Ernie Els came through a strong field in the Zurich Classic to lose agonisingly to Jason Dufner on the second playoff hole. Mark Immelman takes a look at what you can learn from the Big Easy’s near-miss.
The 2012 Zurich Classic of New Orleans boasted a strong field and the weekend leaderboard was littered with names that one would expect on the first page of any Major championship leaderboard; Els, Dufner, Rose, Donald, Stricker, Fowler.
So what can we learn from Jason Dufner’s and Ernie Els’ play in The Zurich Classic:
If you’re going to lay up; lay up:
In regulation play, on the 16th hole, Jason Dufner made, what is in my opinion, a cardinal error. The manner in which the hole was set up called for a lay-up with a long iron off the tee.
From there the players would hit a short iron into the green. The reason the players opted to lay up off the tee was that a hazard on the left of the fairway pinched the landing area at about 240 meters. Dufner hit a three-wood off the tee (a play which really would not provide any noticeable advantage) and pulled it into the hazard.
He took a penalty drop; hit his third onto the green and in the end made a miraculous par after holing a putt of over forty feet. The lesson to learn from this is simple. If you are going to lay up, select a club and a shot that ensures that there is no way, whatsoever, that you can hit the ball into the area you are laying up short of.
If Dufner had selected a long iron (as the bulk of the field did), he would have left himself in a situation where it was impossible to reach the left hazard. In so doing he would have removed any potential disaster from his card and still only left himself a short iron into the green.
So do not make the same error Jason Dufner made. If you are going to lay up, select a club that will never, ever reach the hazard or the area you attempting to stay short of.
Chipping success comes with a descending strike:
On the very same hole that Jason Dufner made his error off the tee, Ernie Els was greenside in two strokes. Left with a pitch shot of about 12 meters, Ernie only moved his pitch shot about four meters. For all intents and purposes the result was very close to a chili-dip. Truthfully, the shot was really quite basic and the only reason it may have been tough was the situation.
Luckily for Ernie (as was the case with Dufner) he made the long par save to remain tied for the lead. To avoid mis-hitting greenside pitch and chip shots as Els did, locate the ball around the center of your stance and then ensure that your sternum remains in front of the ball throughout the swing and especially at impact.
If this occurs you will guarantee a descending strike and that will make it impossible to strike the ground before the ball. Also, check that you do not make too much on an in-to-out swing path as this path lends itself to a swing arc that bottoms out before the middle of the stance.
So to make good contact on greenside shots, locate your ball position and your body in a manner that guarantees a descending strike and make a swing that, if anything, tends a little across the line.
Chip and Run – the risk-free option:
Jason Dufner employed the most risk-averse greenside shot there is on the par three 17th.
From just off the right side of the green Dufner used his hybrid club and hit a bump and run shot that ended close enough to the hole for him to salvage his par and retain the lead. The chip and run shot is by far the safest shot to employ around the greens and its level of risk is decreased dramatically if it is played with a hybrid club or a fairway wood.
The reason being is that this style of club makes that shot play just like a putt – the only difference is that the type of club transfers a lot more energy into the ball than a putter does. This makes a very long and hard swing unnecessary.
So when greenside and elevating the ball is not required, reduce your risk by using a hybrid club to hit the chip and run shot. Address the ball in the middle of the stance; lean your weight slightly to the lead side; grip down the club a little, and make a swing that resembles and putting stroke.
As you sweep the grass with the sole of the club you will notice how it pops the ball ever so slightly airborne before causing it to roll out like a putt.
Make your initial read from far away:
On the first hole of the playoff, as Jason Dufner was lining up his eagle attempt, Ernie Els stepped way off the back of the green to assess his upcoming birdie attempt. This is a great way to get a “global” perspective of the terrain and in my opinion golfers should use this green-reading technique more often.
The reason being that if a player ‘micro-reads’ his putt (focuses only on the line of the putt and not the overall lay of the terrain) he runs the potential risk of mis-judging the line.
Try this when you go out and play. Make your initial read of the green from about 50 meters or so away. From this range you will very clearly be able see where the high and low areas are. Thereafter when you are on the green and you tighten up your read, bear in mind your initial assessment as those hills and valleys and slopes have a definite influence on the line of the putt.
Remember gravity beats everything and a ball will always roll downhill. In other words, you must remember where the hills are in relation to your putt. So read greens just like the Big Easy does, get a large perspective and then tighten up your focus. I have no doubt your green-reading will improve as a result.
Play well and enjoy our great game.