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By: Matt Killen
You took care of what you thought was the hard part. You split the fairway with your best drive of the day and managed to hit the green in regulation—with a 4-iron no less! Your reward? Your ball is now above the hole, and there appears to be a pronounced left-to-right break for the ensuing putt. For many golfers, this turns a birdie opportunity into a tap-and-hope scenario. They either get scared and try to cozy the ball to the cup—but wind up short and now face another tricky downhiller—or they put too much pace on it but fail to play enough break. The ball races by the cup on the low side and sets up a likely three-putt.
If this sounds all-too familiar, let’s try something different. First, ask yourself at what speed do you see the ball going in. If you’re seeing it pouring into the back of the cup, you might want to think again—you’re making your target smaller. Test this out: On a practice green, find a downhill, left-to-right lie and practice hitting three putts at three speeds—the first so the ball dies at the cup; the second with enough speed to get it about a foot past the cup if you miss; and the third so it would roll two or three feet past. You’ll start to see how adding more speed to the putt changes the break and makes it much harder to avoid a lip-out, even when you get the read right.
Now comes the part where I give you one thought when you have this putt: maximum break, minimum speed. That’s how to handle these suckers. Oh, and one more thing: Stop paying attention to the cup. Instead, focus on that spot where you think the ball will begin to turn toward the cup—the aim point. It’s always great when one of these sliders drop, but they usually won’t if you peek too soon.
MATT KILLEN is a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher. He works with tour pros Justin Thomas, J.B. Holmes and Jessica Korda.
— with Ron Kaspriske
By Jordan Spieth and with Max Adler
I’ve heard it said that a chip shot is a miniature version of a full swing. I couldn’t disagree more. Some of the same fundamentals apply, sure, but chipping has way more going on. I have one basic full swing that gets me around the golf course, and I make only minor adjustments to hit draws and fades, low shots and high. On the other hand, I have at least 10 chipping motions—and I’m constantly learning and exploring new ones. I believe there’s no such thing as a standard chip, and that you should always be brave and try to execute the shot that the situation and lie demand. What shot offers the best chance of getting close to the hole? You have to channel your creativity and feel to find the answer, which is fun.
One of my favorite chip shots is what I call the “nip-spinner.” It comes out hot and low, takes one big hop, then quickly settles. I love hitting it in front of crowds. Everyone thinks you’ve skulled it across the green, but you just smile and wait for the sizzle. I’ll use it when I’m just off the collar without much room between myself and the flag, and the slope is such that I won’t be able to control the distance as well with a putter.
I’m going to show you the technique to hit this specialty chip—as well as how to sink the putt. Even if it’s just the other guys in your group watching, I guarantee you’ll get some applause.
COMMIT TO SPEED
I learned how to hit the nip-spinner when I was 13 or 14. Before then, I didn’t have the strength and swing speed to pull it off. I use a lob wedge, and to the untrained eye the motion looks similar to a flop shot. It’s a long backswing relative to how short the shot travels, and the downswing path is heavy out-to-in, cutting across the ball. The difference between it and a flop is impact. With a flop, the club comes in shallow and slides under the ball. With the nip-spinner, the club comes in steep to meet the ball first, then the turf. There’s a lot of interaction between the club and the turf, so you’ll make a divot—or at least scuff the grass pretty good. My main swing thought is, hold my left wrist flat through the shot so the clubhead never passes the hands. It’s a low, cut motion at the bottom of the swing. Instead of the ball sliding up the clubface, the grooves grip the cover of the ball to create a lower trajectory and a ton of spin.
When you first practice this shot, be prepared that you’ll probably blade a lot of them. Don’t worry. Stick with it, and you’ll figure out the feeling of suppleness in the wrists that lets you pinch the ball off the turf. Keep asking yourself: How fast can I swing while making the ball travel the shortest distance possible? When I’m in a tournament and the opportunity comes to hit this shot, my typical mistake is not committing to the necessary speed. I’ll decelerate, and the ball will pop up high, right and short of where I intended. Depending on the slope of the green, the ball still might finish a reasonable distance from the hole, so it’s not a horrible miss. Still, if you want to get it close, you’ve got to keep the speed up through impact.
BURY THE PUTT
Hopefully you’ve chipped to within gimme distance. But the nip-spinner is often needed for tough situations, so even leaving a six- or seven-foot putt might be a good outcome. Regardless of the length, I’m going to let you in on a recent revelation I’ve had with my putting: I need to get lazy. By that, I mean I want everything about my stance and stroke to feel super-relaxed, almost sleepy. When my putting is off, there’s usually tension somewhere in my body. I think everybody is the same when they start missing putts—they start making tiny adjustments as they search for something that works. Before you know it, you’re standing uncomfortably. Get lazy is a great thought to get back to making a good stroke. When I was struggling with my putting for a period, my coach, Cameron McCormick, did an amazing amount of work studying video of me from 2015 and 2016. We discovered that I had developed this unnatural C-shape look to my back and that my arm plane was disconnected from the shaft plane. Though these problems were unique to me and my cross-handed putting style, the universal lesson is that whenever you have a great putting day, ask someone to snap a photo of you at setup. If/when things go awry, you’ll have a useful image to work back to. It’s about the easiest way for golfers to make use of their phones, and it’s visual proof that you’re capable of burying a putt and saving par.
