From left: Stacy Lewis, Cheyenne Woods, Lydia Ko

3 Ladies Who Launch

How you can burn it up on the course like these LPGA Tour hot shots do

BY EVAN ROTHMAN | Photography by Getty Images

These are the LPGA Tour's salad days. Its stars are mostly young and still maturing. The Tour itself, a truly global sporting entity, basks in its heyday, with fans treated to an ever-increasing athleticism from an engaging group of personalities. Yes, the LPGA Tour certainly bears watching, in no small part because of the game-changing tips we can all - male and female - glean from the relatable games of its leading lights. Here, the swing coaches for a trio of the Tour's headline-grabbers pinpoint what we can learn from watching these talented women.

LYDIA KO
Randomize Short-Game Practice
Coach: Sean Hogan

Hogan's pointers: "There is practicing to practice, and then there is practicing to play. Once Lydia has warmed up her chipping technique by hitting eight to 10 shots, we often drop balls in random places around the green. She moves from one shot to the next, rather than hitting a bucket from the same spot.

"Randomized practice is dynamic practice. It's more like what you'll experience on the course, so you're essentially training to play. The lie isn't prefabricated. You have to picture a new shot in your mind and adapt the needed feel to each situation.

"It's realism versus repetition. Repetition is necessary for improving technique, and every club player should take note of Lydia's short-game approach. Not only is her motion simple, she almost invariably hits the simplest, highest-percentage shot available - a shot she has confidence in pulling off and that eliminates the big miss.

"Here is someone who practices for hours every day on her short game and competes on golf courses with tougher setups than the ones amateurs generally face, playing straightforward shots, sometimes with less-lofted clubs that offer more margin for error. Yet, I see so many amateurs trying flop shots with lob wedges when it's totally unnecessary. Be like Lydia: Hit the shots you own, not ones you hope to pull off. Improving one's chipping and pitching around the green is often the simplest and quickest way to save strokes."

Bona Fides: Ko, who at 17 became the youngest golfer of either gender to reach No. 1, has already won seven LPGA Tour titles, including the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in April.

 

STACY LEWIS
Optimize Movements for Maximum Power
Coach: Joseph Hallett

Hallett's pointers: "Club players and pros alike often try to get extra windup for added power. The timing gets impossible to manage, and they develop distance and directional loss. Stacy got an extra 25 yards off the tee when she learned how to do less and get more out of it - maximum output with minimum input. The first big key is the sequence of how the body winds up for the backswing. Her new, shorter stopping point gets everything back to the ball together instead of piece by piece. We now keep the lower body very quiet for the first half of the backswing. The club and upper body and shoulders begin to wind, and when they meet a little resistance, only then does the lower body follow that movement to the top.

"The mantra Stacy came up with to describe the right move is, ‘Swing, then turn.' A drill to drive home the feeling is, from setup, just move the club's handle to the right hip. Your arms and shoulders automatically move with the club. That's the right sequence. From there, you can turn. It's a top-down turn, so to speak. Too many golfers have already twisted their lower body by the time the handle is at the hip.

"The other big thing is the downswing. Stacy has a couple of key thoughts here. The first: ‘Everything has to happen behind the ball.' Once she feels anything has gotten ahead of the ball too soon before impact, there are problems. The second thought is, ‘Down is down.' At the top of the swing, so many players start to drive down aggressively at the ball - which keeps the club from dropping down into that desired waist-high hitting position. You end up waiting for everything to catch up, which slows down the swing and robs you of power.

"Our goal is, on the backswing, to get the club back, then up. Therefore, on the downswing, we want the club to go down, then forward. ‘Down' isn't pulling the handle toward the ball, which is really forward. By going down first, like her hands are ringing a church bell, Stacy gets into an area where she can then charge into the ball as hard as she wants. It gives you more time to power into and through the ball."

Bona Fides: In 2014, with three LPGA Tour victories, Lewis won the Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, and the money title - the first American to sweep these honors in more than two decades.

 

CHEYENNE WOODS
Control Full and Partial Wedges
Coach: Mike LaBauve

LaBauve's pointers: "I do a four-part business plan with every student, and command of a wedge is a part of it, along with tee-to-green play, putting, and the mental side of golf. A stronger wedge game, where you know you can get the ball up and down with a good wedge shot, takes pressure off your ball-striking. Cheyenne has always been a very good ball-striker. But if you're not giving yourself realistic birdie opportunities with your short irons, you will not shoot the scores you need. I kept getting the same feedback from people who played with Cheyenne on the Symetra Tour: ‘She hits it better than she scores.'

"A lot of golfers make full swings with their wedges and don't have control over the trajectory. If you take a little bit off, it flights the ball better and becomes more predictable. Hitting it at, say, 75 percent takes practice; it's a learned skill. That's one of the main things Butch Harmon did for Tiger Woods when he first came out on Tour - he toned down his wedges to provide better distance and trajectory control.

"Cheyenne and I worked on the range first. Once it looked good on the range, we took it out on the course, playing nine holes against each other from partial wedge distance. I beat her the first time out. That told her something, because I don't play for a living. Still, we both had too many 25-footers left. After both practicing for five days straight, we played again - and were both hitting it 6 feet, 10 feet, 8 feet, 12 feet. That's what it takes to be successful on the LPGA Tour. At Q School, she played practice rounds but also worked on her wedges from 60 to 120 yards. On-course practice is key, even if it's not always the easiest thing to accomplish, because you get different lies, different conditions.

"I always remember Tom Kite telling a group that you start and end every practice session with nine wedges - three wedges to three different targets, all less than full shots. Then you do your full practice routine before ending with the same nine wedges. Every golfer is a bit different, and you have to experiment with the swing length and speed that produces your best, tightest dispersion pattern. Like Cheyenne, you want to be stable through impact, not flipping at the ball with your hands, since overactive hands make it harder to control distance. The 10-handicapper who learns to control distance with his or her wedges is going to take their scoring to another level."  

Bona Fides:
Woods, Tiger Woods' niece, won more than 30 amateur tournaments, including the 2011 ACC Championship while playing for Wake Forest University. She captured the 2014 Volvik RACV Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour before reaching the LPGA Tour this year with a T-11th finish at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament.

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