Sam Burns showed some exceptional wedge play on the way to his first PGA Tour victory this week at the Valspar Championship. His domination was due in large part to his precision and ability to hit scoring shots on the Copperhead course. If you are looking for some crisp contact like Sam with your scoring clubs there’s a lesson to be learned from his pre-shot routine and takeaway.
Poor short iron shots can result from a steep angle of attack on the ball. Think of impact being the bottom of the capital letter “V” rather than a “U.” The round bottom of a U is a much healthier way to approach the ball. As any PGA Coach will tell you, steep downswings can lead to poor contact and in some cases injury. By healthier, we actually mean better for the long-term sustainability of your game!
How does Burns’ little visual cue help him hit such crisp scoring shots? Our propensity to swing steeper only increases as the clubs get shorter in our bag. To avoid that dreaded downswing flaw you can see Sam starts his swing with a brief backswing cue. Watch Burns as he takes the club away. He’s making a very specific motion keeping the club shaft and head very straight as he begins the backswing.
This is the key; the average golfer has a tendency to take the club more around their body. Stand up and grab a club from the garage, trunk or family room. If you’re reading PGA.com, you know there’s one propped up nearby. Get against a wall in your address position. Your backside should be touching the wall. Make sure there’s enough room alongside the wall for a full takeaway. We don’t go up with this demonstration, so the ceiling won’t pose a problem.
Start your takeaway. Watch what happens to the club. It should not go near the wall. Make a full takeaway getting the club to hip height. Again, the club should not touch the wall. Most of you will notice the shaft and club head approaching the wall quite quickly. If you are one of those with a takeaway where the club goes around too quickly try this drill the next time you’re at the practice range.
Begin with a 9 iron or pitching wedge. Pull the headcover off of your driver. The headcover should rest on the target line about two club lengths behind the ball. Position a second golf ball behind your club when you are at address. You should be staring at two balls surrounding your clubhead at this point. One in front and one behind. Start your takeaway and knock that second (behind) ball back toward the headcover. Your takeaway will determine the direction you knock the ball backward. Start that takeaway by bringing the club around you, and that ball will miss the headcover target on the player side.
Continue training your initial takeaway by trying to knock the ball straight back and hit the headcover. This rehearsal will help you focus on that Burns backswing move. By keeping the club along the target line extended during the takeaway you’ll create more width in the backswing. Once you get good at knocking the ball straight back, try the drill again and this time take a full backswing and then back down and strike the ball. Creating more arc in the takeaway will allow more space for the club to approach the ball from a much shallower angle of attack in the downswing.
At first this move may feel a little bit like a backswing loop but consider this: Those who take the club around in the takeaway and attack steeply have a loop as well, it’s just reversed. By doing this drill and focusing on a better initial takeaway you can reverse the curse and start to shallow out your short irons like Burns’ brilliant approaches in Tampa Bay this weekend.
Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.