Winning with Adam Scott
To improve at this game you have to work on several different elements - both mental and physical. With that in mind, here are 10 pointers that I believe have been critical to my success over the last 12 months.
It doesn't matter whether you are a beginner or a scratch player, applying some of these ideas this season will help you to take your game to a higher level.
There's a saying that a little knowledge goes a long way, and when it comes to playing golf courses, that's certainly very true. The trouble is, as a professional, you're always going to be presented with golf courses that you've never played before (especially true in your first years as a pro).
Consequently, I've found it very helpful to put in a little research on any new course, to help me develop a game-plan. I'll look at how the course is made up - whether there are lots of 400-yard-plus par-fours, or short par-fours, or reachable par-fives. I'll also identify where the potential trouble is and what shape of shot the holes tend to favour (i.e. whether they dogleg left or right).
If I know what to expect, I might vary the composition of my set of clubs for a particular tournament or course - maybe choosing a particular type of loft or bounce for a wedge, for example. These are all things you can do at a club level, too. If you are going to play a new course for the first time, ask around your friends that may have played there before. Phone the pro at the club and ask them to fax or post you a scorecard, or look up the course on the internet.
My experience has taught me that it's crucial that starting a new tournament, I must be confident and professional in my game plan. Just turning up and playing the course a few times in practice is not sufficient preparation. It might have been in my amateur days, but it certainly isn't when you are up against the world's best players.
Golf isn't about one shot, or even one hole. It's all about rounds of 18 holes or, for pros, tournaments over 72 holes.
One of the biggest things I've learned is that you really have to keep a cool head when things turn momentarily ugly. Sure, it's important to get off to a good start, but when you don't, that's no reason to panic.
Applied to club golfers, let's say you have only three stableford points after your first three holes. Often that can be better than starting out with three three-pointers, as the weight of expectation can cause you to lose patience and surrender a good start.
On the other hand, and with patience, a poor start can help you to relax. My bet is there have been plenty of times when you have clawed your way back from a bad start to beat your handicap.
The same applies to me. I focus on being patient at all times on the course. Whereas in the past I may have tried to force things after, say, three-putting for par after reaching a par-five in two, I now know to let it go. Other opportunities will present themselves; if I dwell too much on what might have been, it can destroy my chances over the long term.
Applied to precise shot-making, I've raised the bar when it comes to assessing my chances of success. If I don't feel 100% committed to a particular shot, I won't try it. Anything less than that and I reassess the options open to me and play the safest shot. Being 100% committed to the shot gives the best chance of success; anything less and danger lurks.
Take the par-five 17th hole at Wentworth, venue for the World Matchplay, as an example. I used to hit driver and try to hit a high draw around the corner, to leave a shorter second shot in. Now I play this hole with a 2-iron off the tee, just making sure I get the ball on the fairway, and attack the hole from there. Last year, in my match against Sergio Garcia, I hit two tee shots out-of-bounds on this hole, losing my lead in the process. Looking back, this loose thinking probably cost me the match, as the momentum swung to Sergio after my mistake.
That might sound like I've become a more conservative player-although I prefer to think of it as just becoming a smarter player. And there is no doubt that a similar approach can help you to lower scores.
HOW TO SCORE WHEN YOUR BALL-STRIKING IS OFF
We all know the feeling - no matter what you do, you just cannot seem to hit solid shots and the ball just doesn't go where you want it to.
That's part and parcel of playing golf, just like the times when everything is going right. But you can't pull out of the event when things are bad, so what to do?
With the tournament season being as long as it is, there are a number of times during the year when my game is just not firing...and it can last for a day, a week or a month. I soon learned that scoring well in these times was going to be critical to my survival, so I developed a series of checks and balances to apply.
During the Trophee Lancome last year, I knew at the start of the week it was going to be tough. My game was scratchy, my body was struggling, and it all felt like hard work. I knew that to score well was going to require a different approach, so I developed some 'Band Aid' solutions. These emergency do's and don't's stopped the bleeding, and I finished 11th.
You can apply this sort of checklist to your own game when it all feels lousy, and I think you'll be surprised at how well you can score.
