Just got through watching Kyle Stanley triple bogey #18 at the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open, and it reminded me of Greg Norman during an extended portion of his career. Greg found it very difficult to get close to back pins, because he had the habit of bringing the ball into the greens with too much spin. It was very common to see him fly the ball past the hole and then see it spin back to the front of the green. Later, after working with Butch Harmon, he learned how to hit a knock-down with a little more expertise, although he never really learned to hit it with talent that was comparable to the rest of his game.
Some people said Kyle choked his guts out, while others said that he just caught a tough break when his wedge shot spun back into the water on 18 because he actually hit a pretty good shot. Pardon me if I’m a little hard on the guy, but honestly, a PGA touring professional needs to have more control over his game if he is to compete at that level with hopes of having any kind of consistent success. Personally, I believe he missed the short put on 18 and then another one in the playoff because of his flustered condition. He knew in the back of his mind that this thing should’ve never gotten into a playoff in the first place.
The value of having a good knock-down shot is absolutely necessary at the PGA Tour level, but it is a true weapon possessed by a small percentage of amateur golfers, especially at the club level. It is quite common, when listening to someone explain how to hit a knock-down on YouTube, to hear them explain some of the basics, but very few of them, if any, actually mention the most important thing that needs to be stressed if the player is truly going to be good enough at it.
If you happen to remember the 1982 US Open played at Pebble Beach, the wind was quite fierce that day, and on #7, the short par-3 that is usually nothing more than a sand wedge, the players were hitting a lot of 7-, 8-, and 9-irons. Since they were hitting more club than usual, they needed to hit more of a knock-down so that they would hit it a little shorter and keep it under the wind as much as possible. The vast majority of them missed the green left. About nine times out of ten, if a player misses the green with a knock-down, he’ll miss it left if he is right-handed. That result is one of the reasons why many people don’t like hitting knock-downs: They always seem to pull-hook it because they don’t quite understand how to execute it properly.
It reminds me of the older fella that was used to using his trusty hand saw to cut his trees down. A friend suggested that he go to Sears and get one of “them thar chainsaws,” because he heard that you could cut twenty trees down with one of those in the time it takes a person to cut down one with a hand saw. So, the old man reluctantly bought a chainsaw, and after a week of trying to cut a tree down and only getting about half way through it, he decided to take the chainsaw back to Sears to get his money back.
He arrived at the store, and after handing the chainsaw back to the clerk, he stated, “This thing is worthless, I want my money back! My hand saw will cut down many more trees than this piece of junk and with less effort!” The confused clerk said, “Let me take a look and see if I can find the problem.” After pulling the rope once, the engine started and the old man quickly hollered “What’s that noise?”
If you’re going to learn how to hit a knock-down, you need to learn how to hit it correctly, or it just becomes another shot that will get you into trouble. The reason that the vast majority of even top-level golf pros tend to pull-hook a knock-down is because they lack synchronization between the hands, arms, and torso when they try to hit it. The lack of synchronization is because they start their arms down too quickly relative to their torso, which causes the arms to make a slight to severe out-to-in path and also causes the hands to flip through impact, which closes the face.
If a knock-down is to be executed consistently, the upper left arm (right handed player) simply has to stay connected to the left pectoral muscle or lat (latissimus dorsi) so that they (arms and torso) are syncronized in their motion. This is why you’ll see virtually every touring pro, when hitting a knock-down, having his upper left arm still connected to his chest as he finishes his abbreviated finish while his right arm is almost fully extended.
If Kyle had played more of a knock-down, he could have made the ball check on the second or third bounce and then just relied on the natural slope to feed the ball back to the hole. A knock-down’s lower angle of attack coming into the green helps to kill excessive spin and is much more predictable. Remember: The key is to keep the moving parts synchronized so that their paths relative to each other are complementary, not adversarial.