|Stan Utley brings a lot of old-school thought into his short-game instruction. (Mike Bailey/WorldGolf.com)|
One of the most respected short-game teachers these days is Stan Utley, who came to the forefront in the early part of the decade when he started working with Jay Haas.
Utley, who played the PGA Tour himself with limited success (he won the 1989 Chattanooga Classic), was known for his ability to get it up and down from anywhere. Soft hands and great feel combined with an easy technique made Utley great around and on the greens.
Now Utley, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., works with many top professionals and amateurs on their short games. Author of "The Art of the Short Game," he has some definite thoughts on some of the myths and misconceptions. Utley says his ideas aren't new; he just found better ways to explain them.
Recently, he shared a few of his tips during a golf clinic at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale.
When it comes to chipping and pitching around the greens, most players have heard how using the wrists can lead to all sorts of problems in the short game. Utley thinks most players have taken that too far and lack any kind of feel in the short game. Trying to take the wrists and hands out of the stroke also leads to unnecessary tension, he says.
His advice: Be a little wristy. But he's "guarded" in that advice. What he means is that there must be some release, and the hands have to be involved in the stroke. The idea of just leaving it up to the big muscles of the shoulders, for example, is flawed.
Utley points out that there are three circles in the golf swing – the body, hands and grip, and the clubhead.
"The clubhead has a long way to go," he said. Which means that the hands and wrists need to move to allow the clubhead to catch up to the inner circle.
Utley points out that most amateurs have very poor footwork when it comes to the short game. They are too still and don't allow the right knee (for right-handers) to turn into the left leg as they come through the shot. The body movement would be similar to that of a short throwing motion.
He also advises players to have plenty of bounce on their wedges and he advocates hitting a variety of shots from one wedge to develop great feel. The bounce is important, he said, because it allows you to skid the bottom of the club through the turf instead of sticking the leading edge into the ground.
With regard to putting, Utley said, "There's no wrong way to do it," but he does differ in his philosophy from Dave Pelz, who advocates a straight back and straight through stroke.
Utley said he believes in the same philosophy except his straight back and straight through are on the slightly tilted plane on which people swing the putter. That means it looks like the club moves inside, but in reality it's just following the naturally tilted plane.
Utley also believes the putting stroke should not be a shoulder-only stroke. He believes the hands and wrists provide the most feel and smoothest and most natural strokes. And he also says, contrary to what many high handicappers believe, the through-stroke should be shorter than the back stroke. The reason for this is that in a true stroke, the ball should absorb the energy of the putter at impact; therefore the through-stroke would naturally be shorter.
"I'm very focused on joint tension," he said.
Finally, Utley posed two questions to the audience: What rolls farther? A hook or a slice? Naturally, the answer is hook, to which Utley followed, "Then why would I want to slice a putt if it doesn't roll as well as a hook."
His point is that you must release the putter just as you must release the clubhead if you're going to hit a putt. He used Tiger Woods as a great example. "It never looks like he's expending much energy."
His second question to the audience was how do we produce a hook - by hitting the ball on the inside or the outside? The answer is the outside, which means the toe must pass the heel through impact? In other words, release.
As he concluded his presentation, the audience headed to the golf carts and Utley issued this advice: "Now go out and hook some putts."
January 11, 2010
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.