allow consistently good presentation of the club to the ball. Hence, by definition, it is crucial that negative tension in the shoulders, arms and hands should be avoided at all costs as that negative tension could quite easily throw off the timing of all of these high-speed moving parts. Further, it goes without saying that angst and negative tension can certainly compromise a clear and poised mindset. I often say to my students, “I don’t mind you losing your swing, but I do mind you losing your mind.”
Employ the three-quarter iron shot: Horschel is a convicted and aggressive swinger of the club, but he took a more measured approach in the closing stretch of the Zurich Classic. He still attacked the flags that were “gettable,” but he did so with a three-quarter swing that worked like a charm. He hit many great irons, but possibly the most impressive of those was an “off-speed” 6-iron to about 4 feet on the ninth hole. You don’t always have to swing full bore, and if you are in between clubs, consider selecting a longer club and making a more controlled pass like Billy Ho did. Doing it is easier than you think ...
- Select the longer club and grip down the handle a couple of inches.
- Narrow your stance slightly and position the ball just slightly left of center (for righties).
- Keep your trail knee flexed as you wind up and make a wider, shorter backswing by keeping your right elbow to the right of your right hip.
- Smoothly does it in the transition and the downswing as you sweep the sole of your club along the turf through impact (carry the image of your club making a long sweep along the ground).
- Rotate into a balanced follow through with the weight on your lead leg and both of your elbows in front of your body at the finish.
There are (and have been) some tremendous examples of this shot – Sam Snead, Nick Faldo, Luke Donald and now Billy Horschel. Why don’t you give it a try?
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.