The two most dramatic shots of Jon Rahm’s historic US Open victory were undoubtedly his putts on the 71st and 72nd holes; but the turning point of the tournament came on the tee box at 17.
Rahm stood on the 17th tee box needing to make birdie. The fairway bends slightly around a canyon on his left and is guarded by bunkers on the right. The USGA course preview calls for a draw. So, what did Rahm hit? An anti-left tee shot that faded into the right bunker. He played a beautiful bunker shot and made an impossible putt to make birdie. Less than an hour later, Louis Oosthuizen faced the same tee shot and attempted to take on the corner, pulling his ball into the canyon.
“I knew it was a crucial hole for me to take it on and give myself a birdie opportunity,” Oosthuizen said. “I feel like I had my shots. I went for it and that’s what you have to do to win majors. Sometimes it goes your way and other times it doesn’t.”
While it’s unfair to criticize Louis for being aggressive (by that time, he also needed birdie), Rahm’s refusal to shape his drive right to left may be instructive.
Elite ball-strikers are capable of manipulating ball flight on command, but many of the most successful TOUR players have talked about how they commit to one shot shape off the tee. Listen to Dustin Johnson talk about how often he goes away from his patented fade.
“Last year, can you think of any tee balls you hit driver on that you drew?”
“On purpose? No.”
Shot shape is generally a matter of personal preference and mechanics, but some believe that fading the ball is a better formula for professional success.
“I’ve never seen a fader starve to death,” said Lee Trevino. “I’ve seen a lot of guys that hook the ball go hungry, but not a guy that fades it.”
As the saying goes, “Faders eat filet.” In Jon Rahm’s case, it certainly seems to be working. Statistically speaking, Rahm is the second best in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and Strokes Gained: Tee To Green, the two most-important ball-striking stats in golf.
When Jon Rahm came to the United States as a teenager, he was primarily a drawer of the golf ball. As he began to understand his swing better, he adopted a fade.
“It wasn’t until I realized the mechanics of my swing that hitting a fade would allow me to swing a little more freely. If you keep the face square to the [target] line and focus on swinging left, you can hit a hard fade without much spin. It’s a lot easier to control. I’ve simplified [my swing] as much as possible.” – Jon Rahm
Rahm’s set-up is simple, as described here.
- Stand behind the ball and pick a line just left of the target.
- Pick a spot 6 inches in front of the ball where you want to aim.
- Address the ball normally, then move the lead foot slightly further left of the target.
- Aim left and swing hard.
In a just-released feature with Golf Digest, Rahm mentioned that he doesn’t think about what his hands are doing, but only thinks about clearing his lead hip… and clearing his lead hip hard.
“I’m not trying to hit the ball with my hands. One thing to remember: You’ve got to keep turning—even after impact. I feel like I’m powering the club through the ball with my body rotation. In other words, don’t stop until you can’t turn anymore. For me, this produces a fade that feels really solid coming off the clubface.”
We talk a lot about the importance of developing the ability to shape the ball both ways to improve awareness of the relationship between face and path, but you don’t necessarily need to hit both shot shapes off the tee in an actual round, especially if a higher-handicappers. Here’s our advisor Mark Blackburn sharing how you can incorporate shot shaping into your practice with an MLM to help elevate and randomize your practice environment.