On the range with Kristy McPherson
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Kristy McPherson took two lessons this offseason (both after Golfweek joined her for a photo shoot in Tampa, Fla., in December). That’s more than she has taken in her seven years as a pro.
McPherson went to Mike Wright, who helped turn McPherson’s good friend Angela Stanford into one of the top players in the world. McPherson’s swing was mostly built on guidance from her father, David, a former plus-4 handicapper, and through old-fashioned trial and error.
“I think most of it is being athletic and just figuring it out,” she said. “Whether you put me bowling or whatever, I’m going to sit there and try it until I figure out how to do it. It’s a hard-headedness and a stubbornness.
“I don’t like failing.”
Kristi Coggins, McPherson’s coach at South Carolina, videotaped McPherson’s swing once while McPherson was in college.
It “kind of messed her up for a week or so,” Coggins said. “Her swing is so natural. She’s the definition of – like coaches always say – ‘get a swing and own it.’ She was always aware of her tendencies and had the gift to correct them.”
Said McPherson: “I just want to get the ball from here to there. I don’t care how it does it.”
During the season, McPherson’s preparations are limited not only by her simple approach but because of the physical limitations of rheumatoid arthritis.
“I played one 18-hole practice round all year,” she said. McPherson said she warms up for 40 minutes – 15 minutes hitting balls, 15 minutes putting, and is at the tee 10 minutes early. “It took (Thane Aalyson, her caddie) a while to get used to that. We don’t practice when we’re done, either.”
The player: Kristy McPherson
In the bag: Callaway FT-3 Fusion driver (9.5 degree); Callaway Diablo Edge Tour fairway wood (15 degree); Sonartec HB 001 hybrid (21 degree and 23 degree); Ping i15 irons (5-PW); Ping Tour wedges (52, 56 and 60 degree); Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter; Titleist Pro V1 ball.
Top results: T-2, 2009 Kraft Nabisco and ’09 Wegmans LPGA; 16th on ’09 LPGA money list; No. 19 in Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index; member, ’09 U.S. Solheim Cup team; seven-time winner at South Carolina, including two SEC titles (2001, ’02); three-time first-team All-American.
The hook: Left hand in control
McPherson grew up playing a draw in an attempt to get more distance. That draw soon grew into a hook, a shot that almost drove McPherson out of pro golf. Her draw was too low and lacked the spin for her to contend consistently in professional golf.
McPherson is now one of the LPGA’s best ballstrikers (ninth in driving accuracy, 16th in GIR last year), all because of switching from what she described as a “right-hand-dominated” swing to one in which her left hand has control.
“My biggest tendency was flipping the right hand (in the release),” McPherson said. “Now I feel like I’m swinging the back of my left hand toward my target, and keeping the clubface square longer.”
McPherson’s swing improvement starts with the takeaway. She used to roll her hands and get the club inside quickly. The club would fall under the proper plane on the downswing, which would force her to flip the club at the release.
Now, she wants to feel the clubhead swing back on the target line while her hands stay close to her body, and she wants the same sensation on the downswing.
Leg drive: Release the hips
McPherson’s competitive nature did some damage to her swing. In college, she had reconstructive surgery on her left knee. Though the doctor recommended six months off, she returned to golf two months later, When she returned, McPherson found it difficult to shift her weight into her left knee on the downswing. Instead, she would fall back and leave her weight on her right side (pictured, left).
McPherson is working on a more active lower body on the downswing, but not in the way many amateurs might think.
Many amateurs, in an attempt to shift weight to their lead leg and create power on the downswing, try to “drive” through the ball. Instead, they often slide too far in front of it, leading to weak shots to the right.
McPherson likes to feel her right hip “releasing” (i.e., turning). This move gets her weight off her right side and allows her to have a passive, less-handsy release. When she would stay on her right side in the downswing, she had to flip at the ball with her hands.
Better bunker play: Let the club do the work
McPherson’s bunker game – especially on short, soft shots – has improved thanks to some of the changes to her full swing.
McPherson used to take the club too far inside, which would cause her to hit too far behind the ball and not create much spin. McPherson described her old bunker shots as “chunk-and-runs.”
Now, McPherson takes the club more to the outside and steeper and “lets the clubhead fall underneath (the ball).”
“I keep the clubface open, don’t let it pass my hands and let the clubhead do the work,” she said.
McPherson’s follow-through is shorter now because she is letting gravity accelerate the club, instead of swinging through the ball.
Belly putter: From aid to savior
Pride or principle might preclude use of a belly putter on the course, but the midlength flatstick can be a valuable training aid. McPherson started using a belly putter in practice, to feel the proper release. Shortly after, the putter made its way into her bag permanently.
“With the short putter, I aimed left and pushed the putter down the line,” McPherson said. “With the belly putter, if you push (the putter) down the line, it’s coming out of your belly.”
Because the belly putter is anchored to the body, it helps sync her stroke with her body turn.
Short putts: See the line
McPherson uses a common drill to help with short putts. She puts balls in a 6-foot circle around the hole to hit putts with different breaks. The important thing for her is seeing how the ball enters the hole. On slower greens, the ball usually will enter toward the front of the hole; on faster greens, it usually enters on the side. Paying attention to the ball’s entrance point helps her better visualize her putting line on the course.
Chips: Reading the lie
McPherson’s short game has improved because she is better at anticipating how the ball will react out of certain lies. This has come from better preparation in practice rounds.
“I try to work myself into different lies so I’m not caught off-guard when I get in the tournament,” she said.
“I just learned to read the lie more, to see how it’s going to land, how it will release.”
It’s a simple task – mixing up the lies during practice – but one that players often neglect.
McPherson also has tweaked her chipping action. She used to play the ball forward in her stance and take the club outside the target line, which caused her to scoop shots.
Now her chipping stroke closely mirrors her putting stroke. The shaft is more upright at address, and the ball is farther back in her stance. “I just turn my shoulders, which causes the club to work inside,” McPherson said. “Then I just turn through it.”