What you can learn from Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker at The John Deere Classic:
The John Deere Classic at The TPC Deer Run has been owned by Steve Stricker over the last three years.
Three times a champion, the likeable Wisconsin native may very likely have considered relocation to Silvis, IL, such was his affinity with the golf course. Don’t believe me, well then consider this: Since the tournament was relocated to the TPC Deer Run and including this year’s edition of the event, in which Stricker shot 16 under par, he is 120 under par. In fact with him being paired in the final twosome today (with tournament-leader, Troy Matteson) everyone bar a very brave few were already conceding a fourth title in a row to Stricker.
However Zach Johnson had other ideas. A final round 65 thrust him to the top of the leaderboard and only some late heroics, in the form of a 60-foot eagle putt on the penultimate hole and a par-save on the home-hole, from Troy Matteson kept Johnson from winning the tournament in regulation play.
Matteson and Johnson went to a sudden-death playoff on the 18th and both made scrappy double-bogeys to extend the suspense. On the second hole of the playoff Zach Johnson delivered what he termed “my shot of the week.” After his tee-shot came to rest in a fairway bunker he struck a 6-iron from about 190 yards to within inches from the hole. He tapped in for the winning birdie and his second victory in 2012 and the ninth title of his career.
I have always been a fan of both Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker and I respect them and their games immensely. With that noted I want to highlight two lessons you can learn from these two great champions:
How to hit the fairway bunker shot crisply: Zach Johnson’s playoff approach shot from a fairway bunker was certainly one of the shots of the year to date. The moxie to take on the shot; the skill required, the timing and the degree of difficulty (the shot was played to a pin cut on the back, left side of the green close to a hazard) certainly make it one for the ages. Indeed I would not recommend that a player of average skill attempt it.
What I can recommend however are a few ideas that Zach employed and exhibited. Ideas that, if applied, will help you to hit the fairway bunker shot more consistently and crisply:
• Assess the lip of the bunker and select a club that will elevate the ball over the edge without much bother;
• Grip a few inches down the club and play the ball toward the middle of the stance;
• Eliminate excess leg action and drive and strive for as stable a swing as possible;
• Make a three-quarter swing and keep your chest high through impact as this will eliminate the tendency to hit too much sand – remember that if anything, you want to catch the fairway bunker shot slightly thin; and
• Finally, focus on a dimple on the front side of the ball and keep your focus on that throughout the backswing and downswing – this will aid in stabilizing the swing and ensuring ball and then sand contact.
• I also want to recommend that you devote time to practicing from a fairway bunker. Not only will it equip you to handle the shot better, it will improve your ball-striking from the fairway. Just like Seve Ballesteros who, as a young golfer, used to hit balls with a 3-iron on the beach close to his home for practice.
How to hit wedge shots accurately: In my opinion, Steve Stricker’s performance with his wedge (inside 120 yards) is even more impressive than his renowned proficiency with his putter. In the first round of the 2012 John Deere Classic, among other good approach shots with short clubs, Stricker holed a wedge-shot from 80 yards on the 14th hole for eagle. The eagle was the catalyst to a stretch of five holes played in four-under par and the surge ended in a back nine six-under par 30 for a first round 65.
Steve Stricker is a really good model and there are a few things that he does with a wedge in his hand that you can incorporate in your technique to aid in getting those wedge shots closer to the hole:
• Do not overpower your short irons because by definition, they are meant to move the ball a short distance so be true to that whenever you have one in your hand;
• Play the ball around the middle of the stance;
• Make a three-quarter backswing and hinge your wrists less than normal;
• Employ a sedate and controlled leg action with minimal footwork to build a sound foundation to the swing;
• Maintain even grip pressure throughout the swing and strive to keep the hands and wrists quiet through impact; and
• Finish in a balanced fashion with your belt-buckle pointing toward the target and your arms in front of you.
• Further consider this: Practicing with your wedge is probably the best way to work on your swing because the wedge does not come with a power-stigma attached to it. Therefore, you can hit wedges for a full session and your form will more than likely remain sharp throughout because you will not expend too much energy. Hence practicing with your wedge only will do your game a lot of good.
Play well and enjoy our great game.
- Tags: Fairway bunker, Golf Tips, John Deere Classic, PGA TOUR, Silvis IL, Steve Stricker, Sudden death playoff, Troy Matteson, Wedge, Zach Johnson,
- Category: Tip Blog