I've birdied 3,025 holes in my PGA Tour career (through this year's Masters), including a career-high 384 in 2006. And my 15 birdies at the U.S. Open last year paced the field—and helped me bag my first major. The talent level on Tour is so high that you need a ton of birdies just to survive, let alone win majors. Circles on the scorecard are necessary to my day job, but for recreational golfers, birdies are like gold. I get it—most of my friends are mid-handicappers, and I see what birdies do for their games. Birdies erase mistakes, build confidence and, let's face it: They make the game a lot more fun.
I know how to birdie holes, so I'll let you in on a little secret: You can't even attempt to make birdie if you don't hit greens. And it's difficult to hit greens if you don't hit fairways. That's why my scoring plan favors accuracy over all else. Follow my simple driving, iron- and wedge-swing secrets and you'll be staring at more birdie putts than ever. And just to make sure you don't waste a golden opportunity, I offer my best putting tip ever. Get ready to start seeing red—on your card.
1. NEW RULES FOR HITTING FAIRWAYS:
THE SMOOTHER YOU SWING, THE STRAIGHTER YOU'LL HIT IT
I was No. 1 in total driving (a combination of distance and accuracy) heading into the U.S. Open at Merion last summer, and I ended the season fourth. I've spent a lot of time in the gym in recent years to increase my power, and I even took a page from Jack Nicklaus's book and started lifting my front heel during my backswing to get more hip turn. The five or 10 yards I've added is great, but really, distance is
secondary to accuracy when it comes to setting up birdie opportunities.
MY VERY BEST DRIVING TIP!
Drives fly straight when you swing with good rhythm. Take the club back so slowly that you can feel the segments of your backswing unfolding in succession. I even count them off sometimes: "Shoulder turn, right elbow fold, wrist hinge, arm lift," and so on. Swinging slowly allows your body and the club to reach the top of your backswing at the same time, which makes your transition extra-smooth. I believe that if you're smooth and solid at the top, you'll probably be smooth and solid at the bottom—which is where it counts.
When you start back down, make sure to swing all the way through the ball. A lot of weekend players slow down at or just after impact with a kind of chopping motion; they think this will help square the clubface. It doesn't. In fact, you'll probably hit a slice! I picture a second ball a few inches in front of the real one, and try to "hit" both. This technique ensures that I swing beyond the impact point so that the face continues to square. For extra distance, reach top speed at the second ball. This way you're always accelerating through the hitting zone.
2. NEW RULES FOR HITTING GREENS:
POST UP ON YOUR FRONT LEG
TO STABILIZE THE CLUBFACE
One thing that's helped me become a good iron player is learning to feel impact. Before I started working with Sean Foley, I'd strike the ball with the shaft standing almost straight up and down. It worked, but my shots didn't sizzle. Sean has helped me add more shaft lean at impact. This compresses the ball more (my new feel for impact), and it stabilizes the club through the hitting zone, which helps the ball fly straight.
MY VERY BEST IRON-SWING TIP!
Getting the shaft leaning forward at impact, with your hands ahead of the clubhead and the clubface stable, isn't as simple as just "lean the shaft forward." It's really a whole-body event. The key is to shift the vast majority of your weight to your front foot on your downswing—I'm talking 90 percent of your weight. Think of it this way: If you shift everything forward, then your hands shift forward—and stay ahead of the clubhead. Getting your weight forward also stops you from "hanging back" on your right side, where you're forced to flip the clubhead with your wrists just to make contact with the ball. Flippers are usually slicers.
3. NEW RULES FOR WEDGING IT CLOSE:
USE MORE UPPER BODY THAN LOWER BODY
When you're swinging your woods and irons, it's all about creating power from the ground up: You drive with your legs, then your hips, then your arms and finally your hands. That's the ideal downswing chain of events. When you get to your wedges, however, it's the opposite; your upper body does more of the heavy lifting, so to speak, while your lower half stays very quiet.
I've learned this just recently, and it has made all the difference in the world. Now when I want to hit a soft wedge shot, I turn all my focus to my upper body and make sure I rotate it first and fastest on my downswing. I even set up to encourage more upper-body turn, addressing the ball with my chest open and my hips square. My goal? To re-create this arrangement at impact. Do it right and it'll feel like your hands are traveling to the left of the target after impact, rather than straight down the line. Turn your upper body more than your lower for crisp, extra-tight wedge shots
MY VERY BEST WEDGE TIP!
I feel like the most accurate wedge players are the ones who can control trajectory, so it's vital to develop more than one stock short-game swing. To hit a low shot (good for back pins), finish your swing with your hands and the club-head in line with your forearms. This sharply reduces the launch angle. To hit a high shot, line up your hands and forearms in the finish, but release the club up and to the left.
4. NEW RULES FOR SINKING PUTTS:
KEEP YOUR STROKE UNDER YOUR EYES – AND DON'T PEEK
Over the years I've tried to be perfect with my putting stroke. That's not the way to make birdies, because there were times when my stroke was perfect and I couldn't buy a putt. You're better off working on improving your green reading than overthinking your stroke.
The way I read greens now is to walk behind the ball in a semicircle. Using my feet, I'll try to feel the point on the green where I go from walking downhill to walking uphill (or vice versa). Finding this "inflection point" (it's not hard to do with practice and added awareness) gives you important clues about how the putt will break: If your ball sits left of the inflection point, it breaks right; if it sits to the right, it breaks left. And the farther the ball is from the inflection point, the more it will curve.
MY VERY BEST PUTTING TIP!
I've tried a lot of putting tips over the years, but the one I keep going back to is "keep your eyes still." As soon as you start peeking, you're toast. If your eyes move, then so will your body, and this will ruin any chance you might have for centered contact. I challenge myself to watch every inch of my putting stroke—if I keep my eyes still, I won't miss a moment of action. Even on long strokes I'll use my peripheral vision to track the putterhead back and through. Listen for the ball to drop, don't watch it.