You may want to know how I won three PGA Tour events to start the 2013-14 season when I hadn't raised a single Tour trophy in 187 starts. Good question. For starters, it doesn't hurt to have Butch Harmon in my corner. But while he's helped me a lot, I really credit three P's — persistence, patience and (smart) practice — with maximizing my scoring potential at the tender age of 35. You may not aspire to win Tour events. More likely, you simply want to break 90, or 80, or shoot your personal best, or win your club title. Whatever your goal is, my five fundamental keys will get you playing the best golf of your life. I'm revealing my tee-to-green guide to help you hit it longer and straighter, reach more greens, pitch it tighter, make more putts, and even shape shots at will. They're the five game-changing moves that launched me to the top of the midseason FedEx Cup standings, and they'll help you reach the next level, too.
1: FREE UP YOUR PUTTING STROKE
If you watch the best putters, you'll notice that they swing the putterhead freely, letting it move on an arcing path back and through the ball. In contrast, most everyday players I see try to keep the putter square the whole way. This typically leads to a stiff, outside-in stroke and an open face at impact—and a lot of missed putts. I've seen putting fads come and go, so I know what works and what doesn't. I promise you that you'll have much better results using a stroke that creates a tight roll rather than one that cuts across the ball with an open face.
Try My Arc-Stroke Drill
Lay an alignment stick or one of your clubs just inside of and parallel to the target line on a straight five-foot putt [photo, above left]. Sole your putter so that the heel just barely touches the alignment stick or shaft, and practice making stress-free strokes that move slightly to the inside on the backstroke and slightly to the inside again on the through-stroke [so that the toe of the putter passes the heel]. If you set up properly with your eyes slightly inside the ball and your arms hanging comfortably beneath your shoulders, you'll merely have to rock your shoulders to create the proper path. For some players, me included, it helps to set the putterhead down with the toe slightly in the air, as this promotes a more arcing stroke shape.
Once you have the feel of an arcing stroke, add a ball to the process. With the stick in place, spend about 25 minutes practicing straight five-footers. In addition to practicing straight putts, find a five-footer that moves right to left, then one that moves left to right, and repeat each for 25 minutes. Sure, it's a time-consuming drill, but it works—through the Players Championship, I was first in strokes gained putting, one of the biggest reasons why I'm having a career season.
2: TIGHTEN UP YOUR DRIVER SWING
I've always been able to drive the ball a long way [I'm tied for 14th in driving distance so far this season], but my consistency and accuracy were lagging. My biggest problem was that I was overswinging; this caused the shaft to swing past parallel at the top, with the clubhead pointing toward the ground [inset photo, left], leading to missed fairways. My other mistake? Not fully extending my arms during my backswing—although my swing was long [that is, past parallel], it lacked the necessary width.
"Push" the Club Out
To tighten up your swing and create more power [I've gained a couple of yards every year since I started working with Butch in 2012], fully extend your arms in the backswing and feel your weight move into your right thigh as your arms push away from your body. Hold off hinging your wrists and folding your right elbow; halfway back, the shaft should point away from the target, not toward the sky. This is the kind of extension you want!
Once you're fully extended, don't overswing. Stop your backswing when the shaft is just short of parallel to the ground at the top. It's often difficult to sense this during your swing, but for most guys, it's when your left shoulder moves under your chin. As soon as you feel your weight shifting from your right thigh into your left knee at the top of your backswing, you'll know you've gone too far.
3: PINCH YOUR IRONS
What's the secret to striking solid iron shots that shoot off the clubface with lots of speed? Compression. In my book, that means it feels like you're pinching the ball between the clubface and the ground at impact and continuing to "squeeze" it as the club continues through the hitting zone. This is why good players make a solid click sound at impact with their irons, and it's also why they hit their shots so far.
Set Up to Compress
The first and simplest key to getting that powerful feeling of compression on your iron shots is to move the ball farther back in your stance. Many players, like me, let the ball creep forward at setup, which promotes a glancing blow. Irons hit from this position tend to lack power and often fly short and crooked. Also, if the ball position is too far forward, you're more likely to let the clubhead pass your hands too early in the downswing. "Casting" the club like this leads to all kinds of mis-hits.
To pure your irons like the pros, move your ball even farther back in your stance than you probably think you should. I play it an inch ahead of the center of my chest [photo, above], but some players may have to move it an inch behind center. Once you've moved the ball back, concentrate on leading the clubhead into impact with the handle of the club rather than throwing it at the ball. I like to feel my left hip move a bit toward the target as I approach impact, but not so much that it slides past my front foot. Let the weight of your body power the club through impact rather than using the muscles in your arms and hands. When you do it correctly, it'll feel like you're "stressing" or bending the shaft with your hands ahead of the clubhead, and that you're striking the ball before you hit the ground.
4: "SLICE" YOUR CHIPS AND PITCHES
I know some very good teachers who promote swinging in-to-out and "hooking" chips and pitches, but for me that just doesn't work. When you swing from the inside with a wedge, you increase the chance that the turf will grab the heel through impact, which turns the clubhead over even more. An inside-out swing also promotes overspin, which makes judging distances and creating touch much more difficult.
For these reasons, I slice almost all of my short shots around the green. This technique takes better advantage of the club's grooves and helps create cut spin, which leads to a shorter rollout once the ball hits the green. And because of the slightly steeper, outside-in swing, there's much less chance that the turf around the ball will affect the hosel or heel of the club, especially when you're chipping or pitching from rough.
How to Cut Short Shots
The key to hitting these mini-cut shots is to strike the ball with a slightly outside-in swing path. An easy way to make this happen is to keep the clubhead outside your hands on the way back [photo at right]. Don't do it to the point where you're "chopping" at the ball or creating too much backspin. Balance the outside-in path with the proper angle of attack by stopping your finish at hip height, almost like you're sticking the butt of the club in your front pocket [inset, right]. Striving for this kind of finish automatically prevents you from swinging too steeply—you can't put the grip in your pocket if you chop.
5: BECOME A TRUE SHOT-MAKER
One thing I never do on the range is hit straight shots. They're just not needed all that often when I play, and besides—a straight shot is one of the hardest shots to produce consistently. [As soon as the ball moves even a foot off line, it's no longer straight.] My best ballstriking advice? Don't try to groove one swing. I constantly work on shaping shots in either direction. If you're, say, a bogey golfer, you might think this is too advanced, but it isn't. At the range, hit shots with a closed stance and see if they hook. Then take some rips with an open stance and see how much they cut. This sort of practice will not only serve you well on the course—it's much more engaging for your brain, and a lot more fun, too.
For an easy draw, get the shaft to lie perpendicular to your spine at the finish.
Get the shaft parallel to your spine at the finish for a cut.
How to Shape Shots
Whether you want to hit a draw or a fade, the easiest way to control shot shape is to control the shape of your finish position. To curve the ball right to left, end your swing with your left wrist bent back toward your forearm and your right wrist flat. This reminds you to fully release the club by letting your right hand rotate over your left through impact [photo, above]. You've done it correctly if the shaft is nearly perpendicular to your spine angle at the end of your swing. Stand six inches farther away from the ball to encourage a swing that moves more around your body, and play the ball two inches farther back than normal.
To play a cut shot, do the opposite. Stand a few inches closer to the ball and play it two inches farther up in your stance. This shot requires less wrist hinge and clubface rotation, so when you reach the finish, you want both wrists flat, with the logo on the back of your glove aiming behind you [above right]. If the club finishes parallel to your spine angle, the ball will fade close to the pin.