It's been a year since I played the Bank of America Colonial, but the lessons I learned have stayed with me. As a result, my chipping and bunker play have improved. So have my shotmaking and performance under pressure. Since hitting that first fairway at Colonial with the world looking on, I've felt like I can do anything.
I played in the Colonial -- plus two skins games with the guys last fall -- to test my game against the best male players and learn some of their secrets.
Warning: These tips come from the world's top players; they may not be right for you. But you'll have fun finding out. I know I did.
CHIP WITH ONE CLUB
Until last year I often played a low, running chip, switching clubs depending on how much green I had to work with. But while practicing with Tiger Woods before the Colonial, I noticed he was chipping mostly with his lob wedge, flying the ball almost to the hole.I decided to try it, and I've been chipping with my lob wedge since.
I don't recommend this method for everyone. It takes a lot of practice. Not only must you vary the length of your swing to hit different distances, you must also adjust your setup. To hit a runner, I play the ball off my back foot, which pushes my hands well ahead. To hit the ball higher, I position it just forward of center, so my hands are about even with the ball.
SHAPE YOUR DRIVES
I was really surprised that the guys hit driver everywhere, even on doglegs. With their length, they can cut the corners with no trouble. I saw this from Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples in the skins games. Unfortunately, most bunkers that these guys bomb it over fall right in my driving zone. So I often have to lay up with my 4- or 7-wood.
But if you can shape shots in either direction, you really open up the fairway. Since my natural shot is a draw, I've been working on my fade. I aim the clubface at the target, then open my stance. I also tee the ball lower, so that only a fraction of it is above the topline of the clubface (right). This promotes the steep, out-to-in downswing you need to hit a fade. Then I simply swing along my body line.
STAND WIDE IN THE SAND
I was a perfect three for three on sand saves at the Colonial. I followed that with another strong bunker performance two weeks later at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, getting up and down three times over the final eight holes of regulation. (I won in a playoff against Grace Park for my first McDonald's title.)
One reason for my improved bunker play was a setup adjustment I made at the Colonial. During practice I noticed that many of the guys, particularly Tom Pernice Jr., took a very wide stance in the sand, as if they were hitting driver. So I gave it a go. Setting up with my feet farther apart helps quiet my legs and lets me swing with my upper body. The more I rotate my torso through the shot, the easier it is to keep the clubface open and use its bounce for a high, soft blast.