By Lee Trevino
With Guy Yocom
Photos by Walter Iooss Jr.
Written for Golf Digest
01 The easiest shot is the best shot.
Chi Chi Rodriguez had as good a pair of hands as anybody I ever saw, and more shots than you can imagine. But Chi Chi had a habit of turning simple shots into difficult ones. If he had 140 yards from the middle of the fairway, he would deliberately hit a low hook or a high fade, just for his own amusement or to please the fans. He needed the stimulation, I guess, but it worked against him. Remember, the goal is to get the ball from Point A to Point B in as straightforward a manner as you can. Don’t try circus shots unless you absolutely have to.
02 Simplify draws and fades.
Jack Nicklaus liked to curve the ball by opening or closing the clubface at address. I never felt I was good enough to do it his way. I didn’t like changing my swing path, either, which some guys do. There’s only one really reliable way to curve the ball: Change your hand position at address. If you want to hit a draw, move your hands forward, toward the target, so they hide your left shoe when you look down. Make sure the clubface is square to the target, and then make your normal swing. When you get to impact, your hands will naturally be farther back than that exaggerated position they started in. When the hands move backward, the clubface closes. You don’t have to do anything. To hit a fade, do the opposite: Set up with your hands back, behind the ball. At impact they’ll be more forward, and the face slightly open.
03 Let the club do your shotmaking.
Before the 1987 Skins Game at PGA West, I visited the TaylorMade plant and saw an odd-looking little metal wood in a barrel. It had the number 7 stamped on it, which got my attention because 7-woods were unheard of. “It’s a prototype,” their man said. “Not for sale.” He offered to let me take it home, though. That little club turned out to be the best stick I ever had. I could hit it high or low, draw or fade it, hit it 165 yards or 210, all with barely changing my swing. After I hit a 190-yard fairway-bunker shot over water to five feet on the ninth hole at that Skins Game—a shot I couldn’t possibly have played with an iron—my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Everybody wanted to know where to get a club like mine. The equipment choices today are even better, with all kinds of hybrid and fairway-wood designs. My point is, there’s no sense trying to squeeze something out of your swing if you can let your clubs do the shotmaking for you.
04 To hit it low, crowd the ball.
I always loved hitting a low fade to a back-right pin with the wind howling from the right. Not many guys could get it close in that situation, because they kept it low by just putting the ball back in their stance. You see, playing the ball back turns you into a one-trick pony—you can only hit hooks. The best way to hit it low—and I’ve never talked about this before—is to stand closer to the ball. Flex your knees and crowd the ball so your hands are only a couple inches from your body. You’ll get the feeling that you’re going to hit a shank, so you’ll instinctively straighten your legs and raise your upper body through impact. When you stand up like that, your hands tend to get ahead of the clubhead, delofting the face and setting up a low cut. If this sounds complicated, read it again—it’s worth it. As for hitting it high, the thing that worked best for me was to play the ball forward and make sure I kept my head as far behind the ball as possible through impact. But keep in mind, this is coming from a low-ball hitter.
05 Don’t choke down.
I love watching Anthony Kim play, but I’m not a fan of the way he grips down a good two inches on his full-swing shots. Choking down lightens the club’s swingweight and effectively makes the shaft stiffer. It also makes it difficult to hit the ball high enough for all situations. But the worst thing is, it gets you into the habit of hitting every shot with 100-percent effort: Instead of hitting a smooth 7-iron with a normal grip, the player who chokes down tends to shorten the 7-iron and hammer the hell out of it. I like the idea of gripping down on chips and pitches, because it can give you more control, but avoid doing it with anything longer than a 9-iron.
06 Learn to beat the fluffy lie.
Besides the long bunker shot, the hardest shot in golf is the 80-yard wedge from light rough. The ball has a tendency to “dip,” or fall out of the sky, because it has so little backspin coming out of that lie. How much it dips depends on the exact lie, your swing speed, the wedge you’re using and the swing you make. If you don’t judge those things right, the ball will fly anywhere from five to 20 yards short of normal and with no spin—that means a lot of balls bouncing over or falling short. Learn the nuances of the fluffy lie, and tailor your swing to fit it. This is really the essence of shotmaking: having a good idea how the ball will behave coming out of all the various situations. Take another good one: mud on the ball. From my experience, taking two clubs more and hitting it hard often works. You’ll probably knock the mud off, but then again, it depends on how much mud you’re talking about. You learn those things only by trying them yourself.
07 Don’t invent shots from trouble.
Seve Ballesteros was the best trouble-shot player who ever lived. It didn’t matter how far in the woods you put that guy, he’d find a way to get out. But Seve inadvertently put a lot of big numbers on the scorecards of average players, because he inspired them to take dumb chances. When your ball is in trouble, the desire to save par can really warp your judgment. That opening in the trees is smaller than what you see, the lie worse, the odds of pulling off the shot perfectly much smaller than you probably imagine. Trouble shots usually require you to do something crazy with shot trajectory, and that’s a guessing game even for the best pros. Keep in mind, the trouble shot you’re about to try is a make-or-break deal. You have only one shot at it, and the consequences are more disastrous than on a shot from the fairway. Seve might have played poker when he was in trouble, but the average guy should stick to checkers. Take the shortest route back to short grass, and move on.
