Every week, the editors of Golf.com assemble an all-star cast of stat-busting superstars—players whose dominance in key areas of the game left the rest of the Tour in the dust. This week: the A-Team from the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, located in the rolling foothills above the Las Vegas strip. Web.com grad Ben Martin, 27, hit a $1.1 million-dollar jackpot by canning a 46-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th during the final round to pull free of Kevin Streelman for his first PGA Tour victory. It was a buck-the-odds play that helped Martin erase the sting of a second-to-last-place finish a week ago at the Frys.com Open. Martin makes our weekly all-star team, but not because of his flatstick. Scroll down to see where he dominated, and how you can improve to bust the house wherever you play.
Tony Finau (1st season on Tour)
Why He's Our Pick: You may remember Tony Finau from the 2009 season of Golf Channel’s Big Break, where he finished second as a 19-year-old. Since, he’s honed his game on a string of mini-Tours. He’s a PGA Tour rookie now—and watch out. The Salt Lake City native is long—really long. At the Shriners, the 6-foot-4 Finau averaged more than 338 yards off the tee, tops in the field. High altitude and fast fairways probably inflated his yardage, but check this: the swing-speed radar at Summerlin clocked Finau at more than 125 mph. That’s fast. It’s Bubba-Watson-giving-it-all-he’s-got fast. In today’s game, 125 mph is the dividing line between quick and phenomenal. Check that—Finaumenal.
Finau’s secret? Like any other big bomber, Finau is a master at keeping his head steady and his body centered when he swings, which in turn gives him the ability to maintain his spine angle. The rest of us tend to slide to both sides and bob up and down. This excess movement negates any chance of rotating around a stable spine, which is how you get max speed. Try this drill from Top 100 Teacher Lou Guzzi: Get into your stance with a club held behind your neck and shoulders blades. Swing back without changing your forward bend and keeping your head very steady. Note the position of your left hand when you reach the top, and try to get your right hand in the same place as you swing down to impact. Copy the same feel when you swing for real. You may not bust the 125-mph barrier like Finau, but you’ll certainly swing faster than you are now.
Best Iron Player
Ben Martin (3rd season on Tour)
Why He's Our Pick: TPC Summerlin’s par-5 holes surrendered 440 birdies or better to the top 70 finishers last week. The par 3s coughed up just 172. That’s typical for a Tour event, where players tend to lose strokes on the short holes, hold steady on par 4s, and make serious hay on par 5s. No doubt, Ben Martin sealed the deal with his spectacular eagle on the par-5 16th on Sunday, but we’ll credit his 2.67 scoring average on par 3s for the win. Basically, Martin picked up a third of a stroke on the field every time he teed it up on a par 3. Huge. Good putting helps, but you don’t dominate like that unless you’re striping irons from the tee box.
“Ben has learned to be consistent with the low point in his swing,” says Top 100 Teacher Tom Stickney, who befriended Martin at the 2012 Humana Challenge in Palm Springs. “The better you are at getting the low point in the same place every time, the less variation you’ll get in ballflight, spin, distance—everything—and that makes hitting par-3 greens much easier.” Martin’s trick? “He’s learned to eliminate swaying in his backswing and keep his weight on the inside of his right foot at the top,” says Stickney. “If you sway, or get your weight beyond the outside of your right foot, you’ll bottom out in a different place from one swing to the next. Worse yet, you’ll probably blade or chunk the shot.” Stickney suggests setting a golf ball under the outside of your right foot when you practice. “That’ll keep you from shifting too far to the right” he says. “You’ll feel more centered, and you’ll strike it purer.”
Brice Garnett (2nd season on Tour)
Why He's Our Pick: Brice Garnett, 31, made the cut at the Shriners, but finished waaay down the leaderboard at 63rd. We don’t care. Garnett made 65 out of 68 putts from 10 feet and in, and considering he carded just 13 birdies over his four rounds, many of those 10-foot-and-in putts were stressful par- and bogey-savers—you know, the ones where your blood pressure skyrockets and your nerves turn to mush. The Missouri native labored for eight years on the junior circuit, so something tells us Brice knows how to keep things in perspective: When you struggle, lean on your putter.
In many ways, short putts are more difficult than long ones, because you expect to make them. On long putts, all you’re really thinking about is getting it close, so you tend to make a freer stroke. Top 100 Teacher Jerry King suggests keeping your eyes over the spot where the ball was after contact. Why? “As soon as you shift your eyes toward the hole, you shift your head. And as soon as you shift your head, you shift your shoulders.” According to King, even the smallest shoulder shift can throw your stroke—and putt—wildly offline. “Use your ears, not your eyes,” he advises. “You’ll know you’ve made it when you hear the ball rattle against the bottom of the cup.”
Best Short-Game Player
Vijay Singh (24th season on Tour)
Why He's Our Pick: Aren’t you supposed to lose short-game touch with age? Vijay Singh, 51, proves that old dogs never lose old tricks with a bunker-play performance at Summerlin that was nothing short of clinical. He saved par 6 out of 7 times from the sand. Impressive enough, but Singh landed those seven blasts an average of 4’ 9” from the hole. That’s a kick-in for most Tour players. Vijay’s bunker game has always been world-class, but an 84-percent sand save percentage is ridiculous.
Let’s put things in perspective: most weekend players get up-and-down from the sand at about a 5-percent clip. Top 100 Teacher Brian Manzella attributes poor amateur sand play to bad follow-throughs. We’re guilty of entering the sand, then driving the club too deep into the bunker. Players like Singh, on the other hand, enter the sand then get the clubhead out of the bunker as soon as possible. This “hit-and-lift” action produces height and spin—good for getting the ball up and making it check once it hits. Manzella’s advice: Once you fee the club enter the sand, pull your right hand up toward your left shoulder. Make it quick. The ball will pop up and land like a butterfly with sore feet.