There seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding Dustin Johnson’s penalty for grounding his club in a sand bunker on his final hole of the 92nd PGA Championship. While the critics are focusing on whether he should have been penalized the 2 strokes or not, they are also forgetting that he made a crucial mistake with that shot that would have put him in a playoff situation, instead of winning the tournament, even if he hadn’t grounded his club in the hazard.
Without the penalty, could he still have won?
Johnson was playing in the last group and was leading the tournament by one stroke. All he needed was a par on 18 in order to win. His tee shot went wide right and put him in that curiously odd-looking sand bunker that appeared to be more of a waste area. His second shot was the turning point. Even if his club had not touched the sand prior to hitting the ball, this shot went left into some rough instead of on the green. A chip up to the green and two putts later, he was holing out for a bogey that would have put him in a three-way tie for first and competing for the win with two other players. Without the 2 stroke penalty, he still would have had some work to do in order to win. But, that second shot, if played correctly, could have helped him to get a par and an outright win. Again, assuming he did not ground his club.
What was the big mistake on his second shot?
Johnson’s second shot left him with the ball above his feet. This is naturally going to create a ball flight that will curve from right to left. He aimed directly at the flagstick instead of aiming a little more to the right to accommodate the natural curvature of the ball flight. This resulted in the ball landing left of the green instead of on the green. Of course, it does not necessarily mean he would have gotten a par even if he executed that shot right and it landed on the green. However, it certainly would have given him a better chance at scoring a four instead of a five.
How to play a shot when the ball is above your feet:
The shot will naturally produce a right to left draw that is similar to the slope you are hitting from.
1) Choose a club longer than you would for that distance. You will lose some distance because of your limited swing and needing to grip down on the club.
2) Play the ball further back in your stance than you would normally do with that club.
3) Aim to the right of your target to compensate for the right to left draw.
4) Grip down on the club because you are standing closer to the ball than you are on a flat surface.
5) Keep your weight toward your toes because gravity is trying to pull you backwards.
6) Maintain balance throughout your swing to avoid falling backwards or forwards. Try to stand taller than your normal stance and limit the amount of sway in your swing. The key thing is keeping that lower body stable throughout the swing.
Dustin Johnson is an amazing player and is certainly one to keep your eyes on because of his natural golf ability and incredible strength. All golfers, including tour players, make mental mistakes on the course when under pressure. However, any mistake made is always a learning opportunity, if you choose to see it as one, even when it is made by someone else. Dustin Johnson reminded everyone, this past weekend, about The Rules of Golf and how to correctly play a shot when the ball is above your feet. Thanks Dusty! Everyone is glad the cameras were all on you during that second shot of your final hole.
Grounding a club in a hazard: Dustin Johnson and The Rules of Golf
Golf tips: How to improve your mental game
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