By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, TOUR Academies
Nursing a slim two-shot lead in Sunday’s final round of the Frys.com Open, the last thing Jimmy Walker needed to do was hit his tee shot in the water on the short, drivable par-4 17th hole, so he bailed out to the left. His tee shot landed pin-high on a steep embankment left of the green, hardly a “gimmie” par from where he was standing, with the green sloping sharply away from him and water on the other side. Add the pressure of the situation (Walker was seeking his first PGA TOUR win in his 188th start) and the lie of the ball below his feet, and Walker had every reason to feel a bit squeamish. But he deftly pitched the ball to 12 feet, two-putted, and walked away with his par, all but locking up his first title.
What makes this shot so difficult for the average weekend golfer is the water staring them in the face, for one, and the downhill lie. To get the ball close or stop it anywhere on the green, you have to hit it on a high, soft trajectory, and the lie doesn’t encourage this. If the ball comes out too low it’s more than likely going to run into the water — and, of course, there’s the danger of catching the top half of the ball and blading it across the green.
To ensure the ball comes off high and soft, follow these simple cues:
-- As you approach the ball, aim your body as if you’re going to hit the ball a good 10 yards left of the flagstick. Then set your clubface down at a right angle (i.e., perpendicular) to where you want the ball to start and also land on the green. If your target line is the flagstick, then that’s where the face needs to point. The ball should be positioned slightly forward of center in your stance.
-- Next, lower the handle toward the ground and bow more forward with your chest so that your sternum is directly over the ball. Your weight should favor your left side. By dropping the handle, the left wrist starts to cock, or hinge, which helps to get the clubhead moving more up on the backswing.
-- The backswing is nothing more than an arm swing and a hinging of the wrists; don’t worry about turning your shoulders. As you swing your arms back, keep your sternum over the ball, as this helps the clubhead travel more vertically. The left arm should not swing much beyond parallel.
-- From the top, let the club fall, turning your chest to the target while maintaining the flex in your left knee. You must keep the knee solid, as this allows you to sustain the same height through impact and control the point of entry slightly behind and underneath the ball. It’s very similar to a bunker shot. Follow these keys and you should be able to make safe work of this potentially treacherous situation.
Travis Fulton is Director of Instruction for all TOURAcademy locations nationwide. For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole you play, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at www.pgatourcaddie.com.