Royal Portrush: The Key Shots

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Royal Portrush Head Professional Gary McNeill shows you how to play the Key Shots players will need at the Open this week

From how to hit a stinger to the bump and run with a seven iron and finding the fairway off the tee, learn the key shots players will need this week from Royal Portrush Head Pro Gary McNeill.

How to… Hit the low stinger like Tiger

Club selection: 2 or 3-iron

It’s the shot every golfer wants to learn, and one plenty of pros will rely on when the reach the par-3 16th. Keeping the ball under the wind is a must on a links course, and it’s actually a lot easier to do than you might think. The setup doesn’t need to change too much; just take your normal address for a long iron but shift the ball back in your stance, level with the centre.

Once set, make a conscious effort to keep your sternum over the ball, and drive your weight onto your front left as you deliver the club. This will help you to strike down into the back of the ball, as opposed to hanging back and helping the ball into the air. Just make you finish low to keep the ball low.   

Note: Let the ball position dictate the hand position. Too much shaft lean can lead to a thin.

Three key takeaways

• Don’t treat a long iron like a driver and position the ball too far forward.
• Shift the weight onto your front foot in the downswing.
• Abbreviate the follow through.

How to… Chip your way out of trouble with a bump and run

Club selection: 7 or 8-iron

Tight lies and wind do not lend themselves to pitching and high flops, which is why mastering the bump and run and getting the ball running out like a putt is a must on a links course. It’s also the sensible and safest play, provided you’re playing the shot properly. Most amateurs don’t and duff their chips because they not using their body enough. The arms and body need to work together and the wrists need to stay passive to achieve a consistent swing arc and strike. 

Remember, the arms create speed, so let the body control the rotation of the club and treat it like a miniature shot. Aim to keep the feet close together and the hands neutral. This will not only limit the amount of weight transfer required, but it will encourage a shallow, rather than a steep, attack angle which will provide more margin for error.

Note: Most amateurs take the hands too far back and put the brakes on at impact. The best chippers have a smooth acceleration through the ball.

Note: If the shaft is leaning forward, the club will naturally travel up and down, producing a steeping swing. Setting up with the shaft neutral will keep the bottom of the arc shallow and engage the bounce, stopping the clubhead from digging into the turf.

Three key takeaways

• Keep the hands close to the body and the feet close together. Treat a chip like a miniature version of a full shot.
• Let the body, not the wrists, control the rotation of the club by turning the shoulders through the shot.
• Match the swing length in the backswing and follow through.

How to… Make a splash from the sand from the greenside bunker

Club selection: 56 degree wedge

Although Portrush has the fewest bunkers on The Open rota (70), they still present a big challenge for players – pros and amateurs alike. The pot bunker on the left of the 17th green is a magnet for golf balls, but you can still escape from there – and any greenside bunker – with your score intact, provided you follow these simply rules. First, stop thinking negatively and refrain from adding loft by hanging back on the right foot. That’s a one-way ticket to thudding the ball into the lip! 

The key with any short game shot is to remain balanced, so concentrate on staying low in the sand with the weight planted on the lead leg throughout the shot. To add loft, simply lower the hands to open the face up and position the ball in line with the left instep. This will expose the trailing edge and stop the clubface from digging in at impact. 

Note: As you take the club back, focus on hitting an inch and half/two inches behind the ball and swing wide, rather than up, to get the club accelerating through the sand.

Three key takeaways

• Get low and shuffle the feet into the sand to create a stable base.
• Let the weight favour the lead leg (60/40).
• Don’t decelerate into impact. Trust the loft and make sure the follow through matches the length of the backswing

How to… Build your fairway finder

The pursuit for power tempts us to take a thrash at it off the tee, but when you’re heading for a good score, you can’t risk throwing away a win with a wild tee shot. All the best players have what’s known as a fairway finder, which is their go-to shot when they need to or want to play safe.

It sounds fancy, but really it comes down to swinging with control and focusing on the key fundamentals. By that I mean the setup and making sure the ball is positioned opposite the left heel, with the weight evenly distributed and the feet just wider than shoulder-width part. Try to use the same swing which you use for every other full shot but if you want to flight the ball under the wind, simply tee the ball down a little and allow for a slight side.

Note: Keep the body weight moving in the direction of the swing all the time. This will ensure the bottom of the arc stays shallow at impact, which encourages that sweeping motion.

Three key takeaways

• Make sure your practice swing resembles what you’re about to do. Think of it as a dress rehearsal, otherwise there’s no point taking one!
• Your setup position at impact should replicate the position at address.
• The ball positon is far enough forward that there’s no need to drop the right shoulder.