In winning the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas on May 30, Zach Johnson sank more than 100 feet of putts during the final nine holes of the tournament. He made 24 birdies in 72 holes.
Here’s what Johnson’s putting instructor, Pat O’Brien, said about his pupil’s putting stroke:
“He’s kind of old school. He holds the putter in the palm of his left hand. I advocate holding it in the fingers, but there is no way I would try to change somebody like Zach.
“The accommodation we make for his grip is to cup the left wrist a little bit at setup. This locks him in, so nothing breaks down.
“I learned this from Payne Stewart. He was always a streaky putter until the last year of his life. He started cupping that wrist. He got a foundation and a system, and he became one of the best putters in the world.”
O’Brien’s simple philosophy: “The whole idea in putting is to return to square at impact without thinking about it. That’s true for everybody, not just Zach Johnson.
“Zach came to me with that grip ...
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 ...
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 ...
WINDERMERE, Fla. – George and Wesley Bryan literally are surrounded by golf instruction.
The brothers’ home in Chapin, S.C., shares 10 acres with their father’s golf academy. They’ve been taking lessons from famed instructor Mike Bender since they were about 5.
An independent streak inherited from their father, George III, has kept the South Carolina teammates from becoming too reliant, or maybe not reliant enough, on these resources.
They don’t incorporate any information until it has passed their own trial-and-error process. George Bryan III embraces their errors. Like any father of college-age children, he wants his sons to be ready for the real world – or in their case, professional golf.
“That’s learning,” their father said. “That’s the process. Too many parents and teachers try to exempt their students from the frustration or the foul balls, so they never figure out cause-and-effect.”
The Bryan brothers have done pretty well thus far. George IV, a senior, and Wesley, a sophomore, are among the top 50 of the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com U.S. Rankings. They ended the fall college season by finishing in the top 10 at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, one of the country’s premier events ...
They’re popping up all over the golf world. They’re 4 feet long, very thin, brightly colored and made of fiberglass. They extend out of the bags of almost all pros and college golfers.
They’re alignment sticks, and much more. Swing guides, plane indicators and targets. Serious golfers keep finding new uses for these simple tools.
Instructor Shawn Humphries lays them on the ground for alignment and direction, sticks the sharp end into the turf so they serve as guides for swing plane or clubhead path, attaches them to the clothing of golfers (mostly through belt loops) to help indicate level or square address positions, and even uses them for chipping and putting drills.
“I probably use them 15 different ways,” said Humphries, based at Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, Texas. “I use up to four at a time. One of the simplest things I do is set them up almost like a goal post, to help somebody start the ball toward the target. I put two of them in the ground, about 12 inches apart and about 20 feet in front of the student.
“They clearly indicate the intended line, and they are great for learning how ...
This story originally ran in the Sept. 28, 2008 issue of Golfweek.
It’s the golf equivalent of the butterfly effect: Troy Merritt gets his playing privileges cut at the course in Minneapolis at which he worked during summers off from college, and everything changes.
He takes a job at his uncle’s country club in Boise, Idaho, shoots 63 in the company of its head pro, who is friends with former PGA Tour pro and current Boise State coach Kevin Burton, and Merritt winds up transferring to the Broncos from Winona (Minn.) State, an NCAA Division II school. He wins seven titles for Boise State in his senior season en route to leading the nation in scoring average and earning second-team All-America honors.
It’s a story that college coaches dream about, but the good fortune worked both ways. Merritt, who had been self-taught, found his first instructor in Burton, who sees a lot of himself in his student. Burton has been content to mainly tweak and monitor Merritt’s game rather than overhaul.
“Coach has been around the block, and the things he tells me are coming true and paying dividends,” said Merritt, who plans to attend PGA ...
BALL GROUND, Ga. – One shot stands out from Heath Slocum’s most successful year on the PGA Tour: the 20-foot par putt that he made Aug. 30 on the final hole of The Barclays for a one-shot victory over four players, including Tiger Woods.
It was the culmination of fixes made by Slocum and instructor Mark Blackburn.
The pair had made substantial changes to Slocum’s swing during their four years together, but decided earlier this year to put more focus on Slocum’s putting, which had been neglected because of the full-swing focus.
