I love competition. There is no sweeter feeling than playing well when you need toâ€”splitting a tight fairway, making a tricky up-and-down, sinking a putt to win a tournament. Even in Spain, we use the English word to describe these feats: clutch.
But you don't have to be a pro to be clutch. Every round presents pressure shots and chances to do it. They can be as big as a birdie to shoot your career round or as small as a four-footer to end a string of bogeys. Sometimes you'll come through and sometimes you won't, but you can always have the right approach to crucial shots. Here's how to be clutch more often than not.
When driving to a narrow fairway, I'll play a slight fade. A fade is easier to control than a draw because you hit it with a smooth swing involving less wrist action. First, pick out an intermediate target to check your aim. Then make practice swings at half speed, keying on balance and tempo. This isn't the time to swing for the fencesâ€”just go for good rhythm.
Before I hit over a large water hazard, I first make sure I'm using enough clubâ€”if I miss, I want to miss on land. Focus on your target, not the water, and key on making solid contact. The tendency when you're nervous is to hang back and try to help the ball into the air. Wrong! That's how you hit a short, weak splasher. Notice how I've shifted my weight to my left side and stayed down through impact (left inset). Make that your swing thought and your shot will stay dry.
Now What If...You need 10 more yards? I hardly ever swing at 100 percent. But when I need extra distance, I go for the max. First I widen my stanceâ€”one inch wider with each foot (above). That provides added stability so I can swing down faster. One important point: Make your backswing fairly slow to allow for a full wind-up, then accelerate through the ball.
Many of the hole locations on the PGA Tour are close to the green's edge. To get to them, I shape my approach shots so they start at the middle of the green and curve toward the hole. It's a great feeling to see your ball track to the flag.
If you're hitting to a tricky pin, remember this advice: "Ride the wind for distance and fight the wind for control." If there's a left-to-right wind and you're hitting a fade, take one less club and play for more curve. If you're trying to draw the ball into the same wind, take one more club and expect a straighter ball flight.
This is one of my favorite shots. First, take a quick walk to the green and check out how much room you have to land the ball. It's often more than you think. Set up with the ball off your front instep, then hinge the club up with your wrists. Keep your knees flexed as you swing down through impact; this helps the club bottom out directly under the ball (below). Make a full follow-through and watch the ball float toward the flag.
Unless I have a decent lie and a clear path to the green, I'll take my medicineâ€”punch out and hope my next shot can save me. But don't get nonchalantâ€”too many amateurs take that punch shot for granted and flub it. Focus on hitting the punch shot to a comfortable distance, where you can reach the green. Play the ball back in your stance, keep your weight on your left foot, and follow through low (below).
I try not to put too much emphasis on the putt, even if it's for a victory. Banish pressure from your mind by focusing on three words: one smooth stroke.
After choosing your line, watch the putter head swing back and forth during your practice strokes, like a pendulum. Now take one last look at the hole and copy that pendulum motion (eyes fixed on the ball). Keep it smooth and you'll make more than your share.