WHO: Arjun Atwal
WHAT: 207-yard shot with a rescue club into the grandstand behind the green
WHERE: 507-yard par-4 18th hole at Sedgefield Country Club
WHEN: Final round of the Wyndham Championship
I’ve known Arjun for a long time, and this spring I spoke to him on the practice range at Isleworth. He told me that he was playing the Tour on a medical exemption and trying to regain his Tour card. I knew Arjun had potential to do much more than just regain his card, because he’d won multiple times on tours around the world, so I said, “Why don’t you just go ahead and win one of these weeks?”
Arjun seemed surprised at that goal, but he liked it. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I need to do,” he said with confidence.
Over the last few months, Arjun had some excellent spurts of his best golf. He tied for seventh at the Byron Nelson; he made it through qualifying into the U.S. Open; and he was tied for the lead after the first round at the AT&T National. So I sensed that a victory could come sooner than later.
Last Sunday, Arjun finally won a Tour event because he utilized the savvy calm and wisdom gained in his victories on the Asian, European and Nationwide tours. Clinging to a one-shot lead at 17, Arjun didn’t lose his mind and get overly aggressive. Instead, he played smart, conservative golf.
On the 17th hole, Arjun hit a soft eight-iron for his approach, rather than trying to slam a nine-iron. He knows that his swing relies on rhythm, so taking less club and swinging smoothly was essential. His shot landed 21 feet beyond the flag and gave him an easy two-putt for a par.
At 18, Arjun drove into the left rough. His ball sat on a downhill lie in gnarly Bermuda grass 189 yards from the flagstick. A 5-iron was plenty of club to reach the flag, but Arjun knew that if he mishit the shot even a little, the ball would likely wobble into one of the gaping front greenside bunkers and he’d have a 30-yard sand shot. Instead, Arjun hit his rescue club, knowing the ball would fly past the green and settle near a grandstand surrounding the green on all sides. Arjun knew that no matter where the ball landed, he’d almost surely get a free drop by the green, and that would leave him a chance to make a simple chip and putt for par and the victory.
Arjun did exactly that, and to me this was one of the savviest and best decisions of the year by any player. Arjun didn’t care about being a hero. He’d won many times before, and now he wanted to do only what was necessary to win.
THE DRILL: To hone your rhythm, hit shots while starting the swing with the clubhead ahead of the ball. To do that, address a ball in your regular position, then lift up the club so the clubhead is a couple of inches above the turf. Be sure to keep the butt end of the grip pointing at your belly button. Next, use your right hand to gently push the shaft so the clubhead moves a couple of feet toward the target. Pause. Now begin your swing and hit away. Hitting shots like that will cultivate a smooth and coordinated rhythm in your swing.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mitchell Spearman works at Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, N.Y.