1). Reduce your expectations - be satisfied with a reasonable score for the day. Tomorrow it all might feel good again!
2). Play the easiest shot - when there's a choice, just play the shot that carries less risk, so that you limit the downside.
3). Focus on your short game - this is where you can really save yourself some shots and make up for a less than perfect ball-striking long game; 4). Be mentally tough - when your game's off, you really have to grind it out and not let bad shots get you down. This takes patience and a good game plan, realising that your normal strategy may not be right for that round.
Being able to 'tough-out' the bad weeks has been a major reason for my consistency this season, and it is a trait that I've noticed in most of the great players. If you can score OK when things aren't that good with your game, you are going to do really well when things get back to normal.
TRY THE 'FALL-BACK SWING' UNDER PRESSURE
Top level professional golf is full of pressure situations, whether it be on a Sunday afternoon, when the tournament is there to be won, or just critical moments in a round when one shot can make or break the whole week.
As I have played more events, and been faced with more and more of these situations, I have realised the value of having a solid, dependable fall-back shot - particularly an iron shot for the must-hit-the-green situation.
At times like this, I go for what I know is a simple, more reliable shot. To do this, my main focus, as you can see here, is on finishing my swing with an abbreviated follow-through. By minimising my follow-through, I find that I eliminate a lot of the hand action in the swing, the result being that I keep the club on the target line a little longer through the ball. Simply put, there are less moving parts, less to go wrong, and so the chances of a straight shot are enhanced.
This action costs me a little distance, so to compensate I usually just take one more club than the distance would normally dictate - a small price to pay for the knowledge that I am playing my most reliable shot, which helps to relieve the pressure of the situation.
When I won in South Africa last year, I used this shot twice in the last round - on the 13th hole I hit 8-iron into the green, and the shot hit the flag stick (it rebounded off the green, just showing that sometimes golf just isn't fair!), while on the 17th I hit a similar shot to four feet. Both times the ability to hit a clutch shot with confidence took away some of the pressure and was certainly part of my winning that tournament.
With a little practice, you can find your own fall-back swing, something that you can trust when the heat is on. It will come in handy on the last hole of your club championship.
EXPLODING FROM THE LONG GRASS
One thing that we are faced with more and more at tournament venues is the short recovery shot around the green, with the ball nestling in thick long grass.
This is a shot we don't see as much of in Australia as overseas, although some of the resort courses in Queensland, with their thick Bermuda grasses, have areas like this to cause you the odd problem.
At the USPGA Championship last year I was faced with this shot almost every time I missed a green, and it is a shot that I will have to keep working on as I play more events in the US.
Playing this shot takes a lot of nerve, not to mention the right technique. The first thing to do is to sum up whether it is the right shot to play - basically you must be no more than 15-20 yards from the hole, generally with the pin on the short side. In this situation, you know there is really no other shot that can get the ball close to the hole.
Once you are certain it's the right shot, there are a number of specific things you can do to increase your chances of pulling it off. Here's what I do:
- Set up with your body line open (i.e. facing left of target)
- Swivel the grip of the club through your fingers to get the face open (like a sand shot)
- Settle the majority of your weight centre/left side
- Adopt a slightly wider stance than normal from this position around the green
- Make a slightly shorter swing
The absolutely critical thing is
to 'stop' at impact, with no hand release - virtually the opposite of all other shots. This way, the ball will come out high and soft and stop quite quickly. If you follow-through as you would with other shots, the ball will come out spinning, hitting the green with top-spin.
The shot takes a lot of wrist strength and has a high degree of risk, so it really is something you need to practise before trying it on the course. But it may well save you a shot or two.
THE PRE-ROUND WARM-UP
When I first started playing tournaments, I treated every moment on the range as a practice session. As with all practice sessions, I was working on specific technical things, and was hard on myself when I wasn't doing what I set out to do. After a while I realised that the time for practising like that was after the round, or before the tournament started. I watched the best players and observed that they were using their pre-round time to literally warm up their bodies, develop a rhythm and observe how the ball was flying that day.
