How I use my hands to knock it close.

Before I talk about my ball-striking, I want to say that a big reason my iron play has been so good this year is because of my putting. I turned the break during the coronavirus quarantine from a negative to a positive by working hard on the greens. For 10 weeks, I practised every day. I started with mechanics, then transitioned into performance stuff. And when I came back on tour in June, I was a lot more confident with my putting, which gave me more confidence in my approach shots because I know I don’t have to rely on them as much to score.

That being said, I’ve had great success with my iron play thanks to my work with Pete Cowen. Actually, Butch Harmon deserves some credit, too. In 2012, when I started working with him, Butch got me away from trying to hit cuts all the time. He wanted me to work the ball both ways. Butch also got me to hit three-quarter knockdowns into greens like you see me hitting here. Now they’re the majority of my iron shots. It’s a controlled swing where I try to keep the clubface as square as I can and produce a lower, straighter ball flight. I recommend you use it as much as you can, too. Take a little more club, choke up, and make a compact, easy swing. The big deal is, you almost want to swing like Steve Stricker and have minimal wrist action. Take the club back to shoulder height and swing through to shoulder height. It kind of feels like you’re hitting a long chip shot. Trust me, it’s going to help you hit a lot more greens.

Back to my work with Pete Cowen – I think he has been a tremendous help to my game. It started last year at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Pete stayed at my house and worked on my approach to ball-striking. He said the secret is controlling the clubface with the hands. It’s all about pressure – not grip pressure, but how to use your hands to get the full force of the clubface behind the golf ball. It allows you to make the same swing time after time for consistency, but produce different curves and trajectories with your hands. For example, to cut it, I roll my fingers just a little clockwise when I take the club back and hold it like that for the rest of the swing. The club comes into the ball with a slightly open face and the ball fades. If I want to hit it straight, I feel like my fingers remain still throughout – equal pressure – and the face stays square. If I want to draw it, I rotate the fingers a little down (anti-clockwise), which closes the face. Again, my swing stays the same; it’s just those adjustments at the start of the swing that make the difference.

Now I feel my hands in the swing way more than ever. And I can do a lot more with the golf ball than in the past. I’m more aggressive into pins, and my misses are in better spots. I finished tied for eighth at that PGA after working with Pete, and the next week at the Memorial, I made 25 birdies using that new technique. Two weeks after that, I won the US Open.

I’ve been a little inconsistent since the tour season resumed, but I think some of that has to do with not seeing Pete a lot. He lives in England. Going forward, Pete set me up with another swing coach, Justin Parsons, who is going to help monitor my hand movements. I’m a big believer now that the hands play such an important role in how you swing. If you want more control of your shots, you really have to pay attention to what your hands are doing – and what they feel like – when you hit a good shot.  – with Ron Kaspriske

Gary Woodland, the 2019 US Open Champion, ranks among the top 10 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained from approach shots.

This article first appeared in issue #602, December 2020