November 5 2013
By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, TOUR Academies
Dustin Johnson is known for his prodigious drives. But on Sunday it was a rare display of deft touch around the greens that helped propel him to his first career World Golf Championships victory, the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Nursing a one-shot lead over defending champion Ian Poulter on the par-4 16th hole, Johnson pitched in for eagle from just short of the green, all but locking up his eighth career PGA TOUR victory. Johnson then followed that up with an 8-foot birdie putt on the next hole, running his four-day scoring total to a tournament-record 24-under par.
What makes Johnson’s pitch-in all the more impressive is what he has to overcome from a technique standpoint to execute a finesse shot like this. Johnson bows his left wrist and takes the clubface back shut during the initial stages of the backswing, which is good for creating power, but can be problematic in the short game. (Johnson finished 163rd on TOUR in Scrambling in 2013, at 53.2 percent.) He has to really go with the shot and hold off the rotation of the clubface through impact, because if he didn’t, he’d hit a lot of low pulls and chunked shots (because of the clubhead’s leading edge being exposed). One thing Johnson does really well is that he turns his chest to the target, which helps him sustain his timing coming through impact and keeps the face pointing to the sky.
While I wouldn’t recommend copying Johnson’s backswing, there’s much to be learned from his forward pitching motion, especially if you have a tendency to stall out and throw the clubhead early on the downswing (i.e., you flip the clubhead at the ball). At impact, you want your left shoulder, left wrist, and clubhead to arrive together, and you want to sustain this straight-line condition through the hitting area and into the follow-through. If your chest stops rotating, the clubhead is going to continue move on its own and arrive at the ball before your left wrist. That’s what’s known as flipping, and bad timing. You want your chest to move with your hands and arms; at no point do you want your hands or arms moving independently of your chest.
A great drill to help you stop flipping at the ball (i.e., using too much hands and arms) is to take a wedge and grip two-thirds of the way down the shaft, so that the grip starts on your left hip. Hold the clubhead out in front of you, as if you were at address, and turn your chest through into an abbreviated follow-through. The grip should remain in contact with your left hip and the clubface should point directly at the sky. Repeat several more times to get a feeling for how the chest moves in unison with the hands, arms and club through impact. Provided they’re in sync, there should be very little face rotation through impact and you should hit the ball solidly.
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.