Who’s the best driver, iron player, putter? We identified the best pros in several facets of the game. Here they share their secrets.
Thanks to the PGA Tour’s ShotLink technology, it’s easier than ever for players to keep detailed statistics of their game. The tour tracks every single shot during competition, and is therefore able to collect hundreds of different stats in multiple categories from tee to green. ▶ That made our job of identifying the very best in the most vital aspects of golf a little easier. However, it wasn’t as simple as looking at who was No.1 on tour in the strokes gained/putting statistic and anointing that player as the top putter. There were other factors to consider such as the average number of putts per green in regulation, who avoids three-putts the most, who is the best from inside 10 feet and beyond 20 feet, etc. (The tour tracks 98 putting statistics.) ▶ After hours and hours of analysing all the tour data from 2021, we’ve singled out the best pros in six key categories: driving, iron play, chipping, scrambling, bunker play and putting. Some of the names that follow might come as a surprise – and some might not. Turn the page to see who Golf Digest ranks as the best in class, and then learn from the player and his coach how to better various parts of your game. – The Editors
Load the trail leg for longer drives
By Jon Rahm
A big reason why I’m so consistent with the driver is because my swing is very simple. Because there’s not much going on, there’s not much that can go wrong. I think of my swing as short and efficient. It’s mostly the result of having limited mobility in my right ankle and a right leg that’s shorter than my left.
I was born with a club foot and had to have the bones in that leg broken and re-cast, so I can’t control the club very well if I swing it back any farther. But that also makes it easy to repeat.
As far as technique, I prefer to fade the ball, and I usually hit it pretty high, but I can draw it and hit it lower, whatever the hole calls for. I might change my stance, ball position or tee height to produce the shot I want, but the one thing that doesn’t change is the mental part. I forget about my surroundings and just find something to aim at. When I do that, especially under pressure, it’s as if I’m back on the range mentally and can just swing without fear.
I don’t hit a lot of drivers when I practise, but when I do need to straighten things out, I usually focus on two things. The first is making sure the clubhead stays in front of me on the takeaway. If I suck it too far inside the target line and it gets behind my hands, I lose control. One other thing: I make sure I load into my right hip on the backswing. I don’t sway off the ball. I want to feel really stable and loaded so I can push off my back foot on the downswing and hit the ball hard. – with Ron Kaspriske
Jon Rahm was second on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/off the tee in 2021 and first in total driving, a stat that combines distance and accuracy. He was also first in strokes gained/tee to green.
“Jon’s swing proves you don’t have to move off the ball to generate power. That feeling he has of being loaded into the trail leg is a good one for amateurs to copy. Another thing we watch is that he’s not standing too far from the ball. You want to see the butt end of the club over the top of your shoelaces. This will help you to turn better going back and clear out swinging through, allowing the driver to come into the ball on the proper inside path.” – Dave Phillips
Rory Mcilroy • Bryson Dechambeau • Sergio Garcia • Sungjae Im
Swing your irons like you’re in no rush
By Collin Morikawa
I’ve always felt that iron play is the strength of my game. It’s the reason I’m OK giving up 10 or 20 yards to the bigger hitters – I’m confident I can hit my 6-iron just as close, if not closer, than they hit their 8-irons.
My first tip to being good on approach shots is sticking with the swing you trust the most. For me, it’s a mid-high cut. Whatever shot you like to play, remember that you don’t have to hit it to six feet to be a great iron player. There’s nothing wrong with putting it somewhere on the green and relying more on your putter. Only go flag hunting when the situation matches your go-to shot.
As far as Xs and Os, my coach, Rick Sessinghaus, and I like to keep it pretty simple. One aspect we focus on is rhythm. I have a pretty deliberate tempo, and sometimes I get quick in transition trying to manufacture speed. I’ve found that if I focus on finishing the swing in perfect balance – the trophy pose – I subconsciously make a smooth transition and maintain good rhythm from start to finish.
One drill I keep coming back to is a simple one I’ve done since childhood. I’ll put a glove under my left armpit and try to keep it pinned there for as long as I can during the swing. This helps my arms stay more connected to my body on the backswing. I have a tendency to pick the club up rather than turn with it, which results in a wipey fade that always comes up short and right of the target.