The two were working on keeping Slocum from adding loft to the putter during his stroke. At this year’s St. Jude Classic, Slocum used a putter with 7 degrees of loft, about twice the standard, to keep his right hand from being too active during the stroke. He tied for 10th.
Slocum hadn’t posted a top 10 in the 10 weeks before The Barclays, but there had been positive signs, starting at the Wyndham Championship, the week before the Barclays.
“His caddie (D.J. Nelson) said whatever you guys are doing, (his putting) is coming back,” Blackburn said. “Scoring isn’t always a barometer ...
Note: This story appeared in the Aug. 23, 2008 issue of Golfweek
Rickie Fowler doesn’t play by the book. One of his favorite memories from last year’s Walker Cup at hallowed Royal County Down GC, Northern Ireland, has nothing to do with his 3-1 record that helped lead the U.S. to a one-point victory.
It comes from a practice round.
“My teammates and I were hitting pitch shots to a green elevated 6 feet or so,” said Oklahoma State’s Fowler, who this spring became the first freshman to win the Ben Hogan Award as college golf’s outstanding player. “They’re all hitting bump-and-runs up the hill with 54- and 58-degree wedges, and I was there opening up a 64-degree wedge and hitting these high, spinner shots. The Irish spectators were staring at me with this, ‘You’re not supposed to be hitting that shot’ look.”
The 19-year-old isn’t just independent-minded but independent, period. Fowler started the game at age 3; four years later, he began lessons at the Murrieta Valley (Calif.) Golf Range with teaching pro Barry McDonnell. These days, the rising star – a two-time winner in his first season at Oklahoma State, as ...
By Evan Rothman
Paige Mackenzie once had to contemplate life without golf. Now, she is beginning life as a professional golfer and if recent form holds, it should be richly rewarding.
A three-time All-American at the University of Washington, Mackenzie is a favorite to get through LPGA Qualifying School later this year. Her goals are as concentrated and ambitious as she is.
“I want to have a shot to win Q-School,” says Mackenzie, who graduated this spring with a degree in business administration. “I don’t think the focus should be on the cut line, it should be on the victory. That’s my immediate focus; I don’t want to put the cart ahead of the horse.”
Mackenzie began to work with PGA Master Professional Joe Thiel as a Washington freshman. Their efforts were halted for the entirety of Mackenzie’s sophomore season because of multiple back injuries – including stress fractures and, while rehabbing, a disc injury – brought on, she believes, by trying to get into new positions that her body wasn’t then capable of achieving.
This dark period ultimately proved fruitful. Mackenzie started reading books on sports psychology, including Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, which helped her emerge ...
The simplest ideas are sometimes the best.
For decades, golfers have used large circular hoops for practice. With a golfer standing inside the upright hoop, the basic idea is that the circle can help guide the club along the proper swing path, or plane.
Along came Luther Blacklock, head golf professional at Woburn Golf Club in Buckinghamshire, England. Blacklock, a pro for 33 years, is a brainy man who earned the distinction of advanced fellow of the British PGA.
On a quest to create the ultimate teaching device, Blacklock designed and built a 21st-century hoop. Thus the Explanar was born in 2002.
Teaching pros in 30 countries have purchased the original Explanar, which sells for $3,990. This professional unit is mobile and weatherproof.
A home unit, collapsible for storage, is available for $799. It has wheels and can be moved, albeit not as easily as the pro unit.
Both units are made of aluminum and built in the United States. They are large and heavy. Later this year, a junior unit will be introduced to provide youngsters with the benefits of this training.
After instructor Butch Harmon first saw the Explanar, he called Blacklock and told him to use ...
By Evan Rothman
Since his arrival on the Nationwide Tour four years ago, Johnson Wagner has been considered one of the nicest guys on the circuit. But thanks to some recent changes, he rarely – if ever – finishes last. Rather, Wagner, fourth on the Nationwide money list and winner of this year’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open, looks poised to join the PGA Tour in 2007.
