Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Dec. 12-19, 2014 issue of Golfweek magazine
ST SIMONS ISLAND Ga. – Brendon Todd doesn’t like to use the word “overhaul” when describing the changes he made to develop a “more repeatable swing.”
“I prefer to call it an evolution through hard work,” Todd said.
Rather than split hairs, let’s just agree that the fruits of his labor paid off in 2014. Todd won his first PGA Tour title, more than $3 million and qualified for the Tour Championship for the first time.
That’s a long way removed from 2010, when he missed the cut in all 13 of his starts on the Web.com Tour and didn’t earn a check. Back then, much of the blame could be attributed to a crooked tee ball. Todd hit only 53 percent of fairways that season. Todd began working with instructor Scott Hamilton at the 2012 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, and the relationship has made all the difference in Todd’s ability to find the short grass. Hamilton still remembers that first week together and the sinking feeling that Todd’s swing needed a lot of work.
“He drove it all over the lot,” Hamilton said of Todd, who hit 59 percent of fairways in 2012, his rookie year on the PGA Tour, to rank 136th.
Together, Todd changed his stance and ball position, and eliminated a vertical drop of 8 degrees in his backswing that caused a frequent miss to the right.
“It took three months to go from missing the golf course off the tee once to twice a round to hitting it in play where I could start scoring,” Todd said.
He hit 65 percent of fairways in 2014, ranking 42nd. When Todd won the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May, he led the field in strokes gained-putting and driving accuracy, a deadly combination.
“Scott got my golf swing on plane, repeatable, and has allowed my short game now to get me under par instead of keep me around it,” Todd said.
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The student: Brendon Todd
Height: 6 feet, 3 inches
Credentials: Won 2014 HP Byron Nelson Championship; won Web.com Tour’s 2013 Stadion Classic at UGA and 2008 Utah Championship; four-time All-American at Georgia and member of 2005 NCAA champion.
The coaches: Scott Hamilton
Title: Director of golf instruction, Cartersville (Ga.) Country Club
Notable students: Steven Bowditch, Will Claxton, Joe Durant, Harris English, Tom Gillis, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Jim Renner, Boo Weekley, Lee Williams
Title: Director of golf and player development, MyGolfingGoals Academy
Notable students: James Driscoll, Justin Peters, Josh Teater
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Getting on plane: One extreme to another
Todd used to lay the club off on the way back and then lift his arms up and come down over the top. That often resulted in a pull or a cut.
“There was a process of getting the club from behind him to in front of him and then getting it dead in line,” Hamilton said.
To do so, Hamilton took Todd from one extreme (way behind) to the other (way in front) and worked back to the middle.
“The week he won (at TPC Four Seasons in Irving, Texas) was the first time on the range that he didn’t mention backswing plane,” Hamilton said. “I thought, ‘OK, we are getting somewhere now.’”
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Drill: Stop and pause
Todd, who fights a tendency to rush his takeaway, fancies this drill because it helps ingrain the proper sequencing for what he calls “the perfect backswing.”
Using a wedge or mid-iron, he pauses at the top for a beat or two before beginning his downswing.
“It’s a little Faldo-esque,” said Todd, invoking the swing of Hall of Famer Nick Faldo. “He used to take those really slow practice swings. I’ve heard him say, he would sometimes hit only six balls in an hour.”
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Left-foot chipping drill and the ring game
As a junior golfer, Todd preferred chipping and putting rather than beating balls. To no surprise, his short game has been his bread and butter. Todd ranked 18th in strokes gained-putting in 2012 (+.458) but didn’t finish among the top 125 on the money list. After straightening out his driver, Todd returned to the Tour full time in 2014 and improved to sixth in strokes gained-putting (+.663).
The week in which Todd won, he showed off his short-game ingenuity by executing a left-handed, club-turned-upside-down 4-iron chip to escape danger on the par-3 13th hole in the final round. Todd also credited a drill from his youth that he incorporated into his practice regimen that week, in which he lifts his right leg and stands on one foot, for his touch around the greens.
“It narrows up the low point of the club and takes the hands out of the chip,” he said. “If you have a wide stance if you’re chapping, getting the club to pinch right under the ball every time is difficult. It’s very easy to control where the low point of the swing is going to be, which allows you to put the leading edge of the club right under the ball and make perfect contact. I also like the way it keeps my shoulder rotating through the shot and emphasizes using your big muscles.”
Todd also travels to tournaments with two rings with a 3-foot-wide radius. The spacing can vary, but the object is to land a ball in the first circle on the fly and have it hop and stop inside the second circle. He must do so three times in a row before he can move on to his next drill.
“It forces a player to think about the three most important variables in the short game; carry distance, spin and landing area,” said Bill McInerney, who focuses on Todd’s short game.
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Right-hand-only putting drill
When McInerney tested Todd’s putting stroke on the Sam PuttLab, the data showed a remarkable ability for Todd to return the putter face to square at impact. This is a case of practice makes perfect. When Todd arrives at the practice putting green before a round, he begins by finding a straight, uphill putt and lines the ball directly to the hole. He strokes a few 5-footers with his right hand while his left rests on his bicep.
“The right hand controls the face direction,” Todd said. “The left arm and left shoulder controls length and pace. If you can aim your putter for the middle of the hole and hit a putt that rolls dead straight in the hole, how perfect is that, right? You know you are aiming properly.”
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5-foot, 10-foot, 15-foot putting game
Todd learned one of his go-to putting drills from reading “Every Shot Counts” by Mark Broadie, the brains behind the Tour’s strokes-gained statistic.
Each game is played the same except for accounting for the change in distance. For the 10-foot game, he alternates putts from 9 to 11 feet and starts each hole from a different position along the clock face. He earns two points for a one-putt and zero for two putts if the first putt reaches the hole; he loses one point for two putts if the first putt is short and loses three points for three or more putts. The object of the game is to reach 10 points before minus-10 points and to do so in the fewest number of putts. Broadie found the median holes to win for the best Tour putter is 11; the worst Tour putter needs 17; an 80s-shooting golfer, 24; a 90s golfer, 43.
Todd added this training game to his practice regimen the week before he won the Nelson and credits it for boosting his confidence from the critical range. Reading Broadie’s book had a secondary benefit, too. Todd, who concedes that he beats himself up over his putting performance, realized that his mood swings were unjustified.
“Every miss made me mad,” he said. “Reading the book altered my expectations. For instance, outside 20 feet, a Tour pro makes 1½ per tournament. That surprised me the most. So you should be trying to two-putt from that distance. If it falls in twice, you’re doing better than most. If it falls in six times, you’re probably in the lead.”