Jordan Spieth may be all of 19 years old, but the decision he made on the fifth playoff hole in Sunday’s John Deere Classic was a very veteran move. And it paid off handsomely.
Faced with the decision to play a high cut around the tree directly in his path or a low punch under the tree, Spieth wisely backed off, and chose the latter. It was the true percentage play. He went back to his bag, pulled out his 7-iron, and hit a perfectly executed low punch shot to the back edge of the green, from where he had an easy two-putt for his first PGA TOUR victory.
Spieth’s change in strategy was made much easier by the fact that both of his playing partners were in trouble. Zach Johnson, whose ball was just four feet away from Spieth’s, attempted a high cut shot around the tree, only to watch his chances of repeating as champion drown in the water. The third member of the playoff, David Hearn, was short of the green in two.
In his post-round press remarks, Spieth, who become the youngest champion on TOUR in 82 years, said his initial instincts were to play aggressively and bend an 8-iron around the tree from 175 yards. But the ball was just above his feet, and that would bring the water more into play. The one thing he couldn’t do there was hit it left -- not with both of his playing partners likely to make bogey. By opting to take the lower route, he eliminated the left miss, because in delofting the clubface with the forward lean of the clubshaft, it’s much easier to hold off the rotation of the face.
When hitting the ball higher, especially off of a hanging lie, there’s a greater chance that you’ll hang back and lean the clubshaft slightly away from the target, which creates a more leftward shot.
Of the two options -- the high cut or low punch shot under the trees -- I’d recommend the average golfer take the low track every time, simply because there’s much greater room for error. The higher shot requires a bigger swing and more clubhead speed, whereas the lower shot requires less swing, less clubhead speed, and less loft. You have much greater control over the clubface and the flight of the ball. To hit the low punch shot under the trees, just as Spieth did, follow these keys:
Make sure you choose a club that will keep you under the tree and its hanging branches. If you’re going to err, then do so on the side of less loft (i.e., a 6-iron over an 8-iron).
Move the ball back of center in your stance (one back back for a mid-iron) and -- here’s the key -- slide your entire body two to three inches forward until you feel a little more weight on your left foot and your sternum is just ahead of the ball. Maintain your natural side tilt as you move to your left -- do not tilt your upper body to the left, as that changes the plane of your shoulders and causes your attack angle to become too steep. Hit down on the ball with a steep attack angle, and you’re liable to hit it straight up in the air.
Lastly, make a three-quarter length arm swing with three-quarter tempo. The slower your swing speed, the less spin you’ll impart on the ball. Maintain the bend in your right hand through impact, as this keeps the shaft leaning forward, thus delofting the clubface. You’ve got to be strong with that wrist because you don’t want to be adding loft to the face at impact. Turn your chest through and try to hold the shaft down to a low finish position, with your hands by your left hip pocket.
Travis Fulton is the Director of Instruction for the TOUR Academies at TPC Sawgrass and the World Golf Village. For more information on the TOUR Academy, go to www.touracademy.com. For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, download the new free TOURCaddie App for iPhone and iPad users at the App Store or www.AppStore.com/PGATOURCaddie. As an in-app upgrade for $9.99, you gain immediate access to more than 175 on-course tips.