By Matthew Rudy
The combination of weather and less familiar conditions (for Americans) often makes the Open Championship a contest of shot selection. If you can’t adjust for wind, moisture and topography, you’re in for a short week. We asked Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Tony Ruggiero to describe some of the shot shapes required to succeed this week—and how you can fuse some slivers of new technique into your game—no matter where you play.
The driver stinger: Beat the wind from below
Tiger made the term “stinger” famous with his low, bullet 2-irons that he used to slice up Open venues like a scalpel. His technique was to play the ball slightly back and keep his weight on his front side through the swing, while feeling like his hands didn’t go up much past his chest. A lot of players have never seen a 2-iron, but it doesn’t mean that shot is obsolete.
Here, Joaquin Niemann is hitting it with a driver at the Genesis Invitational on a day when the wind was howling and he wanted to keep it out of the breeze. He did something any player can do when less height would work better. Instead of moving the ball back (like you’ve always been told to hit it low), he moves it slightly toward the target, which forces him to turn through and get his chest over the ball to hit it. That move promotes the delofting that makes this shot work.
Here’s Niemann executing the shot:
The launch: Getting natural height
Driver technology is awesome, and it really helps you hit it far and straight. But even with all the help, you need to make sure you’re getting set up to launch the ball correctly. You can see here that Brandon Hagy makes a subtle movement with his shoulders before he hits, letting the trail shoulder drop lower. By setting his shoulders and posture the way he does, he’s pre-setting the way the club will come through the ball—which means he won’t have to do anything extra with his hands. That’s a big thing tour players understand that average golfers miss. Trying to yank the club around to make the shot do what you want is not a recipe for consistency. This little pre-set move gets Brandon’s posture just right, and he’s able to turn into his right hip on the backswing and avoid backing up on the downswing. The result is big bombs, naturally.
Watch how Hagy does that below:
Flighted irons: Make your approaches wind resistant
Ruggiero spent five years working with Lucas Glover, and Ruggiero says he’s as good as anyone he’s ever seen at hitting his irons with controlled low trajectory. He does it with every club, and the goal is to flight and shape the shot to match what he needs in each situation. Does that mean you need to try to punch a bunch of iron shots next time you play? Not necessarily. What you should do is start thinking about how height affects your shots along with distance and curve, he says.
One huge side benefit of that process? Glover hits this controlled height shot by playing the ball back and staying centered over the shot and staying in his posture. If all you did was substitute a center ball position and did those other things, you’d actually hit it higher and harder! When your low point is consistently in the same place, you’re going to hit better shots.
Watch how Glover does it below:
The off-speed shot: Turning some power off
One of the biggest misconceptions you’ll hear about playing in windy conditions comes when players want to hit a shot with less than full speed. Oftentimes what you’ll see—even from tour players (but not from Cam Champ here!)—is that they’ll make the same size backswing, but then slow things down in the downswing. But that deceleration move usually messes up the sequencing of the swing and you get bad contact. Let’s say you have a shot where you want to control the distance and spin in the wind and make sure you hit the fairway. Instead of slowing your downswing or making less of a pivot, choke down on the grip a little and make a shorter backswing. Then make your same, aggressive downswing—just with less swing size.
Here’s Champ pulling off the shot:
The power fade: Take one side out of play
Dustin Johnson does a lot of things the average player just can’t do—like play with that huge bend in his wrists and effortlessly hold off his release and still bomb it 320. But the more important thing to take away from the shot shape you see here is that DJ built his swing in a way that makes sure he doesn’t miss in two directions. For years, he used to hit about as many draws as he did fades. The draws went way longer, but every once in a while, one of the draws would go off the world. Butch Harmon asked him why he bothered with that shot when the fade was reliable and plenty long. Dustin decided to hit virtually all fades, and here he is ranked No. 1 in the world.
Your goal for 2021 should be to work on clubface control to the point where your directional mistake is entirely predictable. That’s the first step to really good golf.
Here’s DJ controlling his tee shots:
The laser: Add roll to your drives
Yes, Bryson DeChambeau stirs up a lot of conversation. But regardless of what you think about him, he’s incredible in how hard he works to optimize launch with his body, his technique and his equipment. Using a driver with five degrees of loft, he smashes that relatively flat face with an upward attack angle, producing tee shots that look more like laser beams than those soaring home runs your favorite power hitter sends into the upper deck.
It remains to be seen how soggy St. George’s will accommodate shots that come in with a steep landing angle, but Bryson’s roll out plays anywhere. What does that mean for you? Go get a fitting to make sure your driver is producing the ideal combination of loft and spin. And don’t be afraid to change to a ball that gives you more bounding runners, even if it’s at the expense of some iron spin. If you’re two clubs closer to the green, descent angle will more than offset that loss.
Watch one of those Bryson lasers below:
The safe play: Mastering long irons off the tee
Not to harp on Tiger, but he really was incredible in how he was able to plot his way around a course and execute his plan. When he won at St. Andrews without hitting in a single bunker, you noticed that he teed the ball really low on every shot. You can see that’s what Collin Morikawa is doing below, too. Morikawa is a real artist with shapes and trajectories, and he knows that a low tee promotes that downward impact with the hands slightly ahead. He’s taking loft off the face, turning a 6-iron effectively into a 4-iron. He can take off speed and spin and get the ball running on the ground. Another great feel you can take from this clip? When you hit your shots, get your trail shoulder and trail hip to move down and around past where the ball was right after impact. When your upper or lower body stall out, you aren’t pivoting and producing the easy speed that makes these shots seem so routine for players like Morikawa.
Watch Morikawa’s move below: