Welcome to Play Smart, a game improvement column published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday by Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen (who you can follow here on twitter).
How could your greatest strength also create your greatest weakness?
It’s the kind of wacky, intriguing question that only the game can ask if golf is able to, and a problem that world No. 4 Viktor Hovland is currently trying to solve.
“I’m bad at chipping,” he said in 2020. “I definitely need to work on my short game.”
It’s been a continuous work in progress and it’s getting better every day. Hovland has established himself as one of the best players in the world since that recording and this week Hovland’s coach, GOLF Top 100 teacher Jeff Smith (who you can and should follow on Instagram right here) shared some fascinating insights into the process .
Smith describes Hovland’s challenges in a nutshell:
“A lot of people wonder how could an absolutely world-class player like Viktor Hovland possibly struggle with the short game?” he says in order to get consistent results around the greens.
The Hovland golf swing has many elements that modern golf teachers love. Specifically, a flexed lead wrist (think Dustin Johnson) and minimal clubface rotation through the ball. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to swing a golf club, but Hovland’s new school movement works phenomenally well for him: he currently occupies the 12th place in SG: Driving and 3rd place in SG: Approach this season.
But those same elements show up in the shorter turns required around the green, and it can make life difficult. While his closed face-and-hold swing, which relies on lots of body rotation and very little wrist movement, works masterfully from tee shot to the green, he can bring the leading edge into play more around the greens. It leads to a tendency for Viktor to chunk chips when things go really wrong.
Shots around the green require a more open face and more active wrists to bring the club’s bounce into play. They contrast with the movements that make Viktor so great from tee to green, and require him to make adjustments to his technique that don’t always feel natural.
But that’s exactly what the dynamic coach-player duo is working on. By making small adjustments that support Hovland’s performance and boost his confidence while recognizing Hovland’s golf swing “DNA,” Smith writes.
It’s a good reminder for the rest of us that the tendencies you have in your golf swing often show up in other areas of your game – for better or worse. It also shows that professionals also work on their technique and that it is not always easy. Especially when the same things that help you play better in one area can make life difficult in another.