I also hit a ton of half-swing punch shots, which is a great way to identify any issues you might be having through impact because it’s a smooth, controllable motion. – with Dan Rapaport
Collin Morikawa led the PGA Tour in strokes gained/approach the green in 2021, and was No.1 in approaches (average distance from hole) from 125 to 150 yards, 150 to 175 and 175 to 200.
“Every golfer can benefit by implementing some keys to Collin’s iron play. The first is Collin’s patient, deliberate takeaway, which helps keep the club and arms in front of his body all the way to the top of the swing. Next is how he keeps the clubface square through the impact area while maintaining the extension in his arms. Finally, Collin swings at about 80 percent. With less than max effort, you’ll find it easier to stay in control.” – Rick Sessinghaus
Jon rahm • Paul Casey • Daniel Berger • Cameron Percy
Chip it close with my ‘dead soft’ technique
By Kevin Na
From a closely mowed lie, such as a collection area, I believe I’m one of the best chippers in the world. Because I scoop my chips, my ball comes off softer than most everyone else’s and lands with almost no roll.
During the third round of last year’s Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club, the ball marker of my playing partner, Xander Schauffele, was on a spot on the green where I wanted a chip to land, so I asked him to move it. Then I chipped the ball right over that spot and into the hole. I’ll never forget the look on Xander’s face! He said he’s never seen a player ask to move a ball marker for a chip and then have the ball go in. It was the fourth time I chipped in that week!
What’s nice about my scooping technique is it’s roughly the same method I use from the rough or
a greenside bunker. I chip with my 60-degree wedge, setting the handle neutral – not pressed forward – and the shaft perpendicular to my target line. The goal is to return both into the same positions at impact. The clubhead passes the handle, and my right hand works underneath, sliding the clubface under the ball. What I’m doing is dumping the clubhead and releasing it at the bottom, trying to ground the back perfectly to the turf so it doesn’t dig. There’s not a lot of speed. As a result, there’s less compression to the ball at impact, and it comes off the face dead, with no threat of racing past the hole. – with Dave Allen
Kevin Na led the PGA Tour in the strokes gained/around-the-green stat in 2021 (.702 strokes per round), becoming the first player to lead this category three times (2011, ’15 and ’21). Na also ranked fourth in scrambling and 12th in sand-save percentage.
“The great thing about Kevin’s short game is, it’s very effective on all types of grass. He has the ability to keep moving forward and rotating with no fear of the leading edge digging into the turf, which is a common mistake for amateurs. He also has very little tension throughout his motion. It’s a free-flowing acceleration allowing him to be aggressive.” – Drew Steckel
Patrick Cantlay ← Patrick Reed ← Brian Harman ← Seamus Power
Shake off the miss, then get aggressive
By Patrick Cantlay
Scrambling starts with forgetting what put you there in the first place, locking in on the present, and feeling the urgency to hit a quality shot. It’s a mentality almost as much as it is a technique.
Around the green, I focus on producing the right energy to get the ball to my target. In the rough, you have to hinge your wrists early on the backswing, accelerate the club into the ball and keep the clubface from closing as it goes through the thicker grass. You also have to read the slopes on the green accurately to leave the ball in a spot where you know you can make a positive putting stroke. Above all else, you have to leave the previous shot behind. Confidence starts with staying in the present, knowing your strengths and playing to them.
When playing approach shots from the rough, don’t take more risk than necessary. In general, birdies aren’t made from the rough, so take your medicine and play a smart shot. Gauging how shots are going to come out of the rough mostly comes from experience, but I don’t think it makes much sense to hit any club out of the rough that you have a tough time hitting from a clean lie. In other words, no fairway woods and no long irons.
Make a steeper backswing than normal and accelerate the club through the turf without trying to help the ball into the air. The more you flip your hands through impact, the more likely the grass will close the clubface and send the ball well short and left. It’s also likely that even a good shot from the rough will roll out a fair distance after it lands, so factor that into your plan. – with Mike Stachura
Patrick Cantlay ranked first on the PGA Tour in scrambling (67.3 percent), sixth in scrambling from the rough (65.1 percent) and 12th in approaches greater than 100 yards from the rough (43’4”) in 2021.