By Butch Harmon
All too often amateurs have one basic chipping stroke, and they use it no matter the lie. I’m all for keeping it simple on standard chips, but you have to adapt to different lies. When you try to force a technique, you get in trouble. Let’s look at two common chipping scenarios: the perched lie and the buried lie. When the ball is sitting on top of the grass, it’s easy to slide the clubhead under it and flub the shot. That happens because when you shift forward on the downswing, it drives the clubhead downward. You catch the ball on the top of the clubface. — with Peter Morrice
To handle the perched lie, set up in a narrow stance, legs tall, and play the ball back. Make a sweeping motion with the clubhead, like a long putt, turning your upper body back and through while keeping your wrists firm (right). Your lower body should stay quiet on the downswing—remember, driving your knees forward gives you too much dig.
When the ball is buried, you need that digging action to spring the ball from the thick grass. Take a little wider stance, and play the ball in the middle. On the backswing, hinge your wrists abruptly to set up a steeper angle into the ball (left). That will allow you to catch it as cleanly as you can—not an issue with the perched lie. Coming down, shift your knees forward, which increases the downward angle on the strike. Extend your arms down and through, and don’t worry about making much of a follow-through.
Two very different lies, two very different techniques. You’ll find them easy to use.
GET YOUR SHORT GAME IN SHAPE
I just added my fourth video series to the Golf Digest Schools program, and it’s all about shots around the green. If you want help with your chipping, pitching, bunker play or putting, you’ll get it all in these lessons. I’ll show you the short-game keys I teach my tour players—and some I’ve picked up from being around them. Learn more about my new series and all the great content in the Golf Digest Schools video library at golfdigest.com/allaccess.
BUTCH HARMON is based at Rio Secco Golf Club.
By Francesco Molinari
When asked to explain how he has picked up 20 yards with the driver over the past three seasons on the PGA Tour—yet, still puts it on the fairway—Francesco Molinari says, “I took the brakes off.”
Leave it to an Italian to use a sports-car metaphor.
Coming off his best year as a professional golfer in 2018, in which he won the Open Championship and the Quicken Loans National and went 5-0 in the Ryder Cup, Molinari is now in the “300 Club.” He averaged 301 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour last season, up from 281.6 in 2015. As if that distance gain wasn’t impressive enough, he did it without ruining his reputation as a fairway finder. Molinari averaged 64.3 percent of fairways hit and finished seventh in strokes gained/off the tee.
When you don’t hit it very far on the PGA Tour, you’re essentially left with a choice: Focus on the tournaments on shorter and tighter courses, or try to get longer off the tee. The former isn’t very appealing, considering the majors and most of the other big events are on courses calling for longer tee shots. But the latter is risky.
“They say it can ruin your swing, and I know it probably has for some players, but it wasn’t a concern for me because we did it organically very well,” says Molinari, who met with Golf Digest in late October at his home course, The Wisley, southwest of London. “It wasn’t like one day I showed up on the range and said to my coach [Denis Pugh], ‘Let’s try to hit it farther.’ This took years to do. Luckily, I’ve found that the harder I swing, the better I hit it.”
Read below to learn how Molinari got an extra 20 yards. —Ron Kaspriske
Freeing up the backswing
Molinari used to take the club back by rotating away from the target with his upper body while resisting that rotation with his lower body. Now his right hip rotates in unison with his trunk (below), and he’s able to make an unrestricted turn and store more energy for a faster through-swing. Molinari’s swing speed has gone from 107 miles per hour a few years ago to an average of 113 mph.
“I used to feel so much tighter, more tension in my back muscles,” he says. “Now I have more freedom of movement.” Pugh says the goal was to have him take the club back “as high, tall and as far as possible.” Even to the point where his left heel has to lift off the ground to accommodate the bigger windup. “It’s not something I’m consciously trying to do,” Molinari says. “The left heel is just rising because of how much freer I’m turning.”
Loading even more from the top
With his back facing the target and his arms feeling like they’re farther away from his body (below), Molinari is in position to pour on the power. But it’s the next phase of his swing—one that he’s still working on— that could make him even longer. “In practice, I would consciously squat as I started down with the club,” he says. “From there, it felt like I was jumping off my left foot, which fired the club into the ball with a lot of energy. I think that’s where we’re trying to go in the future—put that move in play.”
Molinari has spent a lot of time with performance coach Dave Alred getting stronger and more flexible. Their work is evident in the power Molinari can generate with his legs, Pugh says. “Power doesn’t come from technique, it comes from physique,” he says. “The goal was to get him as strong as possible to create more power in his swing. But we had to make sure his technique didn’t block that newfound energy from being utilized.”
