Big Play: Choi's teacher reveals his student's secret to taming Sawgrass's 17th
WHO: K.J. Choi
WHAT: Three-quarter nine-iron to 10 feet, 4 inches, which led to a birdie
WHERE: 137-yard par 3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass
WHEN: Final round of the Players Championship
K.J. hit a very good shot there. He could've reached the hole with a wedge, but instead he hit a three-quarter nine iron. He added a couple of yards of draw to hold it against the left-to-right wind that was blowing at 17. To K.J., the ball flight looked dead straight.
K.J. used to have problems losing shots right when he was hit into a left-to-right wind, so we've worked on getting that shot under control. One big thing we've done is to make K.J. hit a draw, rather than a fade, in these situations. At 17 in the final round, drawing the ball into the wind took some speed off the ball so that the it checked up when it hit the green. Knowing that the ball would check up and not roll gave K.J. confidence to not worry about the ball landing and rolling too far.
THE DRILL: K.J. and I regularly do what we call the "nine shot drill." It goes back to Ben Hogan's days. With a single club, such as a nine iron, K.J. will hit a fade, a draw and a straight ball, with three different trajectories: low, standard and high. So he'll start with a low trajectory, and he'll hit a fade, a draw and a straight shot. Then he'll hit the same three shots with a standard trajectory, and he'll finish with each of the three shots with a high trajectory. In some situations, I'll have K.J. contemplate more than one of the nine shot options. That helps him learn to visualize specific shots that he'll need for a given competitive round.
Last week, K.J. spent a lot of time practicing for the 17th hole. On the right side of the driving range at Sawgrass, there was a green about 140 yards from the hitting area. Last week a left-to-right wind blew on most days, and K.J. hit dozens of held-off nine irons, drawing them into the wind to that 140-yard flag. Succeeding in practice prepared K.J. for the shot he hit to perfection at 17 in the final round.
Steve Bann has been K.J. Choi's instructor for six years. Bann, along with Dale Lynch, runs BannLynch golf schools at the Saddlebrook Resort outside Tampa and Yarra Bend Golf Course near Melbourne, Australia.