CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Never has a missed cut paid off so well for Ryan Moore.
As the third round of last fall’s Turning Stone Resort Championship began, Moore was chipping at a nearby course with college buddy Troy Denton, a former UNLV teammate.
On that sunny, crisp morning, Denton realized there was a simple drill that could help Moore.
Chip with just the left hand, Denton urged. The simple drill emphasized the leading hand through impact, a feel that is key to Moore’s swing, but had been lost as he spent years dealing with pain in his left wrist. More important, the drill strengthened the wrist and ended the pain.
“All of a sudden, I felt this angle and the left hand leading, and I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Moore said.
His health is one reason why Moore, who started 2010 with a tie for sixth at the SBS Championship, has a bright outlook, his father said.
“Things are coming together in a positive, perfect storm,” said Mike Moore, a scratch player who served as Ryan’s instructor when he was younger. “He’s healthy, he’s excited about the game, he’s playing well and he’s put to rest his search (for equipment).
“He’s very comfortable with his swing . . . and he’s very comfortable in his emotional, personal and spiritual life. All of those things lead to a young fellow who’s really ready to play.”
Moore, 27, earned his first PGA Tour victory at the Wyndham Championship in August before closing ’09 with three consecutive top 10s. He didn’t view the Wyndham victory as the pinnacle of his 4 1⁄2-year pro career, but an indication of how far he was from his best golf.
“I won it simply because I played great that week, not because I was playing great,” he said. “I didn’t feel a lot of momentum, like I was going to play well the next week. For the last two years of college, I had a chance to win virtually every tournament.”
To regain that feeling, he enlisted Denton, a part-time instructor in Dallas and former mini-tour player. They worked together the week before Turning Stone, and again before Moore’s next start in Vegas. By then, Moore said he was “a completely different golfer. I just felt like myself, which I hadn’t felt like in so long.”
He finished in the top 10 in Las Vegas, and the following week in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was so confident he wanted to complete an endorsement deal with Scratch Golf before leaving for China for the WGC-HSBC Champions. He wanted to get exposure for the small, Chattanooga-based company, in which he gained an ownership stake. Moore spent ’09 with only a ball and glove deal and used about 10 sets of clubs last year, Mike Moore said.
Moore finished third in China, behind Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.
He appears ready to fulfill the promise he displayed in 2004, when he produced one of the greatest amateur seasons in history. He won the U.S. Amateur, NCAA Championship, Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links and Sahalee Players.
Denton had a close-up view of Moore at his best. They both entered UNLV in ’01 and played almost daily in college.
“I’m helping him practice, and I’m helping encourage and motivate him,” Denton said. “No one could ever teach Ryan. That’s what’s so special about his golf swing. He’s lucky that he can just show up and swing how he swings.”
But Moore’s left wrist injury adversely affected his release, and he had some bad habits at address. Instead of being “centered” over the ball, he’d lean too far to his right. Instead of holding his left hand square through impact, Moore had started to stand up through impact and turn his right hand, compensations caused by the pain he’d feel in his left wrist.
Even though Moore had surgery in ’06 to repair a broken hamate bone – a fairly common injury because of the repetitive stress of hitting balls – the pain didn’t disappear until he started working with Denton.
It’s amazing what a simple drill can do.
Student & teacher
Height: 5 feet, 9 inches
Weight: 170 pounds
Victories: 2009 Wyndham Championship; ’04 U.S. Amateur, NCAA Championship, Western Amateur, Sahalee Players Championship; two-time U.S. Amateur Public Links champ (’02, ’04); finalist at the’00 U.S. Junior Amateur; low amateur, 2005 Masters (T-13).
What’s in his bag: Adams Speedline 9032LS driver (8.5 degree, Graphite Design Tour DI-6X shaft); Tour Exotics CB3 Tour woods (13 and 18 degree, Diamana ‘ilima 70X shafts); Scratch hybrid (21 degree, UST V2 89X shaft); Scratch SB-1 Tour Custom Satin irons (20 degree through 45 degree in 5-degree increments); Scratch SB-1 Tour Custom Satin wedge (45 degree); Scratch Tour Custom Satin wedges (50 and 55 degree); Scratch Tour Custom Antique wedge (60 degree); All his irons have True Temper DG-Lite X100 Sensicore shafts; Scratch Jeff McCoy Handmade Prototype putter.
• • •
Credentials: Assistant pro, Golf Performance Institute of Dallas. Four-year player at UNLV (bachelor’s in university studies, with an emphasis in kinesiology).
Regaining his feel: Left-hand only
This simple one-armed drill has been central to Moore’s improvement. It has helped not only his short game but has ingrained the proper feel of impact and follow-through in his full swing.
When Moore and Denton began working together, Moore had his weight back and was using too much wrist on his chip shots in an attempt to hit shots high. To fix this, Denton had Moore hit chips with only his left hand on the club.