Hitting with the right side
Players such as Rory McIlroy and Cameron Champ are able to generate whip-like action in the downswing by firing their hips toward the target independently of their torsos. Molinari says he’d love to generate power the same way, but he physically can’t. “I had to find a different kind of power move,” he says. In the past, his swing speed was largely created by his hands and arms—a big reason he averaged only about 280 yards off the tee—but now his trunk is much more involved. “My right shoulder used to stay back as I swung down, still close to where it was at address,” he says. “Then the club would race out in front of me. Now I’m really trying to feel a lot more shoulder rotation in the downswing—especially the right shoulder [above]. I feel like it’s pushing down toward the ball and also toward the target.”
Releasing the brakes
Looking back at his former swing, Molinari says he was probably using only 70 to 75 percent of his potential effort. “Since that time, I’m putting a lot more energy into it,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m swinging out of my shoes. I’m just maximizing what I’ve got.”
The key was getting him to swing harder while maintaining balance and still finding the club’s sweet spot, Pugh says. “You can give up some accuracy going at it like this,” he says, “but would you rather be a few feet off the fairway in semi-rough or 25 yards back in the fairway? The goals were to get him physically stronger, making a bigger backswing and creating speed more with his body rather than his hands.” Getting back to Molinari’s sports-car metaphor, Pugh finishes by saying, “Applying the brakes in a turn on a racetrack is safe. But we wanted to know what would happen if We didn’t go safe. Now we know.”
Two simple fixes for a better ball flight
By Butch Harmon
When I meet golfers who’ve been struggling with a slice since day one, I know I’m going to have some fun. Why? Because I can straighten their ball flight, even teach them to hit a draw, in a matter of minutes. Getting in the correct positions is easy. Beating a slice is ultimately about commitment and good habits.
If you’re like most slicers, the first fix you need is in the setup. Close your feet, hips and shoulders so they’re pointing to the right of your target. This takes some faith because you’re shifting in the direction you want to avoid. But a closed setup does two things: First, it makes it easier to turn back and complete the backswing. Second, it slows down your hip turn on the way through (above), which allows your hands and arms to drop to the inside and swing out to the ball—the first step to hitting a draw.
Easy so far, right? Well, the next step flows from the first. From the top, focus on making a smooth body turn through impact; don’t let your body spin open, as a lot of slicers do. (This is where the closed setup will help.) The key is, you want your arms to swing past your body, because your trail arm will roll over your lead arm, closing the clubface (above). That’s the second step to hitting a draw.
So set your body closed, and let your arms go past you. You’ll love what you see.
WHEN IN DOUBT, BENCH THE DRIVER
There’s nothing impressive about grab-bing your driver on a tight hole if you end up flaring it into the junk. Taking a more lofted club makes good sense because more loft means less curve. So the same impact with a driver versus, say, a 5-wood can be the difference between having a shot to the green and being out of play. Hybrids are good choices, too, because they fly higher and land softer than fairway woods and long irons. Point is, don’t let your ego win.
BUTCH HARMON is a Golf Digest Teaching Professional.
By John Rahm
There might be some par 4s where it makes sense to tee off with a 3-wood or an iron, but it’s rare to see me using anything but driver. I’m more comfortable with it. When it comes to scoring, I’d rather hit it as far down the fairway as I can and have a wedge in my hands for the next shot—even from the rough—versus a middle iron from the fairway. My strategy seems to work. I’m second on the PGA Tour in birdie average (4.5 per round) and third in strokes gained/off the tee. My goal with the driver is pretty simple.
I want to load up in the backswing and then use the ground in the downswing to generate as much power as possible. It’s a short-and-fast swing, with my legs and torso doing most of the work, so there’s not a lot that can go wrong. If you’re like me and would rather hit driver every chance you get—I bet you do!—here are some tips to help simplify your swing and make it your most effective scoring club. —With Ron Kaspriske
GET YOUR HANDS OUT OF THE SWING
This backswing position you see (below) is a checkpoint for me. I want to make sure I haven’t whipped the clubhead inside the target line with my hands. Taking the club back like that is a real power-and-accuracy killer, and if I think about what my hands are doing, I assure you my driving won’t be good. Instead, I want my torso, arms and club moving back together. You’ll know you made a good backswing if you feel it in your right hip. That’s the main thing for me. I want to load into that hip. If I don’t, it feels more like a stack-and-tilt swing where your weight stays on the left foot. You can’t hit it far from that position. Instead, I want to feel my weight on the inside of my right foot and thigh. When it gets there, I’m ready to swing down.
PUSH DOWN AND TURN HARD
To start the downswing, I want to push into the ground with my legs, which lets me turn hard and left with my hips and then the upper body. When I do this, it feels like the club is just being pulled into a great impact position. Again, I’m not trying to hit the ball with my hands. One thing to remember: You’ve got to keep turning—even after impact (below). I feel like I’m powering the club through the ball with my body rotation. In other words, don’t stop until you can’t turn anymore. For me, this produces a fade that feels really solid coming off the clubface. I guess you could say I just think aim left and swing hard left. Do that, and the ball gets out there a good way. Then just grab your wedge and go make birdie.