“Patrick’s really good at knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them. He knows if he hits it in the rough and has eight feet of green right of the flag and 60 feet to the left, it’s best to aim away from the hole on the left side, and then roll one down there to make an easy par save.” – Jamie Mulligan
Charles Howell III • Cameron Tringale • Abraham Ancer • Louis Oosthuizen
‘Break the tee’ in the sand
By Xander Schauffele
When I was a kid, I routinely did this drill where I would bury a tee under my ball in a greenside bunker and try to break the tee with my swing. My dad had me do it so I would learn how to make an aggressive swing through the sand, which would carry the ball out every time. It’s a great way to learn how to hit bunker shots when you’re just starting out.
Over time, I’ve learned how to hit a number of shots in greenside bunkers. I can change my weight distribution, ball position, height of my hands at address, angle of attack, length of swing, clubhead speed – even how much bounce I use to hit the right shot for that particular lie. For example, with a fried-egg lie, I use less bounce and feel like the club is entering the sand closer to the hosel. If I want to create more spin and less roll, I add a little more speed and enter the sand closer to the ball than normal.
I realise you don’t practise in the bunker enough to be able to execute a variety of shots, so I would recommend getting good at this one: open the face of your wedge before taking your grip and dig your feet into the sand. Your weight should favour your front leg, and the ball should be roughly in line with your shirt buttons. Then hit two inches behind the ball, keeping your speed up as you swing through the sand and into a full finish position.
Remember, be aggressive but don’t lose your posture as a result of swinging too hard. You might miss the entry point in the sand and dump it or blade the shot. With a smooth swing, you’re not going to get the ball to stop as quickly, so allow for some rollout. – with Ron Kaspriske
Xander Schauffele was second on the PGA Tour in sand-save percentage (64.7) in 2021, and his average proximity to the hole from the sand was 8’1”.
“One of the main reasons Xander is very good out of the sand is the fact that he turns the ball both ways in nearly all parts of his game. Xander plays golf with a variety of hand and clubface positions. In other words, an open clubface with a weak grip – the standard way taught to set up in the bunker – doesn’t look outlandish to him. Where others might lose confidence holding the club that way, he certainly doesn’t.” – Stefan Schauffele
Brooks Koepka • Cameron Smith • Webb Simpson • Wyndham Clark
Level off for a better roll
By Patrick Reed
I’d love to talk about the intricacies of my putting stroke and give you some analysis of how I approach things on the green, but I just don’t think about it that way. For me, it’s much more of a feel thing. To be clear, I have a few practice drills, and I’m constantly checking my alignment. But when I’m on the course, all I’m thinking about is break and speed and seeing the ball go in the hole. Even on long putts, I’m not trying to cozy it up there; I’m seeing it go in.
Besides my alignment, if there’s one other thing I’m checking from time to time, it’s making sure my shoulders are level over the ball. I’m not sure if it’s a product of setting up over every other shot with my trail shoulder lower than my lead shoulder, but I have to be careful that doesn’t creep into my putting posture. If your trail shoulder (right for righties) is lower than your lead shoulder, the tendency is to make a stroke that is too low to high, and the ball comes off the face a little hoppy. That can really impact your accuracy.
A great thing you can do to make sure your shoulders are level is to first set up with a cross-handed grip (lead-hand low). This keeps you from tilting away from the hole. Then, before you make your stroke, go back to your normal grip. Now you’re in position to strike the ball on a more level path and get a better roll.
My other advice for putting is to develop a pre-shot routine that you use every time you putt. That means doing the same things in the same amount of time on every putt. (If your routine takes 10 seconds, it should always take 10 seconds). A repetitive approach will get you in the mindset of treating every putt the same, which takes the pressure off. – with Ron Kaspriske
Patrick Reed was fourth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/putting and first in one-putt percentage (45.1) and three-putt avoidance (1.57 percent) in 2021.
“Patrick is very non-analytical with putting and probably wouldn’t putt well if he thought about that stuff. Aside from having great vision and feel on the greens, a key ingredient to Patrick’s success comes from the roll he puts on the ball. To copy that aspect of his game, try to get your putterhead to stay low to the ground after you strike the ball.” – David Leadbetter
Louis Oosthuizen • Cameron Smith • Sam Burns • Jordan Spieth