“You have to keep your (left wrist ahead of the club) and have your weight forward, or you can’t hit them,” Denton said. Moore said the drill makes him feel like he is “chasing” the clubhead down the target line and keeping it more square, instead of flipping it closed and to the left of the target, a bad habit acquired while struggling with left-wrist pain.
Because Moore turns his body aggressively through impact during his full swing, he does not want to turn his hands excessively, instead holding the face square through impact.
On the practice tee, Moore will hit balls while taking an extended pause at the top of the backswing. This drill ensures that he has coiled properly during the backswing, and keeps him from getting too quick in the transition between his backswing and downswing.
A player will not be able to stop at the top of the swing if he is not balanced and in control. This drill can help the average player find a comfortable position at the top of the backswing.
“He’ll completely coil, sit there for a minute and go for it,” Denton said. “He’s so comfortable just stopping up there because his coil is so natural.”
It’s also easier to stop at the top of the backswing when a player creates a proper amount of resistance in the backswing. When a player coils properly, he should feel a slight stretch in the left oblique and right hip.
To work on his transition, Moore will “pump” his arms up and down from the top of his backswing to waist-high about three times. This drill coordinates his lower and upper body in the transition between the backswing and downswing.
Because Moore has what he calls a “body-prominent swing,” it’s easier for him to tell what’s causing his misses.
“If I’m missing it right, the lower body is winning,” he said. “If I’m missing it left, the upper body is winning.”
Moore’s tendency is for his lower body to move too quickly during the transition to the downswing. That’s why he has such a wide stance – to slow his lower body.
“The lower body sometimes gets too fast, gets too ahead of it,” Denton said, “and the club falls behind (his body).”
The pump drill also helps Moore hold the angle in his wrists as long as possible during the downswing.
“I’m small,’’ Moore said. “I need to store as much (of) that power as I can, and I think there’s a lot of power in that angle, and holding it as late as you can before exploding at the golf ball. That’s really key for me and my swing.”
One man’s idiosyncrasies
Moore’s swing has several idiosyncrasies that combine to make a solid action.
• Denton said many observers think Moore sets up well left of his target line. Though his feet may be aimed slightly left, they look more open because he flares out his left toe, which helps him turn his hips aggressively on the downswing. “His heel line is square (to the target),” Denton said.
• Moore’s clubhead works outside of the target line early in the backswing because he doesn’t set his wrists early. “From the beginning, all I’m trying to do is take it back with my left arm and left shoulder,” he said. “I feel like it’s a little more simple. It keeps the club squarer longer on the backswing, and helps me to repeat that.”
• When the club gets to about waist high, his arms go “dead vertical,” Denton said, causing his left arm to be high at the top of the backswing. He drops the club back onto the proper plane with aggressive lower-body action.
• Moore appears to be intentionally cutting his followthrough short, but that is a byproduct of his extension down the line through impact, instead of swinging around himself. “His extension (through impact) is crazy,” Denton said. “It’s like Zach Johnson. There’s no rehinge. He holds it straight for so long.”
Bunker play: Less wrist, more hips
Moore’s improvement in the bunkers offers an important lesson: Don’t lose your individual style in the sand.
Most people know they should take the club outside the target line, cock the wrists and hit behind the ball. Moore was the same way.
“The last couple of years, I would get real steep and pick the club straight up and straight down, and really just end up chunk and running (the shots),” Moore said. “I always thought you were supposed to be more handsy, wristy with bunker shots.
“Then I thought, ‘How can we do it so it makes sense with my swing?’ ”
Moore’s bunker play now has more similarities to his full swing. He doesn’t hinge his wrists as much and creates speed on the downswing with his hips, even though conventional wisdom says to keep a quiet lower body in the sand. Moore’s impact position in the sand is similar to his full swing’s, with the left hand leading the club and keeping it square through impact.
“I feel great in bunkers right now,” Moore said, “and I hated bunkers two months ago.”
Flop shots are fun to hit and take plenty of repetition to master, but sometimes it pays dividends to work on the simple shots.
When Denton and Moore started working together, Denton had his pupil hit 20-foot chips from just a couple of feet off the green. Because these shots are so simple, it makes it easier for Moore to focus on the fundamentals of chipping.
These shots also:
• Create confidence in a player’s short game. Moore used to hit 20 such shots without holing one. Now Denton estimates Moore can hole about seven out of 20. “He’s hitting them so crisp,” Denton said. “He got his confidence back. Now he hits the hard ones great.”
• Help players with their full swings. As players get farther from the hole, they can lose focus on tempo and get loose with their body motion, as they try to hit the ball harder. But tempo is key for distance control on these chip shots, and they should be hit with a crisp swing. “He feels like his swing is so connected and tight, just really efficient (when he hits short chips),” Denton said. “He likes that feeling to carry over to his full swing.”