Blog: Three great players, three different approaches

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Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry all had great weeks at East Lake.
September 30, 2009
Travis Fulton, TOURAcademy Director of Instruction

Phil Mickelson pulled out his old tricks with the flat stick and won THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca Cola at East Lake Golf Club. After a flawless bogey-free 65, Mickelson won his 37th PGA TOUR tournament by three strokes over Tiger Woods.

This was Mickelson's third win of the season and certainly the most memorable after a very long and emotional year. After struggling in the first three FedExCup events, Mickelson put it all together with some solid ballstriking and a much improved putting stroke to win the final big tournament of the year.

Although Mickelson took home a nice check for a week's work, Tiger was the big financial winner taking home the $10 million check that comes with the FedExCup.

What Can We Learn It was neat to see the TOUR Championship come down to Sunday with Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Kenny Perry all atop the leaderboard. These three names have certainly spent a lot of time in the winner's circle over the last three years and to see them all battling down the stretch is what the Playoffs were designed to be all about. This week, I want to touch on what we can learn from all three of these great champions.

Travis Fulton's TOUR Academy

Travis Fulton analyzes the golf landscape following THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola.

Beginning with Phil Mickelson and his quest on getting his putting stroke back on track. After working with Dave Stockton Sr. on his putting, Mickelson made a couple of changes that made all the difference in the world in Atlanta. The two changes saw Mickelson move the ball position back in his stance and lean the putter shaft more forward at address. Over the last couple of years, Mickelson was getting the ball too far forward in the stance which didn't allow for his patented forward press. These conditions affected the overall contact and spin of the ball which resulted in not enough made putts.

With improved ball position - which is recommended to be 1 to 1 ½ ball widths forward of center - Phil is now able to create the forward press with the putter shaft which allows the putter head to move down longer through the impact zone. These conditions have resulted in a better roll on the ball and more made putts.

In addition to Phil's great play this week, we were also treated to a final pairing that featured Tiger Woods and Kenny Perry - two great ballstrikers but very different in their style and approach. Although there are some similarities between the two motions, there are also some very interesting differences that again, we can all learn from. Two of the biggest differences are how the two set the club face at the top of the swing and how this affects their overall body motion through impact. Let's begin with Kenny Perry.

Perry's golf swing is one that looks a bit odd in comparison to many of the other great golf swings on the PGA TOUR. Although it has been an efficient motion for him over the years, there are two components that change the dynamics and appearance of his motion. These components are noticeable in the way Perry uses the clubface during the swing and his body motion through impact.

At the top of the swing, Perry sets the clubface in a closed position. A closed club face at the top is when the club face is looking towards the sky, i.e. Zach Johnson. This is a result of Perry's relatively strong grip at address and lack of forearm rotation during the backswing. With the clubface closed at the top, Perry has to hold off the rotation of the clubface through impact by driving his right arm down while holding the angle in his right wrist.

In the golf instruction world, Perry would be considered more of a "hitter" of the ball because of how he actively straightens his right arm on the downswing. This straightening effort of the right arm is often times overlooked in an otherwise sound golf swing, but it's very apparent with Perry's move because of how flat footed his feet are at impact. With a less active lower body at impact, Perry uses his right arm on the downswing as his major source of power and control.

The best way to describe his right arm on the downswing is that it is "pushing down and out." "Pushing down" allows the right arm to actively straighten while maintaining its bend in the right wrist. This feeling is no different than if you were to try to push something into the ground with your right arm. Maintaining the bend in the right wrist is a fundamental with any good swing as it allows the club shaft to return forward at impact resulting in a club head that is descending and accelerating through the impact zone. Most amateurs do not accomplish this and release the right wrist too soon resulting in a poor and inconsistent impact. For those who struggle with this issue, the described "pushing down" of the right arm should become more of a conscious effort.

"Out" is the second half of the equation as it directs the right arm to deliver the club head from the inside. Most amateurs need to feel as if they are driving the right arm not only "down," but "out." I often times describe this feeling as if the right arm is being directed more towards right field. A lot of amateurs struggle with an over-the-top move that delivers the club head to impact too far from outside the target line. Moving the aim point more towards right field on an imaginary baseball diamond will allow for a much more effective approach from the inside as the club head reaches impact.

Tiger's golf swing is a bit different in the way he uses the club face and body motion through impact. With a more neutral grip, Tiger rotates the club face with his left forearm to the top which sets the club face in a more square position. A square club face is when the angle of the club face matches the left forearm. This is a position Tiger has worked on over the years with his swing coach - Hank Haney -- as Tiger use to be closed at the top as well. With the club face square at the top, Woods uses his body more aggressively to align the club face at impact. You may have noticed, at impact that Woods is well off his right heel as the weight has shifted into the left foot with much more rotation in the hips relative to Perry.

In the golf instruction world, Woods would be considered more of a "swinger" of the ball because of how he uses his body to propel his arm swing and align the club face at impact. Although the club head is still moving "down and out" as described above, Woods is not actively driving the right arm but rather using his body motion to align the club face and create speed through impact.

To different styles but both very effective when it comes to striking a golf ball. The reality is if you struggle with your body motion during your golf swing then it might be best for you to learn to play from a slightly closed club face, where there is less emphasis on the body to square the face at impact. In addition, players who struggle with an open club face impact or casting on the downswing, a "hitting" motion like Perry is a great route to go, as not only does it cure your slice but it teaches you how to build some lag on your downswing resulting in a much improved impact condition.

However, if your body motion is in sequence and can be used as a resource to produce power and accuracy, then learn to set the club face square at the top so it can be propelled through impact. In addition, players who struggle with a closed club face at impact or perhaps have too much lag on the downswing; a "swinging" motion like Woods would be a better plan.

Just Because

Well, it is hard to believe the TOUR Championship is in the books. Where does the time go? This is the final blog of the year with only the Fall Series left to play. It has been great to have the opportunity to share some insights on the PGA TOUR and how the world's greatest golfers do what they do. This completes the second season of my blog as I look forward to season three in 2010.

With the off-season just around the corner, this is a great time to work on your games. With TOUR Academies all across the country, we would love to have you visit for a golf school or some private lessons and help you improve your skills for 2010. For more information on the TOUR Academies please visit our website at www.touracademy.com

See you in a few months!