Instruction

How to Make More Birdies

Photo: Patrik Giordino

Johnson birdied 11 of 16 par 5s at the Masters.

Despite making the Ryder Cup team, at the end of 2006 I wasn't happy with my game. To make sure 2007 was a better season, I called a meeting at the TPC at Sawgrass with my teacher, Mike Bender, my mental coach, Morris Pickens, and my caddie, Damon Green. We identified three key areas to work on: birdie more par 5s, improve my overall iron play, and return my putting to the way it was when I was the No. 1 putter on the Nationwide Tour in 2003.

My improvement in these vital areas spurred my win at the Masters. The recipe for success was a lot of hard work (with Mike and his colleague Ty Krieger) and repetition of simple drills. Over the next five pages, I'll show you how you can get better just like I did.

How to birdie more par 5's
Improve your iron game
Groove your putting
How I birdied the 13th hole on Sunday

HOW TO BIRDIE MORE PAR 5s

Over four rounds at Augusta National, I birdied 11 of the 16 par 5s I played, and I laid up every time. I executed that strategy with confidence because I knew I could get the ball close to the hole with one of my two basic lob-wedge shots: (1) a low- to medium-height shot with maximum spin to attack middle and back pins, and (2) a high, soft ball to front hole locations.

SHOT 1: Low to medium-height spinner
Play it when the pin is middle or back
CHECKPOINT: How to find your lay-up distance
Lay up to a distance where you can make a controlled 3/4 swing. For me, that's 50-75 yards. To determine your distance, drop 10 balls at the 100-yard marker on a hole (when the course is empty) and make 3/4 swings with your favorite wedge. Take the average distance of the 10, and that's your lay-up distance.
No! Too upright, outside. Yes! Swing the club around you.
SHOT 2: High, soft wedge shot
Play it when you can't get spin (that is, from the rough) to front pins and to super-firm greens that won't hold
CHECKPOINT: How to find your lay-up distance
Lay up to a distance where you can make a controlled 3/4 swing. For me, that's 50-75 yards. To determine your distance, drop 10 balls at the 100-yard marker on a hole (when the course is empty) and make 3/4 swings with your favorite wedge. Take the average distance of the 10, and that's your lay-up distance.

Improve your iron game
Groove your putting
How I birdied the 13th hole on Sunday

Improve your iron game
I use these two drills to sharpen my full irons and place the ball where I want it on the green.

Drill 1 - The curve game

I prefer to hit the ball right to left, but my goal is to always leave the ball right of the hole. To practice this, I divide each side of the green into thirds (with the flag in the middle). If I leave the ball inside the outer third on the right, I give myself one point. For the middle third on the right I give myself three, and for the third closest to the hole it's five points. If I miss to the left of the hole, I deduct one point for the inner third, and three and five for the middle and outer third. I play to 20, but you can set your own score.

Drill 2 - The plane test

This is simple: Stick a shaft in the ground and put an impact bag behind it. If your swing is on the proper plane, the bag will spin clockwise and end up to the right of the shaft. If you came in too steep, the bag will spin counter-clockwise and go left of the shaft.


Groove your putting
How I birdied the 13th hole on Sunday

Groove your putting
I use these two drills to hone the speed and line of my putts.

Drill 1 - My speed check

Find a fast, downhill putt on the practice green. Lay an iron two feet beyond the hole and perpendicular to the line of the putt. Then place tees along the line at nine feet, 15 feet, 21 feet, 27 feet and 33 feet. The goal isn't to make the putts (although that's always good), but rather to place three in a row from each distance at least to the hole or beyond without hitting the shaft of the iron. If you miss one, you go back to the previous distance. When you putt all three to the hole or beyond without hitting the shaft, move back to the next distance.

Drill 2 - My line drill
Video: See Zach demonstrate this drill.

I carry a small wire hoop in my bag that we made by bending it around a piece of PVC pipe. It's essentially a mini croquet hoop that's just wide enough for the ball to pass through with a little wiggle room on each side. Once I think I know the line, I place the hoop about two feet in front of the ball along that line and hit a few putts. If the ball drops a few times, I know that's the right line. If it doesn't, I adjust the position of the hoop. Once you know the line, the goal is to make seven out of 10. This will help you practice green reading and get your speed right, too.
Video: See Zach demonstrate this drill.


How I birdied the 13th hole on Sunday

How I birdied the 13th hole on Sunday
My birdie at Augusta's 13th hole on Sunday really got me going. Like all the other par 5s that week, I laid up. Here's what I did:

Tee shot: Driver
SHOT 1 Hit an OK driver off the tee that left me 203 yards to the front edge and 220 to the hole. Depending on the wind, that carry distance would typically call for my 3-, 4- or 5-iron.

7-iron
SHOT 2 Punched a 7-iron to my pre-determined distance of 75 yards to the hole. Where I played it to was key because of the way Rae's Creek snakes around the green. In theory, I could have played the ball to pin high or even beyond the pin and still been in the fairway. However, I wanted to create the maximum amount of room between the edge of the green and the pin, so I left the ball at an angle that gave me 10 paces to work with and the backboard behind the hole. Had I played the ball to pin high, I would have had only five paces to work with.

Wedge shot
SHOT 3 Played a controlled, low, spinning, 3/4 lob wedge tight and made the putt.

Zach in a flash
Age: 31
Height/weight: 5'11"/160 lbs.
Birthplace: Iowa City, Iowa
Residence: Stanford, Fla.
Family: Wife, Kim; infant son, Will
College: Drake University (1998)
Turned pro:: 1998
World Ranking: 15th
PGA Tour wins: 2 (2004 BellSouth Classic; 2007 Masters)
PGA Tour career earnings: $8,575,177
Cool stat: Johnson's 75.62 driving accuracy percentage is third best on Tour.
Hobbies: Movies, skiing, University of Iowa athletics

The most trusted name in sports is now the easiest way to stay informed—no matter where you are. At home, at work, or on the go, we have you covered.
check it out
This Way To…
Our one-touch menu gives you easy access to your favorite writers and sports, special sections, and more.
go deep…
Use this strip to access scores, schedules, or to lean back and enjoy our iconic photos and videos, daily live shows, and more.
then take a scroll…
We have more great content than ever.