Congratulations to Darren Clarke this year's British Open champion. I always enjoy the media coverage the week or two leading up to the British Open. For many of us the style of golf that it takes to win the British Open is truly different. I have the good fortune to be the Lead Instructor at Kiawah island Golf Resort and we have one of the few true links golf courses in the nation, The Ocean Course. The Ocean Course will host the 2012 PGA Championship and is currently rated as one of the toughest courses in the nation. When my students see the aerial pictures of The Ocean Course that hang on the walls of my facility they typically say, "The course has a lot of grass." This is usually followed with, "What makes it so tough?" Smiling, my response is, "The wind." The lesson that was learned this week is that you must be able to control your trajectory and distance in severe weather conditions to be the British Open Champion.
Most people refer to controlling your trajectory and distance as being able to hit a "punch" or "knock down" shot. I have broken the changes down into two groups The Setup and The Swing.
The stance width will be determined by how far you want to hit the ball or how windy it is. The windier it is the wider the stance. Play the ball 2-4 inches further back in your stance than you normally would. Put a little more weight on your front foot. Take more club than you normally would for that distance and slightly choke down. Choking down will help you gain a little more control of the club.
Start by learning to control how far you hit your short irons first. This will be very beneficial to your game in any weather condition. One of the more difficult shots in golf is a ¾ or ½ swing. Typically when I take a student about 20 to 60 yards from a green they struggle because they cannot make a full swing because of the short distance. The good news is that once you learn to control your swing with a wedge you will be able to incorporate those same principles with any club.
The flaw is typically in that you have a misconception about how to make a "smaller" swing. The swing should have less of a back swing, but a full 100% finish. The finish is judged by whether or not your hips have rotated all the way through and not by how far the club traveled around you. Most players take a 100% back swing and a 50% finish (this is called deceleration). Deceleration is a bad word in golf. In fact some would even say it ranks second to that "S" word (shank). Now that you have a mental image of the club moving back less distance in the back swing and then accelerating through the ball to a nice full finish we must talk about the pace at which the club will be moved away from the ball in the back swing.
Everyone has a natural cadence at which they live life. This is to simply say that if you talk fast, walk fast, and eat fast I would not be shocked if you had a fast paced back swing. So if you did all the same things slow it would not shock me if you had a slow paced back swing. The golf terminology that is used to describe your pace is "tempo" another way to think of it is rhythm. As a general rule you want your swing to start out slow and continually build speed all the way through impacting the ball. So how does this relate to hitting a ¾ golf shot? Just to use round numbers let's say your back swing for a full shot takes 1 second. Then your back swing for a ¾ shot would also take 1 second. In addition, a ½ back swing would also be 1 second. This concept is best seen in music, specifically with a metronome (Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock). In order to stay in rhythm you must maintain the same pace. The adjustment to your golf swing is that you will take the club away from the ball at a slower pace for a ¾ back swing than you would for a 100% back swing. Continuing with the concept the club will move away from the ball slower with a ½ back swing than it would with a ¾ back swing. Once you have begun to be able to adjust your back swing you will notice that the feeling of contacting the ball at the right moment in time. Now you also have an understanding of the terminology "quick". When a player was quick their tempo was wrong.
The next step would be incorporating distance control into your normal golf game. A great example would be if you are standing out on the fairway at your 7 iron distance, but there is a stiff breeze in your face. Rather than over swinging with your 7 iron and hitting a bad shot you could hit a ¾ 5 iron. The best way to practice distance control is next time you go to the range choose a club like a 9 iron. Hit the 9 iron several times and see how far it goes. Now try to hit as many clubs as you can (8 iron - Driver) that same distance.
Finally the true test and gratification will come when you are faced with 20 mph winds and you know exactly what to do to hit that "punch" or "knock down" shot.
Blake Cathey is the PGA Director of Instruction at Kiawah Island Resorts. The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island will be the host of the 2012 PGA Championship.