Wagner’s ballstriking is an established strength: He ranks 10th this year and was 10th last year in that category, which combines a player’s ranking in driving accuracy, driving distance and greens in regulation. In the last 12 months Johnson has risen 189 spots to 116th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
“The danger with someone as talented and natural as Johnson is to try to change what he has,” says his coach, Bobby Heins, head professional at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. “He has a swing – it’s the use of the swing and getting the potential out of it.”
Much of this entails Wagner adding a fade to his preferred tight draw.
“I’ve been working real hard hitting fades into greens during tournaments, which is something I haven’t ...
This surely will sound simplistic, but too many golf instructors don’t know how to talk. They fail at communication, nullifying much of what they might be able to teach their students.
Instructor Charlie King doesn’t brag about it, but he has studied communication as much as he has studied the golf swing.
“I’m not trying to criticize anyone,” said King, the new director of instruction at Reynolds Plantation, “but I have learned something from all the teachers I worked with – in some cases, I definitely learned how not to do it.”
King did not play golf until he was 19. He vividly remembers one of his early instructors screaming
at him because he questioned the teacher’s method.
Ultimately King developed his own philosophy about golf instruction: Speech is just as important as knowledge, and presentation of the golf swing is just as important as knowing the golf swing.
And so King became a champion of teaching simply and effectively.
“He knows the book, but he doesn’t throw the book at you all at once,” said fellow golf pro Charles McLendon III, who runs the golf club fitting laboratory at Reynolds Plantation. “He has a gift ...
An introduction to instructor Carl Rabito might start with extension in the golf swing.
Extension is a garden-variety buzzword used with both the backswing and through swing. Many contemporary golfers seem to be looking for more arm extension everywhere in the swing. They associate extension with added distance.
The popular phrase is “widen your swing” or “create more width.”
While most golfers may have accepted this as fact, Rabito says any fixation on extension can be a bad thing. Players who seek to exaggerate their extension are asking for trouble, Rabito says.
They actually can lose distance, he maintains.
Rabito is a different kind of teacher. Although he worries about being perceived as overbearing, he is soft-spoken, polite, articulate and painstakingly scientific in his presentation of the golf swing.
“When you say something that is different from what most people believe, you better have it right,” Rabito says, “because people will be challenging you all the time.”
Extension often is taught in conjunction with instructor Jim McLean’s X-Factor – the coiling of the upper body and the resistance of the lower body.
“I never want any resistance in the golf swing,” Rabito explains. “By definition, if you have ...
Good vision, creative imagination and proper use of your eyes are crucial to great putting. As with the best putters on tour, you must learn to read greens well, see your line clearly, and trust what your eyes tell you before you step into the address position and stroke the ball. Below are a number of tips that will help alleviate trouble on the greens.
Obtain as much information about the putt as possible by walking around the putt from different angles and seeing where the apex of the break occurs. Remember that your first look or instinctive hunch about where the ball wants to go is usually your best. Sometimes players get too analytical and “psyche” themselves out of the correct line when they had it right the first time they viewed it.
Get down low and behind the ball to obtain the best perspective. Four to six feet behind the ball is generally a good spot to read the ball-line. The next time you watch Tiger Woods on television, notice that he squats down low so that he can see the slope of the green more clearly.
Make a firm decision where you want the ball to start ...
Gyms for golfers. In a society obsessed with fitness, this was bound to happen. And it has – in a big, important way.
Golf fitness is not about building bulging muscles or sculpting a beachworthy body. It is about developing the proper combination of flexibility and strength for a sport that requires the body to bend, flex, extend and twirl. It is about achieving a level of fitness that helps prevent injuries.
Can’t turn as much as you would like on the backswing? This is a job for the fitness pro, not the golf pro.
In Gaithersburg, Md., Dr. Greg Rose opened ClubGolf Fitness Center to rave reviews. “Everybody told me I was nuts,” he said. “I quickly had to hire four instructors. I tell golfers that the body is the most important piece of equipment they have. I tell them they’re crazy if they don’t know this. At last count, I’ve worked with 43 touring pros.”
In Dallas, Bob MacDonald started Golf Performance and Fitness Center. His students include Rich Beem and Harrison Frazar. “There are a lot of fitness people who still don’t understand golf,” MacDonald said. “They take body building exercises, tweak them ...
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