So I started to change my own habits. Now I follow a more relaxed pattern. Where previously I might go through nearly all the clubs in my bag, trying to shape shots and grind away, I now think about purely warming up. I start by swinging two clubs together, just trying to get my body loose. I then hit a few short pitch shots to get a feel for the club in my hands, and progress to some mid irons, a few 3-wood shots and a few drivers.
What I am trying to do is ensure my body is loose and to learn how it feels before I start playing. Also, I use this time to observe the ball flight - and that's key. If I find I am hitting some little draws on the range, then I will accept that as my shape for the day and plot my strategy accordingly.
I suggest you do the same -just get loose before you play and go out trusting what you have seen on the range. Apart from everything else, you will start your round with a positive mental attitude and in a relaxed frame of mind.
HITTING THE DRIVER 'UNDER' THE WIND
Playing in Europe we often encounter windy conditions. Most of the courses in Australia, being situated near the coastline, are the same. The wind can play havoc with all shots, but on a really windy day you are in big trouble if you can't find the fairway with your driver. I have found this to be crucial in putting together solid rounds in tough conditions, and so I have worked hard on developing a driver shot that flies low to 'cheat' the wind.
To do this, I first position the ball a little further back in my stance than normal, and tee it a little lower (not by much, but enough to make a difference). I then focus on making my swing plane more shallow and rounded than normal, to accentuate the sweeping motion that gives you that low trajectory. But here is the real key - the shot needs to be played with a feeling of there being no hand action, the left wrist bowing through impact. This has the effect of the hands leading the clubhead through the ball, which lowers the flight.
This is a shot that you can master with a little practice, no matter whether you like to tee off with a driver or 3-wood. Just concentrate on the bowed wrist feeling, the hands leading the clubhead. Blowy days will no longer be such hard work to record a decent score.
BETTER BUNKER SHOTS
One of the toughest bunker shots we all have to play is when we have 'short-sided ourselves - being in a green side trap with the pin close to that side of the green.
Being on the same side of the green as the pin means there is little green to play with, so it is really critical to have the ball coming out on the intended line, and not taking any side spin when it lands, as with a normal explosion.
Minimising this side spin is the key to getting the ball close to the pin, and I have worked hard on this shot over the last year. Being a fairly aggressive player, I can sometimes find myself just missing a green to a tight pin and having to make a tough up-and-down to save par.
Here's what I do. First, keep the clubface open (as for a normal bunker shot) but aim the feet and shoulders more at the target. Then swing a little
more shallow and keep the clubhead travelling down the line at the target for as long as possible through impact.
This action produces a very soft ball flight, with little or no side spin. Like I said, the side spin is the killer on this shot - if the ball comes out spinning it will be magnified by the green's slope, and before you know it, the ball will be miles from the pin.
The more height that is
needed for the shot, the more I flip my wrists through impact -thus increasing the open face angle on the club.
It's not the easiest shot in the world, but it's certainly one that will save you shots. Try it out in the practice bunker, and remember to keep the tempo of the swing constant as you vary the length of your swing to vary the distance you land the ball. I guarantee you will get up and down more often.
MY MOST VALUABLE PUTTING KEY
The major thing I've been working on with my putting over the last year or so involves maintaining the angle formed at the back of my left wrist with the angle of the putter shaft.
My coach, Butch Harmon, says that as long as this angle remains constant, the ball will always start out with less skid, rolling on the correct line - and if the ball starts on the line you have chosen, then one of the most important variables is taken care of.
You just have to choose the right line, and hit the putt at the right speed!
But when this wrist angle breaks down during the stroke, as you see opposite, the putter gets ahead of your hands, which leads to an imprecise stroke and means there's less chance of the ball starting on the right line.
Basically, it boils down to creating a pure roll. If the left wrist and the putter shaft stay in line there is no effective change in loft on the putter, so the ball will come out rolling sooner on the green, and will immediately roll to the break of the green.
I find that limiting my putting thoughts also helps me make a better stroke, as I don't like to have too many things bouncing around in my head at any one time.
I tend to think more about feel now, and I am making more and more putts as a result.
If you're taking a few too many putts per round, try it out - it just might be the key to developing a consistent putting action, and winning a few more bets with your mates.