It’s rare for a rookie to win an event during their first year on tour, let alone nine—but not if you’re Nancy Lopez. During her initial season on the LPGA Tour, in 1978, Lopez won nine times, which included one of only two majors at the time (LPGA Championship).

During that incredible year, Lopez also had a record-setting five-win run that wasn’t matched for 27 years, until Annika Sorenstam did it in 2005. And to this day, Lopez is the only player to have won Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year and Vare Trophy honors in the same season.

You might be wondering how she did it at just 21 years old. In an article from January 1979, Lopez told Golf Digest, “It was almost like a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces fell into place.”

In the same article, Lopez attributed her success to her improvement with her wedges.

“My short game strokes were getting the ball closer to the hole, leaving me with shorter putts,” Lopez says, “But the main thing was confidence.”

Lopez says that her long game improved as a result of a better short game because she was able to swing with more confidence, knowing she could make the par save if she missed the green.

Part of Lopez’s short game that saw a considerable amount of improvement during her career year was her distance control. In the year leading up to Lopez’s rookie season, she was not known for her precise wedges and said that she often struggled to produce the correct yardage. But one of the leading players on the PGA Tour at that time helped her get on track.


While playing with Curtis Strange in the Mixed Team Championship in Largo, Fla., Lopez hit an 80-yard wedge shot over one green and into the bleachers. She said Strange stepped in and helped to solve her distance-control problem with one simple adjustment: gripping down.

“Curtis taught me to choke down on the club for that shot,” Lopez said. “That way I wouldn’t have to let up on the swing. I could take a full wedge swing and hit it 80 yards.”

“I worked on the shot over the winter, and early in the 1978 season I reached the point where I could control it consistently,” Lopez said.

Lopez liked the fix so much that she even applied it to her chip shots around the green, where she started using short irons instead of wedges and playing shots with more run.

“Many times [on chip shots], I grip it right down to the steel,” Lopez said in the article.

Gripping down for more control is an adjustment that players like Brooke Henderson and Anthony Kim use even on their full swings because it helps them find the center of the clubface, and you can read more about that here.

It’s a simple tip and a good reminder of how important it is to have a solid wedge game. Try it to gain more control on these key scoring shots. Not only will practicing these get you dialed from inside 100 yards, but like Lopez said, they will also give you more confidence in your long game, knowing that you can land these shots close enough to make your putt for par.

For more tips from golf’s best players and instructors, head to the Golf Digest Archives.

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