Big Play Jose Maria Olazabal won the Buick Invitational because he did what J.L. Lewis couldn't: stiff a wedge on the final hole

February 18, 2002

Olazabal did what you'd expect of a player who learned the game
at Seve Ballesteros's knee: On Sunday, on the par-5 18th, he hit
a perfect 94-yard wedge (above), his ball flying low, landing 10
feet past the flagstick and sucking back down the slope for a
tap-in birdie. That moved him to 13 under and tied for the lead
with J.L. Lewis. A half-hour later Lewis arrived at 18, still at
13 under. He did what you'd expect from a 41-year-old journeyman
who's never finished better than 66th on the money list. "I
choked," was Lewis's blunt assessment. He blasted his layup
through the fairway, leaving a delicate 72-yard wedge from the
rough, and with a tentative swing he flew the shot 40 feet past
the flag.

BELLY UP Lewis's failure to control his distance might not have
mattered had he not missed five putts of 15 feet or less on the
back nine on Sunday, including the deciding eight-footer for par
at 18. Lewis, perennially one of the Tour's worst putters,
switched to a longer-shafted belly-button model last fall in
search of a cure, but it hasn't helped. Belly-button putters are
supposed to take the arms and hands out of the stroke, allowing
the player to swing solely with the shoulders. On Sunday, Lewis
was too twitchy, using his hands and arms instead of his
shoulders, with calamitous results.

BUTCHERED Olazabal does with his wedges what Lewis needs to do
with his putter: He uses his pivot, or shoulder turn, as the
foundation of his swing, instead of his arms and hands.
Olazabal's action also sustains superb width, which he has been
fine-tuning with Butch Harmon for a year. "You have to go
backward to improve, and that's what I did," says Olazabal. Width
is the distance from the tip of your left shoulder--if you're
right-handed--to the point where your left wrist hinges (picture
3, below). Proper width allows your arm to act like a spoke on a
wheel, helping to generate power and control.

MIND OVER MATTER I love Torrey Pines's new 18th hole. The
renovations transformed it from a cream-puff eagle opportunity
into a true three-shotter that rewards brains as much as brawn.
Golf's longest hitters, John Daly and Tiger Woods, were in
contention on Sunday, but both hit errant drives on 18 and
couldn't get home in two. Lewis and Olazabal also laid up, and
the man who hit the best wedge went home with the trophy.

Perpich is the director of instruction at RiverPines Golf in
Alpharetta, Ga., and one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers.

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: COURTESY OF CBS THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PORTER BINKS

THE TIP

The key to hitting wedge shots is to pivot your shoulders, rather
than manipulate the club with your arms and hands. Regardless of
the length of the shot, make the same size pivot on the
backswing, turning until the left arm is just above parallel to
the ground and forms an L with the club shaft (picture 3). To
vary a shot's distance, alter the pace of the pivot on the
Ddownswing, not the length of the backswing. Here's my favorite
pivot drill.

1. Lay the club you're going to work with--any one will do--on the
ground with the toe touching a golf bag. Put a mark on the ground
at the butt end of the club. Now pick up the club and address the
ball so that your back foot touches the mark (picture 1; I have
left another club in place as a visual aid).

2. Take a normal swing. If you pivot properly, the club won't
touch the bag (picture 2).

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)