08 Weaken a strong grip.
Changing from a strong grip to a neutral or slightly weak one takes time and is not easy, but it’s a great way to become a versatile player. I played in a tournament with Ben Hogan toward the end of his career, around 1970, and even then there wasn’t a shot he couldn’t hit with ease. Mostly he hit the ball dead straight, but he could play all kinds of little squeeze fades and low hooks. What made Ben great was his slightly weak grip, both hands rotated counterclockwise so the “Vs” formed by his thumbs and forefingers pointed at his right ear at address. Shotmaking-wise, it gave him tremendous control. To draw the ball, he just released the club a little more. To hit it straight, he released a little less, and to fade it, he didn’t do anything. You can play good golf with a strong grip; Paul Azinger, David Duval and I are proof of that. But none of us is known for drawing the ball. When we tried, we hit too many duck hooks.
09 Get creative with the putter, too.
You want to make the same stroke on most putts, but sometimes it pays to customize it. If you’ve got a quick downhill putt, hover the putterhead off the ground at address. This will smooth out a short stroke and take away any urge to stab at the ball. On long uphill putts, address the ball out on the toe, because with a longer stroke you’ll tend to hit the ball closer to the heel than where you set it at address. Right-to-left putts: Put the ball back in your stance to catch it earlier in the stroke, when the putter is still moving outward and the face is open. Left-to-right putts: Lean your hands down the target line in an exaggerated forward press. As with full swings, this will help you close the face through impact.
10 Don’t overload your pet club.
Remember the 7-wood I told you about? The ending isn’t happy. At the 1991 Senior Players Championship, I had a chance to catch the leader, Jim Albus, with two holes to play. On the par-5 17th my drive left me 215 yards to a green fronted by water. It was on the outside limit of my little 7-wood, and my caddie, Herman Mitchell, wanted me to lay up. “Mr. Albus has never won a tournament, Lee,” Herman said, hinting that maybe Jim might choke if I played safe. But I loved that club so much I knew I could pull the shot off. I hit the 7-wood and just nailed it. I was still posing my finish when my ball bounced off the bulkhead in front of the green and into the water. I had so much confidence in that 7-wood, it made me greedy. Be careful with your pet club. If you expect too much of it, it’ll turn on you.
A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness
I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why? They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.
The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.
To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.
So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand? Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.
Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?
Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.
Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.
When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.
The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.
As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.
So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!
6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick
One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.
However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.
So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.
1) Avoid Sucker Pins
I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.
Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.
So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.
2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?
A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.
For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.
3) Hitting the Correct Shelf
I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.
If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.
4) Know your Carry Distances
In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.
My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.
5) When do you have the Green Light?
Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:
- How are you hitting the ball that day?
- How is your yardage control?
- What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
- Do you have a backstop behind the pin?
It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.
6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?
There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”
Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.
Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!
Is There An Ideal Backswing?
In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.
TaylorMade and Sergio Garcia part ways after 15 years… where to next?
Check out Tiger’s new golf swing and prototype “TGR” blade irons
Return of the K Sig: Costco’s Kirkland Signature golf ball is back
Spotted: A TaylorMade “M4” driver (via Instagram)
Costco “K Sig” golf ball buyers, don’t forget who you’re hurting
Match of the Ages: 30 Years of Tech Goes Head to Head
Callaway (finally) launches new Apex MB and X Forged irons
Former employee at “The Oven” confirms Nike made Tiger’s TGR blade irons
GolfWRX Members Vote: “Which manufacturer made Tiger’s TGR prototype irons?”
See what GolfWRX members are saying about Titleist’s new AVX golf balls
European Tour commish: We have to look beyond 72-hole stroke play tournaments
Keith Pelley, European Tour commissioner, whose preference for innovative golf formats is nearly as well known as his preference for...
Are advanced stats overrated? Some GolfWRX members think so.
On the instruction side of our fair game, we see plenty of impassioned exchanges between the anti-Trackman set and proponents...
Billy Horschel, Brandel Chamblee battle on Twitter re: Tiger’s swing
Yes, friends, Billy Horschel and Brandel Chamblee traded barbs on Twitter. And while the specific issue, Tiger Woods’ swing, gets...
Who’s the best golfer without a major right now?
In this week’s episode of “Yo, GolfWRX?!” equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky cover a wide variety of...
Equipment1 week ago
Spotted: A TaylorMade “M4” driver (via Instagram)
Opinion & Analysis2 weeks ago
Match of the Ages: 30 Years of Tech Goes Head to Head
Opinion & Analysis3 weeks ago
See what GolfWRX members are saying about Titleist’s new AVX golf balls
Opinion & Analysis2 weeks ago
Hybrids or Long Irons? A Teacher’s Perspective
Equipment3 weeks ago
Spotted: Titleist’s new Vokey SM7 wedges
Equipment4 days ago
10 things you need to know about Cobra’s new King F8 lineup for 2018
19th Hole1 week ago
Tiger Woods: I can’t go back to my 2000 swing, so stop asking me to
News3 weeks ago
Carl’s Golfland opens new TrackMan Range, entire range equipped with TrackMan