By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – On an absolutely perfect Bermuda morning at Port Royal Golf Course, the 29th edition of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf festivities began Monday with a Champions Clinic.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Open Champion Darren Clarke and PGA Champion Keegan Bradley were all on hand at the picturesque par-3 16th hole to display their world-class skills for a welcoming crowd, including a large contingent of elementary school-aged children, who were delighted when each of the players stopped by to say hello and sign some autographs.
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy was a little late due to travel, but just as gracious when he arrived for his portion of the clinic a couple of hours later on the tee at the par-4 17th.
Along with taking in the outstanding talents of 2011’s major winners, the spectators at the Champions Clinic also served as a live studio audience.
PGA Professional Michael Breed presented each of the four major winners, asking questions about each shot as a couple of cameramen filmed segments for his popular Golf Channel show, “The Golf Fix.”
Clarke started the clinic. He hit tee shots at the daunting, but breathtaking, 235-yard par 3 that is carved into a cliff along the clearest blue water in the Atlantic Ocean.
Hitting a 4-iron off the tee, Clarke struck two shots that found the left-hand side of the green about pin-high and 30 or so feet away from the hole. Without much warm-up time beforehand, Clarke quipped, “That’s quite good!”
From there, Breed asked Clarke about his approach to playing shots in the wind. Clarke explained that he likes to keep the ball positioned farther back in his stance to deliver a steeper, more penetrating blow in order to control the trajectory of the ball, noting that controlling the trajectory is the most important aspect of a player’s game when playing in windy conditions.
Clarke showed the audience a couple of drills he uses to create the feeling of the positions he’s looking to have for swings in the wind.
Once Clarke wrapped up, the clinic moved ahead to the small fairway just in front of the 16th green. Schwartzel was there to display his chipping prowess, which was arguably his biggest asset in the final round of the 2011 Masters.
Breed noted Schwartzel’s white-hot start in that final round at Augusta National, which included a chip-in birdie at the first hole and a hole-out from the fairway for eagle at No. 3, before piecing together arguably the best finish in Masters history with four birdies in succession on the final four holes. Then, Breed asked Schwartzel to show everyone how he did it.
Schwartzel proceeded to hit a couple of chip shots, explaining to Breed and the audience that the possibilities around the green are endless when it comes to the short game. He talked about the strategy he uses, which changes on every shot. For this particular chip, Schwartzel was lining the ball up off his front heel and hitting a sand wedge into a little mound in the middle of the green and letting the ball release to the hole.
It was a difficult shot that Schwartzel made look quite easy.
Bradley then took over the clinic, armed with the belly putter that has helped him script one of the best rookie campaigns ever.
Bradley told Breed he switched to a belly putter from a conventional putter about two years ago.
“With the belly putter, the distance from your body to the ball is consistent on every stroke,” Bradley said. “That’s why I like it. You just set the end of the grip right into your belly button and then address the ball. It’s the same every time, which wasn’t the case for me with a conventional putter.”
You can’t argue with the results, either – two wins, highlighted by a major, in his first season on the PGA Tour. Of his three putts from 10 feet on Monday, Bradley holed two of them and just missed one on the right edge.
McIlroy was last to take part in the clinic and a little tardy at that. … but don’t worry. It wasn’t because of a few of those delicious Dark ‘n Stormy drinks the night before. The young star from Northern Ireland was traveling to Bermuda from a tournament in China.
He made his way to Port Royal straight from the airport after landing in Bermuda around noon. Despite flying from Hong Kong to Los Angeles to Bermuda, McIlroy wasn’t showing any signs of jetlag. His assignment for the clinic was to hit driver – a club that he was clinical with during his eight-shot victory in the U.S. Open at Congressional.
After just five warm-up shots with a mid-iron, McIlroy told Breed he was ready to step to the tee and hit driver at the par-4 17th hole.
McIlroy explained that with driver, he focuses on his balance and stability at address, standing with his feet further apart than with any other club. From there, he likes to keep the club wide on the way back to get in a solid position to unload.
McIlroy smoked one down the center of the fairway, and Breed joked, “I can’t even see that far!”