Armchair Golf Pro: Accenture Match Play, Luke Donald

The Armchair Golf Pro writes about PGA Tour events. Like you he is watching TV from his comfy armchair, enjoying the competition and drama, but also observing lessons that can be used to play better golf.

MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 19: Luke Donald of Engla...

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Luke Donald beat the world’s #1 golfer Martin Kaymer 3 & 2 to capture the Accenture World Match Play Championship. For Donald, a veteran of more than 200 PGA Tour starts and only two prior wins, this was his most important victory to date.

Donald had a remarkable week. He never trailed in any of his seven matches. What’s interesting is that Donald is a little guy who is also a short hitter. He often gives up 40 to 50 yards off the tee to his competitors. Yet he still dominated.

Donald gives the credit to his short game, and the stats bear him out. Coming into the last match his Up & Down percentage – what Peter Jacobsen referred to as his “scrambling” stat – was 90%. He got up and down 16 of 18 times. Contrast that to the average Pro scrambling stat of around 70% and the average weekend warrior’s stat of around 20%. It’s often said that if you want to be a better putter … learn to chip.

Because Donald is a short hitter he calls himself an “old-style” golfer. He has to rely much more on course navigation and quality shots around the green. Johnny Miller was constantly harping on how weak Donald’s driving game was, and even said that poor driving was probably the reason he hadn’t won more tournaments.

A couple of years ago Donald tried to change his swing to get more distance. But he wound up losing accuracy instead and his scoring performance actually declined. He went back to trying to hit more fairways and only then did he start to play better golf. A good thing to keep in mind – accuracy first, distance second. Even though I teach the key components of distance in The 5 Keys To Distance, the fundamental concepts in the program contribute just as much to accuracy; particularly the very first skill in the program – athletic balance.

I like match play because we get to focus on just a couple of players for the entire round. It’s a great chance to see how they approach each hole and each shot. There’s the added element of making strategy decisions based sometimes on the shot requirements and sometimes on the opponent’s situation.

The thing that struck me about both players, though, was not that either of them played spectacularly well. In fact they didn’t play particularly well at all. What made the difference was how each player managed their misses.

Both players know their “miss” tendencies. Kaymer’s miss is to the right. Donald’s miss is to the left. I think Donald tends to get “stuck” at impact because his left hip rises instead of continuing its rotation to the target. As a result he flips the club head over rather than extending squarely to the target and he pulls or hooks his shots.

What allows them to play well and score well is that they plan their shot strategy to account for their miss tendency. When there is trouble on the left or the short side pin placement is left, Donald aims farther right. When there is trouble right he doesn’t even worry about it: he knows he can go right at his target.

It was a good match. It could have gone either way. In the end Kaymer made a few mistakes and missed a few critical putts. The Armchair Golf Pro’s take-away is to remember to play to your strengths, plan your shot strategy to allow for your miss tendencies, and put in some quality time practicing shots around the green.

2 Responses

  1. Paul Rego says:

    ERIC…I am most comfortable paying close attention to your advice because of your logical approach and fundamental explanations.

    I’ve been a customer for a while and clearly improved my game….but got away from the drills over time. I’ve recently developed a tendency to pull the short irons unexpectedly and now have begun to pull hook big drives with a sense that I over hit and pulled my self too far through the shot….which sounds a bit illogical.

    What do you suggest?

    Thanks much,

    paul rego

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for leaving your question. You ask a challenging question about pulling and hooking, because there could be several root causes. What we do know from your description is that your club face is closed at impact, and your club path is likely going left. If nothing else has changed, try the Tension Free drills. You may simply be overpowering the downswing with your right arm/grip. You could also try weakening the left hand a bit on the grip. I would also look at your balance to see if you are moving your upper body in toward the ball on the downswing – which could be a balance or Leverage issue.
      In any case the best way to address hooks and pulls is usually to work on extending the club toward the target after impact. If you can pay attention to your club face at impact the next time you are at the range and see if you can figure out why you are closing the face, then post another question with your feedback here, we might be able to get more specifically at the root of the issue.