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Three tips from the Open champion

Winning the National Open was, in many respects, a culmination of all the things Jack Nicklaus has learned since joining the professional tour. Now, from his experience, a trio of vital lessons

An important part of my game in the U.S. Open at Oakmont two weeks ago was my putting. Even on those fast greens I was fortunate enough to three-putt only one hole of the 90 I played, and I saved several pars by getting down some tough five-and six-foot putts. I now feel that my victory was made at least partially possible by something I learned last January. At that time I played a practice round with Jack Burke just before the Palm Springs Desert Classic. I had been putting badly and Jack said he thought I was pulling the putter into the stroke with my fingers instead of swinging the club through with the palm of my right hand. This was not only causing me to pull putts off line, but was also making me erratic in regard to distance. To correct this mistake in my grip, I moved my right hand to the right so that my thumb was on top of the shaft and the palm of my hand directly under it (above right). I practiced with this new grip all week. The following week I discarded the light blade putter I had been using and switched to a heavier blade putter so that I could adjust my stroke more easily to the varying speeds of the greens we encounter from week to week on the tour. Since then, thanks to the new putter and a now much more solidly positioned right hand, I have been putting consistently well. I think these adjustments may help you, too.

To survive on the pro tour I've had to learn a great many shots that I was never forced to master as an amateur. One lesson I have learned is that the explosion shot can be used to advantage in more places than a sand trap. The explosion has saved me strokes on shots hit from wet turf, loose dirt, sandy rough and pine needles. It is most effective when you are in one of the above situations and have to get the ball up quickly to clear obstacles such as water, sand, bushes, mounds, etc., yet stop the ball quickly on the green. You should use either a pitching or sand wedge and address the ball with the club face wide open (right). Pick the club up rather abruptly to the outside on the backswing and then come down about half an inch to an inch behind the ball, hitting the shot as if it were twice its actual length. You have to be bold, making sure you follow through. The shot needs quite a bit of practice but the time will be very well spent.

I have found putting out of a sand trap to be a good percentage shot when conditions are right. Proper conditions require a trap that is relatively flat and has little or no overhanging lip. Address the ball with your regular putting grip and stance, with this difference: play the ball off the toe of the blade (below) instead of the center. Most putting strokes impart backspin to the ball. Hitting it with the toe of the blade seems to give a slinging action to the putt which has a strong tendency to reduce the natural backspin and increase the possibility of a more consistent roll. It provides the control a necessarily delicate explosion shot might not and will help get the ball close to the hole.