BRADENTON, Fla. – Keep it simple. And when golf becomes difficult, try even harder to keep it simple.
That’s the basic message from Chip Lutz, winner of the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur and four other national titles. The resident of Reading, Pa., focuses on grip and alignment. If those are correct, he knows that more often than not the shot will be fine.
Sure, he has received plenty of tips in a lifetime of playing and has incorporated some of those into his game, but when competition heats up, Lutz prefers a minimal approach.
“I don’t really do much with teachers or gurus,” Lutz said. “I just turned 61, so I really figure I better not mess with it too much.”
Lutz, who was honored as a Golfweek “Local Legend” in 2007, learned the game from his father, Buddy, who learned it from Byron Nelson when Nelson was head professional at Reading Country Club. Chip Lutz went on to play two seasons of college golf at Florida starting in 1972 with teammates such as Andy Bean, Gary Koch, Andy North and Fred Ridley, among others, before leaving the team to focus on academics.
Lutz wasn’t sure the U.S. Senior Amateur crown was still within reach after losing in the semifinals in 2010, ’11 and ’13, but he kept plugging away. And since taking a short break after winning last year’s title, Lutz again is focusing on fundamentals.
“I try to keep it simple within all the complexities out there,” Lutz said. “You have to see a shot in your mind, visualize it, then make the adjustments to hit the shot. You just have to understand the feel and perform.”
The player: John ‘Chip’ Lutz
Career: Title insurance executive
Credentials: Won the U.S. Senior Amateur (2015), the Canadian Senior Amateur (2011, ’12), the British Seniors Amateur Championship (2011, ’12) and numerous other elite amateur and senior am events.
Putting: Adjusting to life after the anchored stroke
Lutz has the singular honor of being the last player to win a USGA event with an anchored putting stroke. The use of anchored strokes, for belly putters and broomsticks, was banned starting this year. Lutz used a broomstick for six years, not because he suffered from the yips but because he just felt comfortable with the long putter.
After winning the Senior Amateur, Lutz had little trepidation in returning to a standard-length putter. He obtained a Scotty Cameron blade, poured sand into the lower portion of the shaft and plugged it to add a little weight, and he got on with the inevitable.
He frequently practices on a well-worn carpet in his basement. He also uses an Eyeline Golf mirror (inset photo) with an attached rail. The mirror allows him to check that his eyes are over the ball and his shoulders are square. The rail helps groove his stroke.
Lutz said his right-hand dominance sometimes causes problems with his stroke. When he returned to a standard stroke, he adopted a variant of the pencil grip, which has been used by various Tour players, including Phil Mickelson and Stewart Cink, over the years.
“It just helps take my right hand out of the stroke,” Lutz said. “I just decided to use this grip and started practicing. I didn’t worry about it too much.”
Head position: Stay tall and don’t lean
Lutz sometimes leans too far left on his downswing, with his head nearing a position above his left foot, and he then traps the ball too much against the ground. This produces shots that fly too low and can draw too much.
He has a fairly simple and traditional solution: He tries to stay tall and keep his head as still as possible during his swing. This allows him to release the club better through the ball and produces higher, softer-landing approach shots.
“I work hard to keep my head still, stay back a little and let the club do the work,” Lutz said.
Short game: Play the high, soft shot
Lutz grew up in an era without lob wedges. But with USGA conditions that include hard, fast greens, Lutz needs a pitch shot that can land
close to the hole and bite.
“I play my 60-degree (wedge) much more than I ever thought I would,” he said.
Lutz typically uses one of two basic options with his 60-degree wedge. With the ball a little forward in his stance, he can hit a higher shot that stops quickly. Or he can play the ball back in his stance a bit, square the clubface and hit a lower shot that checks on the green, then rolls a bit. He said he relies most on the higher shot, which isn’t close to a full flop shot but still stops quickly.
His technique for the higher shot is relatively simple. He addresses the shot with his body aimed slightly left of his target, the ball slightly forward of center and the face of the wedge open about 10 degrees (pictured) – nothing drastic. He keeps his hands ahead of the clubhead, which provides enough of a downward strike to impart spin. The clubface never rotates into a closed position, the face pointing skyward even after impact. The ball quickly pops up and typically rolls just a couple of feet after landing.
“You don’t want to open the face too much, like with a flop shot, because you still want that good contact,” he said. “The club does the work.”
Grip: Connect the dots
Though Lutz’s approach is fundamental, it can be very detailed. His grip is the perfect example.
Lutz uses a dot on his Golf Pride grips to check his hand position (pictured). He likes his left thumb to be just to his right side of the center line, but he finds himself sometimes strengthening his grip, with his thumb moved one dot farther right (or to the left, as seen from the head-on position of a spectator). It’s a small difference, but Lutz said he detects a change in ball flight when he allows his hands to migrate into that stronger position.
Lutz’s father, Buddy, used a strong grip and would ride the ensuing hook to much amateur success. Buddy taught Chip that same strong grip. Buddy wasn’t thrilled when Chip first tried a more neutral grip, but Chip loved the straighter ball flight
“My natural tendency is still to go to a strong grip,” Chip said. “When I was in my teens, I realized I needed to do something different.”