Champions are champions because they hit the big shot at the biggest moment. And while it might seem like some of the best shots of the year, like Tiger Woods’ at the Masters, Gary Woodland’s at the U.S. Open and Suzanne Pettersen’s at the Solheim Cup are almost superhero-quality stuff, there are lessons you can take from those shots to apply to your own game.
We asked Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Michael Jacobs from Jacobs3D Golf on Long Island to pick 10 favorite shots of 2019, and offer a sliver of instruction advice based on each one. Jacobs’ recurring theme? Staying in control of your game and your swing.
1. Tiger Woods—Masters, final round, 12th hole
Was there a more exciting time this year than when Tiger took the lead on Sunday at Augusta? And the way he did it was so fun to watch, too. He wasn’t out there overpowering the golf course like he did in the 1990s and 2000s. He was making good choices. Take the 12th hole—where Molinari and Koepka both hit it in the water. Tiger knew that you can’t win the Masters there, but you can lose it if you hit it in the water. He picked a boring, low-drama shot to the safe segment of the green and two-putted for par. A lot of weekend players get up on the tee and they’re not sure what club to hit, or they don’t know if they’re hitting it solid. The indecision is what kills them. The next time you’re playing and you’re having a bad day with the driver, just commit to hitting a hybrid off every tee. Stay in play and take big numbers off the card.
2. Gary Woodland—U.S. Open, final round, 17th hole
Woodland got a lot of attention for clipping that little pitch shot from one area of the green to the other, and it was definitely a high-pressure shot that ended up helping him save an important late par and go on to win his first major. But when your technique is as good as his, the tightness of the lie really isn’t a big deal. That really clean contact comes from not pushing the handle forward through impact and just letting the club swing. You can work on this feel at your club or at the range. Go to a fringe area on a practice hole or to a fake putting green and hit clean little chips with a 6-iron, focusing on letting the club swing and getting that brush on the turf. You’ll know right away if you’re doing it right (or wrong!).
- Suzann Pettersen—Solheim Cup, final day
The lesson to take from Pettersen’s clutch putt? It’s great to have the best skills, but you also need to have the right preparation and the right mind-set to succeed in the biggest moment. For one, you better be prepared. You can’t be hunting for a new technique or doing something totally different in your pre-shot routine. The trick is not being “extra” ready for an extraordinary moment. It’s doing the exact same thing you do at the regular moment. And the mindset? I like it when my players are pumped for the opportunity to try to win as opposed to being afraid or nervous.
4. Jeff Maggert—Charles Schwab Cup Championship, playoff hole
This moment was interesting on so many levels. Maggert holed his iron shot from the fairway to win a tournament, which is obviously a big deal, and the shot also clinched the season-long championship for Scott McCarron. It really shows you that you have to do your own thing and worry about your own score because everything else is out of your control. Players can beat you with heroic shots, or a player somewhere else on the golf course can make a big mistake or a great shot to change the leaderboard without you even knowing what’s going on. All you can do is do you.
5. Jon Rahm—DP World Tour Championship, final round, 18th hole
Must be nice to have a fabulous short game to go with bombing it off the tee! Rahm got up and down from about 35 yards in sand to not only win the DP World Tour Championship but clinch player of the year honors in Europe. Judging distance on longer bunker shots like this one can be a challenge if you make the mistake many weekend players do. When you take a bigger swing on a longer bunker shot, you tend to make a steeper swing and dig deeper. But that causes you to hit it heavy and short, which in turn encourages you to take an even bigger swing on the next shot. The next time you practice in the bunker, focus on controlling how much sand you take when you make swings of different sizes. As the shots get longer, you actually want to take less sand and hit the ball more like a pitch shot, not blast a bunch more sand out.
- Sei Young Kim—CME Group LPGA Championship, final hole
What a cool shot to make to win the biggest single paycheck in women’s golf. The awesome thing about this putt is that it shows how great Kim’s speed control is. With that much break, you can’t just ram the ball into the back of the cup. Whether you’re a tour player or a 95-shooter, the overwhelming majority of your putting success comes from controlling speed vs. controlling your read or line. If you can accurately judge speed, even the worst green reader of all time is going to have a lot of tap-ins. Build a mechanism in your stroke that lets you calibrate speed—for example, by linking the amount of backswing to how far the ball ends up going. I tell all my players the same thing: If you’re great at speed, the game gets so much easier.
- Shane Lowry—Open Championship, 10th hole, final round
It’s the less-than-perfect lies that show just how good tour players are at striking the ball. You can actually see how Lowry’s through-swing gets affected by all the grass—and you can tell he literally grew up playing in these conditions. There’s no magic fairy dust I can give you for hitting these kinds of shots, but I can tell you that virtually nobody practices them. The next time it’s a little wet, windy and cold, go play a practice round and get reps hitting shots from wet, heavy lies. And be sure to keep in mind that these shots aren’t supposed to be easy. But they are a lot easier when you can draw from recent experience.
8. Jin Young Ko—Evian Championship
It’s fun to look at big, powerful golf swings, but the best LPGA players have swings that can be more accessible for the average player male or female. Look at Ko’s top of the backswing position for a master class on how to hit short irons. The handle is right above her right shoulder—where if she stopped and let go, the club would hit her in the shoulder. Players who struggle with these shots get the handle flat and around the body, so they have to shove it outward and around in a short time frame to get back to the ball. Her swing looks effortless because she isn’t having to jerk the club back into position.
9. Hannah Green—KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
Distance wedges can mess up even 10-handicappers because they require finesse but with functional body movement. Many players are afraid to use their bodies on these shots, so they make a fast arm swing and try to steer the ball at impact. Look at Green here and you can see she’s just making a body motion and letting the ball get in the way of the swing. You can get that feel by making three or four dry practice swings as though you’re hitting a 50-yard pitch, but with no ball. After the last one, move right to a ball and make the same swing.
10. Tiger Woods—Presidents Cup, first day
Remember when Tiger had the chipping yips? It’s safe to say those are gone. His chipping problems happened because he did the same things you probably doo. He tended to crash the club into the ground and he was reacting to it by trying to save it with his hands. To get a much flatter, sweeping chipping and pitching stroke, get your favorite chipping club built a little more flat than normal and work on all these little green-side shots, just scraping the ground. Make the club move more around you, not steeply up and down.