U.S. Open 2019: The key to Pebble Beach’s tiny greens? Hit it high

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If U.S. Open rough wasn’t intimidating enough, Pebble Beach features some of the smallest greens in regular major championship rotation. Smaller greens obviously make for smaller targets, but the practical and psychological effects go beyond shrinking players’ margin for aiming error.

“Even if you’re in control of your direction, the greens at Pebble Beach are going to provide some real challenges,” says top South Carolina teacher Jonathan Yarwood, who is 2005 U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell’s long-time coach. “They’re small, but they’re also extremely hard and fast. That means you have to control your trajectory when you’re hitting into them—whether you’re playing an approach shot into the green or a short game shot.”

Come in with a too-low trajectory or not enough spin and players will be watching shots leave the putting surface and get caught in that intimidating rough defending champion Brooks Koepka describes as “tough and juicy.” That will leave short game shots to relatively close targets that require nerve and a lot of speed through impact to get through the deep grass. There isn’t as much room to play lower-risk explosion-type shots that have more run out.

“In benign conditions, a high-flighted, soft-landing shot is going to have the most success this week,” says Yarwood, who runs the International Junior Golf Academy in Bluffton, S.C. “You can bet that many of the players came into the week having worked on their swings with a Trackman to fiddle with dynamic loft at impact, shot height and landing angle to give themselves the best chance.”

Players who produce towering height naturally—like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and defending champion Brooks Koepka—have one less thing to worry about. It’s also why Tiger Woods discussed wanting to add loft to his iron approaches in his last Open tune-up at the Memorial. But if you should happen to get a last-minute call to come play Pebble—or you just want to add some height to your stock shots—there are a few things you can do. “You need to make three basic setup adjustments to hit it higher,” says Yarwood. “Move the ball more forward in your stance, set your hands back from the target just a fraction, and set 10 percent more weight on your trail foot.”

Those three modifications will increase the dynamic loft on the club as it comes through the ball, which will produce more height. “When you swing, make your normal backswing, but feel like you stay a hint more on your trail foot at impact and make a higher finish than normal,” says Yarwood. “A great hint for the advanced player comes from something Nick Faldo once told me. He said he felt like he narrowed or collapsed his follow-through closer to his body, which had the effect of raising the swing arc and increasing dynamic loft.”

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